The criticisms of Dowell Loggains’ Bears offense under John Fox in the 2017 season are by now well known and understood. From the famed nonsensical run-run-pass ratio that opposing defenses used to repeatedly stick Chicago in less than ideal third down situations, to a general lack of rhythm and not maximizing what talent (Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Mitchell Trubisky) the Bears actually had: Loggains’ scheme was thoroughly inane.
This stubborn commitment to a broken plan was a demonstrable part of the reason the Bears had the NFL’s 29th ranked scoring offense, 30th ranked offense, and 32nd ranked passing offense. Predictability will be the death of many offensive onslaughts.
What was interesting about how the Bears elected to operate offensively last year was the time they left on the play clock, illustrating their overall play style. In comparison to what Matt Nagy was running with the high tempo, but measured Chiefs, it was a drastic shift.
The chart above illustrates how much time on average NFL teams left on the play clock before offensive snaps in the 2017 season. You’ll note that the Bears were right around the middle in taking as much time as possible: 13th in the league. That fits in line with what Chicago unsuccessfully to accomplish. Even more so, it speaks to haphazard disorganization considering the company the Bears share in the middle with top 10 (by Football Outsiders’ DVOA) offenses such as the Cowboys (14th-least play clock time, 10th in DVOA), Falcons (16th-least play clock time, 9th in DVOA), and Saints (19th-least play clock time, 2nd in DVOA).
Loggains would have Trubisky attempt to get the Bears in the correct, balanced play (not often), or the Bears would waste so much time at the line of scrimmage due to confusion that they’d run the clock down by necessity, not by calculation. That’s both Trubisky’s inexperience and a lack of cohesive coaching.
You’ll note that time remaining on the play clock has no actual correlation to offensive success as the spectrum of high-powered offenses featured is all over the place. This chart is a measure of play style and what teams are trying to achieve when attacking defenses: including the previously discombobulated Bears.
Teams that left the least time on the play clock such as the Eagles (least amount of time left on the play clock, 8th in DVOA), Chiefs (3rd-least play clock time, 4th in DVOA), and Steelers (2nd-least play clock time, 3rd in DVOA) preferred to get everyone set at the line of scrimmage. These offenses were about getting the correct call, finding the mismatch with as much allotted time on the play clock as possible, and then chipping away at a defense. They weren’t and aren’t concerned about exhausting a defense as much as getting players in the right spots to break through.
Already mentioned, teams in the middle like the Cowboys, Falcons, and Saints enjoyed a healthy balance of no huddle scheming and patience. They’re not the most successful, but they stuck to an identity that works offensively. The best of both worlds.
And from the opposite end of the spectrum, the Patriots (most time left on the play clock, 1st in DVOA) and Rams (6th-most time left on the play clock, 6th in DVOA) were predicated on getting to the line of scrimmage quickly with multiple plays in their back pocket. This was to keep defenses on their heels and as a means of slowly exhausting them at top speeds. This is more in line with a new school of thought that aims to work defensive conditioning and mismatches.
Notably, the two Super Bowl LII teams in the Eagles and Patriots were at the literal opposite ends of the spectrum, showing there is no right way to use time on the play clock. Understand what you do well and execute. Have a plan and master it. Offensive football is easy when you do that.
What this means for the Bears and Trubisky under Matt Nagy moving forward is that they should understand what they do well offensively, and make a wholehearted commitment to that philosophy. Offensive patience or hurrying up works either way. It can even be combined together.
If last year’s Chiefs are any indication, expect the Bears to be in a lot of no huddle while being among the NFL’s leaders in the least remaining play clock time. The key is going to be the young Trubisky getting the Bears into the most optimal play time and time again, moving around Chicago’s versatile parts, and only snapping the ball then.
For comparison’s sake in no huddle while extrapolated, Nagy’s Chiefs were also among the league leaders in no huddle shotgun snaps, shotgun snaps as a whole, and passing out of the shotgun. The Bears under Loggains were at almost a 50-50 balance of under center to shotgun, while Kansas City at 70-30 overall instead heavily relied on the shotgun. A sophisticated college offense. Given Trubisky’s skill set as a run option quarterback, it’s safe to make the assumption this offensive mandate carries over to Chicago. Maximizing what your players do best is such an underrated part of coaching.
What we can ultimately discern from these deeper numbers is that good players and good coaches means lots of points and yards. No seriously, there’s nothing to time on the play clock remaining if your identity as a team is established. It’s simple. Have good talent and have people that know how to use that talent.
Furthermore, based on Nagy’s time in Kansas City, the Bears’ identity this era will be that of a patient team that pushes the pace at it’s own accord. No huddle doesn’t necessarily mean working to snap the ball as quickly as possible. It means not giving the defensive opportunity to gather itself and organize while your offense comes together at the line. A way of getting the upper hand. And a fascinating school of thought that Nagy’s Bears should take every advantage of.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.