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3rd Down: Bears Can't Get Off the Field

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There have been a lot of stories written this season about what is wrong with the Chicago Bears, and a lot of statistical looks at different facets of the team.  And honestly, you can just about look in any direction and find something that needs improvement.

While I'm not a proponent of criticizing coaches and management (simply because they are the professionals, and I am just an armchair QB), sometimes there are things that really stand out during the course of the game.  Today, we get a Windy City Gridiron exclusive look at the Chicago Bears defense; specifically, the inability to get off the field on 3rd downs.  Follow me inside for the analysis.

First off, a blanket look at the Bears defense on 3rd downs:

Opponents have converted 59/138 3rd down attempts this year, or 42.8%.  This number could be significantly worse, considering Cleveland was only 1/11 on 3rd downs against the Bears.

But, let's take a closer look at the numbers, first by quarters of the game.

1st Quarter: 20/36 converted, or 55.5%

2nd Quarter: 17/32 (53.1%)

3rd Quarter: 8/29 (27.6%)

4th Quarter: 16/41 (39.0%)

Those numbers show that the Bears perform much better in the second half of football games, especially in the 3rd quarter.  We have seen the team get blasted for the lack of 2nd half adjustments, but if you just look at how the defense is performing during crucial 3rd down plays, it looks like we are improving in at least that department.

However, seeing the percentage increase from 27.6% to 39.0% from the 3rd to the 4th quarter does say something about losing momentum towards the end of the game.

Next, let's look at yards-to-go on 3rd down for our opponents.

1-2 yards: 13/24 converted, or 54.2%

3-5 yards: 19/43 (44.2%)

6-9 yards: 17/34 (50.0%)

10+ yards: 12/37 (32.4%)

The short yardage situations will always be tough for defenses who are not good at stopping the run, and Chicago is 23rd in the league in rushing yards per game.  So, to see over 54% of short yardage situations converted against us is no surprise.

The scary numbers, however, start entering the picture during passing situations.  Yes, the Bears giving up a 50% conversion rate on 3rd and 6-9 yards is not good at all, but when you see that teams are converting almost a third of attempts over 10 yards... that is downright pitiful.

This is a direct reflection of having a non-effective pass rush that allows for routes to develop down the field. And no matter how talented defensive backs are (I would say ours is average at best), eventually, the WRs will get open if given enough time.

I also looked at the types of plays that are being converted against the Bears on 3rd down, rush versus pass.

Of 59 conversions, 44 have come through the air, versus only 15 on the ground.

Other numbers that occur on 3rd downs:

TDs allowed: 8

QB sacks: 9

Turnovers: 6

The start of the 2009 season came with Head Coach Lovie Smith taking over the play-calling duties, and a new defensive line guru in Rod Marinelli charged with revamping the pass rush.  And while some areas may have shown signs of improvement, getting off the field on 3rd down is a huge struggle.

Our defense is undoubtedly getting worn down, and we still face some good offenses left on our 2009 schedule. We'll see if these numbers get any better...

Disclaimer:  While it was insignificant, there was a very small discretion between the three databases I pulled stats from.  Please allow a +/- 0.5% margin of error.