Chris Conte's Bad Year, and Why There's Hope in 2014

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

We take a numerical and statistical look into the awful seasons of Chris Conte and Major Wright to answer the question: Why was 2013 so bad?

One of the things that's bothered me about the 2014 offseason is Chris Conte. I think we can all agree his 2013 season was one that the now-fourth-year safety would like to forget. The Bears' opponents ran roughshod all over the Bears defense, and a sprawling Chris Conte was often the afterimage of that play.

But I thought we should take a bit of a look at the safety's play over his career and dig into the numbers a bit - and by numbers, I mean both his statistics, PFF's ratings, and just how many plays he was counted on in 2013.

Tackles (PFR) Assists (PFR) Tackles (PFF) Assists (PFF) Missed Tackles (PFF) Overall Rating Run Rating
2011 23 7 26 5 5 0.0 -1.3
2012 52 16 61 7 10 -2.0 -3.6
2013 73 17 76 11 16 -15.8 -14.2

So, a couple of things stand out from just these numbers alone...

  • In 2013, Conte was relied upon to make more plays than he was in 2012 and 2011. Per PFR and PFF's missed tackles, Conte was an attempted tackler in 106 plays compared to 78 in 2012.
  • In 2013, Conte was on an island for more plays than he was in 2012 and 2011 (per PFR, his assisted tackles hardly nudged, and per PFF, his assists increased, but not in proper proportion to his tackles).
  • The drop in his run-stopping PFF rating between 2012 and 2013 makes the Marianas Trench seem like Mount Everest.

Looking at just Conte here, you'd certainly agree that Conte was awful in 2013. Let's quickly look at his companion in the backfield - Major Wright, the league's worst-rated safety last season and no-longer-a-Bear.

Tackles (PFR) Assists (PFR) Tackles (PFF) Assists (PFF) Missed Tackles (PFF) Overall Rating Run Rating
2010 17 4 25 0 0 -1.6 0.9
2011 41 16 52 7 6 -3.0 0.6
2012 52 19 61 17 10 5.1 2.9
2013 79 22 92 15 15 -27.6 -15.5

Okay, I misspoke. That drop makes Chris Conte's drop look laughably small.

  • So the first point, in 2012, Wright was involved in 81 plays per PFR (PFR tackles/assists plus PFF missed tackles) and 88 plays in 2013 per PFF. In 2013, those numbers spiked to 116 per PFR and 122 per PFF.
  • Major Wright experienced a 30-rating point drop in 2013, including an 18-point drop in stopping the run.

Does that sound familiar to Conte? It really should.

There's a couple of possible explanations for this.

  • Chris Conte and Major Wright were completely exposed as poor football players. But while both had terrible 2013 seasons, Conte was only slightly negative over his career to point (which is a small sample size), and Wright was coming off a positively-rated season, including a positive grade against the run. And the safety position, especially in space, can experience many difficulties when facing up a running back with a full head of steam. And both players were expected to make more plays; with PFF's rating system being more quantity-related, this can correlate.
  • One could also easily turn to defensive coordinator Mel Tucker; after all, his resume isn't a very statistically-impressive one, working with a new roster and asking players to do things they aren't capable of. However, it's one thing to draw up a play, and another to get those players to execute that play when on the field.
  • So, the question next turns to quality of play up front and the plays made there. Next, let's take a look at the defensive fronts between 2012 and 2013.
2012 Tackles (PFR) Assists (PFR) Tackles (PFF) Assists (PFF) Missed Tackles (PFF) Stops Overall Rating Run Rating
Henry Melton 31 12 32 7 1 29 15.8 -1.5
Stephen Paea 13 11 15 6 3 14 1.7 -4.1
Julius Peppers 32 7 24 2 1 30 9.9 0.2
Israel Idonije 29 19 27 6 2 30 17.8 7.5
Lance Briggs 74 29 85 16 9 46 12.1 2.0
Brian Urlacher 53 15 61 9 10 34 -11.3 -13.6
Nick Roach 51 15 49 11 6 28 -2.5 -1.7
2013 Tackles (PFR) Assists (PFR) Tackles (PFF) Assists (PFF) Missed Tackles (PFF) Stops Overall Rating Run Rating
Landon Cohen 8 6 13 2 1 10 -11.8 -13.3
Stephen Paea 11 12 22 7 4 18 -2.4 -4.5
Julius Peppers 31 14 30 5 5 26 -4.3 -2.7
Shea McClellin 14 16 13 4 7 14 -28.2 -19.2
Lance Briggs 51 20 57 10 18 35 0.5 3.0
Jon Bostic 45 12 45 17 8 30 -16.9 -15.5
James Anderson 85 17 85 13 9 40 -16.5 -23.1
Khaseem Greene 21 7 24 5 3 12 -9.6 -6.8
Jeremiah Ratliff 7 2 7 3 2 6 -2.5 0.4
Corey Wootton 28 7 24 4 0 21 -5.4 -0.2
David Bass 15 8 11 6 6 9 -7.8 -2.0
DJ Williams 19 8 22 7 5 14 -3.1 -3.0

That's a lot of defensive players for the Bears' front seven in 2013. There was a lot of dependency on youth and backups last season after the injuries that claimed D.J. Williams', Henry Melton's and Nate Collins' seasons, along with losing Lance Briggs for a time.

The four main numbers to look at in there are Landon Cohen's -13.3 against the run, Shea McClellin's -19.2, James Anderson's -23.1, and Jon Bostic's -15.5. Khaseem Greene's -6.8 isn't particularly palatable either, given the sample size of his play. But something else to note is that aside from Israel Idonije in 2012, nobody was particularly effective against the run either - but not double-digit negative trainwrecks.

This isn't much new information, but it does somewhat confirm what we've thought - that awful play up front makes everything harder for the defensive backs. In the run game, that's manifested in not being able to hold gaps and reduce running room for a safety to come in and clean up. The fact that so many more plays made it to the safeties is pretty damning in and of itself.

This isn't a defense of Chris Conte, Superstar. Conte is a guy that, against the run, can make the play in front of him, and not the plays breaking around him in space. The problem in 2013 was so many more plays being made unrestrained - no backs being funneled into other tacklers, no gaps being closed. Defensive linemen were overwhelmed, linebackers were washed out, and backs were free into the second level.

This doesn't absolve Chris Conte and Major Wright of their terrible seasons. But given both played closer to neutral or positive (in Wright's case) in 2012 indicates both play better with a better, more consistent against the run front seven. That's why the Bears went out and signed Lamarr Houston (+14.9 against the run in 2014) to provide a steady presence against the run on the other side - the old Israel Idonije role. But they need steps up from the other contributors on that defense as well.

In short, couple a bad year for injuries, neutral at best run-stoppers with a couple of disasters, and a new defensive coordinator with not much statistical success, and it can easily turn a neutral-to-negative safety into trouble. Next year, maybe it's a different story.

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