The Bears entered the 2017 season expecting to lean on the defense during the offense’s tough times. And although there’s already been plenty of scoring struggles, the defense hasn’t quite been the rock we thought it would/could be.
But maybe we got it backwards. Perhaps the Bears’ best offense can actually help the team’s passing defense – at least, maybe it can this Monday against the Vikings. Stay with me.
Patrick Thorman of Pro Football Focus notes how often the Bears have been willing to run the ball this season, and how it happens to line up with how often opposing offenses have been willing to run it against the Vikings (the Bears Week 5 matchup). In neutral situations, the Bears have run the ball at a 48 percent clip, which is the fifth highest percentage in the league. Meanwhile, opponents have been running against the Vikings at a similar 49.2 percent clip – also the fifth highest percentage in this area. I’d venture to guess, then, that with a quarter of the season in the books, these numbers will stay relatively true and the Bears will run a lot on Monday night.
Of course, a prolific running game is not only one of the Bears offensive strengths, it’s also a good way to keep the clock moving. And that, in turn, will help to limit opportunities for the Vikings pass offense – with talented guys like Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph – to do damage. Further, it’s important to note that the Vikings offense has produced a league-leading 23 plays that have resulted in 20+ yards this season. So the best way to take the air out of their ball might just be a good old fashioned game of keep-away.
And this all takes gets a double dose of importance, because, as Thorman also highlights, teams have been throwing more than running against the Bears all season (63.9 percent of neutral situations, 3rd highest in football). However, the high percentage of throws against the Bears hasn’t exactly resulted in a high volume of attempts (precisely because of the Bears’ slow pace). In fact, Bears opponents have averaged the sixth fewest offensive snaps, while also yielding the fifth fewest total plays in football, this season! In other words, sure, Bears opponents throw the ball when they get the chance, but they don’t get that chance often!
But don’t get me wrong, this isn’t something to necessarily be proud of. All things equal, you’d prefer a defense that’s simply better than the one that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a 103.8 passer rating through four weeks of 2017. That’s just not what a John-Fox-led defense is supposed to do. Indeed, only five teams (Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots, and Indianapolis Colts) have allowed more points to their opponents than the Bears’ 104. It’s not a great situation when you’re sharing space on the leaderboard with the Rams, Browns, Titans, and Colts.
To be fair, it’s not all bad on the defensive side of the ball for the Bears. It’s worth pointing out the team has allowed the eighth fewest average yards per game and sixth fewest average rushing yards (being put in bad field position by the offense’s turnovers hasn’t helped on the points side).
Perhaps, while the secondary learns to better defend against the pass, the Bears offense can try to gobble up as much time as possible by running it all day. We’ll see.