Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hooray Bear!

The Bears have played really good football so far. That's not exactly earth shattering analysis, but fear not, I'll break it down in excrutiating and deadly-dull detail momentarily. First off, let me point out that we know the Packers and Lions are weak, but it's too early to know exactly how weak, so no real adjustments for strength of schedule is yet possible.

The Bears have been the third best team in football so far, at least according to Football Outsider's DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average) formula. Only the Chargers and Ravens have been better. Unlike the Ravens, who have excelled on defense and been merely average on offense, the Bears have posted top 10 performances on offense, defense, and special teams (the Chargers have also dominated in every category). In fact, the Bears are ranked #4 in the league on offense, and only 7th on defense. Who would have predicted that kind of start to the season? The special teams, for the record, have been the best in football.

Breaking down the offensive production further, we find another unexpected split: the Bears have had the most productive passing offense in the entire NFL, while the running attack ranks only 27th. As odd as that may sound to fans of a franchise that still pines for Sid Luckman, it makes sense. Teams gear up to stop the Bears' rushing attack because the Bears have never been able to exploit passing opportunities. Now that they can, they've out scored opponents 60-7.

Rex Grossman has been the third best quarterback in football the past two weeks. Last year, Kyle Orton ranked 45th in the league. That's all the difference in the world, and it's making all the difference for Bears' receivers. Desmond Clark has been the most productive TE in the NFL (#30 last year) and Muhsin Muhammad is the #8 WR (he was #81 in 2005).

Eventually other teams will pick up on this and take away some of Grossman's effectiveness. But there is reason to believe that the Bears' rushing attack will be able to compensate. Cedric Benson is the #38 ranked RB and Thomas Jones is ranked #43 this year. But I don't think that's a condemnation of either one. When teams adjust to take Grossman and the air attack away, there is every reason to believe that Jones and Benson will respond. Last year, Jones was the #11 ball carrier in the NFL, and while the O-line ranked just 15th in the league for Adjusted Line Yards, the Bears were ranked 4th in the NFL for busting long runs. If we assumes Adj. Line Yards are mostly attributable to the line, and 10+ runs are mostly attributable to the RB, then these numbers demonstrate that Thomas Jones made the Bears' rushing attack last year moreso than the line's play. Jones is back, he's healthy, and there's no reason to believe he can't generate a similar rushing attack this year once teams are forced to back off the line of scrimmage and respect the threat of the pass. He did it last year even when the Bears had no aerial attack.

The addition of a good offense -- and the Bears' O appears to have skipped right past respectable into the good category -- to their excellent D and special teams, positions the team as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Factoring in what we know about teams from previous seasons' performances, along with how everyone has played thus far this year, I'd say the Bears are the #2 team in the NFC right now. They've outplayed Seattle so far, but the Seahawks' play has done nothing to cost them their position as pre-season favorite in the conference. Not only have the Bears out-played the Eagles, Falcons, and Saints, but none of those teams were as good as the Bears last year, so the Bears remain ahead of them.

The Vikings should provide more of a challenge than the previous divisional foes, but the truth is the Bears are a lot better than the Vikes too. The Vikings could pull off an upset, but it would be just that, an upset. Despite their 2-0 record, the Vikings have yet to win a game. Each of their games was essentially a tie. Washington committed stupid penalties and the Panthers committed a stupid turnover, otherwise the Vikes could easily be 0-2. If the Bears play as they're capable, the game won't be close enough for the Vikings to allow a third straight opponent to beat itself. We'll have to wait for the Seahawks to come to town to really find out how good the Bears are, and who is the best team in the conference.


Anonymous WCG said...

Hey, nice digs you got here. Sweet first article. I have seen bits and pieces of the data you have there, but never all rolled up into one post.

2:23 PM  

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