Bears 31, Cowboys 24

Cowboys vs Bears: Good, bad and ugly

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In a must win game, the Cowboys did the unthinkable. They lost to a team with a quarterback who may not even be a starter next year. The game on paper didn't look bad, for the Cowboys only lost by seven points. But the game was dominated by the Bears after the Cowboys scored their opening touchdown. This was very similar to their game against Buffalo last Thursday. The Cowboys started hot then faded into obscurity as the game progressed.

The Good

- Ezekiel Elliott was once again the best player on the Cowboys offense. Sure Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup were able to each acquire 6 catches for 83 yards and 109 yards respectively, but most of their receptions came in garbage time when the Bears where playing a prevent defense, Elliot on the other hand was doing his best to carry the Cowboys offensively. He gained 81 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns. However, his efforts weren't enough, for the Cowboys offense looked stagnant when Elliott wasn't being fed the ball.

- Just like last week, the Cowboys offense did not get off to a slow start. On their opening drive, the boys looked like they had game planed properly for the Bears' defense, and Dak Prescott was able to march down the field with ease. This lead to a touchdown run by Elliott and gave the Cowboys a quick 7-0 lead. After this drive though it's as if Prescott and the Cowboys couldn't get first downs or convert simple offensive plays. The defense was able to pitch a shutout until garbage time in the 4th quarter.

- The Cowboys' defense was not great either giving up 31 points to the Bears. However, the one Cowboy who could not be blamed on defense was Jaylon Smith. He was second on the team with 8 tackles and had two miraculous stops in the end zone to prevent the bears from scoring a touchdown twice. He has become the leader of the Cowboys defense and plays his heart out every game. He has stepped up the most since Leighton Vander Esh's injury, and Jerry Jones is starting to look like a smart man for giving Smith his extension.

The bad

- Do not let Prescott's numbers fool you. Most of his completions came in the 4th quarter with the Bears playing prevent defense. Prescott looked great in the opening drive, but afterwards looked as though he couldn't quarterback to save his life. Just like last week when the Cowboys played the Bills, Prescott and the Cowboys looked atrocious after their initial score. Prescott went 1-9 after their first touchdown and did not look good until the 4th quarter. Troy Aikman said it best when he exclaimed that Prescott's numbers were "fake stats." His numbers suggest he had a good not great game, but to those who watched the game know Prescott had a Blake Bortles like game in which he didn't accumulate good QB numbers until garbage time. This is three subpar games in a row for Prescott, and if he is not careful, he can kiss that long-term extension good bye.

- Brett Maher wasn't terrible like he was last week, but he wasn't good either. He missed one field goal on Thursday from over 40 yards for the 6th time this season. He is now 1-7 on field goal attempts from 40 yards or more. He has now missed 10 field goals this season total, more than any kicker in the last four years according to FOX Sports. His job security now comes into question, and it's easy to see the Cowboys replace Maher this offseason. The Cowboys have reportedly worked out multiple kickers before this week, so It would also not be surprising if Maher is replaced before the season is over.

- There was only one thing worse than the Cowboys' offense and that was their defense. As previously mentioned, Jaylon Smith was by far the best player on defense, but everyone else was pretty much a no show on defense. They allowed the Bears to score 31 points and Mitch Trubisky looked like a Pro-Bowl caliber quarterback for the first time this season. To put some perspective on his performance, Trubisky's QBR was 80.6. He is averaging a QBR around 40 this season, meaning he played twice as good as he was expected to against this Cowboys' defense. In addition to their inability to stop Trubisky, the defense as a whole had an exceptionally hard time tackling all night, which lead to the Bears gaining extra yardage and extra opportunities to score. Injuries to Vander Esh and Jeff Heath have derailed this Cowboys' defense, and their matchups between the Rams and the Eagles don't bode well for this struggling defense.

The Ugly

- Costly penalties killed the Cowboys Thursday night. Xavier Woods got called for holding on Allen Robinson on a 3rd and 9. This would have forced the Bears to kick a long field goal on 4th down, but instead the Bears scored shortly thereafter to go up 24-7. Michael Bennet also got called for an avoidable penalty. On 3rd and 2 in Cowboys' territory he jumped off sides which caused the Bears to get an easy first down. This penalty also resulted in a Bears touchdown. In total, the Cowboys had 6 penalties for 52 yards. That can be blamed on bad coaching and a lack of discipline.

- The ugliest part of the game took place on the sidelines. Jason Garrett didn't look liked he cared that he was losing to the Bears. He looked as though as if he knew this would be his last season with the Cowboys, so he is just going through the motions of his job until his inevitable departure comes to fruition. The Players on the sideline didn't seem emotional affected either, but rather in shock. Michael Bennett's face after the bears scored their third touchdown was pure shock. It's clear the Jason Garrett has lost the locker room, and his players respect.

- Let's face it, the Cowboys don't even look like a playoff contending team. If it wasn't for the fact that they play in a bad division, the Cowboys could have been written off after their loss to the Jets. Time and time again they constantly fall under pressure, and when their games become must win games, they fold like a house of cards. Despite all of the talent this roster has, they have continued to underperform and shot themselves in the foot time and time again. This was a must win game, but for a multitude of reasons the Cowboys just can't seem to win the big game when it matters the most. To quote a famous ESPN personality "They are an accident waiting to happen. What can go wrong will go wrong for the Dallas Cowboys."

Even though the Cowboys have lost three games in a row, they are still in first place in their division due the NFC East being a joke, They look to defend their pity title when they square off against the playoff contending Rams next Sunday in what looks to be a lopsided affair. The Rams have bounced bag since their slow start, and look to claim a Wild Card spot as the season comes to a close. It will be a rematch of the 2019 NFC Divisional Playoff Round matchup, but this Cowboys' team is a lot different for last year's team.

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What do the numbers say about him? Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Carlos Correa endeared himself in the heart of Astros fans during his 2020 postseason run. He talked the talk off the field, and he walked the walk on the field. Correa slashed .362/.455/.766 in the postseason, hitting more home runs in 13 postseason games than he did in 58 regular season games. His performance has sparked discussions about whether or not the Astros should seek an extension with him this offseason.

Aside from the gaudy postseason numbers, he asserted himself as a team leader. The images and stories of Correa talking to Framber Valdez on the mound, telling Dusty Baker he was going to hit the walk off, and saying this is the most fun he's ever had playing baseball are fresh in everyone's minds.

However, that's just thirteen games out of a 667 game career (counting the postseason). The postseason games are the most important, and Correa seems to show up when the lights shine brightest, but the Astros have to assemble a team good enough to play under the bright lights for Correa to get that moment to shine. What do the numbers say about him?

Hard Hit % - 41.8%

Barrel % - 5.9%

K% - 21.8%

BB% - 7.3%

Chase % - 31.8%

(Numbers from 2020)

By the numbers, Correa didn't have the greatest regular season in 2020. He slashed .264/.326/.383 with a 97 wRC+, meaning he was 3% worse in run production that the average hitter. He was tied for 14th amongst qualified shortstops with Nick Ahmed of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Francisco Lindor (100 wRC+) was one spot ahead of Correa, while Orlando Arcia (96 wRC+) was one spot behind. His Hard Hit % was in the 65th percentile in MLB, and his Barrel % was in the 34th percentile.

His expected numbers suggest that the dip in performance wasn't a matter of bad luck. His .256 xBA is slightly worse than his actual batting average. His .406 xSLG is slightly better than his actual .SLG, but not by much. Correa had a wOBA of .305 and a nearly identical xwOBA of .306. Lastly, his .324 BABIP was actually a .021 point jump over last year, and it's a touch above his career mark of .316.

Correa likely struggled during the regular season because of a downturn in production to the opposite field. Correa pulled the ball 49% of the time in 2020. That was 16th amongst qualified hitters, and it's a complete outlier for him in his career. It was 14.4% higher than 2019, and it was 15.6% higher than his career average. In 2019, Correa had a 9% HR% on batted balls to the opposite field. He had an average exit velocity of 87.7 MPH with an average launch angle of 27°. His batting average was .368 with a xBA of .349 to that part of the field. In 2020, Correa had a 0% HR% to the opposite field (meaning he didn't hit one). He had an average exit velocity of 86.8 MPH with an average launch angle of 30°. His batting average was .382, but his xBA was .259. Keep in mind, Correa missed most of the 2019 season with injury, so the sample sizes aren't all that different (57 AB's in 2019 versus 34 AB's in 2020).

It's a similar story for the straightaway portion of the field. In 2019, Correa had an 11% HR%, 90.4 MPH avg. exit velocity, 8° avg. launch angle, .370 BA, and .424 xBA between the gaps. In 2020, Correa had a 5% HR%, 88.5 MPH avg. exit velocity, 4° avg. launch angle, .349 BA, and .362 xBA.

That all changed in the postseason.

Here is an overlay of Correa's spray charts from postseason games in which he hit home runs. Five of his six postseason homers were to center field, and three of the five to center field were on the opposite field side of second base.

Correa also made some physical changes at the plate over the course of the season, particularly late in the season, which means that the uptick in offensive performance is related to a physical change, not just some sort of ability to turn it on in the postseason. Correa mentioned that he and Alex Cintron compared video to his rookie season to look at hand positioning, and Correa started to mimic that. Then, there's the already-famed story of Correa and Cintron running to the cages mid-game to open up his shoulders and be less closed off. All of those changes are clearly visible on video.

On the left is Correa early in the 2020 season when the Astros were in San Diego playing the Padres. In the middle is Correa's first career home run in 2015. On the right is Correa's walk-off homer against Tampa Bay. There are four clear and obvious changes. First, he's holding the bat nearly straight up, which he wasn't doing at the beginning of the season. It supports Correa's claim that he and Cintron were looking at video from 2015 and trying to mirror that swing again. Then, there's the change with Correa's shoulders. In the first photo, if it weren't so grainy, you could read "C-O-R-R-E" in Correa. Same deal with the second photo, except it's even more clear. In the third photo, you can only read "C-O" which also supports the story of that mid-game adjustment with Cintron. Third, Correa has a lot less forward body lean with his torso. Correa hasn't spoken as to why he made that change, but it is probably tied to shoulder and bat orientation and helps him feel more comfortable. Lastly, Correa opened his stance, which is almost always going to help with vision.

The changes all probably help Correa feel more free when he swings. His postseason swing was much more North-and-South than East-and-West. His hands are able to work freely underneath his shoulders, and he has to do a lot less work to clear space for his hands to work. It's encouraging that the uptick in performance is clearly tied to physical work in the cage.

Correa did bring solid defense to the table as well. He's a finalist for the AL Gold Glove Award at SS along with Niko Goodrum of the Detroit Tigers and J.P. Crawford of the Seattle Mariners. Correa will likely win the award. However, the defensive metrics are mixed on his performance.

Errors don't count as an advanced statistic, but they still bring value to the table. There's a direct correlation between making errors and giving up free bases. Now, just because a player doesn't make many errors doesn't mean he's an elite defender, but it's hard to be an elite defender if you make lots of errors. Correa takes care of the baseball, as his one error was tied for the least amongst shortstops. Correa also performed glowingly by DRS (Defensive Runs Saved). His DRS of 8 was second amongst shortstops, second behind only Dansby Swanson. However, UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) had Correa at -0.7, which is below average. His OAA (Outs Above Average) of 0 roughly agrees with his UZR rating. Essentially, the numbers say Correa makes the routine plays about as well as anybody, but he isn't particularly rangy. His arm is also impressive and brings a lot to the table. Correa isn't a bad defensive shortstop by any means, he's above average, but this is probably the only Gold Glove he'll ever be nominated for, much less win.

When Correa is healthy and on his game, he is one of the most electric players in baseball. The problem is he hasn't been healthy and on his game nearly enough in his career. Over his five full major league seasons, Correa has missed 203 out of 708 games. He's been unavailable, mostly due to injury, in 30% of games over that time. That's quite a bit. The three injuries that have caused him to miss the most time are all back and torso related. The fact that the back issues have recurred is alarming, and it's something to monitor. It is really hard to be a good baseball player with a bad back. Credit to Correa, he stayed healthy for all of 2020, but it was only a 60 game season, which means there were fewer opportunities for injury. If he has another healthy season in 2021, it'll be enough to put the injury prone label to rest, but he hasn't done it yet.

And again, there's the issue of his performance being up-and-down over the years. In 2018, Correa missed 52 games due to injury, and had a wRC+ of 100, meaning he was exactly league average. That means he's been only league average or worse in two of his six big league seasons. Correa played extremely well in 2019, racking up 3.2 WAR and 143 wRC+, but he only played 75 games.

Between COVID, injury history, and streaky performance, there's too much uncertainty to give Correa a long term deal right now. However, his peaks, leadership ability, and apparent willingness to stay in Houston certainly make him a candidate for one. 2021 will be a "prove it" year for Correa, and it will go a long way in ranking him amongst the crop of shortstops hitting the free agent market after next year. Is Correa at the top of that market with Francisco Lindor, or is he at the bottom of that market with Javy Baez?

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