Chicago Sun-Times

19 days to Camp: Football Outsiders projects Bears to win NFC

| 39 Comments | No TrackBacks

urlacher712a.jpg

The game of baseball lends itself to endless statistical analysis. You could just talk numbers from now until Tuesday's all-star game about the struggles of the Cubs without even mentioning the sideshows that have dominated the season to this point on the North Side. There is a statistical explanation or trend for everything.

Football isn't broken down in quite the same way, or at least it has not been in the mainstream. But the good folks at Football Outsiders are doing all they can to introduce some new tools for examining the game. Just this past week they released the Football Outsiders Almanac in PDF format. The actual book should be available in a few weeks on Amazon.com. This is the same publication that previously was Pro Football Prospectus.

If you put stock in their work you can call your travel agent. Football Outsiders projects the Bears to win the NFC this season. That's right, they have the Bears returning to Miami three years after losing Super Bowl XLI there.

"We have them with the highest projected record of any team in the NFC,'' managing editor Bill Barnwell said. "Thanks to improvements along the offensive line and a defense that we expect to be much healthier."

The addition of Jay Cutler has a little bit to do with their forecast as well. We've done a little light reading through the 517-page book and it's loaded with some very interesting analysis, some of which we will touch on right here and more of which we'll get into later this week and as we get closer to training camp. The PDF version of the book is available on their Web site here if you want to check it out yourself.

The statistic at the center of almost everything Football Outsiders does is DVOA--Defense Adjusted Value Over Average. It's not quite as simple as yards per carry or even the often misleading passer rating. What DVOA does is put yardage gained into better perspective. An eight-yard pass on third-and-10 isn't very helpful. It's going to lead to a punt. But a one-yard run on third-and-one is effective, right? A one-yard one on third-and-one vs. the Williams Wall or the Pittsburgh Steelers is more impressive, too, than say an identical outcome vs. Detroit. DVOA evaluates every single play during the NFL season and strips out plays such as Hail Mary passes, kneel downs, spikes, and every play is studied after adjusting for down, distance, situation on the field and the quality of the opponent. So every third-and-one play across the entire league is analyzed. Every third-and-12 is studied. Every snap for all 32 teams goes under the microscope. The DVOA is the percentage vs. the league average. So a 10 percent DVOA is pretty good. A running back with a 10 percent DVOA is doing 10 percent better than the league average. On defense, a negative DVOA means a team is allowing fewer yards than the league average.

So where do the Bears stack up? Well, it's been since 1995 that they had a positive DVOA on offense. Erik Kramer's big season when he passed for 3,838 yards and 29 touchdowns hasn't been replicated since. In fact, no Bears' passer has come close. According to Football Outsiders, the Bears had a 17.7 percent DVOA that year as an offense, which is tremendous production. Last year, they were minus-4.3 percent, similar to the minus-4.2 percent they registered during the Super Bowl season of 2006. The worst during their 14-year stretch in which they had just the one positive season (1995) came during the Terry Shea Experiment of 2004 when the Bears were at minus-36.5 percent, worst in the league.

Defensively, the Bears fared much better last season than their total defense ranking of 21st, which measures just yards allowed. When Lovie Smith says there is more to defense than yards allowed, perhaps he has his DVOA in mind. The Bears' DVOA on defense in 2008 was minus-6.8 percent, which ranked seventh. That was one spot better than where they were in 2007. Football Outsiders' system had the Bears as the second-ranked defense in the league in 2006 at minus-19.7 percent and tops in 2005 when they were minus-21.5 percent. The lowest they have finished under Smith was ninth in 2004. We'll get into a few reasons why the DVOA was solid last season a little later on.

First, let's look at a few things on offense.

*** Running back Matt Forte had a minus-7.1 percent DVOA last season. His yards per carry average of 3.9 was a culprit and remember the Bears were not very successful in third- and fourth-and-short situations. Barnwell says with modest improvements by Forte this season he should post an improved DVOA.

*** The Bears' best wide receiver last year according to DVOA was Brandon Lloyd at minus-6.0 percent. Devin Hester was minus-9.5 percent.

*** Tight end Greg Olsen had a DVOA of 0.0 meaning he was right in line with league average.

"Even though the stats are league average I think realistically some of the ridiculous one-handed catches he made and the stuff he did on the field, that probably undersells him a little bit,'' Barnwell said. "But relative to the defenses he was playing and where he was catching the ball, he was right at league average. I think the biggest reason why was he wasn't getting too far down the field. His average was right about 10 yards. When those 10-yard patterns become 12-yard patterns, and if they can keep Cutler up a little bit longer, Olsen's DVOA will improve."

Football Outsiders projects big things for the Bears, though, and that means improvement all around. We'll get into the offensive line, which Barnwell touched on, later in the week. He acknowledged the team needs a vertical threat.

"We would see Hester [being that player],'' Barnwell said. "You look at the offense. They're going to have Earl Bennett, most likely, as a possession guy and Olsen can also be a possession guy. Then you have Hester as the vertical threat. Certainly he has the athleticism. Watching him on film last year, you could really see improvement in his routes. More than one person who watches the Bears for us actually mentioned he was doing a lot better. We have a pretty high projection for Hester this year.''

Just how do they project Hester? 62 receptions, 858 yards (13.8 avg.) and 5 touchdowns. It adds up to a 2.7 percent DVOA.

Olsen? 61 receptions, 738 yards, 7 touchdowns, 17.0 percent DVOA

Matt Forte? 322 rushes, 1,272 yards, 4.0 average, 68 receptions, 417 yards, 14 touchdowns, 2 touchdowns, 8.4 percent DVOA (as a rusher)

And Cutler? 301 completions, 493 attempts, 61.2 percent, 3,409 yards, 20 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 3.0 percent DVOA. Cutler had a 22.0 percent DVOA in Denver last season meaning he was 22 percent more productive than the league average at quarterback. The drop they're projecting has to be an indication of what it will be like for him without Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Make no mistake, Football Outsiders likes the trade for the Bears, "The Bears paid for an elite quarterback and they're getting one."

More on the offense later in the week.

A couple real interesting defensive nuggets:

*** The Bears were first in the league in rushing the passer with seven defenders and fourth in rushing the passer with six defenders. There's plenty to get into on their pass rush, or lack of a pass rush, as we move forward.

*** The Bears were No. 1 in the league in yards after the catch, allowing just 3.9 yards per reception. However, that doesn't mean Football Outsiders was kind to any of the defensive backs with the exception of the departed Mike Brown.

*** The Bears were second in the league in DVOA when they hurried the quarterback, just behind Pittsburgh.

*** One more note, the Bears ranked fifth in the league on special teams in DVOA after being No. 1 in 2006 and 2007.

There is a lot to chew on here and our hope is we introduced some statistical analysis in a manner in which it's easy to understand. We had the benefit of a nice chat with Barnwell. The Football Outsiders Web site is stocked with great information. We'll try to share a little more here in the coming days.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://blogs.suntimes.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/24246

39 Comments

This article is a classic case of over engineering. Is this supposed to make us feel warm and fuzzy and pretend that there is actually nothing wrong with the defense? We all know our D has sucked for the past 2 years, stats or no stats. There is nothing else. Unless the front four can generate pressure the LBs, CBs are going to have a tough time. The safeties are big question mark to top it all.
Stats. Who needs those?

Hey uh soothsayers, clairvoyants, and fortune tellers a little bit of advice: STOOOOOOOOOOPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm sick of these people and their crystal balls, C'mon! C'mon!

Brad - what was K.O.'s DVOA last year as a Bear and what do they project him to do in Denver this year?Great work as always.  JP

Computers don't play the games, the players do. Ditka or another NFL coach said this is all hogwash. These things don't take into account weather, injuries or the intuition a coach has. Nice reading but not putting a lot of stock in it.

Interesting analysis. The statistics they look at do seem better then the typical one's we see. Good article Brad!

i'm very excited to see you referencing FO Brad. I just started reading you this offseason, and have loved reading the Outsiders for many years. Their football analysis is better than anyone out there. I've won many a fantasy league and pick'em pool using their stuff.

one thing you need to be careful with though is the individual stats. They are very context dependent. DVOA isn't saying Matt Forte himself was 7% below average, its saying Matt Forte, with the Bears line blocking for him, and the possiblity of the Kyle Orton playfake was 7% below average. its nearly impossible to completely seperate a player from his teammates, so keep that in mind.


"We all know our D has sucked for the past 2 years, stats or no stats."

We don't all know that. They've played worse then they did in 05 and 06 and the DLine desperately needs to improve their pass rush no argument there, but what most people don't realize is how insanely good they were those years. playing at a level below that is still good enough to beat many teams in the league. DVOA is not over engineering, ranking defenses by total yards is just retarded. It fails to account for things like having an offense that can't stay on the field, meaning the defense has more plays against it, or teams that tend to have big leads at the end of games giving up lots of meaningless passing yards. DVOA basically just says the Bears D was better than most people realize last year, and their Offense was worse. for instance, last year the bears offense had the best starting field position in the league, this is mainly due to the D and special teams, but only they only managed to rank 27th in yards per drive. Their bears D on the other hand ranked 6th in yards per drive despite the 25th worst average starting field position. the discrepancy in starting field position, i think, is the main reason for the difference between peoples perception of the quality of the Bears D and O, and their actual production.

anyway, good article, keep up the good work Brad

DVOA. HMmm.

I can't really believe that this DVOA reflects a good Bears defense the last two years, because we all know the D was pretty pathetic particularly in critical situations.

Sometimes it looked great but when it came down to getting it done and holding onto leads in the 3rd and 4th quarter, the BEars folded like a deck of cards the last two years.

I do think that this year the D will have a resurgance to the elite level Bears fans expect. Lets face it, Cutler is great to have and he will help the offense but Bears football without a dominant defense is an atrocity that Bears fans will not tolerate. I believe they return to the top 5 level defense in yards allowed and points allowed, which I better understand and I believe is a better barometer of success in the NFl than DVOA. Their DVOA is an interesting new analysis to keep an eye on.

JP, Football Outsiders has last year's stats on their website. Here's the quarterbacks: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/qb . Orton's DVOA was -0.9%. They provide more information in the Almanac: Orton's DVOA was 18.5% before his injury and -22.9% afterward. He is projected to have a -6.6% DVOA this year in Denver.

The stats that Lou was referring to (yards per drive, points per drive, starting field position) are here: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/drivestats . Nice comment, Lou, and nice post, Brad.

Bear in Patriots Town has it right in a nutshell. Regardless of any stats, the Bear defense blew several games last season that the Bears would have won if the defense had played well. Off the top of my head I remember Tampa, Atlanta, and arguably Carolina, thought the offense certainly didn't help in the second half in Carolina, especially Greg Olson with his dropped passes and the Bears failing to get a very short yardage first down near the end of the game.

Overall these stats seem to be very well analyzed and can tell you a lot if read correctly. But saying that the Bear defense was good last season raises huge red flags. Something needs to be tweaked if these stats conclude that the 2008 Bear defense was a good one.

Just curious; how do the folks at Football Outsiders normally do at picking the Conference Champions? What is their track record? Anyone know?

I am a big fan of the stuff that they do over at F.O. In reference to Fly1965, I believe that they picked an all Pennsylvania Superbowl. Which was pretty close to correct. As far as the playoff teams last year, I know that they missed on Denver, Dallas, and N.E., but in all fairness, some strange things happened last season. (They did pick N.E. to go 11-5 or 10-6 AFTER Brady went down)

Two things that have to be taken into consideration.
1) The site deals in percentages NOT picks. When they pick the Bears to be the NFC champs, they are saying that based on the percentages the Bears have the best chance out of the NFC teams to make the Superbowl. This translates to week by week projections as well. The term 'any given sunday' still applies, meaning that the better team can still lose to the worse team.
2) Their stats are a measure of averages, as such, they CANNOT include popular beliefs like 'clutch.' This is shown by the Atlanta or TB game last year. In regards to the Atlanta game, ONE play by the defense lost the game. The defense was not losing the entire game. Further, the match-up in that game was poor. Atlanta's strength was their O-line, our weakness was our D-line. Same goes for TB.

Anyone ranking last year's Bear defense that high better go back to their basic and false assumptions. Don't get me wrong. I love positive predictions, but would prefer those based on something other than silliness unless I'm the one doing the predicting. That being said, let me get silly here and go them a couple better, predicting an NFC championship and a Super Bowl for the Bears. I think they are improved in every area, and were actually not too far back last season.

Wrigley Field Bear and Bear in Patriots Town need to dig a little deeper into that supposedly bad defense last year.

Look it up on a per-play basis - the bears were top 5 or 10 in rushing yards allowed per play, passing yards allowed per play, and the crucial turnovers.

However, they were on the field FAR too long. The Bears defense was on the field for more plays than ANY OTHER defense in the NFL. And that gauntlet is thrown straight at the feet of the offense, which could not get enough first downs, sustain drives, and stay on the field long enough to spell the defense.

With an improved offense, the defense should improve considerably as they won't have to be on the field nearly as long.

Bear Fan in Krakow:

Good defenses go three and out sometimes, good defenses don't give up leads in the 3rd and 4th quarter. Needless to say if the Bears defense was on the field more than any other team, yes it was due to a poor offense but also if they had more three n outs instead of allowing long drives the Bears would have made the playoffs. The last two years regardless of the stats you mention, the Bears D was pathetic in comparison to what Bears D is all about and that is dominating the offense. The D last year simply was dominated by many of the offenses in the league (particularly when it counted most) and the coaching (play calling, halftime adjustments) penalties and poor execution on both sides of the ball spelled doom for their playoff aspirations.

Thanos:

Yes the Bears D did a whole lot to lose the game to Atlanta and of course the last pass play by Atlanta hurt like he--. The outcome of the Atlanta game most likely would have been different (with a Bears win) if the squib kick at the end was better or if they elected to kick it long instead of squib it because most likely by the time the play ended had it been a deep kick, Atlanta would have either had worse field position with little or no time left on the clock without the ability to pull off an out play to the WR to stop the clock.

The odds of them taking it to the house is extremely against them in that scenario.

Bears poor coaching (decision making) and poor execution with no pash rush, the soft corner play on the out and kicker lost that game.

Thanos,

Clutch play is not a "popular belief," it is a necessary ingredient for championship play. If the Football Outsiders stats don't take that into consideration, there's a major flaw in their conclusions. Ad nauseam, this is why you must WATCH THE GAME above all. Statistics merely complement what you've seen or provide insight into it if you know the game, they don't override it.

Krakow,

My grandfather grew up near a small town near Krakow, though I don't think it exists anymore.

There were many times last season where the offense scored or at least got some first downs, but the defense nevertheless gave up long drives for scores immediately afterward. This could not possibly be due to the defense being on the field too long. The offense, while nothing to write home about, was not awful last season, and at least half the reason for the defense being on the field so long is that they couldn't stop anyone. They had to sell out the pass to stop the run, which allowed teams to pass at will, regardless of what the yards per play show. Again, watch the games, then use stats and films to complement what you saw. If you over rely on them, such as using them to determine what you've seen, you'll be lost.

Blah, blah, blah. The ONLY thing that counts is winning. No matter how you do it. The morw consistant the better but, win.

Wrigley Field Bear,

I really don't see how people think that way. Statistics track what happens on they field, and they do it better than you do. I can watch every Bears game, but I'll never remember precisely what the result of every play was, but the box score does. When people watch something, they craft a narrative about what happened in their head, but that narrative may or may not reflect reality. Statistics don't do that, they just give you the information that you asked.

For instance, you say "They had to sell out the pass to stop the run, which allowed teams to pass at will, regardless of what the yards per play show."

No, if teams were really allowed to pass "at will" they would be getting a lot of yards per passing attempt. If they weren't getting a lot of yards per attempt, then they weren't allowed to pass at will. The Bears gave up 6.6 yards per pass last year, putting them at 8th in the league. Now, that seems a little optimistic to me, because it overlooks the Bear's opponents completion percentage(which was pretty high), but to say that that data doesn't tell me something that I can't see by WATCHING THE GAME is insane.

As to clutchness, if it existed, it would show up in the statistics. If it existed, certain players would do better in clutch situations than others, and we'd be able to see that in the numbers, because the numbers are just a reflection of reality. As far as I know it doesn't show up, and if it does it's a small effect.

DC,

Yours is reductionist thinking, which I reject as being useful in any aspect of life, beyond being a sometimes useful tool for a very specific purpose. A holistic view will give you adequate context, looking at stats just tells you about very specific aspects of a game without really telling you anything about it. (This is of course a generalization; if the stats show that a running back gained 350 yards, he must have had a great game.) This is the main reason coaches don't pay much attention to stats, they just watch the game and watch film to see what they missed. If you get a chance, ask a coach about this. It doesn't have to be a head coach, they'll all tell you basically the same thing. Even game film, which coaches use quite a bit, is out of context, because it focuses on specific plays only. A player may have done something completely different in a different situation.

Stats can be made to say anything, such as the Bears actually had a good defense last season. But anyone who knows the game and watched the Bears knows that their defense sucked, period. No amount of stats will change that fact. Teams DID pass at will against the Bears, they just ran short to medium slant passes and didn't throw deep often because they didn't need to. As an example of how stats can be used to distort reality, take the stat that the Bear defense was on the field so long last season. One commenter here claimed that meant that the problem was the offense not staying on the field long enough. But if other teams had long drives against the Bears, that's due to the defense, not the offense, especially when those drives came after the offense had scored or at least been on the field for awhile, which happened often last season.

None of this is to say that stats cannot be useful; they certainly can be, and they're very useful for remembering what you saw, as you pointed out. But over reliance on stats will produce erroneous results, as we see here (the Bear defense was actually pretty good last season, lol). Another problem with stats is that the vast majority of fans and writers don't even know which stats are important and which are not. For example, the number of rushes per game is important, yards per carry is not; third down efficiency and red zone efficiency are important, total yards is not; yards per attempt is the most important passing stat, etc.

Finally, what stat tells that a QB engineered a great winning TD drive with 1:08 left to play from his own 12 yard line? Which QB would you rather have, that one or the one who threw for 400 yards and lost because he threw an INT when he was driving for the winning field goal, even though the latter had much better stats? That's why watching them play tells you more than any set of stats ever could.

Nice work Brad (and Lou for the backup), although you have to wonder how many math classes a couple of these other guys above had in high school and what their GPA's were.

"HMmm... & I believe..."? Where are you coming from? That kind of 'I believe' faith does not cut it in the NFL, buddy-llama. Performance and coaching do. Two things happened last year to the Bears defense (pay attention):

1. Their offense couldn't stay on the field and give those guys a decent rest (were you watching the games?). Just on the d-line alone with a three tackle rotation - you looked carefully instead of heading back to the refrigerator you'd have seen those guys were really winded in the second half. They weren't getting the sit down time required for recovery that a good offense should have provided.

2. Babich as a coach vastly underperformed (duh!), and consequently as the season progressed the players on the field (especially some of the key veterans) tuned the guy out. Maybe not what a lot of people want to hear, but Lovie himself saw this happening.

The DVOA analysis backs up the former proposition, as for the latter situation all you had to do was watch their body language on the field, and then catch the subtext of a number of the defensive players postgame comments made during the second half of the season.

Look at how Angelo and Smith responded: they rearranged the coaching staff in a significant manner (whether it's enough time will tell), and they worked on the offense - the qb position, the o-line, and then drafted a couple of sure handed receivers. These two guys may be rookies and have a learning curve to deal with, but... they don't drop the ball.

And contrary to conventional wisdom and the currently popular bandwagon issue, wide receiver is much less of a concern to this team than how the safety position is going to be played. The scouting rap on Steltz is that yes he hits hard, but the guy's probably not fast enough for the NFL (think about the Viking's AP running around in the Bear's secondary - you don't want Tillman having to clean up that kind of mess). If Wiggly and Patriot Bears above were a little clearer in their thought processing and really understood the DVOA information they could easily have worked this equation out. Take a look at the Indianapolis Colts defense 2006-present if you have to see how important a quality safety is in stopping backbreaker plays by the opposition, ie... those single plays that in the absence of a good safety turn potential or apparent W's into L's (and which can consequently at face value - 'yards allowed' - make a defense look much worse than it actually is).

NFL football is a complex entity, ladies and gentlemen. Too many fans fail to see all the facets of the game and what's happening on the field, partially because it truly is very difficult to absorb it all just by sitting in front of a widescreen. The coaches and players break down and study tape (now DV) for a reason. Football Outsiders offers an important added statistical dimension. The smart guys play (and bet) on probability and percentages. The rest of the crowd sits around spewing out broad generalizations ('the defense sucks, dude!'), unfounded beliefs, and lame opinions. -LH

DC Bears Fan-you took the words right out of my mouth.

Wrigley Field Bear
Football Outsiders DO watch and chart EVERY play of EVERY game. They do not just go to box scores and look it up.

First of all, it's important to know a few things about the Football Outsiders people. Their main mission is to craft stats that tell you a lot more than the basic box score stats. Case in point, teams that rush for a lot of yards win more often than teams that don't. Of course, rushing isn't usually the reason they win, they rush because they're up late in the game.

Their solution is to break the game down play by play, and see how well the team performed in that situation compared to how the average team would have. For instance, in looking at a running play they would say, what's the down and distance, and what does a league average team gain when they rush on this down and distance. It's not the say they're never wrong, but they're thinking about the numbers AND the situation on the field at the time the numbers were put up. This also means that they're stats are a lot more useful than the stats you claim most coaches ignore.

As to the Bears specific issues, I think you're wrong to claim that the defense was on the field a lot because the defense was bad. The effect of being on the field is fatigue. Sure, on a specific drive maybe the defense was on the field longer because they couldn't stop the opposing team, but at the end of the game, they had already been on the field longer than they should have been, because the offense couldn't get anything going. That fatigue doesn't go away in the middle of the game.

I also think you're generally right that the Bears were frequently bad at defending the pass last year(and the Football Outsiders agree with you), but it's not as simple as that. They gave up a lot of completions, but they didn't give up many yards per completion. This tells us a couple things:
1.They were probably covering deep routes fairly well
2.They were tackling receivers well, and not allowing long runs after the catch.

Now, obviously not letting opponents complete any passes is better than that, but the fact that they were doing those things well means that the pass defense wasn't all bad last year. Incidentally, those are also facts that wouldn't jump out at you watching a game, but do show up on statistically.

As for the two quarterbacks in clutch situations, in that game I would obviously take the game winner, but over the long term who wins more games, the guy who throws for 400 yards and spends the fourth quarter handing off the ball, or the guy who waits till the last drive to win? It's the former.

Wrigley

Coaches pay a substantial amount of attention to stats. You do hear coaches, I recall Coach B. from N.E. specifically, mention things like yard per attempt. They do not talk about averages per game, as that is less meaningful.
As to the Bears defense sucking, well they must have really been awful to be in the playoff hunt in week 17. This is the problem with looking at things through context, you create the narrative in your mind.
Teams were able to throw short passes on early downs against the Bears because the Bears rushed over 5 defenders more than any other team, except Dallas, leaving the intermediate throws open (Thanks Football Outsiders for the stat).
Teams, generally, did not have long drives against the Bears. This is because the Bears defense was in the bottom 5 in the league for average starting position (again, thanks F.O.)
Lastly Football Outsiders do know what stats are important. For example, they know that rush attempts per game is NOT important. They know this because they have studied it and have found out that correlation is not causation. The team that is ahead in games, generally, rushes more to eat time and protect the lead. They do not rush to get the lead, they rush to keep it. If one were to think that rush attempts per game meant winning, then by that same logic, teams should have the QB kneel, because the team with the most amount of QB kneels always wins.

Wrigley, you're missing the point. Lets start with the following:

The Bears had a good defense last year.
They did. They were not DOMINANT, which I believe is what you are really trying to say. They were not the bears of 2005 or 2006, not close. But they were better than 20+ other defenses in the league.

Next, you say:
"As an example of how stats can be used to distort reality, take the stat that the Bear defense was on the field so long last season. One commenter here claimed that meant that the problem was the offense not staying on the field long enough. But if other teams had long drives against the Bears, that's due to the defense, not the offense, especially when those drives came after the offense had scored or at least been on the field for awhile, which happened often last season."

No, now you are not reading what others have said. First of all, they had amongst the lowest yards per drive allowed (6th). And they were 9th best at forcing 3 and outs. That is, they were good at getting their D off the field. There is a link to that data right on this page. When your D has the worst starting field position, its the O or Special Teams fault. We know its not the fault of Special Teams after looking at that. The D has very little to do with where on the field they start to defend it. But then, the Offense had thee BEST starting field position of any team in the league -- because the Special Teams and D were very good.

Nobody is trying to say the Bears D is as good as it was in 2006 or 2005. But the stats, and reality if you break things down on film too, show that the Bears did have a 'good' defense last year. It just wasn't 'great' or 'dominant'.


Lastly, I'll address your stats rant. You should read the Football Outsiders stat information before you make yourself look silly. The stats there really look into the sort of criticisms you are making, and do it with proof. Your claims like "the number of rushes per game is important, yards per carry is not" are baseless without some evidence. FO has lots of evidence on things and spends a lot of time trying to tell people which stats are useful (and for what) and which are not.
What they have is more that 'successful plays are important' -- a 2 yard run on third and 1 is successful. a 10 yard run on 3rd and 20 is not (unless it puts you in FG range). Their stats take that sort of stuff into account. And they take into account most of the stuff you are ranting about like the winning drive or the 400 yard QB who messed up versus the 250 yard one who won.

However, they don't 'forget' like fans do -- if Adam Vinateri misses two field goals in the first half and then makes one to win the game, their stats won't show him as a hero. If he made either or both of the first ones the game would have been won easily.
If a QB engineers a drive to take the lead in the last couple minutes of the game, but leaves 15 seconds on the clock and the kick return team gives up a big return, and then they lose, their stats will still reward that QB for a good drive at the end of the game, and unlike humans, won't forget just because the special teams messed up.

Why? Because the point of their stats are to help predict the play of the team later. If the team plays great defense all day, but screws up one play at the end, it can be show that the great play all day is more likely to happen the next game than another screw-up. What you as a fan remember is the screw-up, and not all the little things they did well. But its all those little things that tend to carry over to the next games, not the flukiness of a tipped ball or fumble recovery. Furthermore, most of their new stats are based on people actually watching the game charting it. "Pass 12 yards down field to player X, thrown behind, great catch. Y and Z in double coverage". "Pass 15 yards down the right seam to X, broken coverage hole in zone". Etc.

Anyhow, I'll continue to win Pick-em leagues armed with good stats.
They've done a great job of predicting general trends of the next season (barring freak injuries or hurricanes etc).
Their projection has the Bears at about a 50% chance of winning 11+ games, about a 35% chance of winning 9 to 10, and the rest is mostly in the 7 to 8 win bucket but there are some 4 to 6 win chances (think bad injuries and bad luck otherwise).

Honestly, before you go criticize this sort of stuff you should actually read about it. There are things to criticize, but you're just guessing.

For those of you claiming that clutch play matters... one of the season over season projections that football outsiders are so accurate is that offenses that do well on first and second down and not well on third down are likely to improve on third down the next year and be more successful.

They also weight stuff like red zone plays higher. so that goes directly to your point.

You guys sound like fantasy footballers. I'll make my points one last time, then I'm done with this issue. All I will say in my own defense is that I played organized and sandlot football, went to every Bear game when I lived in Chicago, studied the game, and still ask players, former players, scouts, and coaches questions when I get a chance. Anyone who thinks the Bears had a good defense last season should listen to the post game show with two former very good defensive players who've probably forgotten more about the game than everyone here put together knows, Doug Buffone and Ed O'Bradovich, and who will strongly disagree (670 am http://player.play.it/player/player.html?v=4.7.121&id=391&onestat=wscr-am). Hub Arkush, publisher of Pro Football Weekly, will also disagree.

Contrary to what Lionel Harrington said, what happened to the defense last season went way beyond two things. Its roots go back to Lovie Smith's style of defense, which is geared toward preventing big plays instead of being aggressive, and which relies on undersized, quicker/faster players.

In this defense, the under tackle (Tommie Harris) must both disrupt the run and get pressure up the middle v. the pass. Where exactly is the stat showing how much he's lost due to his bum knee and/or psychological problems (depending on whom you believe)? The fact that Harris hasn't been disruptive since early in 2007 is a big reason this defense has not played well the past two years, but there's no stat that will tell you this.

Brian Urlacher has lost a step or two, to the point where players can now get around the corner on him, which never used to happen. Where's the stat for that? Again, you have to watch the game, no stat is going to tell you.

Finally, the strong safety is essential to stopping the run in this defense. Because of the loss of Mike Brown, the Bears were only able to stop the run by bringing too many players up to the line and, as I said earlier, selling out the pass. Which stat explains this?

I am not arguing that stats can't be useful for things like predicting games or even the success or failure of certain players in certain games. But that has nothing to do with understanding the game and knowing what's going on when you watch it. Every coach I've ever read, heard, or talked to has said that stats are way overrated and that he does not pay attention to them, though I know that some NFL coaches have certain stats on which they focus. But I guarantee you that coaches do not make decisions about whom to play or which play to run based on stats; they watch the games and films and make decisions based on what they see. And what I and everyone I respect saw last season told us that the Bear defense stunk, no matter what any stats would have you believe. If any of you think the Bears have a reasonable shot at getting to the Super Bowl if their defense does not drastically improve, I've got a really good deal on the Bay Bridge out here. It's not famous like the Golden Gate Bridge, but stats show that many more people use it and you will thus collect a lot of money in tolls. I'll give you a really good deal.

Briggs,

Where is the section on Bears losses due to incompetence of the coaching play calling. I think everyone would agree that we average 4 losses per year due to those bird brains.

This blog (by Brad B) and the ensuing posts never ceases to impress me. Kudo's to everyone - even Wrigley Bear whose comments prompted such an informative discussion on football stats.

Stats remind me of that art form where dots are used to make pictures - you only see whole picture when you step back - Looking at just one or two never conveys the full image

And Kudo's to FO for giving me a new tool to kick butt in my leagues this year.

This discussion proves one thing: stats are like bikinis, they show a lot but still hide the vital parts.

The only stat that matters is the win-loss record. Also, you can analyze the dickens out of last year, but that will tell you nothing about what will happen this year. I'd be curious to see how they fared in their predictions of previous years.

The Defense faltered for a number of reasons ie.. Coaching, injury, lack of pass rush, under achieving players, an offense that was near the top in 3 and outs and near the bottom in 3'rd down and short yardage conversion percentage, you name it.

To fix the defense changes need to be made. Players and coaching need to be accoutable and I think the Bears have addressed many of the neccessary things.... Lovie is taking over the Defense, we changed coaches at all three levels on defense, we added pieces to the O-line, traded for a pro-bowl QB, drafted some nice prospects along the D-line and WR positions this year.

Marineli and Lovie are the most imporatant changes for our defense and Orland Pace, Frank Omiyale, Jay Cutler and Michael Gaines will be the most important changes to the Offense aside from dumping St.Claire, Booker and Lloyd of course.

We will be better on both sides of the ball.... A beefier O-line and pro-bowl QB will help the Offense produce not only scoring wise but improve our sustained drive average, field position and TOP. The defense will benefit the most from this because the longer our Offense has the ball, the less our defense will be exploited and ultimately, prevent the Defense from wearing down prematurely.

Numbers aside we know we have flaws, the key is to shield them as much as possible and the new additions this year should allow us a much better opportunity to do just that and improve our performance.

Go Bears !!

Very interesting stuff there. Not sure about our D being anywhere near good the last 2 years, but still it seems to be a good way to project. I have to agree that poor Coach calling plays was a big reason our D was bad, and the same with the O going 4 times at the middle of one of the strongest Dline. Pushing the Lbacks that close to the line and then having them rush backwards was ppoor Coach scheme (thanks alot Babich)
but overall I like this analysis DVOA stuff.

There's a lot to what these analysts say. Remember, the Bears finished 9-7 last year and just missed the playoffs.

This analysis is based on player production. The NFL will always be about players. I can see the Bears winning the NFC. Why not? They should be vastly improved on both sides of the ball and special teams is always a given.

And who the hell cares what Ditka says about anything? Does anyone really think his coaching led the Bears to a SB win? Didn't do much with the Saints, except trade an entire draft for a wackadoodle. Now that's real football knowledge.

Footbal Outsiders is the biggest load of crap, just another rag to squeeze some dough out of us real rabid fans. Those stats are worthless as tits on a bull and a stat never won a game on the field. The human factor is what the game is all about, just llke instant replay it sucks at the end of quarters and games for every close play to be reviewed. If the refs made a mistake deal with it. The trends in the NFL on the defense side is changing evolving and the Tampa2 and it's step children are being fazed out even in Tampa. With an abundance of LB's it's time for the Bears to look at a 3-4 as well a rotation of Harrison, Adams and Dvorcek could manage the nose Harris could play end in a 3-4. This is a copycat league they know the weaknesses of the Tampa get rid of it.

I can't believe that there are bloggers stating that the BEars had even a good defense last year, they did not.

I know a few of you are caught up in this DVOA stuff and yes it helps to analyze a team in both offense and defense but it is not the end all as to how the team performed.

The facts are these.

The Bears D was ranked 21st in the league allowing 334.7 yards per game, the D ranked 30th against the pass, allowed 21.9 points per game which was 17th and allowed the other offense 32.27 time of possession differential,one of the worst in the league last year, they ranked 24th in sacks. They were simply terrible and for anyone to make the case they were not is ridiculous.

The time of possession problem was as much a fault of the Bears poor D that gave up more first downs to the pass than only 4 teams. They simply did not have many three and outs as they have had in previous years. I agree with Wrigley Field Bear, the D sucked, period end of sentence.

This team should have made the playoffs last year. They blew games against Houston(poor D play) Carolina, poor D play with a lead, Atlanta (just plain poor D)and Tampa Bay (lost a lead late, poor D)the D was blown off of the field against Green Bay and folded like a tent against Minnesota after the 99 yard TD. They win even one of those games and they are in the playoffs. 2007 the D also was pathetic, lets not even revisit that year.

The D good, what are you kidding me.

As a lifelong Bear fan, there is no question that the Bears D the last two years went southbound on a speedy train. We can't forget that Ron Rivera was a big part of that defense, acting as the brains behind the scenes. He was a defensive coordinator that the Bears players respected, befriended and played hard for. To measure his importance, just look at what he did with San Diego in the second half last year, aiding in bringing them to the playoffs when they were written off at the midway point. Would not be surprised if the Bears do make a title run this year, they could be facing Rivera and the Chargers in the Super Bowl.
And before we put the cart in front of the horse, let's look a little deeper into the rise and fall of the Bears once vaunted defense. The loss of Rivera after our Super Bowl defeat is the starting point. That subtraction becomes even more painful when his successor, Mr Babich, fails to motivate the defense and generate the same kind of monsters of the midway mojo that Bear fans are accustomed to. I am still surprised that he was kept on the staff as the LBs coach.
The defensive line's poor play, especially in regards to pass-rushing, has been the biggest negative the last two years. Poor safety play has not helped either. As mentioned in previous posts today, anyone could pass on the Bears last year. Did not Brian Griese have his best game of the year vs the Bears? The same was true for Gus Frerotte and other QB journeymen as well. You can blame injuries all you want, but inconsistent play on all parts of the defense led to a mediocre year. No doubt, Bears D players played hurt and played hard last year, but where was the heart? Yes, you could see it in Alex Brown throughout the season, and you could detect it with Briggs' All Pro season. Corey Graham played with a needed sense of urgency as well. Though Mike Brown got injured again, he always played with the heart of a Bear. We won't miss his injuries, but his intangibles will be surely missed: leadership, intelligence, sacrifice and dedication. Just wish there were Mike Brown's on the Bears' defensive side of the ball the last two years.
However, I do expect big things from the Bears this year, now that Lovie Smith is acting as the Defensive Coordinator. Bear players will be flying around the ball, creating turnovers and scoring points. Even as important, the addition of Rod Marinelli may be a bigger acquistion than Jay Cutler. Our D-line will be nasty! Just hear what Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice have to say about this coaching genius. Hell, the guy shows videotapes of shark attacks to get his points across.
Would like to see Corey Graham start at FS and Kevin Payne at SS. With Tillman and Vasher being healty, I do like out CBs as well. Look for DJ Moore and Manning to split time at the nickel position - Moore to cover, Manning to rush the passer. Seen two seasons end with Manning getting burnt deep on the same ^&*! play!
(One of those just happened to be in the Super Bowl, when Reggie Wayne caught the ball closer to me in my endzone seat than Manning on the field). We shore up the SS LB postion and our defense could be even meaner than 2005-06.
Having Cutler at the helm will help the Bears in many ways. We will finally have a strong-armed QB in the windy city, with athletic ability, gumption and competitive spirit to take us to the promised land. Cutler's presence alone will decrease the 8 men fronts loaded up againd Matt Forte last year as well. As Bear fans, we will see passes - short, medium and long - that Favre used to make vs the Bears in his prime. This time, the Bears will be on the winning end of making a defense look bare naked and silly. Cutler's leadership skills will be in question at the beginning, but not in the end. This guy is the Real McKoy.
Finally, would like to see the Bears pick up a veteran wideout, purely for third down situations where experience is needed. Would also like to add another veteran RB, another third down specialist. Have not seen enough from Wolfe to make me a believer.
Regarding stats, they are overated, but I like the fact that someone outside of Chicago is feeling the buzz in the air. Go Bears!


Yeah, great but the Bears still have a low B.H.C. quotient.


That's Big Honkin' Cahones.


Let's just play some freakin football and stop talking about how great Jay Cutler is.

Vermont,

The decline of the defense actually began with injuries to Mike Brown. Even in '06 under Rivera, the defensive play started declining when Brownie was knocked out. The defense played an excellent game v. New Orleans in the Championship game after surrendering a TD, but it was clear that just like Tony Dungy's defense depended on Bob Sanders to stop the run, Lovie Smith's depended on Mike Brown to stop it. I fully agree that Rivera has shown himself to be a very good defensive coordinator, but his loss is not the only problem with the Bear defense, nor is it fundamentally what's wrong with it.

""Brian Urlacher has lost a step or two, to the point where players can now get around the corner on him, which never used to happen. Where's the stat for that? Again, you have to watch the game, no stat is going to tell you.""


I think BFF BOB's "MUG UP" scheme played a huge factor in that....

Urlacher and Briggs constantly bounced around the LOS pre-snap. When they read Pass they would make a mad dash backwards trying to get to their zone.... Opposing QB's made easy pickins on the soft coverages we constantly showed them... CB's playing 10+ yards off, a safety rolled up at LB level too often to support the run, LB's running like chickens with their heads cut off with backs facing the QB. It was just too easy to complete quick passes on Bob's "MUG" look !!


""The loss of Rivera after our Super Bowl defeat is the starting point.""

Wrigley hit right on the head... Once Mike Brown went down in week "6" vs Arizona, the Bears Defense began to fall. The Bears went from allowing (9.8) points per game to (15.2) points through the week 13 Vikings game. Tommie Harris went down for the year in that game and then we really tanked !!! allowing (24.6) points per game the rest of the season through the SB....


Even with a sound scheme and a "Super Hero" DC like Ron Rivera the Bears defense went on a nose dive as injuries mounted.... The loss of M. Brown equaled a (4.2) point per game increase against us.... The Loss of both Brown and Harris equaled a staggering plus (14.8) point per game blood letting....

Injuries play just as big a part as playing calling, coaching and scheme.

Go Bears !!

eh too many predictions, we'll just have to wait and see. I think we have a great chance of going all the way with Cutler on board, but I won't get my hopes up.

Leave a comment

Twitter updates

Categories

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on July 12, 2009 7:22 AM.

20 days to Camp: Cutler's risk taking dominates online chat was the previous entry in this blog.

18 days to Camp: Going in search of the Bears' pass rush is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.