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What can we expect from the Chicago Bears' running game: Five Questions With Football Outsiders

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A few weeks ago, we had the chance to talk some Chicago Bears football with Tom Gower of Football Outsiders. If you aren't familiar with Football Outsiders, they bring innovative statistics and intelligent analysis with a sabermetric-type spin for both the NFL and the NCAA.

We've referenced their stats from time to time here on Windy City Gridiron and you may have seen their stuff on,, SB Nation and other well known sites.

If you are into cutting-edge statistical analysis, obsessive film study, sabermetric-money-ball type stuff, fantasy football, pro and college football, with some humor mixed in, then the Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 is a must read.

Here's the Q&A I did with Tom Gower...

Windy City Gridiron - Considering some of the run/pass and formation tendencies from Adam Gase while calling plays in Denver, how do you see the Bears run game shaping up with Matt Forte and whomever backs him up?

Football Outsiders - Well, they're going to try, at least. Basically anybody would have tried to run more than Marc Trestman did last year. The Bears ranked 32nd in percentage of first half plays that were runs, 32nd in first down run percentage, 32nd and second-and-long run percentage, and 30th in second half runs when leading. I don't think the Bears will be quite as run-heavy as John Fox's last Peyton Manning-less team, the 2012 Broncos (1st, 2nd, 7th, and 1st, respectively, in those categories), but it wouldn't surprise me if they were close.

Forte has never come out too well by our rushing metrics. The line obviously has a lot to do with that, but I can't imagine him being asked to carry 20-plus times regularly at his age and doing well with it. If I ran the team, I'd look at Jeremy Langford to play a regular role with Jacquizz Rodgers contributing on passing downs. We'll see what Gase chooses to do outside a Peyton Manning offense.

Windy City Gridiron - New Bears OLB Pernell McPhee has been getting a lot of national love based off his part time play in Baltimore the last few years. Do you see him flourishing in a featured role in Vic Fangio's defense?

Football Outsiders - Well, it's clear they'll be featuring him after paying him that kind of money and talking him up this offseason. There's no question he's a talented rusher and did some great work in Baltimore last year. There's also a big transition from playing on the same defense as Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil to being counted on to be the guy and draw more defensive attention. It's good, then, that the Bears are fairly deep at the position. That outside of Acho they don't have 4-3 experience is mitigated by how much time teams spend in sub package these days.

One thing I don't see on the Bears that will hurt the pass rush is a player on the defensive line in the same galaxy as Justin Smith, who did a lot to set up Aldon Smith's rushing opportunities under Fangio in San Francisco. That will limit the overall numbers, I'm guessing.

Windy City Gridiron - In 2013 the Bears offensive line was a strength of the team as Chicago's offense was 2nd in the NFL in scoring. After suffering a number of injuries along the line in the 2014 season, do you expect the group to bounce back in 2015?

EDITOR: This question was asked prior to the Bears' offensive tackles crapping the bed against the Bengals. So I'm not surprised at their lack of faith in the unit.

Football Outsiders - I doubt it will be good enough to run the type of offense Fox wants to run. Right tackle is still a major area of concern, as they're clearly searching for answers. At this point, I think they'd be happy to find somebody who can be adequate. A healthy Matt Slauson will help, but average is as much as I'd expect.

Our numbers weren't that impressed by the line in 2013. We had both Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills giving up a ton of hurries, but the scheme let Jay Cutler get the ball out quickly enough that those pressures rarely resulted in sacks.

EDITOR: According to Sackwatch, the Bears allowed 30 sacks in 2013 and 41 last season.

Windy City Gridiron - Rookie first rounder Kevin White has been slowed with a shin injury, but all indications are that he will get back at some point. My question is, will he or 2nd round pick Eddie Goldman have a bigger impact this year?

EDITOR: This question was asked prior to White having surgery, you know, back when he was still listed as day to day.

Football Outsiders - Our Playmaker Score metric was a bit down on White because most good NFL receivers who are high picks don't spend four years in college. Like fellow 2015 top ten pick Amari Cooper, they dominate early in their careers and leave early. Add to that his limited route tree and that he always lined up in the same spot at West Virginia, and I had more modest expectations than most people even when I thought he'd be back for training camp.

The thin defensive line, plus that defensive linemen in a 3-4 don't tend to play a ton of snaps unless they're freaks like J.J. Watt or Cameron Jordan, will mean Goldman gets on the field regularly. He probably won't put up numbers, but I think he can be a solid rotational player as a rookie.

Windy City Gridiron - Even though Jay Cutler set a career high in completion percentage and touchdown passes, and recorded his 2nd best passer rating of his career, he struggled with turnovers and in sustaining drives last year. Do you see him bouncing back and playing better in Adam Gase's offense?

Football Outsiders - In a lot of ways, there wasn't that much difference between 2013 Jay Cutler and 2014 Jay Cutler. A bit higher completion percentage, a bit more short passes. His actual interception percentage was lower in 2014 than it was in 2013 (3.2% v. 3.4%), though our adjusted numbers (including drops) have 2013 slightly better (3.7% v. 3.9%). The extra turnovers come from fumbles, which are a natural consequence of more sacks.

Beyond the more sacks, the other big difference between 2013 and 2014 was an important area, third-and-long performance. He was great there in 2013, converting a phenomenal 44% of the time with seven-plus yards to go. 2014, just 30%. This is an area that tends to be inconsistent from year to year because of sample size issues, so I'd expect a roughly league-average performance on third and longs, somewhere in between 2013 and 2014.

On the whole, Jay Cutler is 32. He has an extensive track record of playing quarterback in the NFL, with a well-established mix of great and boneheaded throws. It's hard to see that changing, as much as it will probably drive Fox and Gase nuts.

Thanks again to Tom Gower of Football Outsiders for dropping some knowledge for us.