We haven’t seen the new-look Chicago Bears offense in full swing just yet, but Head Coach Matt Nagy has essentially confirmed that the check-down offense we saw during the Mike Glennon stretch of the 2017 season is a thing of the past:
A reporter brought up to Matt Nagy how Mitch Trubisky continues to throw the ball deep instead of checking down.
Nagy’s response: "Yeah, that's never going to stop. Not in this offense.” #Bears
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) August 15, 2018
But here’s the thing about all that. Every new coach promises change when he takes over a new regime, especially the offensive-leaning ones. No coach arrives to a new town and suggests things need to be scaled back or a more conservative approach would do wonders. That’s just not how it works.
But here’s the thing about Nagy’s words … I believe them. And there’s even evidence suggesting the offense will walk the walk after an offseason where Nagy talked the talk.
Mark Chichester of Pro Football Focus recently explored which NFL wide receivers performed the best on each branch of the route-running tree in 2017.
Chichester pulled out the top-5 from each route, where you’ll find that Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill had the third best Wide Receiver Rating on go routes in 2017. Hill caught 11 of 20 attempts for 562 yards, five touchdowns, and an impressive 139.6 rating. The average rating here is 66.0, so Hill was far and away one of the best in the business going deep. Further, only two receivers – Pittsburgh’s Juju Smith-Schuster (158.3) and Detroit’s Marvin Jones Jr. (139.7) – had higher WR ratings than Hill. And just one player (Jones Jr.) hauled in more touchdown passes (7) than Hill (5).
The Chiefs really tapped into Hill’s potential as a deep-threat target, as he averaged 51.1 yards per reception and 15.5 yards after the catch per go-route reception. And while the Bears don’t have Hill, they did sign Allen Robinson, who gained a league-best 672 yards on deep passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air back in 2015. Perhaps Robinson could unlock Trubisky’s deep-ball prowess like Hill did for Alex Smith last season. Then again, for that to happen, the Bears will need to unleash Trubisky the same way the Chiefs did with Alex Smith.
Kansas City pushed the envelope with their starting quarterback last season, which led to 12.3 percent of Smith’s throws being deep passes. That ranked as the 15th most, according to PFF’s data. As a point of comparison, just 5.2 percent of Smith’s passes back in 2014 were deep attempts. From there, Smith’s percentage of deep passes increased each season as they jumped to 8.5 percent in 2015 and 9.4 percent in 2016.
The game is going vertical and the Bears are starting to get with the program. PFF notes that Trubisky threw deep on 9.1 percent of his attempts, which was the fourth lowest rate in 2017. But at least he made the most of limited deep pass attempts, grading out at PFF with the fourth best deep-throw rating (108.1) while limiting his turnover-worthy tosses (3.1%).
But because John Fox and Dowell Loggains were committed to what they were running last year, Chicago had the league’s worst deep-passing offense. And that’s a real shame, because we hoped the Bears would allow Trubisky to go into launch mode as the numbers suggested it would be good for him and the stagnant offense. At a minimum, it could’ve helped Trubisky’s overall development and preparedness for this season.
While the missed opportunities of 2017 could still be something that comes back to bite the Bears in the behind, the franchise’s offseason approach was different enough to calm those nerves. At minimum, it should be fun to watch the Bears go deep, instead of throwing another check-down pass in the flat.