Fantasy Opportunity Breakdown: Chicago Bears

2019 Coaching Staff

Well that was a surprise. Many expected first year head coach Matt Nagy to begin the turnaround from the John Fox disaster, but I’m not sure anyone expected the Bears to win the NFC North and come just a few doinks away from the second seed (or, you know, winning the wild card game). While it was a disappointing end to an otherwise miracle season, that doesn’t change the fact that it was an otherwise miracle season. Nagy unquestionably returns to one of the safest head coach seats in football, bringing offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich with him (though let’s be honest, this is Nagy’s offense and Helfrich is just along for the ride). Chicago unfortunately lose defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to the Broncos, though. He will be replaced by former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers

What to Expect

Matt Nagy was brought in as a recognized QB guru to help shape the extremely inexperienced Mitchell Trubisky. While I’m sure that means that someday Chicago’s play-calling will lean more pass-happy, for now that means a strong running game that Trubisky can lean on as he develops. Regardless of whether Jordan Howard is kept or replaced, whoever is paired with Tarik Cohen in the backfield will be the heartbeat of the offense. Also helping Trubisky’s growth will be the continuity of the personnel; almost every 2018 day one starter will also be day one starters in 2019. With this in mind, it seems very likely that the 2019 Bears will look a lot like the 2018 Bears.

In fact, the most notable change with regard to how the offense will perform is actually a change on the defense. It’s tough enough having to follow up Vic Fangio’s top tier coaching, but Chuck Pagano’s resume feels particularly incomplete. Pagano has a pretty solid history as a secondary coach – and to his credit, those secondaries performed rather well on the whole – but he only spent a single season as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator before being scooped up as the Colts’ head coach. His one season in charge of the Ravens defense was great. His six years with the Colts? Not so much. Only once in those six seasons was Pagano’s defense in the top half of the league in yards allowed. The only plausible silver lining is that Pagano’s defense wasn’t a complete dumpster fire given how little talent GM Ryan Grigson was able to acquire. It’s tough to overlook six years of mediocrity when those were the last six years Pagano was in charge of anything, but given the circumstances and level of talent Pagano will get to field with the Bears defense, I’m inclined to believe that there shouldn’t be much dropoff.

The Data

While an argument can be made that Chicago will need to throw more than 2018 (Trubisky’s growth, tougher schedule, etc.), it’s also worth pointing out that the Bears were frequently forced to throw because the run game was that bad. The Bears started the season primarily running a gap blocking scheme, which was not the strength of the offensive line and certainly not the strength of primary back Jordan Howard. To that point, Howard only managed 2.9 YPC running behind a gap scheme last year. If your primary running back is getting less than 3 YPC, you’re going to have to pass if you want to maintain drives. What was lost in the shuffle though was that Chicago switched back to a zone scheme toward the end of the year, which Howard ran for 4.1 YPC behind. If the Bears keep that zone scheme (or if they bring in someone else more adept at running behind a gap scheme), they could easily run the ball more with better success. On balance, it seems likely that Nagy won’t stray much from the 54/46 pass/run play-call ratio he had last year.

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As mentioned above, the 2019 starting lineup will be almost identical to the 2018 lineup. If all the starters are the same and all the offensive coaches are the same, then it stands to reason that the target shares won’t change much either. The only thing that should really alter the balance is Trubisky’s own growth. In Trubisky’s first year under Nagy, he frequently only checked a single read before taking off. If Trubisky has a future in the NFL, he’ll need to do a better job of making it all the way through his progressions. Given that the shorter throws to running backs and tight ends were frequently the first read in an effort to build up Trubisky’s confidence and rhythm, more progressions will likely benefit the wide receivers the most.

Fantasy Impact

The Bears return almost all of their 2018 starting lineup in 2019, so the scheme shouldn’t change very much; we expect Chicago to continue to pass just a little more than they run, with a disproportionately large target share going to running backs thanks to Tarik Cohen. Ultimately, if there are any major changes, it will depend on Trubisky’s growth.

Projected Team Rush Attempts: 475 Attempts
Projected Passing: 355 Completions on 520 Attempts, 35 sacks allowed
Projected WR Catches: 185 Receptions on 290 Targets
Projected RB Catches: 100 Receptions on 130 Targets
Projected TE Catches: 70 Receptions on 100 Targets

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