Last week, during the press conference during which Bears president Ted Phillips announced the firing of Jerry Angelo, he cited a reason as being the "talent gap" that was growing between Chicago, Detroit and Green Bay. This became one of the bigger sound bites from that presser, and I've seen the clip played on the various NFL shows and quoted many a time around our own website in the last couple of weeks.
So as I sat and watched the playoff games last weekend, I decided to see if I could identify trends among the teams playing in the second season and see what similarities and differences they have to our team, and to see if I could come away with some things the Bears need to do in order to close the gap.
I am going to try to look at team trends, as well as personnel. I'll look at the trend and then do a "check" or "need" thing based on how the Bears stand in that particular category. Let's start with the individuals:
1) A 4,000-yard passer: Seven playoff teams feature a 4,000 yard passer, that number would probably be higher, except that Matt Schaub got hurt before reaching the plateau. Tebow had no chance since he isn't that good a passer and only started 11 games. Alex Smith is the only QB without 4,000 yards whose team earned a bye.
Check: The Bears have a 4,000-yard capable QB, but he hasn't had time or the WRs to show it. So this is a check for something the Bears have.
2) A 70+ catch WR: Plenty of teams made to the playoffs without an 80-catch, 1,000 yard guy but the ones who did had more than one 60-catch capable guy. The Packers have two with over 65 catches, the Giants have two guys with over 75 catches (and both over 1,000 yards). Most of these guys are that "true number one" mold of 6'1"+ and good speed but that isn't a necessity either.
Need: Bennett can probably catch 60-70 passes, Knox might be able to as well but Knox is too inconsistent and Bennett isn't a game-breaker. They are both good role guys but not someone who could do what Calvin Johnson or Demaryius Thomas did last weekend.
3) A 10+ sack defender (in the Bears' case it'd be a DE): Seven of the twelve playoff teams have at least one player with 10 sacks and New England has two. Denver had one 10 sack guy and one with 9.5 sacks. So yeah, good pass rushers.
Check: While he doesn't have consistent help, Julius Peppers is still capable of getting 10+ sacks and even if he comes up a little short, like eight or nine and a half, what he adds with pass deflections, interceptions and forced fumbles makes up for the disparity between his sack column total and others with more pure sack numbers.
4) A Ballhawk in the Secondary: I count seven playoff teams with at least one member of their secondary having at least five interceptions on the year. San Francisco has two with six and one with four!
Need: The Bears' leader in picks was D.J. Moore with four. He came awful close to the five I mentioned above, but he is our nickel. We need someone a little more skilled to pair with Charles Tillman. I know people argue 'well if you're a shutdown corner no one throws at you and you don't get picks" True but how is it that Charles Woodson has seven INTs, then?
1) Top 15 Offense - Nine playoff teams feature a top-15 offense. Four feature top five offenses. This season may bring a tidal shift to the old adage "defense wins championships" but clearly there is something new happening around the league. Six playoff teams had top 12 defenses and three of them (Pitt, Atl and Cinci) lost! Only one of the other top 12 defenses was in play this weekend (Houston), so we'll have to see where defenses stand against the high-powered offenses.
1a) Now this season is either an anomaly or it's the start of a new era in the NFL. I tend to believe the latter. This can be seen in a couple of stats that tie into the Top 15 Offense thing:
-Five playoff teams have top 10 rushing offenses, but at the same time there are four teams with bottom 10 rushing offenses.
-Seven playoff teams are top 10 in passing offense and only three have bottom 10 passing offenses and the Ravens barely miss out as they rank 19th, and Houston is 18th. So there is some polarization here as far as what part of offense your team does best, but either way you must be able to run or pass very well.
Need: The Bears were 26th in passing and ninth in rushing for a 24th overall finish on offense. We'll see what Tice does but it seems a good bet he will try to build on the ninth ranked rushing attack. The stats say you can still win that way.
2) Top 10 Defense: Five playoff teams finished in the top 10 for yards given up per game, including the number two seeds in both the NFC and AFC. Conversely though, six teams, or HALF of the playoff field finished in the bottom ten in yards allowed, including the two number one seeds.
2a) Half of the playoff teams (six), finished in the top ten for rushing yards allowed per game.
2b) Four playoff teams finished in the top 10 in pass defense, three of them played last weekend and only one of those three won their game (Houston).
2c) Six teams finished in the bottom 10 in passing defense. Six. That blows my mind. Seems everyone is aware that the two number one seeds are 31st and 32nd in this category but did you know that the bottom four pass defenses are all playing this weekend (Giants 29th, Saints 30th)? Oh, and the Bears were the fifth worse pass defense team.
Check: Clearly an NFL team no longer needs a smothering defense to get to the postseason and it remains to be seen if one can win a championship with a bad defense. The NFL's leading passer has never won the Super Bowl but a lot of people would say the Saints look like they could win this year.
The Bears' bad pass defense rank but strong rush defense puts them right up there with some of the NFLs elite.
In conclusion, from the looks of things, the Bears new GM and Mike Tice and whoever our passing game coordinator ends up being needs to look at these stats and focus on re-tooling the offense. The Bears are close, merely one or two defenders and a legit WR away from being up there with the NFL's best.
The one thing I can take away from all these stats is this: If you want to win in the NFL today pick either a good defense or a good offense. You no longer need to bother with both. We'll see if this is in fact the new trend or if the 2011 season proves to be an outlier.