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2020 Opponent Scouting Report: Bears Offense; I don’t think who plays QB matters

NFL: SEP 20 Giants at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Overview

On October 4th, 2020 the Indianapolis Colts will travel north to take on the Chicago Bears In this Week 4 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

No matter what happens with the Bears the first thing I will always think of when I think of this team is Super Bowl XLI. Since that fateful, rainy, evening in Miami, these two teams have met three times, the Bears winning twice. The Colts won their last meeting back in 2016. This season we think we have an idea of who both these teams are after just three games, but how will both teams look when facing each other?

Let’s see what we can expect in week four.


Offensive System:

Historically head coach Matt Nagy has heavily used shotgun formations and gap (man blocking) running schemes. After a disastrous 2019 season for the Bears offense Nagy hired Bill Lazor and John DeFillipo to be the teams offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, respectively.

Lazor has a rich history in the NFL working with everyone from Joe Gibbs and Mike Holmgren to Jon Gruden and Chip Kelly. As a result his influences are vast.

At one time, DeFillipo was believed to be on the cusp of earning his chance to be a head coach in the NFL. Instead he made a series of questionable decisions regarding what jobs to accept after his run with the 2017 Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

All three men; Nagy, Lazor and DeFillipo have experience with the west coast offense and if the three work well together they should have a real chance to improve on 2019’s 29th ranked offense.

In the past Nagy has rarely used the play action pass but after promising change in the off season, Nagy and his staff have begun using outside zone runs and combing those looks with play action bootlegs, much in the same way we saw the Minnesota Vikings do the same in the Colts dominant week two win.

That’s not to say that the Colts are just going to trot onto Soldier Field and just instinctively shut down this new Bears offense, as the Bears are clearly not the Vikings, but the similarities are worth pointing out. Let’s get into what I saw when I studied these Chicago Bears:

Introducing the all new 2020 Bears offense

Why have the Bears started to use more play action passes? Frankly, it’s because it’s easier for mediocre quarterbacks to succeed in play action systems. “But why” you may ask. The long and short of “why” comes down to making the defense easier to read. Teams accomplish this in other ways like using motion, and if you combine multiple methods you’re left with what should be a really easy decision for your quarterback.

Sometimes you don’t need to combine play action and motion depending on the called play. I’ll show you a couple of still clips from the end zone angle to show you what I mean.

In this clip the ball has been snapped and the offensive line is moving left to show the defense a zone run to the left. The quarterback’s eyes lock on to this linebacker and stay there as long as they possibly can.

The QB fakes the hand-off before getting his head around as quickly as he can and we can see that he’s trying to find the same linebacker he was staring at before the snap.

As soon as he sees that this linebacker did bite on the fake, he knows he’ll have a throwing lane. All that’s left to do is look at his receiver running the route he knows he’ll be running and ensure he’s won (or just not badly lost) his route and deliver a catchable ball.

Now go watch that play again and see if you can see when Mitch Trubisky moves his eyes, I bet you can.

Easy reader

The Lions come out in a man to man, single high safety defense. If Tribusky knows that before the snap, that’s great. It’s going to help him for sure. But if he reads the defense incorrectly, it probably won’t matter.

Had this been a zone defense all Mitch would need to see was that the linebackers had come up and the slot receiver had cleared enough space for either himself or the guy who made this catch, Allen Robinson.

The play action works to make the game easier for the quarterback. Some QB’s need it to survive (Kirk Cousins comes to mind) some QB’s can process the game at a high level and just use play action from under center as another instrument in the tool belt.

Matt Nagy, realized he needed to give his QB this tool in 2020.

Mitch working his reads

Tribusky’s pump on this play is telling. As he readies to throw he either sees a Lions defender who didn’t bite hard on the play action or he notices that his receiver didn’t cleanly win the route as the cornerback runs underneath the route. It could be some combination of both things.

Mitch decides better than to throw the ball and looks back to his left for his other receiver. When he sees this option, he has about four yards of separation so he uncorks the ball and picks up the first down.

They aren’t all play action

The Lions cover three call makes it easy for the QB to find the slot receiver in a massive hole in this zone. The outside receiver running a vertical route pulls the deep corner, the slot corner gets either to his zone too quickly or the route was too good, or both. Meanwhile the slot receiver nearest the QB pulls the defense out of the passing lane.

Ultimately this became another easy read for the QB. I believe that the underneath slant run by Allen Robinson was the first read and Anthony Miller was the second read. I believe that because reading Tribusky’s eyes isn’t that tough and also on third and long, if I were Matt Nagy, I would want my best receiver to be the first option, too. But they didn’t let me in the meeting room when they were installing this part of the playbook so I can’t be 100% sure.

Pre-snap motion

First the Bears shift the formation before sending running back Tarik Cohen in motion. Cohen’s motion forces the defense to have to account for the fact that he could receive the ball on a sweep. After that the slot receiver and the remaining running back run vertical routes creating traffic and a wide open crossing route run by the tight end. Instead of take that easy throw to the tight end the quarterback decides to attempt a really difficult throw in the middle of three defenders. Ultimately it was a great throw and catch and the outcome was great for the Bears, but if I had to guess I’d say coaches weren’t thrilled with his decision making on this one.

This is the kind of play design that helped get Matt Nagy hired. Between the motion and the natural traffic that’s created in the middle of the field, it’s likely someone is coming open regardless of the called defense.

Watch the bottom of this clip

At the bottom of the frame the Bears attempt to run a rub route to free up a receiver for an easy completion. Instead the Lions defend it perfectly, using three defenders to take on two receivers. The Colts struggled to defend similar concepts early on against the Jets. Obviously seeing Rock Ya-Sin return could help, but it’s important to note, the Bears like using these concepts and the Colts have shown on tape they struggle defending them.


I have a lot of thoughts about the Bears and this offense and I’m trying to strike a balance between providing analysis that backs up the opinions I’ve formed and just spewing my opinions. The following clip sort of tells the story for me.

Bears season in a clip:

The QB takes the snap and the Lions initially cover the receivers really well. But the Lions just let the guy hang around until a guy comes open and the QB finds him for a big gain. This was the beginning of the end for the Lions.

The Bears have probably played four good quarters of football this season and every game has been decided in the fourth quarter. The Lions and Falcons collapsed in the fourth quarter like they were skyscrapers built by North Korean school children, while the Bears did their best to give the game away to the Giants in the fourth.


Quarterback:

By now you’ve most likely already heard that the Bears intend to start Nick Foles over Mitch Tribusky in our week four contest. If you’ve read this far you saw above that Trubisky has made some questionable decisions and until week three, most of those bad decisions had positive outcomes.

Mitch’s luck runs out

This play gives the quarterback three reads all on one side of the field. One deep, one intermediate and one short. Often these types of plays are designed to be read deep to short. So you start by reading the vertical route, if it’s covered you look to the intermediate, if it’s covered you look to the short route. Most often one route will be open, or at least more open than the others. The play is designed to make the defense make a decision on who to leave open.

Like clockwork, the defense leaves someone open. I believe it’s Allen Robinson running the intermediate route who sits down in the middle of the field very much open. Instead Trubisky throws to the short receiver who had a defender in his area. The defender intercepted the ball. Nick Foles came in following this play and he might have earned a starting job with the fourth quarter heroics that followed.

Foles started out slow

Nick Foles started out his day pretty slow. You tend to expect that given the circumstances but it’s worth noting. He ended the day by going 16 for 29 for 188 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. By the time he had thrown his second touchdown he was 10 for 22, it wasn’t high quality football but the Falcons were giving up big play after big play.

Exhibit A

The Falcons choose to play a soft zone while rushing three defenders. Nick Foles finds Ted Ginn Jr. in a hole created by the zone. Foles does a nice job finding the receiver but the Falcons were passive. They played scared.

Nothing special

So right before this snap someone yells “I’m gonna go left” it didn’t sound like it was Foles who said it but I figured it was worth noting. If anyone has any ideas I’d be interested to listen. Anyway there wasn’t much special about this play, Jimmy Graham has been a weapon in the red zone this season and all Foles does here is put it on Graham’s back shoulder and the vastly smaller cornerback is helpless to defend it.

This ball seemed to hang

I’m not going to try to say that Nick Foles arm is bad or has fallen off. I don’t believe either of those things, but this ball did hang in the air longer than he probably would have liked. Luckily for him the DB was busy getting worked by Allen Robinson and didn’t see the ball floating his way. After Robinson made the catch he displayed why he is the Bears undisputed number one wide receiver.

Nick Foles didn’t create this play, Allen Robinson did.

I don’t have an explanation

Had the pass rusher arrived .02 seconds earlier this ball is getting batted into the air and it would probably get picked. Instead Foles gets the throw off and it’s perfect.

Last year I made a video detailing the differences between Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew. It covers Minshew heavily but I talk about a lot of the things Foles is good at and where he might be lacking. I’m including this because I think it adds some value in figuring him out, it’s hardly completely relevant as we’re playing the 2020 Bears not the 2019 Jags. So watch it (or don’t) with that in mind.

Foles vs. Minshew


Bonus QB Blooper:

I like to imagine this clip with the music from Benny Hill playing.

The Bears don’t have a great, or even good, quarterback on their roster. Foles is most likely the better option to Trubisky, but it’s a closer contest than any Bears fan should be comfortable with. Frank Reich knows Nick Foles as well as anyone does. Between that and the fact that for his career he’s been wildly up and down, I’m not worried about the threat he might pose to the Colts this weekend.


Running Back:

The Bears have rotated backs heavily so far this season. David Montgomery has received the biggest workload and is absolutely the team’s number one back. One large blow to the Bears backfield is the loss of scat-back Tarik Cohen to a torn ACL.

Cohen was more of a threat receiving the ball out of the backfield but he was a quick, shifty threat all the same. Cordarrelle Patterson had already been taking quite a few snaps as a running back but it’s safe to assume his workload will now increase with Cohen gone.

#84 is a running back

Patterson is surprisingly good at the running back position. He’s still on the taller side for a back at 6’2” but he does a pretty good job finding rushing lanes and his acceleration is kind of amazing in the open field. He’s only averaging 3.8 yards per carry on the season but his speed makes him a real threat to break off a long run at any given point in the game.

I’m not sure how he did this

I know that David Montgomery had to have stepped over the offensive lineman who was lying in his path but I can’t really see his feet do it. Not only does he step over his own guy while running forward but before he hits the ground on the other side he’s already readying to take the hit. Montgomery isn’t the best back in the league but he is fun to watch him pinball around on these kind of inside runs.

He can catch too

With Cohen out I believe Montgomery will be used more often in the passing game as well. He isn’t super dangerous in the open field, he doesn’t have that kind of breakaway speed that some guys have but he’s very good in a short area and if you’re as bad as the Giants defense Montgomery will go practically untouched on plays like this one.

David Montgomery is a good workhorse back. He’s capable of racking up a lot of yards on a lot of carries but his physical limitations will prevent him from ever being a premier back in the league. He absolutely could rush for 100 yards on Sunday but I don’t believe that’s likely.


Pass Catchers:

Allen Robinson, Jimmy Graham, Anthony Miller and Darnell Mooney are the names to know for Sunday. Robinson is on pace to catch 96 passes for more than 1,200 yards while Graham has three touchdowns in three games. Meanwhile Miller and Mooney have been a solid combination pulling in more than 200 yards and three touchdowns between the two.

Beyond those four are Demetrius Harris and Ted Ginn Jr. but neither man has made a large impact this season. Another interesting name to know from the Bears is former Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet. Kmet is a rookie and has played around 33% of his teams snaps on offense. His usage will be something to watch as the season goes on.

Yes, you’ve seen this before

You’ve absolutely seen this play before, although this is a different angle. You know this pass shouldn’t have been thrown, Jimmy Graham was wide open, but the ball was thrown and Allen Robinson just made a fantastic catch. Robinson seems like he is the Bears best offensive player.

Down at the one

Upon further review this play was ruled down at the one. A few years ago Graham probably would have gotten into the end zone but even the modern version of Jimmy Graham did a good job catching, running and reaching for 6. They punched it in so Graham doesn’t have to worry what would have happened

This guy too

Anthony Miller is also a very good wide receiver. This play isn’t proof that he’s amazing but it does show what he’s capable of. Miller does a great job of waiting to get his hands up to make the catch until the last possible second. Once he reaches up he catches the ball and gets in for six.

Bonus

Between Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller the bears receiving corps looks pretty good. At least the first string anyway. If you’re the Bears you hope you don’t have to rely on a player like Ginn but it does give you experience, which the team desperately needs more of.


Offensive Line:

Here are the starters in order from left to right:

Charles Leno Jr., James Daniels, Cody Whitehair, Germain Ifedi and Bobby Massie

When watching this line I was pleasantly surprised by how non-offensive they were to watch. They’re not a dominant or overpowering group but as a whole they seem like a good group of five who play pretty well together... well most of the time.

They have given up seven sacks with Trubisky as the starting quarterback, but most of the ones I noticed weren’t on the line.

Not on the line:

Sure the Bears line gets credit for allowing the sack but Mitch has to get rid of the ball here. The longer you wait around in the pocket the more likely you are go get hit. Trubisky didn’t get that memo.

I present to you the next three clips without comment

Alright, I’ll comment now. I haven’t exactly been able to place why Montgomery had such a hard time finding holes or even a spot in the line where maybe a blocker had pushed his defender a yard downfield against the Atlanta Falcons but Montgomery didn’t find any running room until the fourth quarter was well underway. This was out of character for the Bears who have opened holes consistently for Montgomery all season. This wasn’t the norm and until I have more evidence showing this is more than a rough outing, I’ll just chalk it up to a rough outing for the Bears front five.

All in all I believe the most consistently solid group for this offense is the line. The receivers probably have more raw talent but until they master throwing the ball to themselves this line gets the nod from me.


Final Thoughts:

There’s something to be said for a team that consistently pulls wins out of harrowing situations. So far the Bears have figured out ways to get out of all three of their games with victories but their offense hasn’t consistently put anything on tape that leads me to believe they’re capable of playing a complete game, making consistent drives and setting up scoring opportunities.

In all three games they’ve either had to come back from or desperately hold on to fourth quarter leads and none of their wins have been the least bit convincing. I have an idea of how this one might finish and it involves a wild fourth quarter.

My bad tweet of the week

Turns out I should have waited to do my dishes and clean my kitchen after all.