I’m not a guy who relates every sports argument back to stats. We all know that guy, though. He can usually be found saying ignorant things such as:
“Well, the stats say X so you guys don’t have a chance tonight.”
It’s so gratifying to me when their statistically based predictions go wrong. That’s why the game isn’t played on paper.
But I’m aware stats do have a place in sports, that’s why we keep them. 3 games worth of information isn’t really enough to make long term projections, but I want to take the stats that we have so far and give some context to this up and down season we’re witnessing.
The specific trend that I notice is that the defense is as dominant as ever.
This would come as a surprise to nobody if you were to say this in any other year in franchise history. But with all of the media coverage given to the upgrades on offense, the defense figured to take a back seat in terms of importance to the team’s success.
Here are just a few stats that blow that theory out of the water:
Team Defensive Stats (NFL Ranks):
- Total Points Allowed: 50 (5th)
- Total Yards Allowed: 837 (6th)
- Total Turnovers: 9 (2nd)
- Interceptions: 6 (1st)
- Fumbles Recovered: 3 (T-2nd)
- Sacks: 14 (1st)
- “Defensive Simple Rating System”: 1.1 (16th)
The offensive lines of the Colts, Packers, and Rams aren’t exactly “top notch” in anyone’s book. That’s why the “Defensive Simple Rating System” (DSRS) indicates that the defense is a middle-of-the-road unit.
DSRS, according to pro-football-reference.com, is a rating system that calibrates the value of a defense as a whole. The “average” NFL defense would have a DSRS of 0.0, and teams can dip into the negatives if they play poorly.
The Bears have had a DSRS of 1.1 or higher a whopping 34 times in their history, with their highest ratings coming in 1963 and 1985. Both of those seasons ended with championships.
But in their storied history, the Chicago Bears have never faced a weaker bunch of opponents. “Strength of Schedule” is another stat kept by pro-football-reference.com to rate how tough each team’s individual schedule is based on the offensive and defensive rankings of the opponents.
However they concocted their numbers, they have the Bear’s opponents collectively rated at a -6.2, which is the weakest strength of schedule in franchise history.
In the NFL, you simply play the opponents on your schedule. If the schedule truly is weak, then more power to the Bears for taking care of their business and handling the opponents they should be beating like the Colts and the Rams.
The Packers did ride their offense and MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a Super Bowl victory 2 years ago and a 15-1 record last year, so holding Rodgers to 219 yards and 1 TD while forcing 2 turnovers is a great effort in my book. The loss had very little to do with the defense.
But advanced stats can get skewed and misinterpreted sometimes. Let’s get back to some hard numbers…
A lot of the consistency on defense has to do with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. But Urlacher has been hampered by a knee injury that has been lingering since the end of last season, and it’s effecting his production.
Urlacher is only averaging 3 tackles per game this season (career low) and he hasn’t recorded a single sack since 2010.
The leadership Urlacher brings to the Bears can’t be understated. You know you are getting above average production and countless intangibles, even through the injuries. But it seems like father time is slowly catching up with #54.
“But what about Lance Briggs” you say?
Briggs is 3 years younger than Urlacher and is still in his prime. Through 3 games this year, he’s right on track with his career average in tackles per game with 5.3. Other than the dropped interception he had against the Packers, Lance is the same old Lance.
But playing at outside linebacker, Briggs doesn’t have as much impact as Urlacher does on the defense.
So if the Bears defense is playing so well, and it’s not because Urlacher or Briggs are playing out of their minds, who should we be directing our praise at?
I’ll start with a player who’s had more success than anyone could’ve predicted: Tim Jennings.
The secondary is a perennial concern for the Bears, and those concerns were amplified when Charles Tillman suffered a leg injury against the Colts. But Tim Jennings has stepped up in a way that might land him a roster spot in the Pro Bowl.
Jennings leads the NFL with 4 interceptions and has had at least 1 pick in every game. He’s also directly contributed to the other 2 interceptions the Bears have had by tipping passes to safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright.
Jennings has also successfully defended 9 passes this season. His previous career high is 10. At the pace he’s on now, he projects to have 48 pass defenses.
To put this statistic into perspective, Champ Bailey, widely regarded as the best defensive back in this era, has a career high of 24 pass defenses. That shows how unrealistic it would appear to be to reach 48 in a season, but it speaks volumes to the pace thatJenningshas set so far.
Part of the reason why Jennings has been having a breakout season is because of how much pressure the defensive line is getting on quarterbacks.
The Bear’s defense leads the NFL with 14 sacks, and the line has accounted for all but 1 of them. Henry Melton is 9th in the NFL with 3 sacks. Every player along the defensive line except Matt Toeaina has at least 1 sack to their credit.
Part of this can be attributed to the trickle down effect Julius Peppers has. He draws so many double and triple teams that it makes the other linemen’s jobs easier. It also makes the defensive back’s lives easier when quarterbacks are rushed into poor throws.
Other than ball hawking and harassing the quarterback, the Bears have proven to be stout against the run. They’ve only allowed 228 yards and 1 touchdown on the ground through 3 games, which is 6th best in the NFL.
The point of this article is not to overly hype up the defense’s performance; it’s to show how their play has driven this team to a 2-1 record. It hasn’t been the air show we caught a glimpse of in week 1. In this case, this IS your father’s Bears team.
Luckily for the defense, a difficult test won’t come until week 7 when the Detroit Lions come to town with the league’s 2nd best offense (statistically).
In the meantime, the Bears can continue to rely on their rock solid defense to take care of their weaker opponents like they have been for decades.
*All statistics gathered from pro-football-reference.com and NFL.com
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