A Major Bears Offensive Shift Nick Foles Can Accomplish

Gene Chamberlain

Moves made by the Bears in the offseason indicate their aim for one major change in their passing game.

It may even have been part of the reason they traded for quarterback Nick Foles, as well.

It is a big reason they acquired three new tight ends in the offseason.

The Bears need to start getting into 12 personnel more this season. That's the modern coaching jargon for using one back, two tight ends and two wide receivers.

Pro Football Focus in a recent article said they ran plays from this formation just 11.5% of the time last year, 30th in the NFL.

There's nothing wrong with lining up in it just 11.5% of the time if that's the aim of the offense, but the Bears haven't wanted to do this since Matt Nagy became coach, and they want to drastically alter these numbers.

The PFF article speculated they would do it more because they have "questionable wide receiver depth behind Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller," which is completely wrong. Perhaps they aren't the deepest team when it comes to talented, experienced receivers but they do have some capable backup receivers.

The truth is they never wanted to be in 12 personnel so few times since the day Nagy took over the team.

Last year's 11.5% was the product more of a team with problems running the ball and being forced to use too many multiple wide receiver sets.

The Bears actually want to pattern their offense more after Philadelphia or even Kansas City than wide receiver-heavy scheme they have deployed.

So it's easy to see why they brought in Jimmy Graham and Demetrius Harris while also drafting Cole Kmet. The fiasco at tight end with so many injuries last year also helped decide this, but ultimately they not only need healthier tight ends but they need them lined up on the field more often when they are healthy.

Being in 12 personnel lets them obviously run more effectively with another tight end to block instead of a wide receiver, and also helps to diversify the passing attack more. This lets them keep defenses off guard.

Using this can lead to better yards after the catch, as well. They've been buried at the bottom of the league at this for two seasons under Nagy.

Using tight ends more is also a key reason they brought in Foles. He is a quarterback who knows how to get the tight end involved in an offense.

Foles has targeted tight ends 26.4% of his passes throughout his career, including the playoffs. He's had 28.7% of his completions go to tight ends. Wide receivers have been targeted by Foles just 53.9% of the time and account for only 46.6% of his completions. Backs get targeted 19.6% of the time and 24.5% of his completions go to backs. All of these starts are per Pro Football Reference.

In short, Foles has always been about spreading the ball around more than to receivers and especially to tight ends.

While Foles was getting the ball to tight ends or at least targeting them, Mitchell Trubisky has thrown to tight ends only 16.2% of the time with the Bears and completed only 16.9% of his throws to tight ends.

Those statistics include the nightmare John Fox-Dowell Loggains rookie season. Since Nagy came to Chicago, it's been even worse for Trubisky at 15.4% for tight end completions and only 14.4% for tight end targets.

Even when he had a healthy Trey Burton in 2018, Trubisky targeted tight ends only 18.7% of the time (80 of 426 targets).

Of course, Foles was at his best in Philadelphia and also in Kansas City, and it's easier to target tight ends when you have players the quality of Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert and Travis Kelce. The Bears last year had to throw to six different tight ends without any making more than 14 catches or more than 91 yards.

It's not so easy to go to 12 personnel when the options at tight end are so iffy.

Carson Wentz targeted his tight ends at a 37.6% clip last year and had 39.8% of his completions to them. Even the Chiefs with a high-flying attack and Tyreek Hill and only one real viable tight end were able to target tight ends 26.9% of the time last year.

The Bears aim to have more tight end involvement in the offense, more actual use of the tight ends.

There is one quarterback on their roster who has proven he can do this and one who has been unable to do it.

It's a major reason Foles figures to be their starter in a season when they obviously will try to use more 12 personnel in their offense.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven

Comments (8)
No. 1-3

Spot on, like you said, more tight ends in play will help running gm, which is my biggest worry this year. Should take a little pressure off o line, which need to prove themselves this year. Foles will take care of rest.


I really thought this was a very good article. Good stats and well thought-out. Thanks!


Interesting stats. I find the debate regarding Trubisky that Nagy is somehow coming up short by not "coaching to his talent" interesting. There are some basic truisms in championship level NFL offenses:

  1. They make the opponent defend the entire field.

  2. Schemes like RPO when run effectively with the right read guarantees a numbers mismatch in favor of the offense.

If your QB doesn't like throwing downfield and can't regularly find tight ends, then coaching to his talent puts your entire team at a disadvantage.

Similarly, if he can't make the proper read on schemes that give you favorable numbers, then coaching to his talent puts your entire team at a disadvantage.

It's not a coach being stubbornly wedded to a scheme as much as it is that an NFL QB has to be able to execute what consistently puts defenses in jeopardy and gives the offense an advantage.

Who's the GOAT? That's pretty much all he does- he can't run, isn't particularly tough, doesn't have a rifle- but he quickly recognizes where defenses are in jeopardy and can regularly take advantage of those situations.