There are Bears in the Midweek; Run for Your Lives!
First the good news: based on VOA, Football Outsiders all-around performance metric, the Bears have been the third best team in the NFL this year. Only San Diego and Baltimore have been better. We're far enough into the season that actual 2006 performance now accounts for about 1/3 of a projection of performance the rest of the way. Blend that with 2/3 pre-season projections, and you get DAVE, FO's newest stat. DAVE is basically an early season blend of performance and projection designed to determine the real strength of a team without being blinded by one or two early results. Think of it as FO's power rankings. Anyway, the Bears rank 3rd there as well, behind the Chargers and Seahawks.
The Bears have played well in all three phases of the game. Both the offense and defense are ranked 6th in the NFL, and the special teams remain #1 overall. The defense is in the top 10 against the pass, and top 5 against the run. On special teams the Bears have been head and shoulders better than everyone else. Only Carolina has gotten better place kicking, only Indy has had better punt returns, and no one has had better kick-off coverage. The punt coverage is above average too.
It's when you break down the offense's success that the only warning sign emerges. The Bears have had the 3rd most effective passing attack in football, and only the 30th most effective rushing attack. 30th! They're the Chicago Bears, people. They run the football. It's what they do. Payton, Sayers, Nagurski, Grange -- you get the idea. Identity crisis, indeed. The offense is producing overall, and as Ron Jaworski likes to say, points come from the passing game. (Is that really true? Maybe I'll look into that at some point down the road.) But some production out of the running game would be a good thing. Is it Thomas Jones' fault, the offensive line's? (This is definitely something I'll look into down the road -- like tomorrow). Whatever the cause, addressing this one concern could push the Bears over the hump and make them this year's truly elite team.