Bears’ balance mirrors winning formula of teams such as 8-0 Rams
The Chicago Bears enter the second half of the season in first place in the NFC North and ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in four vital categories: points scored (ninth), points allowed (eighth), yards gained (10th) and yards permitted (seventh).
The last time Chicago accomplished this feat? It was 1985. Surely we needn’t remind you how that season ended.
The point of this exercise, stemming from colleague Marcus Mosher’s interesting statistical analysis earlier this week, isn’t to inflate fan expectations and drum up February 2019 tourist revenue in Atlanta. No, it’s hopefully to illustrate that an organization long stuck in a state of being formidable on one side of the ball while feeble on the other now has balance making it more competitive in the short term and, who knows, perhaps ready to compete for that elusive second Super Bowl sooner than some think.
The Bears are one of only two NFL teams through Week 8 that rank in the top 10 of the four aforementioned categories, perhaps not coincidentally alongside the one whose handbook they’re borrowing from, the undefeated Los Angeles Rams. Sean McVay’s club ranks second in points and third in scoring on offense and eighth in yards and sixth in points on defense.
That the Bears have closely followed the Rams’ team construction, from trading up for the quarterback to hiring the young offensive savant who tabs the sage old defensive mind to making a few bold trades, isn’t a new notion. No, what’s new are the encouraging results reflecting that GM Ryan Pace’s vision is crystalizing.
If advanced metrics are more your thing, the Bears boast similarly enviable balance according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. They’re one of only two teams ranked in the top 11 on both sides of the ball — No. 11 on offense and first overall defensively — curiously along with the Denver Broncos, who are 3-5 with a point differential of minus-6.
Perhaps that should serve as our reminder that stats can be a bit misleading, but we think it’s saying something that not even the universally perceived heavyweights, like the Rams (No. 2 on offense, No. 12 on ‘D’), Patriots (No. 7 on offense, No. 16 on ‘D’), Saints (No. 4 on offense, No. 27 on ‘D’) and Steelers (No. 8 on offense, No. 22 on ‘D’) fit the same balanced bill.
After coordinator Vic Fangio oversaw a defense that ranked in the top in points and yards allowed last season for the first time since 2012, which was Lovie Smith’s final year as head coach, Chicago not only maintaining but building on its defensive prowess should surprise no one. After all, newcomer Khalil Mack was the best defender in football in September, and following a two-week hiccup, the Bears proved Sunday they can be downright dominant without him. It helps that they’re getting as-advertised contributions from big-ticket arrivals and re-signings like Roquan Smith and Kyle Fuller.
It’s on offense under the tutelage of rookie head coach Matt Nagy where some of the Bears’ sudden strides might surprise some. The overwhelming newness of the entire operation has contributed to some down-to-down inconsistencies, but the Bears are succeeding in high-leverage situations (No. 7 in third-down rate and No. 11 in the red zone). That illustrates both vastly improved coaching and the synergy between Nagy and Pace to collectively identify perfect scheme fits, creating key roles for newcomers like Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel and expanding the usage of incumbent Tarik Cohen, all helping the development of Mitch Trubisky.
Don’t worry, we’re not ignoring special teams, which haven’t been nearly good enough. The Bears sit at No. 30 in DVOA in the third phase, in front of only the Browns and Chargers. Heading that list are — surprise, surprise — Dave Toub’s Chiefs, with contenders in Houston (No. 5), Carolina (No. 9), Washington (No. 10) and the Rams (No. 11) closely behind. Frankly, if the Bears hope to remain ahead of schedule and in playoff contention, this is an area that must improve, especially high-priced PK Cody Parkey.
There’s a long way to go this season, with five games remaining against North foes and a tremendous challenge in the form of perhaps Chicago’s closest comparison, those Rams, who still could be undefeated when they touch down at Soldier Field in Week 14.
The Bears still must weather a lot more adversity, like the loss of Kyle Long, to ensure their four-year residence at the bottom of the NFC North will soon become a distant memory. Perhaps then the statistical comparisons to most fans’ greatest Bears memory would start to feel a bit more, well, balanced.