Friday, January 12, 2007

Bears v. Seahawks 2: This Time It's Personal in 3D

Back on October 1 the Bears crushed the Seahawks as Rex Grossman completed 17 of 31 pass attempts for 232, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Those were heady days. Since then Rex's season has resembled a ride at Great America, and Bears fans have started popping open bottles of Pepto instead of Old Style while watching the games. Don't get me wrong, I love me some Great America, but a nice, steady performance from Rex would be a wonderful thing this weekend.

At the end of the year, the Bears were ranked 23rd in the league in passing efficiency (as judged by Football Outsiders' DVOA statistic). It seems hard to believe it wasn't lower. But Grossman had seven outstanding games this year, and another four that were good enough. His five bad games stand out because they were awful, and the Bears went 2-3 in those games. If Grossman is just "good enough," then the Bears are in good shape. But he can lose the game for the team. When it was all said and done, Grossman ranked 31st in the league in total contribution among quarterbacks (as measured by Football Outsiders' DPAR statistic). He completed only 55% of his pass attempts, but collected more than 3000 yards and 23 touchdowns. His big problem was a barrage of turnovers in those five bad games. In all he threw 20 picks, and lost five fumbles.

The Seahawks aren't very good in pass defense, so it doesn't make sense to shut Rex down completely. Rex will look to his top target, Muhsin Muhammad, plenty. The Seahawks struggle against #1 wide outs, and Muhammad is a good, big target. But the Seahawks struggle even more against tight ends. They rank 26th in the league defending the tight end, and the Bears have a good one. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has had an up and down year, but he can't afford to miss this opportunity this week. Desmond Clark had one of the better years of any tight end in football. He caught 56% of the 80 passes thrown his way, for 626 yards and six touchdowns. Rex seems most comfortable when he is using Clark a lot, so the big man should see the ball early and often.

Of course, the Seahawks aren't very good defending the run either, and that is the heart of the Bears' attack. The Bears featured a top-10 rushing attack this year, combining the skills of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. There should be plenty of carries for each back this weekend. Jones ranked 11th in DPAR and 19th in DVOA among running backs this season. He ran for more than 1200 yards on 296 runs. He scored six touchdowns and fumbled only once. Benson ranked 18th in DPAR and 10th in DVOA this season. In other words, he had fewer opportunities than Jones, but did more per carry. He ran for 647 yards on 157 carries, also scored six touchdowns, and did not fumble. Adjusted line yards (ALY) measures a teams success gaining yards near the line of scrimmage. It's sort of yards per carry, but discounting all the yards picked up down field by break away running backs. The Bears led the league in ALY on runs between the guards at 4.80. That's nearly five yards every time the Bears run the ball up the gut. The Seahawks were middle of the pack defending against these kinds of runs. Note #2 to Ron Turner: Benson, straight ahead, may be the Bears' best play this weekend.

The Seahawks actually had a considerably worse offensive season than the Bears. Not only did they finish well behind the Bears running the ball, they actually managed to finish behind the Bears passing. Matt Hasselbeck was barely better than Rex Grossman this season. He completed 57% of his pass attempts for 2,220 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 15 picks. The Bears do a great job of taking away a team's various weapons in the passing game. Their one weakness is in stopping an opponents #1 wide receiver. While the Bears rank in the top-5 against other wide outs, tight ends and running backs, they are only 21st against lead receivers. Fortunately, the Seahawks are kind of without one now. The team's best receiver, D.J. Hackett, is listed as questionable. So is their second best receiver, Darrell Jackson. The Seahawks are banged up at exactly the position they need to excel in order to take advantage of the Bears defense.

The most obvious difference between now and October 1st is that the Seahawks have Shaun Alexander (who, a friend recently pointed out, looks like the lost Barber brother). Alexander missed the first meeting with a flat tire. But he hasn't been running all that well on the spare anyway. Alexander finished 47th among NFL running backs in both DPAR and DVOA. He ran for 900 yards on 252 carries, scored seven touchdowns and fumbled five times. Seattle wasn't particularly effective running anywhere, but they had their most success on the 14% of running plays classified as sweeps to the left side. This was the most vulnerable area of the Bears run defense, as well, though the team still finished in the middle of the pack. There is some truth to the notion that a team should run at the speedy Lance Briggs, but he holds up well enough at the point of attack that it's not a glaring weakness.

The Bears are beatable this post season. Even the most deluded Bears' fan must realize this. But the Seahawks aren't the team to do it. Bears 23 - Seahawks 14.


Blogger Mr.Man said...

I think the stats are a bit deceptive here. Can you look at the stats since Tommie Harris, perhaps the best interior lineman in football, was injured?
In the games against the Rams, Bucs, Lions and Packers, the Bears have given up 27, 31, 21, and 26 points, and alllowed 433, 357, 327, and 373 yards, respectively. This is to the 20th, 31st, 27th, and 15th best offenses in football. Hardly juggernauts. I know that other defensive players, like Tillman, were injured during these games as well. But Harris was such an integral part of the Bears' defense, a player other teams had to game-plan around, it makes little sense to rely on stats that incorporate his play when he isn't available.
The Bears have been very beatable since Harris went out, playing against teams that are noticeably worse than the Seahawks. I think this game will be very close.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Seahawks rule! There's no way the Bears can stop the Alexander-Jones sweep left.
The Bears will be lining up to go on Holmgren mustache rides when it's all over.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Jeeves said...

Finally the two week long wait is over!

11:53 PM  

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