Smash Mouth Sucked
Anyway, leaving behind the world of musical commentary, we turn now to the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times, which declares in huge letters: "SMASHMOUTH". The paper declares that the "smashmouth" Bears need to turn the game into a "brawl" to beat the "finesse" Colts. I'm usually skeptical of words like smashmouth and finesse because they're the kinds of subjective words that don't really tell you much when they're uttered, and in retrospect, can be twisted to match whatever reality turned out to be.
What is true is that the Bears need to run the ball to win on Sunday, which may be the Sun-Times' point anyway. The last two days I talked about how the Bears' D matches up with the Colts' offense. As good as the Bears' D is, however, the truth is that the Colts' offense is so dynamic that they will put points on the board if given enough opportunities. So, how do you limit those opportunities? You get off the bus running the football.
And the Bears should have some success running the football. (Incidentally, the Official Brother of the Ron Karkovice Fan Club, Sh*thead, wants the Bears to come out in the wishbone. He may be on to something.) Anyway, based on Football Outsiders' nifty DVOA (once again for anyone new: Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), the Bears had the ninth best running attack in the NFL.
The Bears may have a mediocre to poor offense, but they do one thing very well on that side: run the football. Thomas Jones gained 1,21o yards on 296 carries, with six touchdowns. Cedric Benson gained 647 yards on 157 carries, with six touchdowns of his own. Benson ranked 10th and Jones 19th in the league in DVOA among running backs, which here measures a back's contributions on a per play basis. Jones ranked 11th and Benson 18th in overall production (measured by Football Outsiders' DPAR: Defense-adjusted Performance Above Replacement).
And, generally speaking, we know Indy wasn't very good at run defense this year. In fact, they were 31st in DVOA. But more than that, they're most vulnerable where the Bears are strongest. Indy ranked last in football against runs between the guards. They're also last on runs behind right tackle, and 26th on runs behind left tackle. On the other hand, they're in the top 10 against sweeps to either side.
Meanwhile, 78% of Bears' carries this season were between the tackles, 44% between the guards. That's not that unusual, only a few teams run outside more than 25% or so (the Colts being one of them). But the Bears run between the tackles better than most. They ranked first in the NFL in adjusted line yards on carries between the guards, and eighth on carries behind left tackle John Tait.
So, the Bears can take advantage of the Colts' weakness against the run, just like they can contain Manning and the Colts' passing attack. And, as I said Monday, the Bears must contain Manning, and similarly must run the ball. Running the ball is the best chance the Bears have to put points on the board, and can help limit the Colts' offensive opportunity. And, there's the formula for the Bears. Run the ball, control the clock, make Indy's passing attack one dimensional, and don't let Joseph Addai do too much damage. At this point, I'd be willing to predict a 20-17 Bears' win, which is out of line with what the "experts" are predicting both in terms of total points and who has more of them. But there's a wild card in this game: Rex Grossman, aka Variance Man. More on his potential impact on this game tomorrow.