Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Running Man

Suppose before the season started, I told you that the Bears' flashy, big play starter was going to be one of the worst performers in all of the NFL through three weeks. Going into the team's week 4 showdown with Seattle, you'd expect everyone to be clamoring for the Bears' grind-it-out back-up to be handed the starting job. Afterall, the team paid a pretty high price to have that kind of depth.

Right now you should know three things: (1) I wanted that scenario to sound like I was talking about Rex Grossman and Brian Griese; (2) I'm not actually talking about the QB situation; and (3) I'm really talking about the RB situation. I mean, given the title of the post, if you haven't figured that out, then there's nothing I can do for you, son.

I know there are some differences between the QB depth chart and the RB depth chart. Griese is a veteran who has a proven record of success. Cedric Benson is essentially still a rookie, and one who appears to mope around when success doesn't come as easily as he expects. It's starter Thomas Jones who is the proven veteran in the RB hierarchy.

Nevertheless, it is still strange that there is no call for Benson to start given how bad the rushing attack has looked. The Bears are ranked 30th in the league in rushing efficiency. Only the Packers and Raiders are worse. To me that screams, time for a change.

But is Jones the problem, or is it the offensive line? The Bears are 28th in the league in power rushing situations -- 3rd or 4th down with one or two yards to go, or anytime the team is within 2 yards of the goal line. They succeed only 33% of the time in those situations. That has to reflect badly on the line. Additionally, the Bears are outright stuffed on a running play -- think no yards on 1st down, 2 yards on 2nd and 8, 1 yard on 3rd and 4, that kind of thing -- nearly a third of the time. Only 7 teams suffer that ignominious fate more often. Again, that doesn't look good for the guys in the trenches.

But it turns out that there is plenty of blame to go around. Football Outsiders came up with this nifty stat called Adjusted Line Yards. Using regression analysis, they figured out how much credit for each yard gained on the ground should go to the line versus the runner. The Bears have an ALY of 3.3 yards per carry. Not good. In fact, 29th in the league. But the Bears' overall yards per carry is only 2.9. That's even worse, implying that as little as the line is accomplishing, the running backs aren't doing anything on their own. In fact, the runners aren't even taking advantage of what little the line is providing. Nor have Bear runners been able to hit the homerun. Only 9% of the Bears' rushing yards are coming more than 10 yards downfield. That too, ranks 25th in the league. One more strike against the running backs.

And, of course, the running backs on most of the carries has been Thomas Jones. So, why isn't he getting more of the blame? On a per play basis, Jones ranks 38th among NFL running backs. In terms of overall contribution, he ranks 40th. Among the guys who rank ahead of Jones in total contribution: Chris Brown, Kevin Barlow, and Ron Dayne. Some runners mix homeruns with getting stuffed at the line when their team needs 1 yard. Willie Parker, for example, ranks 10th in overall running back contributions, but he only succeeds (4 yards on first down, 3 yards on 2nd and 5, 2 yards on 3rd and 2, that kind of thing) 41% of the time, 29th best in the league. So maybe Jones deserves some credit for getting a yard or two when that's all the Bears need, even if he's rarely getting more. But here too, the numbers betray him. Consider success to be 40% of the yards needed for a first down on a first down carry, 60% of the yards needed on a second down carry, and 100% of the yards needed on a third down carry. Jones only succeeds 35% of the time. That's worse than little Willie Parker. In fact, that's worse than 39 other running backs.

This is the equivalent of Grossman being down there in the Kerry Collins and Charlie Frye area. Bears fans wouldn't stand for it. Is Benson an answer? Maybe. In limited carries this year, he has succeeded at a slightly better clip than Jones, 38% of the time. In fact, his overall contribution is slightly better too. But not by much in either category. After 21 carries in three games, we don't know enough to say whether Benson is the answer, which is part of the problem. But we do know that Jones isn't getting the job done right now. If that's the case this week too, then no matter how mopey and unlikeable Benson is, it may be time to find out if he can.


Blogger Jtrouble said...

It's hard for me to remain objective when I hate Thomas Jones so much, but when the 3rd string RB has a much better average (from last season at least) than your starter, I would think maybe you'd consider making a change. Great statistic analysis

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

where is jason bere?

10:44 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home