Bears' play-action attack has potential

We analyze statistical data to predict the frequency of play-action passes for the Chicago Bears offense under Adam Gase, as well as how quarterback Jay Cutler might fare using more ball fakes.

What can Chicago Bears fans expect from the team’s offense under new coordinator Adam Gase?

That’s the question everyone in Chicago is trying to answer but, in reality, we won’t truly grasp Gase’s system until the regular season begins on Sept. 13.

The mystery surrounding Gase’s system stems from his limited experience as an NFL offensive coordinator – just two years with the Broncos – and the quarterback of his offense, Peyton Manning, whom many give credit for Denver’s success the past two seasons.

Gase is not a seasoned OC and worked with one of the greatest on-field generals in the history of the game. Will he attempt to recreate his Manning-led offense in Chicago with a much different quarterback in Jay Cutler? Or will he build a run-heavy system that puts the onus of the offense on the ground game?

No one can truly say but we can analyze certain data to give us a better idea of what to expect from the Bears’ offense in 2015. In particular, let’s dissect the use of play-action passes, which have been a lost art in the Windy City for two years.

Per Football Outsiders (FO) in 2013 and 2014 the Bears ranked in the bottom half of the league in play-action percentage (17th in 2013 and 18th in 2014). Not only that but Cutler ball fakes under former head coach Marc Trestman were fundamentally horrible, with Cutler barely pulling the ball away from his body.

It was a different story for the Broncos, who ranked 9th and 13th in NFL in play-action passes the last two seasons. Think about that, Denver had the No. 1 passing offense in the league in 2013 and still ranked Top 10 in play-action passes.

Obviously Gase believes in the axiom of running to set up the pass, as play-action only works when defenses are actually scared of your ground game.

So what does this mean for Cutler and Chicago’s offense?

To answer that question, we’ll use a Football Outsiders metric called DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average) that measures the success rate of each play-action pass in the NFL.

In 2013, the Bears ranked 19th in the league in DVOA on play-action passes and were far more successful on non-play-action passes (4th in the NFL). That differential in success between play-action and non-play-action ranked dead last in the league, meaning they were far more successful on straight drop backs.

In 2014, the Bears finished 12th in the league in play-action DVOA (up seven spots) and ranked 8th in success differential (up 24 spots).

In simpler terms, Cutler and Chicago’s offense were much more successful on play-action passes in 2014 than they were the year before. That type of improvement bodes well for what Cutler and the play-action attack can accomplish this season.

So if Gase chooses to install a heavy play-action system, which appears likely based on his history in Denver, the Bears should have a lot of success putting points on the scoreboard.

Finally, it stands to reason that Gase has made Cutler watch film of Manning, who executes the most technically proficient and efficient ball fakes in league history. If Gase can get Cutler to pull the ball away from his body and actually “fake” a handoff, the play-action attack becomes even deadlier.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.

Bear Report Top Stories