Thursday, November 19, 2009

Know Your Enemy - CHI


The Jay Cutler era started off great, but things aren't so good right now. The Bears have fallen to 4-5 and are in the midst of a 2-game losing streak. They've now dropped 4 of 5 games. Like us, most of their wins are against weak competition. Take away the Week 2 victory over PIT and the Bears only have wins against SEA, DET, and CLE. That isn't exactly murderer's row. The Bears barely held off SEA, even without Matt Hasselbeck. And the Lions hung in the game longer than I expected.

The Bears offense is built on the running game. The problem is that their OL isn't doing a good job of blocking right now. Matt Forte is only averaging 3.4 ypc, but I think he looks fine. He just doesn't have holes to run through. To be fair, I haven't seen every game. Maybe he's going through a Sophomore slump. I just know that I've seen him in several games show me the ability that was there all last year.

The passing attack is more productive with Jay Cutler, but there are still problems. Jay has 17 INTs so far this year. And he throws them in bunches. He's got 4 multi-pick games this year. Not surprisingly, the Bears are 0-4. Jay had a 3-game stretch early on when he only threw 1 pick. The Bears went 3-0. No one will ever question his talent. Cutler can do some amazing things. His field vision and decision-making are a different story. He can spot receivers all over the place, but he either ignores or fails to see defenders. Other times he simply forces the ball into coverage. Jay isn't afraid to take chances. Part of this may go back to his time at Vanderbilt when he did have to force things to keep up with better SEC teams.

Jay is a gifted downfield passer. He's accurate and has a terrific arm. His short throws are up and down. His intermediate throws are problematic. He'll throw across his body sometimes. That works on occasion, but leads to more problems than big plays.

Chicago's offense is erratic. They have 5 games of less than 17 points. They have a couple of games with 30 or more points. It really seems that the key is to shut down the run game. In their 5 losses the Bears best rushing performance was Forte getting 55 yards against GB on opening day. In their wins Matt averages 77 yards per game.

The Monsters of the Midway...these guys aren't. They've held 3 opponents to 17 points or less. In the last month both Cincy and Arizona have put 40 points up on Chicago. The defense has 18 sacks and 9 INTs. Those are okay, but not ideal numbers. The Bears are 10th in total defense, but down the ladder in scoring defense.

They seem to be playing more man coverage than I've seen in the past. Peanut Tillman had a nightmare day trying to cover Larry Fitzgerald a few weeks back.

The Bears lost last week to SF on a Thursday night game. Chicago was incredibly sloppy with turnovers and penalties. Cutler threw 5 picks, including one in the end zone at the end of the game. They lost 10-6.


QB Jay Cutler --- The good news: 62% completion rate, 14 TDs. The bad news: 17 INTs, 19 sacks. And only 4 wins. I should note that some of his picks are due to bad luck. He's had receivers slip while running routes. He's had guys bobble passes. The umpire last week got in the way of the receiver and fouled things up on a crossing route. Struggles at times in the RZ (2 INTs vs SF). Jay has struggled in night games so far this year. There is a question of whether playing at night has anything to do with it or if he's simply faced better teams at night (GB, ATL, SF).

RB Matt Forte --- Numbers aren't great, but still a good player. Dangerous in the open field. Had over 100 yards receiving in the loss to SF. Was very effective against us on screen passes last year. Matt is 2nd on the team with 38 catches this year. Has good hands and is a legit receiver. I like Forte as a runner because he has a good combination of size and speed.

TE Greg Olsen --- Very gifted receiver. Has 34 catches and 6 TDs this year. Not the world's best blocker or most dangerous RAC guy, but if you want a TE that can get open and catch the ball Olsen is very good.

WR Devin Hester --- Leads the team with 48 grabs. Still a work in progress in his shift from RS/athlete to WR. Bit of a feast or famine guy. Has at least 5 catches of more than 33 yards, but still only averages 12.4 ypr for the year.

WR Johnny Knox --- Speedy rookie. 30-360-3. Learning the ropes of the NFL, but has big play potential.

WR Earl Bennett --- 35-454. Young guy has impressed at times this year. Has good RAC ability.

LT Orlando Pace --- Okay pass blocker, struggles on run blocks. Still a heady veteran, but father time has definitely caught up with him.

LG Josh Beekman --- Struggles in pass protection. Got pulled in the SF and replaced by Frank Omiyale. Beekman is a good run blocker.

RT Chris Williams --- Young guy that is in his first year as a starter. Played LT in college so he's getting used to the right side. Credited with allowing 4 sacks this year. Called for a very dumb penalty last week. Dove at a defender near a pile late in the game. Talented young guy, but makes his share of mistakes.

DE Adewale Ogunleye --- LDE. Good pass rusher. Already has 5 sacks this year, which leads the team.

DT Tommie Harris --- Explosively quick DT. Disruptive guy. Has 1 sack and 2.5 TFLs this year. Sometimes will play out of control a bit, but offenses have to account for his penetration all game long.

DE Alex Brown --- 2nd on the team in sacks with 4. Leads in TFLs with 6. Excellent motor. Came up big on the GL series vs us last year.

LB Lance Briggs --- The man that makes it all happen. Leads the team in tackles. Also has a sack, 3.5 TFLs, 3 PBUs, and an INT. Always seems to be around the ball when I watch the Bears play.

LBs --- Hunter Hillenmeyer is the MLB. Nick Roach plays SLB. They have switched positions in recent games as Chicago tries to find the best configuration. Hunter is a solid vet. Roach has playmaking ability. I liked him a lot coming out of NW.

CBs --- Zack Bowman and Peanut Tillman are the corners. Both guys are over 6-feet. They've combined for 5 picks. Tillman has been a good tackler in his career. He's third on the team in solo stops and has 2 TFLs and 3 FFs.

Safety --- Danieal Manning is one starter. Josh Bullocks started beside him last week. Al Afalava has played quite a bit, but is battling an injury. Al leads the team with 7 PBUs. He practiced this week and should play. Al was a big time hitter at Oregon State. I had real concerns about his ability to cover.

PK Robbie Gould --- Lacks a great leg, but very accurate kicker.

RS Devin Hester --- Quiet year so far. Long return of 33. Only returning punts.

RS Johnny Knox --- Ran a KO back 102 yards for a TD vs DET. Averages 27.4 per KOR. Fast.



Derek over at Iggles Blog posted some thoughts about my recent McNabb comments.

-- LINK --

He is a good writer / thinker and offers some interesting info. He really came at the situation from a statistical standpoint. I know some guys don't like stats, but I think they can be very useful.

Derek's main beef was with my point that McNabb is too in love with the big play. He offers some evidence that the big plays are working and a good part of the offense.

First, I do like the big play being part of our passing attack. Years ago there was a correlation between the team that led the league in yards per pass attempt and trips to the Super Bowl. Everybody ran the ball back then so the team that threw vertically the best was the one generally getting the best combination of blocking, QB play, and receiver play. I haven't kept track of that stat in recent years, but the correlation started to go away when the league really started throwing the ball a lot more. Point is...vertical passing attack usually = good team.

I stand by my contention that McNabb overly relies on big plays. Let me try to explain. I think we'd all agree that DeSean Jackson is one of the most explosive, dynamic players in the league when the ball is in his hands. Right?

DeSean has 7 career receiving TDs. 8 if you count the Dallas fiasco from Week 2 last year. We'll add that one in for the heck of it. Doesn't really change anything drastically. The TDs:


at Dallas - 61-yard TD/non-TD ... caught the ball at the 7 and almost ran it in
at Chicago - caught the ball in the end zone
vs Arizona - 5-yard TD ... caught the ball at the 3 on a crossing route and ran it in

at Arizona - 62-yard TD ... caught the ball at the 10 and ran it in.

2009 w/ McNabb

at Washington - 57 yard TD ... caught the ball at the 15 and ran it in
vs NY Giants - 54 yard TD ... caught the ball at the 18 and ran it in

As a bonus, DeSean had a 51-yard reception vs Oakland that was all in the air.

2009 w/ Kolb

vs New Orleans - 71-yard TD ... caught the ball 31 yards downfield and ran the final 40
vs Kansas City - 64-yard TD ... caught the ball on a short throw and ran it 58 yards for the TD

Had a 43-yard grab vs KC where he caught the ball 18 yards downfield then added 25 on the ground.

DeSean has played 26 games with McNabb (incl. playoffs). He's got 6 TDs in that stretch. They feature a total of 53 RAC yards.

DeSean has played 2 games with Kolb at QB. He's got 2 TDs. They feature 98 RAC yards.

DeSean Jackson is a weapon. Get him the ball and let him make plays for you. Kevin Kolb did that. Those plays were much higher percentage than Donovan throwing the ball 50 yards downfield to him. DeSean has 269 RAC yards this year. More than half came in the 2 games started by Kolb. That's not just a "wow" stat. It's almost alarming.

When I say that Donovan is overly reliant on big plays I'm focusing on the word "reliant". Donovan needs them to deliver our points. You can't do that. Good teams need sustained drives to lead to TDs, not just big plays.

I don't have the time to go back and chart every scoring drive this year. That might make for a good offseason study, though. I do know that we've scored 17 offensive TDs with Donovan at the helm. 9 of the scores came on plays of 20 or more yards (run and pass). That means that in 7 starts Donovan has led us to 8 TDs in the Red Zone. Not good.

McNabb is fine when we're out in the middle of the field. Get into the Red Zone and he becomes a completely different player. His inability to make quick reads, to hit players in stride, and to be efficient catch up with him. The crutch of the deep ball is gone. McNabb can no longer swing for the fences, so to speak. If Donovan was less enamored with deep balls he might have honed these skills.

There was a costly play on Sunday when Donovan threw incomplete to Reggie downfield and missed a wide open Avant on a shallow cross. The box score just shows an incomplete pass. It doesn't tell you that McNabb killed a drive by missing a wide open target on what should have been a very high percentage throw.

We have no way of charting every snap where Donovan looks downfield first and then goes elsewhere, but not in the flow of the play. Think about the number of times he hit stationary targets Sunday instead of guys on the move. He drops back, looks downfield and then checks down to Celek or McCoy...standing flat-footed. They run for a few yards, but get tackled. Hit underneath receivers early in the play on the move and you might have something.

San Diego designed their scheme to take away deep balls. They basically left open the middle of the field and hoped we'd stall out as the field shrank. Worked very well in the 1st half.

Donovan came alive on Sunday in the 2nd half. We only had one huge play in that game and it was an intermediate throw to Avant that he turned into a 58-yard gain because of RAC yards. I hope McNabb is able to take what he did in that 2nd half and carry it over to this week. If so, we could be getting ready to go on a winning streak. This offense is loaded with guys who can make plays if you'll just get them the ball.

Nobody wants to return to the small ball attack of 2000. That was ugly stuff. Our vertical attack puts a lot of pressure on defenses. We just need Donovan to focus a little bit more on moving the chains, especially on 3rd downs. The big plays are great, but we must be able to score when it takes a long, sustained drive.


Stephen said...

I have serious doubts about Mcnabbs ability to hit recievers in stride, I don't know why but our guys usually have to fall down to catch his passes that seem to be destined for YAC. It's like he's throwing at their knees instead of their numbers.

Cliff said...

I like your point about throwing to backs in stride. That forces defenders to treat them more like receivers and less like "check downs."

Myron said...

Tommy, based on your analysis of DeSean's RAC stats, do you believe that Kolb would be a more effective QB for this type of receiever in our offense right now?

I read your closing points and then went back to watch some week2/week3 highlight films with Kolb passing and began to wonder if consistently hitting an explosive receiver like DeSean mid-field, in stride, is more important than merely connecting with him close to the end zone.