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The Trial of John Fox: Part 2 - The Sound of Inevitability

In this 3-part series, I explore how John Fox has stunted the growth of his quarterback, his offense, and his team. Part two looks at 2017 and how Fox’s meddling has caused the Bears to become the most predictable team in the NFL.

Chicago Bears vs New Orleans Saints
John Fox
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In the first part of this series, I laid the groundwork to show you the evidence to indict John Fox. The evidence of what exactly? The evidence that Fox is meddling in the offense and, whether purposely or not, is ruining the chances of the offense having any success.

It was necessary to provide background and context to fully grasp why I believe what I do about the current state of the Bears offense. Now, I am not going to go full conspiracy theorist on you all, I could, but I will spare you that. Instead we need to explore the reasons why I am writing this. What was the genesis of this exercise?

Well, it circles back to the beginning of this trial. Something stinks and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. But I am not a journalist. I am not an investigative reporter. I am simply a huge Bears fan with access to statistics, film, and a somewhat advanced understanding of x’s and o’s. So naturally, that is where I went looking for the answers I was seeking.

I have mentioned that something stinks, but what does that mean? It means simply that what we are seeing now, does not match what we have seen in the past. The offense does not appear to be the same as 2016, heck, it isn’t even the same as it was the first four weeks of the season!

Many have posited, myself included, that Dowell Loggains’ system would be an excellent fit for Mitchell Trubisky’s skill-set. It features a lot of shotgun looks — 667 or 54.14% of offensive plays in 2016 — and precision passing. Many of the passing concepts that we saw last season were designed to free-up a receiver in space, and allow them to gain yards after the catch. This requires precise timing and accuracy. The ability to put the ball in a place so as to allow the receiver not to break stride during the catch.

Truth be told, this was very similar to the offense that we saw with Glennon as the quarterback. The biggest difference is that, for some reason, the Bears stopped running the ball as much out of the shotgun. In 2016, the Bears ran the ball 142 times out of shotgun, which was 11.5% of their offensive plays. It was successful too. To the tune of 5.64 yards per carry. So far in 2017, the Bears have run out of the shotgun 18 times, or 2.9% of plays. That is a pretty significant drop-off from one year to the next.

To date, the 2017 Bears are only using the shotgun formation on 38.1% of their plays. Again, this is a significant decrease in usage. What is even more disturbing is the disparity between Glennon and Trubisky’s usage of the formation — keep in mind that Trubisky was in an almost exclusively shotgun offense at North Carolina.

Glennon ran 44.2% of his plays from the shotgun. That is roughly a 10% drop-off from 2016, which can be attributed to the lack of a running attack from shotgun. Trubisky on the other hand, is only taking 31.9% of his snaps from the ‘gun. That is a shocking departure from what we saw last year. Again, what is truly frightening here is that the shotgun formation is what Trubisky should be the most comfortable in.

It should also be mentioned that Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen were used in shotgun-heavy, spread offenses in college as well. There is seemingly no rhyme or reason for the decrease in its usage, but the numbers are there for all to see.

Could Cody Whitehair’s trouble with the shotgun snap be contributing to this? Possibly, but his snaps seemed worse with Glennon than they have been with Trubisky. I can’t buy that as an excuse, not that one was even made.

Could it be the running game? Well, that is an excuse that the Bears have used. But look at the numbers last year, the shotgun runs were an extremely effective play. Why then would you stop using it? This brings us to the evidence of predictability.

Considering the numbers we have already seen, let’s take a look at just how predictable the Bears are based on the shotgun formation alone. In 2016, the Bears ran the ball on 21.3% of their shotgun plays, which is enough of a threat to keep the defense honest. So far, only 7.6% of shotgun plays are runs. No wonder the yards per play out of the shotgun is down from 6.29 to 5.08.

If your opponent knows what you are going to do 92.4% of the time out of a particular formation, why would you respect anything else? Morpheus [the venerable character from The Matrix] offers us this choice “...You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes." Let’s do as Neo did and go down that rabbit hole, shall we?

On the surface, numerical facts and video may seem like an odd pairing, but they complement each other perfectly. When a team prepares for an opponent, they look at this same information — both on the opponent and on themselves. You can only see half of the picture unless you have both elements. The numbers are meaningless without context. Each video of a single play, is a simple anecdote, without knowing the trends that the numbers provide.

Where do I start though? This is an existential question, like which came first, the chicken or the egg? Do the Bears struggle to throw the ball because of the plays or the players? Is the running game less effective because of predictability? Who is responsible for the game plans, Loggains or Fox? I know what I believe but I can only show you the door, you’re the ones that will have to walk through it.

Just how predictable is the Bears offense this season, and how does that affect the running game? The passing game?

For this exercise, I am going to get pretty detailed. As I said, this is the same type of information that a defensive coordinator is using to make a game plan. I had a feeling that this is what I would find, but the evidence is even worse than I thought.

Let’s start with the run/pass ratio by down. I will show you the ratios from 2016, 2017 as a whole, 2017 with Trubisky, and 2017 for the NFL as a whole. This should give you the proper context as to why I thought that something was just off with this offense.

1st Down Run/Pass Ratio

2016 Bears: 45.9% (R) / 54.1% (P)

2017 Bears: 62.5% (R) / 37.5% (P)

2017 Trubisky: 70.3% (R) / 29.7% (P)

2017 NFL Average: 50% (R) / 50% (P)

2nd Down Run/Pass Ratio

2016 Bears: 38.5% (R) / 61.5% (P)

2017 Bears: 51.5% (R) / 48.5% (P)

2017 Trubisky: 61.5% (R) / 38.5% (P)

2017 NFL Average: 38.3% (R) / 61.7% (P)

3rd Down Run/Pass Ratio

2016 Bears: 12.2% (R) / 87.8% (P)

2017 Bears: 18.1% (R) / 81.9% (P)

2017 Trubisky: 21.7% (R) / 78.3% (P)

2017 NFL Average: 15% (R) / 85% (P)

Nothing really surprised me here. Let’s keep in mind that overall numbers are skewed with 2 blowouts (with Glennon as quarterback), but these numbers illustrate some very disturbing trends. We know that the Bears run almost exclusively out of an I-formation. Let’s take a look at formation usage on each down.

Again, I am showing you the evidence in the context of 2016, 2017 as a whole, 2017 with Trubisky, and 2017 for the NFL as a whole.

1st Down Run/Pass Ratio in Shotgun (Of Total Plays Run per Down)

2016 Bears: 16.7% (R) / 37.8% (P)

2017 Bears: 3.6% (R) / 24.7% (P)

2017 Trubisky: 4% (R) / 16.8% (P)

2017 NFL Average: 14% (R) / 32.2% (P)

1st Down Run/Pass Ratio Under Center (Of Total Plays Run per Down)

2016 Bears: 29.2% (R) / 16.3% (P)

2017 Bears: 55.7% (R) / 16% (P)

2017 Trubisky: 66.3% (R) / 12.9% (P)

2017 NFL Average: 36% (R) / 17.8% (P)

2nd Down Run/Pass Ratio in Shotgun (Of Total Plays Run per Down)

2016 Bears: 16.6% (R) / 49% (P)

2017 Bears: 3% (R) / 35.6% (P)

2017 Trubisky: 2% (R) / 20% (P)

2017 NFL Average: 14.3% (R) / 47.8% (P)

2nd Down Run/Pass Ratio Under Center (Of Total Plays Run per Down)

2016 Bears: 21.9% (R) / 12.5% (P)

2017 Bears: 45.4% (R) / 16% (P)

2017 Trubisky: 46% (R) / 10% (P)

2017 NFL Average: 24% (R) / 13.9% (P)

3rd Down Run/Pass Ratio in Shotgun (Of Total Plays Run per Down)

2016 Bears: 5.3% (R) / 86.8% (P)

2017 Bears: 4.2% (R) / 80.6% (P)

2017 Trubisky: 6.7% (R) / 78.3% (P)

2017 NFL Average: 7% (R) / 82.4% (P)

3rd Down Run/Pass Ratio Under Center (Of Total Plays Run per Down)

2016 Bears: 6.9% (R) / 1% (P)

2017 Bears: 11.8% (R) / 3.4% (P)

2017 Trubisky: 15% (R) / 0% (P)

2017 NFL Average: 8% (R) / 2.6% (P)

The disparity between run and pass, down and distance, and which formation is being used, especially with Trubisky under center, is truly mind-numbing. Like I said, this isn’t a surprise, but to actually see the numbers makes me sick. How can you possibly expect a quarterback to succeed with this type of predictability, let alone a rookie?

Look, I get it, the Bears have the worst receiving corps in the NFL. But did they have a better group of talent when Glennon was running the show? Maybe, but that is debatable (at best), and certainly not enough of a difference to have the game plan devolve into something out of the 1940’s. It’s not like the Bears have Julio Jones on IR right now either.

The other thing that has been gnawing at the back of my mind is that we didn’t see this type of offense last year. Say what you will about Loggain’s and his ability to score points, but he was able to move the ball effectively with Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, and Matt Barkley.

Which begs the question, if Loggains could throw the ball (mostly) effectively with Barkley, why can’t he do so with Mitchell Trubisky? Is Barkley — Or Hoyer and Cutler for that matter — more talented that Trubisky? If that is the case, then Ryan Pace should be fired immediately. But I don’t think any of us believe that for one second. So what’s the deal?

My guess, based on the evidence, is that John Fox simply doesn’t trust a rookie quarterback. He thinks that by completely handcuffing him, that he is somehow protecting the team. But the evidence points to the opposite being true. By so severely altering the game plan, Fox is actually hampering his team’s ability to be effective, not helping it.

The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that if the reports of Fox being told — prior to the season — that this was the end of the line for him, that he might be purposely sabotaging Ryan Pace. What better way to do that than make the rookie quarterback— that Fox apparently didn’t know was being drafted — look like, well, a rookie quarterback, warts and all? Perhaps that notion is a little “out there,” but certainly, stranger things have happened.

The numbers don’t lie though, they back up the suspicions that I have had all along. But John Fox is not the only one responsible for this nightmare of an offense. The plays have seemingly changed, and that blight falls on the record of the one called Dowell Loggains.

The next, and final part of this trial will focus on the accomplice....

“This aggression (against Bears fans) will not stand, man!” - The Dude