It’s Halloween, and the Chicago Bears have been both a trick and a treat so far. However, nearly any team needs to be at least a little worried about facing Chicago these days. In order to get into the spirit of the season, here are five things that should be at least a little scary about the leaders of the NFC North.
5). Converting Third Downs
Maybe Nagy is just that good at designing plays. Maybe Mitchell Trubisky has a knack for making the completions and the runs when they matter most. Maybe Tarik Cohen is just a stud. Setting aside the explanations, what matters is that the Bears are converting more than 45% of their third downs, good for 7th in the NFL. Across their last three games, they have converted 50% of third downs. Last year it was under 35%. Simply put, this Bears offense is more than capable of extending drives, at keeping the defense off the field, and at doing damage to the other team. This has helped them to being third in the league in time of possession, too.
4). Winning the Turnover Battle
The Bears have been averaging one more takeaway than giveaway for 2018. That turnover margin (+1) ties them for third place in the NFL this year, and it’s the best performance by a Bears team since 2012 (when they were +1.2). They are actually second in the NFL with 2.4 total takeaways per game, and their opponents’ interception thrown percentage is 4.47%, the highest percentage in the NFL.
The maligned secondary is taking the ball away. Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson might have missed a few opportunities, but the former is tied for the second-highest number of interceptions in the NFL and the latter is tied for sixteenth. Chicago is winning the turnover battle, and that should help heading into November.
3). Playing Clean Football
Even with two penalties that should not have happened against the Jets, the Bears are tied for third in the NFL when it comes to the fewest penalties per game (5.1), and they’ve only been giving up 42.3 penalty yards per game (also third in the NFL). This is scary for one big reason—this is a new coach installing a new system and a new culture.
The clear defensive leader, Khalil Mack, was not on the team over training camp. The quarterback is a rookie who entered the season with question marks. The head coach is in his first year—ever—as a head coach. Despite these challenges, the team is playing within itself. That’s more than a little remarkable, and it’s scary (in a good a way) to realize that they are playing such disciplined ball before they’ve really had a chance to gel.
2). Making Drives Count
The Bears have been punting roughly 0.8 times per offensive score, tied for eighth-best in the NFL. That number might not mean anything if they kept giving the ball away, but the reality is that while there have been some frustrating drives for the Bears (Cody Parkey, anyone?), they are putting points on the board at a reliable clip. They are not the Saints, Chiefs, or Rams with their 0.4 or 0.5 punts per score, but they are in that top third of teams that are scoring more often than they are punting.
The Bears are ninth in total points scored per play (0.42). This is the opposite of Fox Ball (when they averaged 0.28 points per play). This is interesting, because one common criticism of the Bears this year is that they are leaving points on the field. Maybe they are, but that speaks more to their potential right now than it speaks to their limitations.
When the Bears suit up against the Bills, they will likely be without Khalil Mack (27) or Allen Robinson (25). However, that does not mean the team will turn to aging veterans to fill in the gaps.
The defensive secondary only includes one player over 30, and that’s when McManis gets on the field to make a sack. Fuller (26), Jackson (26), and Amos (25) are all young, and while Amukamara (29) is getting long in the tooth, Toilver (21) decidedly is not. Callahan (27) seems to be playing fine as what passes for an elder statesman in the secondary. Smith (21), Floyd (26), and Lynch (25) can sympathize as they look on at the “ancient” Trevathan (28). Meanwhile Nichols (22) and Goldman (24) play alongside Hicks, who will turn 29 on November 16th. On offense, no starter is over 30 and with Long sitting out for a weeks, Josh Bellamy (29) is the oldest player likely to line up on offense.
This means that the Bears have youth at all levels, and they should have time to build on the success of this year.