Last season, the Chicago Bears’ offensive game plan was called basic and predictable by one of its own players, so I don’t even want to imagine the nicknames it was given by opposing defenses.
But whatever it was, it was probably deserved. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears’ deep passing game in 2017 was precisely the league’s worst:
Which teams picked up the most yards on deep passes to wide receivers in 2017? pic.twitter.com/3o6N2OXRKD
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 4, 2018
Of course, Mitch Trubisky was handed a simplified offensive game plan as a rookie and was basically asked to manage games and stay out of harm’s way – which is exactly what he did (going deep on just 9.1 percent of his attempts, the fourth-lowest in the league), but still what a bummer.
Factor in the defenses packing eight (and sometimes nine or more) players in the box, and there’s no way opponents weren’t going to be well-positioned to make plays on short and safe passes in the risk-averse, ball-control offense. Indeed, as the graphic shows, the 218 yards on deep passes from Chicago’s wide receivers were the fewest in the NFL last year. And when the most-frequent targets of deep passes were Josh Bellamy (6) and Dontrelle Inman (5) it’s not even much of a surprise.
So what’s going to change this season to improve on this front? Well, to start, let’s look at one team that ranks near the top of the list.
The Kansas City Chiefs – led by then offensive coordinator Matt Nagy – gained 936 yards on deep passes to wide receivers, which were the third most in the league and more than 3x what the Bears posted in 2017. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum. Fortunately, the Bears poached Nagy from the Chiefs in the offseason, and he’s expected to open up the playbook and be more aggressive with his young quarterback.
And if Alex Smith’s 2017 campaign is any indication of what is in store for Trubisky, then watch out. PFF notes that Smith ranked fifth in big-time throw percentage for the Chiefs in 2017, while checking in at third in turnover-worthy plays. So not only was Smith taking shots down field, he was doing so while minimizing risk. What a concept!
And of course, there’s hope for Trubisky beyond a new play book (or even the additions of Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel (although, let’s be honest, they really don’t hurt).
Last season, Trubisky finished 23rd in big-time throw percentage, a stat from PFF that suggests the Bears’ quarterback has shown the ability to throw his receivers open down the field. He also posted a 108.1 rating on throws that traveled 20+ yards down the field. Clearly, he already boasts some raw talent in the deep-game department, and there’s no reason further improvement/development isn’t right around the corner.
So in the end, the Bears will likely hope that Trubisky takes a step forward on his own next season, while benefiting from a couple of new receivers lining up alongside him, and a head coach with plays that should be anything but boring or predictable. It’s not a lock – by any means – but I think it sounds like a plan, right?
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.