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Mike Glennon: Set Up to Fail, Part 2

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NFL: Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 2016 Bucs beat the Bears by 26 points.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

So, when this was posted, the plan was to save the second part April 26th, while this piece was going to be about positional value in the draft. However, enough conversation was sparked that it seemed worth it to post this article ahead of time.

To be clear, I would love to be wrong about Mike Glennon. He seems to be a likeable guy, and the Bears could desperately use a little bit of free agency luck. After explaining why little in Glennon’s history suggests that he is specially disposed to success, it’s time to talk about his situation with the Bears. However, let’s grant for the moment that maybe Glennon will improve. Maybe he will be the exception that greatly exceeds his previous levels of play, because maybe he made the best possible use of his time on the bench and maybe he’s going take major strides forward.

Even if this very big “maybe” is granted, Glennon is going struggle to succeed in Chicago for three clear reasons: the limitations of the coaching staff, the state of the offense, and the nature of the defense.

First, let’s consider the coaching staff.

It’s no secret that I am not one of Dowell Loggains’ admirers. A number of those who believe that Glennon will be able to succeed claim that he will have a limited burden due to the presence of Jordan Howard (the Bears’ pro bowl running back) and the ability to simply “pound the rock.” Last year, with three different quarterbacks taking snaps, including the fourth-string replacement (Barkley), Loggains had the team passing over 60% of the time. That was up from 54% of the time the previous year, when there were fewer issues at quarterback. With a solid running back in place and with a mishmash of receivers, Loggains elected to pass well ahead of the average. This link includes information as to why I am skeptical of claims that the scoreboard dictated these decisions.

But John Fox likes to run the ball! Except when he doesn’t. In fact, Fox-led teams vary up and from year to year. In 2005, the Panthers only passed 49% of the time (26th in the NFL), but in 2006 they passed 57% of the time (10th in the NFL). Likewise, in 2011, with Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator, the Broncos only passed 46% of the time. In 2012, this changed to a pass rate of 55%. Moving from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning will have that effect on an offense. Fox-led teams fluctuate so wildly that there is little reason to think that he is going to insist on a run-first offense that leans on Howard.

Is it possible that Loggains will learn from his mistakes and will adjust his play-calling? Maybe. However, given that he failed to adapt to three different quarterbacks already, it seems unlikely.

Second, let’s consider the state of the offense.

There are many ways to measure the quality of an offensive line, and most of them are limited. However, in 2013 and 2014, Tampa Bay had the 21st to 29th-best offensive line in pass protection per Football Outsiders, and while some of that is inextricable from Glennon, some of it is obviously on the line (especially 2014). Given that Josh McCown was sacked on nearly 10% of dropbacks, Glennon’s relatively low 7.3% sack rate seems amazing. The 2017 Bears need work, but it seems likely that the they will give Glennon better protection than he had in Tampa Bay.

What about the other parts of the offense? Jordan Howard had a great rookie campaign, but even though he was a solid runner, he was limited as a pass-catcher (he caught under 60% of the passes tossed his way, and he had negative value on a per-play basis as a receiver, per Football Outsiders). Cameron Meredith is a solid find coming out of undrafted free agency, but he is currently the number one receiving weapon with the departure of Alshon Jeffery. The various other receivers are unproven or “second tier” guys. There is no proven field-stretching weapon. Moving over to tight end, things are a little more promising. Zach Miller is an above average tight end when healthy (16th in DYAR and 12th in DVOA last year), and I, personally, have high hopes for Dion Sims, but the best I can say is that he “looks promising.”

The chart below lists each of the “top” receivers on the Bears at the moment. The first number indicates where the player ranks among the 93 receivers in the NFL who were targeted at least 50 times last year, while the second indicates the total number of receiving yards.

2017 Chicago Receivers

Player Rank By DVOA 2016 Yards Gained
Player Rank By DVOA 2016 Yards Gained
C. Meredith 41st 888
K. Wright DNQ 416
E. Royal DNQ 369
D. Thompson DNQ 249
M. Wilson DNQ 160
M. Wheaton DNQ 51

Are there reasons each of these players struggled to fill a stat sheet last year? Yes. Is there reason to think that they might be able to do better in 2017? Sure. However, each of these players comes with a question mark. Maybe some of these guys will emerge as true weapons, but this is not a group that will carry a struggling quarterback. In other words, Glennon is going to have at best average weapons and a decent to good offensive line. The offense around him does not have the stability that would aid a quarterback in taking over a new team. The offense around Glennon is a big maybe.

Finally, consider the nature of the defense.

Is the defense developing? Yes. Is it managing to apply pressure to the quarterback? Yes. They were 7th in the NFL last year in sack percentage last year (per Sporting Charts, they managed a sack on 6.5% of passing plays).

However, this wasn’t enough to get the other team off the field. In fact, the Bears were 22nd in the NFL for allowing teams to convert third downs at a horrifying 40.5% rate. They were also 22nd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per attempt. They were 27th in the NFL in interception rate, only picking off 8 passes in 530 attempts. Ultimately, they were 24th in points allowed per game (all stats per Sporting Charts).

In other words, the defense is solidifying. It is improving compared to the Mel Tucker years. However, there was no sign last year that it was the kind of defense that was regularly going to string together multiple 3-and-outs, nor was there any sign that it was going to produce the sorts of turnovers that give a quarterback extra chances to score.

Were injuries a factor? Certainly. Will the defense be better with the addition of various free agent defensive backs? We can hope so. Will it provide an anchor to a team that needs to rebuild its offensive identity around a new quarterback? That seems overly optimistic. The defense is getting better. Maybe it will turn the corner. Maybe.

To review, Glennon might be able to buck the trend and improve on his initial 18 games. Loggains might learn from his mistakes last year and might reinvent his play-calling around the running back he overlooked for an entire training camp. John Fox might intervene and ask for a more run-heavy offense. Jordan Howard might develop as a pass catcher, and many of the other offensive weapons might turn out to be free agency bargains or steals. The defense might force stops or turnovers and give Glennon breathing room.

However, doesn’t it seem at least as likely that some of those things might turn out the other way?

Note, this is not an indictment of Mike Glennon or even the decision to sign him. Instead, it is an acknowledgement of one simple reality—the 2017 Bears are still in the middle of a major overhaul, and Mike Glennon’s role is clearly to hold things together and to keep games competitive while providing cover for the quarterback of the future. Maybe I am wrong. Even if I am not, this is still a better approach than throwing a rookie quarterback into a situation this shaky.