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Spent some time before kickoffs to the games on Sunday taking a look at the Bears' situation with those pesky yellow flags the officials seem to be throwing on a more frequent basis.

The Bears tied their season high with 10 penalties in Thursday's loss at San Francisco, and they have had nine or more penalties in four of the nine games. Entering Sunday's games, only one team had more penalties (61) and one team had more yards penalized (509) than the Bears, but obviously that changed with the action. We'll get a clear look at where they rank in the league after the fantastically unappealing Monday night tilt this evening between Baltimore and Cleveland. The Browns could use a break from prime time.

So here's what I found ... with 61 penalties for 509 yards, the Bears are pretty much on pace for what their average is under Lovie Smith. The team had a low in the Smith era of 78 penalties for only 610 yards last season. The average in five seasons under Smith is 106 penalties for 836 yards. At the current pace, the 2009 Bears will finish with 108 penalties for 905 yards.

Let's look at the annual numbers:

2004: 124-956*
2005: 105-850
2006: 112-923
2007: 111-839
2008: 78-610

* 124 penalties set a franchise high

I have a comprehensive breakdown of every type of penalty and who committed what infraction below. But first, it's time to acknowledge some terrific work done by Greg Bedard at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Yes, the Green Bay Packers have been having their own penalty problems and entered Sunday's game vs. Dallas with 62 penalties, one more than the Bears with one less game played. He cited some work by the fine folks at Football Outsiders that proved that there is very little to link a team's record and the accumulation of defensive and special-teams penalties.

"In their 2007 Pro Football Prospectus, Aaron Schatz and Bill Barnwell from footballoutsiders.com studied penalties from 2002-'06. They found there was "almost zero" correlation between record and defensive or special-team penalties. There was, however, a much stronger correlation with offensive penalties."

Unfortunately, 30 of the Bears' 61 penalties count against the offense, a result of 15 false starts. Right tackle Chris Williams is credited with a team-high five penalties, four of them false starts although there was one false start assigned to the team and replays showed it was likely he was the guilty party. Quarterback Jay Cutler has committed four penalties himself. The Bears have been called for six personal fouls--five unnecessary roughness call and one unsportsmanlike conduct--and they have also been hit with three facemask infractions.

Certainly one of the things that jumped out also was that the Bears have nine offside penalties vs. the defense. That's the same type of a infraction as a false start for the offense and when a team has 24 of those combined, well, that's an issue. Smith has downplayed penalties to this point, and said they're uncharacteristic. If uncharacteristic means he understands they're on pace for pretty much what they average under him, he's correct.

Here is a breakdown of all the penalties:

Three games into the era of Lovie Smith as defensive coordinator, I took a look at the tendencies the team has had using the blitz thus far. ESPN.com put out some interesting numbers earlier in the week showing that the Bears were blitzing more than 47 percent of the time, second-most in the league.

Smith didn't want to talk about tendencies, but said he goes into the game each week with a plan in mind and then adjusts as the game unfolds. If you'll recall, he put the blame on himself for one blitz at Seattle last week. The Seahawks were facing third-and-19 from the Bears' 39-yard line, and Smith called the blitz. Seneca Wallace dumped a little screen pass into the flat to Julius Jones and he broke an arm tackle try by cornerback Charles Tillman along the sideline to scoot all the way to the end zone. The Bears rushed six on the play--linemen Adewale Ogunleye, Tommie Harris and Israel Idonije, linebackers Lance Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer and free safety Kevin Payne. Right end Mark Anderson dropped into coverage. There was minimal pressure but plenty of open space for Jones. With long odds for the Seahawks to pick up 19 yards, Smith probably wishes he would have been more conservative.

It's a zone pressure similar to what was diagrammed here at the National Football Post by Matt Bowen, who played safety in the league under Smith in St. Louis. One of the first blitzes Smith installed when he got to St. Louis was "Storm." Bowen does a great job of taking you through the X's and O's and explaining how and why the play works. He details the responsibilities in coverage.

Danieal Manning and Zack Bowman were both on the practice field at the start of practice this afternoon, and that's a good sign as the secondary continues to slowly round itself back into form. Cornerback Charles Tillman was out playing catch with the quarterbacks before the session got started, but he hasn't been cleared for drills yet. We'll see how much work the others get done today when coach Lovie Smith speaks after practice.

Rookie defensive end Henry Melton was spotted with a walking boot on his right foot, and that's not a good sign with final cuts fast approaching. Melton really didn't do a whole lot in training camp, but he's incredibly athletic and the Bears admitted he was a project when they selected him in the fourth round from Texas. No word what the exact nature of his ankle injury is.

Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek will undergo surgery on his right knee on Friday to determine if there's more to his injury than a sprained MCL. The Sun-Times reported he also has a torn ACL, and ESPNChicago.com confirmed that report on its own. The folks at Football Outsiders put together a chart looking at the most injured players of the last decade. Dvoracek, who has been sidelined for 35 of 48 regular-season games over the last three seasons, will rank as the most inured player of the decade if he misses 11 games this season. The way his teammates spoke of him earlier this week, it's apparent they have been told to expect him to miss the season.

It's a tough story because Dvoracek has been such a diligent worker and is so well respected by everyone in Halas Hall.

While most other NFL teams are slowly reeling in the remainder of their draft classes with signings that are becoming more plentiful by the day, the Bears have had that business wrapped up for more than a month. The season is fast approaching and the Bears' first training camp practice at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., is two weeks from today. We've already put in our request for an 80-degree day with full sunshine and a light breeze. Individual game tickets go on sale a week from Saturday on July 25 at noon via Ticketmaster phone and Internet outlets.

As our 30-day countdown to camp marches on with little news, we're going to jump around with a few different items this morning. But first, we have a little news.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Bears and Olivet Nazarene have reached an agreement for the team to leave camp following practice on Aug. 20. The contract between the club and the school allowed the Bears to occupy campus through Aug. 21 but school officials asked the team to leave a day earlier to allow them time to prepare for the arrival of the student body of 2,500 beginning Aug. 22. That means the Bears will be at another location for their Aug. 21 walk through in advance of their second preseason game Aug. 22 at Soldier Field vs. the New York Giants. For a complete training camp schedule, go here.

*** KC Joyner was able to sidestep much of the Jay Cutler firestorm he's been at the center of recently in another chat on ESPN.com. It's Joyner's opinion that this could be a better team than the one that went to Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season.

"Wouldn't you know it, I only get one question in and a Cutler comment gets posted. I'll say this about the Bears - they get a lot of turnovers and have the next Brian Westbrook in their backfield. They went to the Super Bowl with less talent than what they have now. Cutler will hurt them at times but many teams have won with QBs that have high bad decision rates, so they have at least a 50/50 shot at the division."

That is high praise for running back Matt Forte that we detailed here. No one seems up in arms with that comparison by Joyner. By the way, later on in his Thursday chat he clarified that he has Minnesota as the favorite to claim the NFC North, but called them a 51/49 favorite over the Bears.

The biggest moves the Bears made on defense, or at least the ones getting the most attention, were the changes on the coaching staff. Rod Marinelli's addition as the defensive line coach will create some storylines during training camp, and I think a lot of people are interested to watch the drill work he does with his players on the side. Lovie Smith's role as play caller will come more into focus when the season begins.

But we bounced the two biggest personnel changes on defense off Bill Barnwell when we spoke to the managing editor of Football Outsiders about the upcoming season. Their mean projection gives the Bears a 49 percent chance to have 11 or more victories, and that was the highest figure for any NFC club. It can all be found in the Football Outsiders Almanac, which will be available on Amazon.com in a few weeks and can be ordered in PDF format from their Web site.

First, we asked Barnwell about the addition of linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who is projected to be the starter on the strong side after signing a one-year contract. St. Louis cut the veteran loose after the Rams failed in their bid to trade him. He became the first rookie in Rams' franchise history to lead the defense in tackles when he played the position for Smith and Bob Babich in 2003.

"It really depends on Tinoisamoa and how he fits into their scheme and how quickly he catches up on things,'' Barnwell said. "I understand he's had experience in the system in the past. He was playing for the Rams. The Rams didn't have a great defense last season. You look at his run numbers and they were atrocious. He made a lot of tackles but they were seven or eight yards from the line of scrimmage, they were coming well down the field. The defense wasn't good and his numbers were not very good. You have to put the scheme in context. It's not like baseball where if a guy is going to hit 40 home runs in one city he's going to hit 40 home runs in another city. He could be better this season.''

What Football Outsiders does is study each play and they look at a statistic they call the "stop rate" and average yards for running plays when the linebacker was credited with making the tackle. It's not a perfect system but they have other stats, one of which is called "defeats," defined as the total number of plays they stop the offense from gaining first down on third or fourth down, or make a play behind the line of scrimmage or create a turnover.

Tinoisamoa, who played weak side in St. Louis last season, was credited with 48 stops, 32 fewer than Lance Briggs. Tinoisamoa ranked 93rd out of 99 total linebackers vs. the run. But as Barnwell pointed out, these statistics are drawing from small sample sizes and they can change from year to year. Switch teams and defenses and it is not going to be the same. Tinoisamoa will have more talent around him this season and it's reasonable to expect he'll be a different player. Of course, the Bears thought Adam Archuleta was coming to a more talented defense when he left Washington for the Bears. That didn't work out so well for Archuleta or the Bears.

KC Joyner received such a spirited response from Bears and Jay Cutler followers last week in his online chat at ESPN.com that he's back with more analysis, this time on the New York Times' blog The FIfth Down.

Joyner's comment that Cutler "will make Bears fans remember Rex Grossman'' has sparked controversy here and in plenty of other places, including ProFootballTalk.com. Joyner says that Cutler is a risk taker who will win some games for the Bears with his aggressive approach and lose some for them as well. Cue the fireworks.

"I understand that fan scrutiny comes with the territory, so I don't mind that, but what I don't understand is why those fans are treating Cutler differently than they did either Grossman or Kyle Orton. Grossman was on fire during the first part of Chicago's Super Bowl season, and yet as soon as he had the bad game against Miami, it seemed the entire city turned on him. It didn't go that much differently for Orton. He had a tremendous start to the 2008 season, but when he struggled down the stretch, the populace seemed to say goodbye and good riddance without much of a second thought."

Joyner points out that while Cutler passed for more than 4,500 yards in Denver last season, he was second in the league with 616 attempts and his yards per attempt on vertical throws was 9.8 yards, 20th in the league. The stat that has readers here most agitated is the bad decision rate of 4.6 percent with Joyner defining a bad decision as one that leads to a turnover or a near turnover. Presumably (we're interested in learning more about this), it doesn't include a ball that goes off a wide receiver's shoulder pads and bounces 10 feet to the nearest defender before being intercepted. The bottom line is we don't have those numbers in front of us other than the 4.6 percent rate for Cutler was worst in the league.

One of the common replies, at least here, to all of this has been that Cutler played with one of the worst defenses imaginable on an 8-8 Broncos team and had to keep chucking the ball to try to keep his team in games. (Every quarterback is going to make more mistakes when they are playing from behind). Denver's defense was 29th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. The good folks at Football Outsiders ranked the defense 31st in the league, so we can agree it was sufficiently lousy.

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Missing: The Bears' pass rush.

If found, please bring to the Weber Center on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University by midnight July 30, you know, so the defense can have its identity back in time for training camp.

The disappearance of the Bears' pass rush, particularly from its front four, was an issue that could not be solved last season when the team registered 28 sacks, the lowest total in five seasons under Lovie Smith. Since expanding to the 16-game schedule in 1978, the Bears have had less than 28 sacks just once, in 2003.

The lack of a pass rush has been conveniently placed at the feet of defensive tackle Tommie Harris by some and that's entirely unfair. No, Harris didn't make it to the Pro Bowl last season but to finger him as the reason for the rush being stuck in rush hour wouldn't be accurate.

Football Outsiders provides an interesting graphic in their Football Outsiders Almanac, and on the surface at least it places the blame elsewhere. Consider this information from Football Outsiders on the distribution of sacks for the Bears over the last three seasons:

Year Pass Attempts DE sacks DT sacks LB/DB sacks Total QB hits per pass

2006 581 25.5 10.5 4 40 14.8 percent

2007 541 18.5 9.5 12 40 13.6 percent

2008 622 12 10.5 4.5 28* 12.4 percent

* On their official statistics the Bears had one sack awarded to "group."

Harris made five sacks last season, tying him for second on the defense, one behind Alex Brown. Harris made a career-high eight sacks in 2007 and had five in 2006. His sack totals--and the numbers produced by the defensive tackles--have remained consistent over the three-year period.

The difference between 28 sacks in 2008 and 40 sacks in 2006? How about Mark Anderson? The defensive end made one sack last season. He had 12 in 2006. Those 11 missing sacks would have given the Bears 39 last season.

"Besides the presence of Mark Anderson at the bottom?'' Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell said when asked what struck him in his evaluation of the Bears' defensive line. "That jumps out to me. Otherwise, probably Alex Brown's pass-rushing numbers. Not just the sacks, but we also track hits and hurries."

In statistics detailed in Football Outsiders Almanac, Brown was credited with 11 hits and 11 hurries. Combined with six sacks, that means he affected the quarterback 28 times, three more than the next closest Bear, Adewale Ogunleye (5 sacks, 4 hits, 16 hurries). Brown's 11 hits tied for 17th in the league. Anderson had one sack, four hits and six hurries. Harris had five hits and seven hurries.

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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.

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