Would Nick Foles Be a Better Bet Than Mitchell Trubisky for the Bears?
The Jacksonville Jaguars parted ways with Nick Foles for a fourth-round pick from the Chicago Bears. There's not yet word on the extent to which Foles will compete directly with Mitchell Trubisky, but we do know that Bears coach Matt Nagy -- and others on his staff -- has worked with Foles back with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs.
What does the data say about who is the best fit in Chicago's offense?
The Recent Sample
One year of data -- just 16 games -- is never enough to make the best decisions, and with Foles, we have just four starts from 2019 to examine. Trubisky played 15 games in 2019.
As for their stats, Trubisky compiled a 5.9 adjusted yards per attempt average, which weights in touchdowns and interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 83.0. Foles' numbers were 6.0 and 84.6, respectively. Pretty close.
Was there more separation when we look at more advanced data, namely our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric? NEP, if you're uninitiated, takes into account box score variables such as down and distance to see who made the biggest impact on expected scoring chances. The easiest way to think of it is considering that a 5-yard completion on 3rd-and-3 is a better play than a 15-yard completion on 3rd-and-24. The increase and decrease in scoring expectation adds up.
So, last year, Trubisky posted a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.01 over 554 drop backs. That was 0.09 points per play worse than the NFL average of 0.10, and he ranked 33rd of 42 passers with at least 100 drop backs.
Foles? Well, his per-play Passing NEP was -0.08 over 125 drop backs, so 0.18 points per play worse than the average quarterback. He ranked 38th.
This also doesn't account for rushing, which Trubisky can do. However, his rushing was kept in check most of last year, and he added only 4.72 expected points on 42 rushes.
This isn't enough for a definitive answer, but 2019 -- when adjusting for play volume -- favors Trubisky.
The Bigger Picture
Digging back through the years shows a mixed bag, which isn't surprising in the least.
Of the 11 combined seasons (10 with at least 100 drop backs), these passers have combined for just three seasons above the NFL average in per-drop back Passing NEP. Two belong to Foles (2013 and 2018), and the other was Trubisky in 2018. We're actually just one season removed from a very similar year in terms of efficiency between the two.
Trubisky and Foles each took a step back in 2019, though we have to remember neither was fully healthy.
The big outlier is Foles' 2013 season, which was elite. He ranked fourth in the NFL in Passing NEP per drop back. Coincidentally, the Bears had a quarterback top him: Josh McCown (0.35) finished second.
Back in 2018, Trubisky out-dueled Foles narrowly, ranking 12th in Passing NEP per drop back. Foles was 15th. Trubisky also had the only relevant rushing contribution of either of them, when he added 34.8 Rushing NEP on 57 carries.
Interestingly, Sports Info Solutions shows some clear discrepancies in accuracy over the past two seasons.
|Pass Accuracy (2018-19)||Completion Rate||On Target Rate||Catchable Rate|
Compounding this with Trubisky's affinity for taking sacks (6.8% career sack rate taken compared to a 5.4% sack rate for Foles), a lot of the data suggests that Foles could do more to unlock the offense's ceiling.
This is despite Trubisky's propensity to throw the ball deep more frequently. Since 2018, 20.7% of Trubisky's passes traveled at least 16 yards downfield, compared to 16.3% for Foles. Trubisky ranks 9th among qualified passers in this sample, while Foles ranks 32nd. However, Trubisky has thrown 11 touchdowns and 10 picks on downfield passes, and both rank as bottom-of-the-rung deep ball passers in this sample in efficiency.
Trubisky has had a flash of -- not brilliance so much as competence -- in his three-year career, but Foles' true peak has been better than Trubisky's. We're dealing with unequal sample sizes, naturally, but we're also dealing with the recency bias of Trubisky's unimpressive 2019 season. Yes, it was still better than Foles', but he had a limited opportunity. The point is more that the Bears may be looking to anyone who isn't Trubisky.
If nothing else, Foles' accuracy numbers and better pocket presence -- as evidenced by the sack rate -- could do more to keep the Bears in games in 2020. The Bears boasted a top-10 defense across the board in terms of numberFire's overall, passing, and rushing defense numbers in 2019. With an offense better than 30th overall, they could have made more of a splash than their 8-8 record.
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