Chicago Bears’ fast start: Inside the Numbers

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Two games do not make a season, so Chicago Bears’ fans should guard against getting too giddy about their team’s 2-0 start, even though both of its wins came against 2012 playoff participants in the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings.

Bears’ fans need to look no further than their own club’s history to see how easy it is to be seduced into a false sense of confidence by a quality start.

The 1989 Bears roared to a 4-0 record, only to lose future Hall of Fame DL Dan Hampton to a season-ending injury in their week four victory. They proceeded to lose 10 of their next 12 games, finish the season with a 6-10 record and watch their five-year reign as NFC Central champions come to an end.

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Yet, through the first two weeks of the 2013 season, admittedly a small sample size, the Bears have shown marked improvement relative to last season in most statistical categories.

The Bears’ offense is scoring at an appreciably higher rate.
The Bears have tallied 55 points, 48 offensively, for an average of 24.  Last season, the Bears scored 375 points, 321 offensively, for an average of 20.1 points per game.  Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler, who was panned last year and during the exhibition season for excessively targeting WR Brandon Marshall, has achieved far greater balance with his array of offensive targets.
In 2012, Marshall’s 118 receptions represented 41% of the Bears’ completions; his 1508 yards 46% of his team’s receiving yards; and his eleven touchdowns 52% of the Bears’ scoring receptions.

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This season, Marshall’s production is comprising 31% of his team’s receptions; 41% of his team’s receiving yards; and 40% of its touchdown receptions.  Yet, the Bears are averaging 262 passing yards this season against just 187 last year.  Cutler’s QB rating was 81.3 last season, 95.4 this one.  His completion and touchdown percentages would be career highs.

Several players have benefited from the enhanced balance on offense.

RB Matt Forte has already hauled in fifteen passes for 112 yards after being limited to just 44 catches in fifteen games (2.9 per game) last season.  In 2012, Bears’ tight ends combined for just 33 receptions, 318 yards and three touchdowns.  In just two games, prized free agent acquisition, TE Martellus Bennett, has already produced ten receptions, 125 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns, including the game winner against the Vikings on Sunday.
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WR Alshon Jeffrey caught 24 passes in ten games last season, an average of 2.4 catches per contest.  Through two games, he has six catches, a slight increase in production.  Thus, Marshall’s reduced production so far–and he still ranks in the top ten in the league in receptions and receiving yards–has not had an adverse effect on the offense as a whole.  Conversely, it has resulted in more offensive balance, more passing production and a sharper Cutler.
Still more, the Bears have cut down considerably on their penalties from last season.  In 2012, the club averaged 6.4 penalties per game, this year just four.
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Last season, the Bears allowed 44 sacks, an average of almost three a game.  This season, the Bears have allowed only one sack through two games, and their 2013 opponents, the Bengals and Vikings, were both ranked in the top six in sacks last season.
Bears’ management looks prescient for stripping Devin Hester of WR responsibilities so that he could concentrate on returning kicks.  While he has not yet had a viable opportunity to return a punt, his renewed explosiveness has been evidenced by his league-leading kickoff return yardage (280) and return average (46.7).
In 2012, the Bears’ defense yielded 101.7 yards rushing per game and 4.2 yards per carry.  This season, the Bears have allowed only 93.0 yards and 3.4 yards per carry, including holding 2012 league MVP Vikings RB Adrian Peterson under 4.0 yards per attempt.
The Bears have maintained their impressive takeaway pace from last season, when they had 44 for an average of 2.75 per game.  Through Sunday, they have six takeaways for an average of three per game.
Though the Bears have demonstrated significant improvement through two games in most statistical categories, there are a few areas where they have shown some slippage compared to last season.  They have already had five turnovers after committing only 24 last season.  The Bears allowed only 214 passing yards per game last season.  Through two games, they have yielded 252 yards on average.  The Bears defense allowed 316 total yards per game last season.  That number has spiked to 345 on average through two games.  The Bears produced 41 sacks last year, an average of 2.6 per game.  Thus far, they have registered just two sacks.  The Bears are averaging only 105 rushing yards through two games; they averaged 123 last season.  They also allowed the Vikings to return the opening kickoff of Sunday’s game for a touchdown, and their defense has twice yielded second half leads that the offense had to overcome.
Thus, while most of the trend lines, including the most important one, their 2-0 record, are pointing in the right direction relative to last season, there are indeed areas where they have experienced some early backsliding, mostly on defense.
The conventional wisdom was that the offense would struggle more at the beginning of the season given the complexities of new head coach Marc Trestman’s offensive system and the decision of defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to retain the chore principles of former coach Lovie Smith’s defensive scheme.  In defense of the defense, DE Julius Peppers, DT Henry Melton, MLB D.J. Williams and CB Charles Tillman all missed a significant portion of training camp and/or have been hobbled by injuries or illness during the beginning of the season.  So as they get healthy, it is quite possible that the defense will begin to reverse some of the negative trend lines.
Two final points should be made.  One, the sample size of two games is too small to get carried away with grandiose extrapolations, though it is cause for modest excitement.  Two, for all of the non-football distractions surrounding his Bears’ tenure, Jay Cutler is a winning QB.
We repeat:  Jay Cutler is a winning QB.  Following Sunday’s victory, he is now 36-22 as a Bears starter.
Whether he is a championship-caliber QB is still to be determined.  If his performance over the first two weeks is any indication, maybe he will guide the Bears to their first championship since the 1985 season.
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Comments

  1. TheLittleGuy says:

    I am glad you cut Cutler some slack. I have never seen a QB take so much heat for being as good as he is. You Bears fans are a tough crowd to please. Also, you are pretty good at statistical analysis, how about some Packers stuff??? Kidding of course. Nice article even though I’m a Packers fan.

  2. Well writen article! Enjoyed it very much!

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