Any Given Sunday
The weekend's biggest upset goes under the Football Outsiders lens.

Any Given Sunday: Saints over Bears

Teddy Bridgewater, Mitchell Trubisky
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Rivers McCown

The Chicago Bears have an offensive problem. It's Mitchell Trubisky. But it's also more than Mitchell Trubisky.

Last season, the Bears were able to at least somewhat rely on their running game. They had 11 different 100-yard games, and while their offensive rushing DVOA was just -7.0%, they were still creating enough volume to get third-and-manageable. This season, Matt Nagy's second, the running game has almost completely been abandoned. They have one 100-yard game, against Denver in Week 2, and four separate games of less than 72 yards. This includes a game against Green Bay, whose run defense DVOA of 2.9% was ranked 26th at the time, in which the Bears ran for just 46 yards. The Bears are 30th in the NFL in rushing attempts, despite the fact that they have rarely found themselves in a tough negative game script until late this week against the Saints.

A big swing point for the Bears was supposed to be that guard Kyle Long would come back healthy in 2019, but instead, Long never looked right in 2019 and is already on IR. The rest of the line hasn't developed. The Bears have no power at all -- they are second-to-last in successful runs in Power situations, and at 30% coming into last week's game, were 36% worse than the league-average. The fact that they have Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery was supposed to enable them to use both at the same time to fool defenses. Through Week 6, the Bears were averaging 3.2 yards per carry and 5.1 yards per pass attempt when using 21 personnel.

The Bears ran the ball just seven times in the first three quarters against New Orleans. Let's look at three of those plays.

On the first play I've picked out for you, you'll see the Bears run out of 11 personnel, then have left guard Cody Whitehair (65) absolutely bulldoze ... his own tight end.

Our second selection is 21 personnel, with the Bears using read-option. Trubisky improperly reads the end, and pitches to avoid taking a hit while giving away a numbers advantage.

Finally, we've got Cohen with an wide-open cutback lane and instead he runs right into the safety. They ran for zero first downs and 17 yards in those first three quarters.

Little of the infrastructure surrounding Trubisky has changed. The offensive line doesn't have Long, but they didn't have Long for most of last season. The hurry rate has gone up slightly, and the only thing that looks ridiculous in isolation if you look at his Next Gen Stats from year to year is the depth of his average completed pass. His average air yards per completion in 2019 is 3.8, the lowest of any player not named Luke Falk. Last year it was a more middle-of-the-pack average of 6.0.

Play-action isn't a big deal for the Bears -- that was something Trubisky wasn't great at even last season. In theory, this isn't a personnel problem. Allen Robinson continues to look amazing. Anthony Miller and Trey Burton are credible receivers, several teams have stretched the field successfully with Taylor Gabriel, and whoever is in the backfield has some real talents on display as a receiver. It's worth noting that even when Chase Daniel was in, the design of this offense was extremely horizontal. Daniel and Trubisky have averaged intended air yards of 6.5 and 6.8, respectively.

Then there are plays like this:

Matt Nagy has to find a way to get this offense more vertical, and even though Trubisky is terrible with play-action passes, it might help to work in more runs overall. Right now this offense is just locked on to gaining 2 yards of separation underneath and hoping they can break three tackles for a first down. It looks like a caricature of a college spread offense.

Where the Game Swung

Here's how our EdjSports overlords and their Game-Winning Chance (GWC) model see the game.

  • The first major shift up in the chart is Anthony Miller's first-quarter fumble, worth 12.1% GWC.
  • The second major shift, back down, is Cordarrelle Patterson's kickoff return touchdown, worth a game-high 13.9% GWC.
  • Will Lutz' rare missed field goal was the next big shift down on the chart, with 2:22 left in the second quarter. That cost the Saints 10.4% GWC.
  • Teddy Bridgewater's long completion to Ted Ginn down at the Chicago 3 in the third quarter was worth 10.4% GWC.
  • Finally, David Montgomery's fumble in Chicago territory cost the Bears 10.8% GWC.

The Bears briefly recovered some GWC on Lutz's second miss, but quickly found themselves in sub-10% GWC territory.

By the (D)VOA

DVOA OFF DEF ST TOT
NO 38.6% -15.7% -26.5% 27.8%
CHI -27.6% 21.9% 12.8% -36.7%
VOA OFF DEF ST TOT
NO 37.2% -24.7% -26.5% 35.5%
CHI -31.3% 27.3% 12.8% -45.8%

This is actually the worst DVOA special teams score we've seen all season. DVOA does not consider New Orleans' blocked punt that led off scoring to be a predictive play -- we can't use it forecast the future. You combine that with the kickoff return touchdown, the two missed field goals, the penalties on their own returns … this was a very noisy special teams game. FO editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz noted that in the future he'd like to make a separate single-game special teams DVOA score that includes "non-predictive" plays like the blocked punt, but it hasn't happened yet.

Chicago's offensive DVOA by quarter: -71.8%, -52.7%, -149.3%, 49.8%. That last rating would be even higher if we didn't reduce the effect of fourth-quarter "garbage time."

Preloaded for the Playoffs

There's not a lot bad to say about the New Orleans Saints. They're 6-1 with the one loss coming in the game where they lost Drew Brees. The defense has retained its play of a year ago, ending up a little bit above-average. The offense has been down a bit, but obviously that has come with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm. I want to launch a Hot Take for the Saints portion of this column: I think spending this time with Bridgewater will be a positive for the Saints in the long-term.

Each of the last two seasons, the Saints have come into the playoffs with a shiny record only to be held back by Brees not playing quite as well down the stretch. Brees and the Saints scored more than 23 points just twice in their final seven games of the 2018 season. (Bridgewater did start one of those games.) The passing attack sputtered out multiple times, and while the downfield throws were there, they weren't being hit. Brees was 1-for-6 on passes over 15 yards in the NFC Championship Game against the Rams:

Against the Eagles in the divisional round, Brees was 2-for-6 beyond 20 yards, with the two completions coming just barely over 20 yards. The same shows up in most of their games down the stretch. Brees' deep hose was lacking after being so, so good early in the season. 2017 was the same story:

A great, hyper-efficient quarterback. But one that just couldn't throw deep.

It's one thing to throw Bridgewater out there for a game or two when playoff seeding is assured, but it's a totally different thing to have to game plan for teams with him. Over his first three starts, Bridgewater was, well, like playoff Brees. He was incapable of hitting a deep ball. In Week 5, though, the Saints were able to come up with some route combinations and throws that worked for him, which I will happily show you instead of having to use Soldier Field's "All-22."

Here's a play where Tampa Bay is using aggressive man coverage with one deep safety, and the Saints run play-action out of 11-personnel with a wideout blocking and releasing later in the down. Ted Ginn takes a deep post route, occupying the safety, while Michael Thomas releases to the middle of the field, then runs under Ginn's route. The result is that Thomas is face-guarded, but in a spot where a deep ball with touch can get there. Bridgewater is not the quarterback who is going to fit a deep ball into a tight space, but if you give him this kind of loft ball, he can damage you deep.

Bridgewater's completed deep pass to Thomas late in this game was more of the same: It didn't light up any radar guns, but it was effective.

With Brees getting some rest, the Saints are able to train the rest of the offense in the event that Brees comes back later in the year and watches his arm strength fade again. Or, maybe, Brees will save up enough bullets by not playing a full season to actually be full strength come playoff time. Either way, the Saints have pounced on their division with a backup quarterback, which is a testament to the strength of this team, this offensive line (you didn't see me mention Khalil Mack at all, did you?), and Sean Payton.

Comments

3 comments, Last at 22 Oct 2019, 8:01pm

1 Saint's Defense better than you let on

You might want to revisit this statement:
The defense has retained its play of a year ago, ending up a little bit above-average.
Chicago's offensive explosion of the late fourth quarter came against some lightly used players including two rookie udfa dl's (one who spent training camp in prison) and special teams lb's. That comes after 7 and 1/2 quarters without allowing a touchdown.
.

2 Saints run D

When Rivers says they ran 7 times for 17 yards (with 2 fumbles, both lost) in the first 3 quarters, those are the stats for the entire game. In the QR thread, Vince states that for this game, the Saints run D was -155.6%.

The Saints run defense was great last year, and looks to be great again this year. It is interesting that in this age of more passing, the Saints D is seemingly prioritizing stopping the run. For whatever reason, it is mostly working.

3 Saints OL

There were some plays (including the one Rivers highlighted) where Bridgewater didn't have anybody come close to him. He just took the snap, scanned the field, waited, took a smoke break, waited some more, then hit the open receiver deep.