After three weeks the Bears have proved a few things, not all great obviously, but not all bad as well. A 1-2 start after facing three playoff teams from last year (the same three teams that resurfaced this year as Super Bowl contenders along with the now-wounded Dream Team) isn't the worst thing in the world, and as Sam pointed out yesterday, there's still plenty of chances for the Bears to right the ship. The biggest concern I have after three weeks, besides the injury bug trying to make up for last year, is the offense and the direction heading forward this year. Come fire walk with me.
Last year during the bye week, Lovie Smith pinned Mike Martz against a locker, threatening him with bodily harm if he continued to run (ha!) an unbalanced offense featuring Jay Cutler repeatedly ending up on his backside (allegedly). This year, two of our three games have featured less than twelve rushing attempts, and coincidentally (or not) we've lost both. Since I've been the stat geek around here the past few weeks, I wanted to see how our imbalanced offensive play-calling compared to other teams, and what those stats could tell us. All stats are via NFL.com website, so any inconsistencies you notice are the fault of they, as opposed to I (take that, grammar police).
After three weeks, the Chicago Bears have fifty-one rushing attempts and 114 passing attempts; a caveat here is we're talking attempts, not plays (could not find run/pass play stats), which also does not factor in sacks. Its a relatively minor detail, and all other teams included in this exercise fell under a similar fate, so we're comparing apples to apples (or Dilfer to turd) not oranges to nuclear weapons. That means our offensive call imbalance is 69-31 in favor of the pass. Is the imbalance the reason for our struggles offensively? Yes, but only to a certain degree.
Look at the following teams at the percent of the time their offense throws the ball this year: San Diego 61%, New England 65%, Detroit 59%, New Orleans 65%, Carolina 60%, Buffalo 58%, Green Bay 57%. Every one of those teams has at least two wins so far this year except Carolina, where horrible running back play and playing from behind constantly inflate the numbers. We're at 69%, tops in the league thus far, with the closest team being the Falcons. The common factors between both teams thus far is a tough schedule, a struggling running game, and an over-dependence on an underachieving passing game to win us games.
So our imbalanced offense is an issue, but its a byproduct of a bigger issue. The Chicago and Atlanta offenses are getting less bang for their buck from the passing game than needed, but at least Atlanta is averaging 4.8 ypc on the ground. The Bears 3.2 ypc is 27th this year, while we're last in rushing attempts and second-to-last in rushing yards. So, what is the Bears' strength this year? Do we need to run the more regardless of its success (or lack thereof), or will our passing game improve once we get back some injured players? I included the teams' passing percentages above because while those teams are passing a ton, that is what their offensive strength is (sans Carolina). They play to their strength, they execute it well, and still get enough on the ground to have a winning record. The Bears offensive struggles also include the third-least combined rushing and passing attempts so far this year, ahead of only the Vikings and Chiefs, and converting only 28% of third downs.
A lot more factors go into wins and losses rather than just a few key stats, but our lack of execution and a lack of a certifiably efficient attack through either the ground or air makes our offense unpredictable, and not in a good way. The top teams this year have an offensive crutch to rely on - Oakland's running the ball 55% of the team, and is 2-1 because of its effectiveness. Right now Lovie is probably slamming Martz against that locker again (allegedly), but the bigger issue is identifying our strength and going to it. Last year, for all the "Martz is out of control talk," at the end of the year the Bears finished dead last in pass attempts and 21st in rush attempts. That tells me this offense needs better balance, but we also need a crutch to rely on game in and game out. Can that happen this year? It better if we want to have a chance at another postseason run towards the Super Bowl.