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What’s Wrong With the Bears? Almost Everything

The Bears are the easiest team to score on in football. It goes downhill from there.

Bottom: Chris Conte   Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune

Last year the Bears had one of the worst defenses in team history. They gave up 29.9 points a game, a mere 0.1 points (two points on the season) worse than the Minnesota Vikings. The offense was good, however—tied with the Patriots second-best scoring offense in the NFL, and second only to the freak-show Broncos—and the team went 8-8.

As you might have guessed from their 3-6 record, the offense is worse this year. They’re basically scoring a touchdown less per game (from 27.8 PPG to 21.6 PPG), killing a team that, last year, had no room for error. And they’ve fallen from second to 22nd in points per game; we’ve been over that, and it didn’t get better last night.

The offense had a lot of room to fall. It would be harder for the defense to get worse. But, reader, they have done it. After giving up 55 points last night—42 in the first half—the Bears now have the worst defense in football, at 30.8 points per game.

That’s the bottom line, but this really puts it in perspective:

  • Bears’ opponents start, on average, at their own 34.8 yard line. That’s the worst in football. Only five teams’ opponents start at the 30 or worse, and all those teams suck: the Buccaneers, the Redskins, the Jaguars, the Raiders, and the Bears.
  • The Bears give up an average of 35 yards per drive, the third-worst in football.

Put the two together, and the average drive against the Bears ends at the Bears’ 30-yard line. In other words, the average drive against the Bears ends in a 47-yard field-goal attempt.

Which is how the Bears have managed to give up scores on 49 percent of drives. That’s the worst, too. Essentially, the Bears give up points on half of their opponents’ possessions. The Lions and Cardinals, tied for first, have given up points on 26.9 percent of drives, to put that in context. Pro Football Reference’s statistics on that go back to 1999; if they keep that pace up, it’ll be a record.

It’s the kind of badness that’s really shared. The Bears have a bad defense, but a bad defense that’s defending the shortest field in football. On average, the Bears have 65 yards to stop the other team; the Colts, on the other end of the spectrum, have 77 yards, more than a first down’s worth of difference.

(When they get the ball back from the other team, the Bears offense has the second-worst starting position in the NFL: their own 24.6 yard line. So they have the shortest field on defense, and the second-longest on offense.)

Oh, and they give up the second-most yards per play. Overall, they’re the easiest team to score on in football: you don’t have to go very far to score on them, and it won’t take you very many plays to do it.

It gets worse. Jay Cutler is tied with Jacksonville rookie Blake Bortles for the most turnovers in football (10 INTs and four fumbles versus Bortles’s 14 INTs); overall the Bears are eighth-worst in turnovers, and third worst in turnovers per drive. So that makes things harder on the defense.

Then there’s special teams. Football Outsiders has the Bears ranked as the worst special-teams unit in football through Week 9, a somewhat remarkable designation given the Lions’ dumpster fire at kicker (their kickers have missed half of their field goal attempts). Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has it ranked as the second-worst.

Rookie punter Pat O’Donnell has the second-lowest net punting average, the fewest fair catches, the second-highest percentage of returned punts, and is tied for the fewest punts inside the 20-yard-line. Given that his gross punting average isn’t terrible (20th in the NFL), it suggests a weakness in the whole coverage unit; Pro Football Focus has O’Donnell rated as the 20th-best punter in football. Which is not great, but it doesn’t seem like it can all be blamed on O’Donnell, the first punter drafted by the team in almost 20 years.

The good news? Um….

  • Chris Williams returned 10 kickoffs for 288 yards and a touchdown. The bad news, as Brad Biggs points out, is that when more than a third of that came on one one kick, well, you do the math. He might be a better punt returner than Santonio Holmes; it would be difficult to be worse than Holmes has been this year.
  • The Bears’ run-blocking, insofar as the stats can capture it, seems solid. It would be even better news if the Bears had more than the 28th-most running attempts in the NFL. The Bears promised to run more against Green Bay, and maybe they would have if they hadn’t given up touchdowns on the Packers’ first five drives. Once you’re down 35-0 with eight minutes left in the second quarter, that narrows your options.
  • Robbie Gould, by the regular and advanced stats, seems… fine.

The best news is this: they get to play the worst team on their schedule, the Buccaneers, on November 23. And given that the Bucs are coached by Marc Trestman’s predecessor, led by the quarterback Chicago had a brief infatuation with last year, and even more disappointing than the Bears, at minimum they’re proof that things could be worse. Facing an alternate-nightmare-universe team could give them a boost; it’ll at least finally establish where the bottom is.

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