Diagnosing Allen Robinson’s production fall off with Chicago Bears in 2021

Chicago Bears - Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Bears - Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports /

Fantasy owners, Chicago Bears fans, and Allen Robinson himself have to be disappointed about what has transpired through the 2021 season. Robinson is on the franchise tag and will be a free agent next year. Beyond that, he arguably is playing with the most talented quarterback of his career. This was supposed to be a breakout year for him.

Instead, he is averaging 39 yards per game. For perspective he was at 78.1 last season, and 66.3 for his career. What happened?

Offensive Pace

The biggest issue may be the entire construct of the offense. The Bears seem to be easing Justin Fields into an NFL playbook, and beyond that, they have led by two scores in the majority of all three of their wins. All of that combined has the team as the run heaviest in the NFL, and one of the slowest in the NFL.

Last season the Bears ran 38.4 pass plays per game, and this year they are down 24.2. They are skewing run-heavy, but are down from 2.08 pace to 1.85, meaning they are getting off fewer plays as well.

Lastly, he is blocking on 40% of his snaps, per PFF. With Chicago those numbers have been 36%, 33%, and 31%, So, fewer opportunities overall, and even those are cut by a few more snaps per game.

Is Allen Robinson still the Chicago Bears alpha WR?

The pace is clearly the issue and it shows in Robinson air yards and target share. Darnell Mooney has seemed to find chemistry with Justin Fields faster than Robinson, but it is hard to say the emergence of Mooney is cutting into the workload of Robinson.

Last season the Bears targeted Robinson on 24.8% of targets, while he is at 25.7% this season. Mooney is getting a bigger piece, but he is mostly eating what Anthony Miller, and Jimmy Graham, who hardly plays got.

A slight difference comes in air yard share. Robinson is 28.1% of the team’s total air yards this year, while he was at 31.4% last year. When you add in that there are fewer air yards in general because of this pace, this hurts a bit, but not a ton.

Is Working from the slot hurting Allen Robinson?

When the team let Miller go, and added Damiere Byrd and Marquise Goodwin it was clear that Robinson would see an uptick in slot snaps. Byrd, Goodwin, and Mooney all have speed on the outside, and in theory that would open up the short stuff for Robinson to get volume.

This has worked in the sense that Robinson is playing in the slot at a career-high rate, but it is not helping him yet.

Last season Robinson spent 29.6% of his snaps in the slot. He was excellent in there, picking up 2.02 yards per route run, and getting a 33% target share from the slot. This season he is in the slot 40.1%, but is getting targeted on 27% of his slot routes, and has 0.86 yards per route run in the slot.

He is in the slot more but is not targeted in the slot as often, which is a problem, but the efficiency is even worse. His yards per route run is 1.77 from the outside, which may be where they want to move him more often.

Chicago Bears WRs Struggling Against Zone

This may play a role in the slot struggles, but Justin Fields is seeing an abnormally high amount of zone coverage to start his career. It does make sense because in man, defenders will turn their backs to follow wideouts, which makes Fields a run threat. With eyes on Fields, he has been contained to the pocket.

This has been a detriment to Robinson. Last season he averaged 2.63 yards per route run against man coverage and saw man on 44% of his targets. This year he is down 1.10 and seeing man just 16% of the time.

He has actually been slightly better in zone this year, at 1.4 YPRR, but that is with increased volume over man, and that rate 1.9 YPRR against zone last year.

One issue with Robinson running short routes against zone is that this part of the field becomes very congested. When you add in that Goodwin and Byrd do not strike fear into teams, and now corners, linebackers, and safeties can key in on Robinson. His yards after the catch per reception is down from 3.8 to 2.7 when working out of the slot, and again that could be because as he catches it, the zone swarms on him, and he is not just beating a slot off the line to gain yards.

Middle of the (Justin) Fields Issues

This is not to say that Mitch Trubisky would improve the fantasy value of Robinson, and he faced much more man, but Trubisky targeted the middle of the field more often than Justin Fields so far. Trubisky targeted the short to the intermediate middle on 37%, and 35% of his attempts in the past two years. Justin Fields is down to 27%.

This is not necessarily a bad thing because a lot of the differential is Fields taking downfield shots. However, the issue is that these shots go to Mooney, Byrd, and Goodwin. This again speaks to Robinson still getting targets but losing a bit of the air yards.

This has clearly affected him. 28.7% of his targets were in the short middle of the field last year, and that number is 27.1% this year, by far his most targeted area. This year he is average 0.87 YPRR and 6.8 yards per catch in this area. He also has two yards after the catch per catch there. That comes with no TDs and a 57.9 passer rating.

Robinson was at 115.8 passer rating in that area last year and caught three touchdowns. He averaged 8.3 yards per catch, 2.9 yards after the catch, and 1.88 per route run. Just in this area, he is down from 18 yards to 5 yards per game.

Lastly, Trubisky had a bad thrown rate of 18.1% last season, which was not good. Still, he had the same rate as a second-year player and in his first year with Matt Nagy. Fields has a 21.6% bad throw rate this year

Fields also is getting 4.2 yards after the catch per reception from his pass-catchers, while Trubisky saw 5, 4.3, and 4.9. Trubisky is not great at setting his men up for YAC, but Fields has been worse.

Fields is limiting a bit of what Robinson can do by not targeting him where he works best. This is not a slight on Fields, who averages 7.7 air yards per completion to the 5.3 of Trubisky. The reality of that stat is that Fields is not looking for quick hitters to get YAC, but rather looking to flip the field with the deep ball. Robinson is in the role to catch the quick hitters.

Is Allen Robinson struggling?

An easy solution is to get Robinson on the outside more and let him track some deep balls. However, it is fair to note that Robinson himself is struggling.

To start, his 8.7% drop rate is well above his 5% career average. He also is hauling in 35.7% of his contested catches, which is below the 50% mark he had for his career. Even his 45% last year raised flags with fans and lowered his career numbers, but this year it has been worse.

Also, on deep routes, Robinson is down in yards per route run and contested catch rate. Beyond that, he is being targeted on 25% of deep passes from Fields as opposed to 14.7% last year. So, they are trying to get him open downfield, his game is just more predicated on dominating man coverage and getting quick separation underneath.

While it would be easy to say just have Robinson run deep more often, it appears even in those areas him and Fields have not been on the same page.

What to expect from Allen Robinson

It is tough to say what to expect from Robinson. On one hand, if the Bears trail in more games, and are not able to run the football, they will have to up the pace and pass attempts at some point. Even in their loss to Green Bay, it was a tight game where GB held the ball and played slow.

Against Tampa Bay, an elite run defense with an offense that can fire all over the place the Chicago Bears will have to open their pace. Next, the question comes down to whether Fields can adapt to finding Robinson in stride on quick passes, or Robinson will have to get better at tracking balls downfield and hauling in contested passes.

Next. Bears offense stalls off-script. dark

Still, the fact that the schedule does lead to more passing, the rookie progression, and the reality that Robinson still has his high target share, it is expected that some big games will come, although not nearly as frequently as many hoped.