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A Top Ten Defense Guarantees Playoff Berth Under Lovie

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I know, guarantees in sports are about as meaningful as a politician's campaign promises, but during Lovie Smith's tenure as Head Coach of the Bears, if we have a top ten defense, we make the playoffs. Jump to look at some of the Bears' defensive numbers during the Lovie Smith era.

You can look at the Bears' offensive numbers under Lovie Smith here, but for now let's take a look at what the Bears have been able to accomplish defensively under Smith. Take a look at the chart below, which lists each year's points per game allowed by the defense, the team's defensive total yardage, passing yards, and rushing yards rankings, and the number of first downs allowed and turnovers created. The three years to focus in on are the playoffs years of 2005, 2006, and 2010. Each year featured a top ten yards allowed defense that was surrendering less than twenty points per game.

Record PPG Allowed Team D Passing D Rushing D 1st Downs Turnovers
2011 8-8 21.3 17th 28th 5th 9th 5th
2010 11-5 17.9 9th 20th 2nd 9th 3rd
2009 7-9 23.4 17th 13th 23rd 24th 12th
2008 9-7 21.9 21st 30th 5th 23rd 2nd
2007 7-9 21.8 28th 27th 24th 20th 8th
2006 13-3 15.9 5th 11th 6th 2nd 1st
2005 11-5 12.6 2nd 5th 11th 4th 6th
2004 5-11 20.7 21st 15th 25th 14th 16th

Every non-playoff season featured a defense ranked outside of the top ten that was either adequate to below average, and gave up between twenty to twenty-three points per game. So, as expected, for the Bears under Lovie Smith to make the playoffs the defense needs to lead the way. I know, not exactly rocket science.

The impressive thing to me is the consistently high marks in turnovers caused, with the lowest ranking being in Lovie's first year in 2004; I know our defense relies on causing turnovers, but I didn't realize we were so good at it year in and year out. And also its surprising to see just how big a difference our run defense makes between a .500 or better season and a sub-.500 season; in the Bears' three sub-.500 seasons, our run defense ranked 23rd, 11th, and 25th. In 2008 we finished 9-7, missed the playoffs and were terrible against the pass (30th overall), but the run defense finished fifth. In 2011 Chicago was 8-8 but the run defense held up as the fifth best in the league.

So what do these stats tell us? Chicago has needed the defense to carry the team into the playoffs, and to make that happen the defense needs to be in the top ten in overall yardage allowed and keep opponents below twenty points per game. The other stats factor in obviously, as does the offense's production, but if we want to see the Bears back in the playoffs, keep an eye on PAPG and overall yardage allowed.