To regress or not to regress

Regression. The 10-letter word on the tip of every analyst’s tongue prior to the start of an NFL season. Who will it be this year? Many are saying the Chicago Bears. However, let us take a look at all the information and put it into perspective. What is your definition of regression? If the assertion is that the Bears won’t go 12-4 again or will not have as many turnovers as last year, those are reasonable assumptions. On the other hand, this team is not the drama induced 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars, and no – Mitchell Trubisky is not Blake Bortles.

The new Rams?

Last year’s L.A. Rams team is an easy comparison for this Bears squad primed for success. Both teams had struggling rookie quarterbacks who had bounce back years after a new head coach was brought in. Both teams experienced heartbreak in the first round of the playoffs in their new head coach’s first year. Considering that the timeline of Goff/McVay and Trubiksy/Nagy are the same this comparison is easy to make. However, the Rams on one hand win games with a high-scoring offense and a solid defense. The Bears win games with a tremendous defense and capable offense. Let’s look a little further back to see a better comparison for this 2019 Bears team.

2013 Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks

The 2013 Seattle Seahawks could be the model of success for the 2019 Bears follow. To start, Seattle showed that sustained defensive success is not impossible, boasting the best defense in the NFL from 2012 to 2015 even though they lost multiple coordinators to different teams. In fairness, this also can be attributed to head coach Pete Carroll. However, although, the Bears got a new coordinator and have an offensive head coach, their defense remains relatively unchanged from the previous season. The loss of Adrian Amos and addition of HaHa Clinton-Dix is a small downgrade, but considering the players around him, this is more of a lateral step. In addition, Clinton-Dix is a better ball-hawking safety which is a ideal fit in Chuck Pagano’s aggressive scheme as he will have many chances for interceptions. The loss of slot corner Bryce Callahan and addition of Buster Skrine is probably the biggest drop off between last year and this year. Again, Skrine’s aggressive style is a good fit with Pagano’s system, even if he is a lesser player than Callahan.

No Vic? No problem!

Many will say that the loss of Vic Fangio is one that will cripple the Bears back to mediocrity. This is a far cry for anyone looking for a reason the Bears will be less successful on that side of the ball this year. Their defense is mostly unchanged and boasts pro-bowlers at every level. Additionally, Pagano is no slouch as a coach. His only season as a D-coordinator in the NFL, his defense was one of the best in the league, the 2011 Ravens. If the argument is that the 2011 Ravens defense was historically good… well so was last years Bears defense that is returning almost every player this year. Let’s look at his track record as an assistant:

2001 Browns- Secondary coach- most interceptions in the NFL

2003 Browns- Secondary coach- tied for fewest touchdowns allowed in franchise history

2006 Raiders- Secondary coach- best in the NFL in passing yards allowed

2011 Ravens- D coordinator- Took Ravens from 21st to 4th in Pass Yards allowed.

While Pagano specializes in the secondary, the Bears have one of the best front 7’s in the league headlined by Khalil Mack, Akeim Hicks and linebacker duo: Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. These players are among the best in the league and will have no issue with the change. Smith will most likely reap the benefits of Pagano’s style, being one of the most athletic young backers in the league.

Expect the Bears D to be great again

Yes, last years defensive production was historically good and may be hard to duplicate, but if at all don’t expect this defense to fall too much. Pagano’s aggressive play calling may lend itself to more big plays given up, but also should lead to more sacks and his work in the secondary should create a lot of turnovers yet again. This style of play should also endear itself to Bears fans knowing that the D coordinator will try to end games instead of playing with a bend but don’t break style (sorry Vic, you were great).

Don’t let Pagano’s tenure as a head coach speak to who he is when only having to manage one side of the ball. The Colts lived and died with Andrew Luck who was riddled with injuries throughout his tenure as coach. If the argument is that the Colts should have had a top defense though, look at their 2014  defensive roster…

Defensive Starters:

DE Cory Redding
DT Ricky Jean-Francois
NT Josh Chapman
MLB D’Qwell Jackson
LB Jerrell Freeman
LB Erik Walden
LB Bjoern Werner
LCB Greg Toler
RCB Vontae Davis
SS Mike Adams
FS Sergio Brown

2013 Hawks offense- 2018 Bears offense

The 2013 Seattle Seahawks offense was one that wasn’t overly powerful but was efficient throughout the season. Here is a brief breakdown of the 2013 Seahawks offensive metrics against the 2018 Chicago Bears via their ranks in the NFL.

Points Yards Pass Att. Pass Yds. Rush Att. Rush Yds.
2018 Chi 9 21 24 21 6 11
2013 Sea 8 17 31 26 2 4

 

As noted in the chart above, both teams have a heavy reliance on the run with the Seahawks being more efficient (Marshawn Lynch effect) and the Bears being slightly better in the passing column. In the 2nd year of Matt Nagy’s offense, it should be expected that the Bears will grow in all of these categories. With a great defense and a full stable of backs and returning offensive line, expect the Bears to run the ball about the same or slightly more than they did last year and more efficiently. The subtraction of Jordan Howard and addition of better scheme fit, David Montgomery, as well as the additions of Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson  to Tarik Cohen in the backfield add to this belief.

When digging further into this comparison, it is interesting to see how Super Bowl winning Quarterback Russel Wilson played this season:

Passing Rushing
Rk Player Year G QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Lng Int Sk Yds Y/A AY/A NY/A ANY/A Att Yds TD Y/A Lng
1 Mitchell Trubisky 2018 14 11-3 289 434 66.6 3223 24 95.4 70 12 24 143 7.4 7.29 6.72 6.59 68 421 3 6.2 39
2 Russell Wilson 2013 16 13-3 257 407 63.1 3357 26 101.2 80 9 44 272 8.2 8.53 6.84 7.10 96 539 1 5.6 27

The numbers between these two are actually very similar (both from their 2nd seasons in the NFL). Wilson threw the ball less, but was more consistent boasting a higher rating, throwing less interceptions and rushing for more yards. For this 2019 Bears team, more consistency will be expected out of Trubisky and if he throws the ball more over 16 games, it should be no big deal for him to eclipse 4,000 yards. By matching close to Wilson’s 2013 season or even exceeding it, the Bears should have no issue winning games. This comparison shows that an efficient but not dominant QB can win many games with a strong surrounding cast.

Seattle Blueprint

Overall, the 2013 Seahawks provided a rubric the Bears could use to win. Chicago which is returning the whole offensive line and upgraded backfield should be able to run the ball more efficiently and for more yards this year. This should take some pressure off Trubisky who’s familiarity with the offense, coaches, and playbook should help him take the next step. As the 2013 Seahawks showed, consistent QB play is important but Trubisky doesn’t need to be the whole team. Looking at the Seahawks roster they were led by an outstanding defense and an offense who was capable but not imposing, with a stable of backs lead by Lynch, and WR core consisting of Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin and a QB who was still getting better.

The Bears defense is in for another great season and while their production might be hard to duplicate, they will be among the best units in the league. The offense, much like the 2013 Seahawks has enough good players to be a stout unit with potential to be much better than that Seahawks offense. The glue holding this operation together is coach of the year Matt Nagy. Like Carroll, Nagy has that burning passion about him to win and a team that wants to play for him. Will history repeat itself with a second-year head coach in the Super Bowl? – (Dan Quinn 2017, Doug Peterson 2018, Sean McVay 2019, Matt Nagy 2020?)