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Why Were the Bears So Terrible This Year?

A competent but boring offense tried to keep the heat off an abysmal defense, but still they played from behind more than almost any other team.

Jay Cutler gets hit in a late-season loss to the Redskins.   Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

Of the many bad numbers the Bears generated this season, two stand out: the Bears spent an average of 35 minutes, 40 seconds per game playing from behind, and 12 minutes, 33 seconds leading the game. They played from behind more than any team except the hapless Browns (almost 40 minutes), and they led less than all but three teams—the Browns, the Jaguars, and the 49ers.

By that measure, the Bears look even worse than their 6-10 record might suggest.

What happened?

On the offensive side of the ball, the Bears did a lot of what they weren’t so good at, and less of what they were better at. They averaged a mere 3.9 yards per rush, tied for 20th. (The longest Bears carry this year was 27 yards, making them only one of only five teams in the past decade to lack a run over 30 yards).

But they ran 469 times, good for sixth-most in the NFL.

Jay Cutler, meanwhile, was lauded for a modest breakthrough season: 21 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions, three of which came in a meaningless final game of the season. The Bears averaged a respectable 7.3 yards per attempt with a 63.9 completion percentage, both 13th-best in the league.

But they threw the ball only 523 times, just the 25th-most attempts.

On the other hand, offensive coordinator Adam Gase’s ball-control offense did help keep the defense off the field. (It’s the small blessings.)

The Bears’ defense distinguished itself by not being very good at anything. Opponents’ quarterbacks averaged a phenomenal 99.3 rating. That was good for 26th of 32 teams. On defense, the Bears gave up 4.5 yards per carry—again, 26th. Bad, but not the worst in the league.

But only two teams were worse than the Bears in both opponents’ QB rating and yards per carry: the aforementioned hapless Browns and the Saints, the latter of which had a historically bad defense, as documented by Aaron Schatz at Football Outsider.

The Browns were the worst team in football, and the Saints finished 7-9 on the strength of a great season from Drew Brees, who led the league in yardage. New Orleans mitigated its bad defense by trying to outgun the other team; the Bears tried to just keep their defense off the field. It was kind of a wash: the Bears finished with -62 net points, the Saints with -68.

2015 was expected to be something of a lost year: new coaches, unproven receivers, a bad defensive unit in the process of being torn down for a rebuild. Head coach John Fox couldn’t work his defensive-specialist turnaround magic because of personnel; Gase stanched the bleeding with a competent, grinding approach on offense. With Gase leaving to coach the Dolphins, wide receiver Kevin White returning from injury, and an offseason to bolster the defense, the Bears may not be a likely playoff team next year, but they’re positioned to at least be a less grim team to watch.

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