Off a great season, 12-4, you'd think that the Bears were certainly set to contend for a while.
I'm not so sure about that.
1) Fangio. If Fangio leaves, the guy who built the D that gave us that 12-4 record goes away, and the chances of getting someone as good are low - there just aren't that many out there. The really good ones get HC shots or stay where they are. That means the defense will be likely be worse, which means giving up more points, and we absolutely cannot afford to do that.
2) Why? Let's have a little data. Three lines on this chart: Points is the wiggly one, the straight one is a simple linear extrapolation, and the dashed one is a three game moving average - note that it doesn't start until game three.
What doe we see? A slow start, peaks rapidly as the offense gains confidence, then...falling, falling, falling. This is a time when Mitchell Trubisky's play is, by most statistical measures, improving. The question become "with an improving QB, why are points per game dropping?"
Now, there is a bingo there - the 48 points we scored on Tampa Bay. Let's pull that out in case it's an outlier, and, of course, when you pull the highest, you pull the lowest. That would be the 14 we scored against San Francisco.
What does that look like?
Well, it looks much the same...and even more strongly a case of better-then-worse.
Well, for MT10, one thing is obvious. Let's look at Y/A (and the adjusted version, AY/A) He did not play weeks 12-13 (injury.)
(Month: Games played, Y/A , AY/A)
September: 4, 7.27, 7.46
October: 3, 7.90, 7.95
November: 3, 8.08, 7.65
December: 4, 6.67, 6.19
It's worth noting that almost all of November was pre-injury (he was hurt during the game and continued to play,) and all of December was post. So, clearly, that is a factor, he played notably worse in December, after the injury. Do we see other negative trends?
Jordan Howard yards per game by month: 50,63,36,79.8. He became better as our total scoring become worse. This sort of fits with the injury scenario, if you can't trust a guy to pass, you run more. What about our other RB, Tarik Cohen? 34, 28,15,31 rushing, 43, 76, 26, 44 passing. Hmm, he dropped off badly in November, and came somewhat back in December, but wasn't nowhere near as effective as he was in October. That's interesting, because it does and doesn't fit the "Injured QB" model.
You would expect to see rushing yards increase if you're not able to trust your QB to throw, and passing yards decrease. What happens?
Passing yards do indeed drop...but it's not "plummet in December." First three games are low, it picks up, then slowly drops. Indeed, by simple passing yards, you can't even where the injury is - it looks like it's Week 13, but that's the first game Trubisky is back. It's games 11-12 that have Daniels at QB.
Running yards...well, for all intents, they don't change much at all. Two notable dips, weeks 8-9 and Week 11. Week 8 was the lousy weather Jets game (L), week 9 was the 41 point blowout of the Bills, and week 11 was Chase Daniels beating the Vikings. Even then, we're not looking at much of a trend.
So: While Trubisky's injury is certainly a factor, there's more to it, and that's my worry. It looks very much like offensive production peaked early and dropped thereafter. What else could that be? We did manage to break most of our WRs, but Miller, White and Bellamy put in solid performances in relief. The December portion is seemingly affected by Trubisky's injury, but it shows up not as lack of passing yards, but lack of yards per attempt. We were throwing shorter and shorter as the season went on.
This implies coverage is a big factor. However, KC, which runs a similar offense, doesn't see this sort of decline, and when it came to putting points on the board, puts the Bears to shame. The lowest game score they had was 26, the bears scored 25 or less 11 times.
And that's my worry. We have an offense that is less likely to score than other good record teams, and an offense that dropped in production as the year went on. Between injury and coverage (which implies, but does not prove, that Nagy's scheme has flaws that teams have discovered and exploited) and the potential loss of the DC that made this not-high scoring team 12-4 may leave.
The Bears D held teams below 21 points 12 times. KC did it...four times.
Combine the two factors, and that's why I'm expecting major regression next year. Add in the fact that we were playing 4th place teams out of division before, and we're playing 1st place teams next year, and it will be much harder to match 12-4. You can claim injury is why, and it's certainly a factor, but EVERY year is going to have injuries.
So, now that I've doomed us to 8-8 or worse, how can I be wrong?
1) Fangio stays, the D improves with another year in the scheme. Them scoring fewer points is one way to cover for us scoring fewer points. 1A) is "Somehow we find someone just as good" which also means "has a scheme that's compatible with Fangio's so the D doesn't need to relearn everything."
2) MT10 gets healthy and stays healthy, and the December drop off doesn't happen. 2A) is "So does everybody else" but a year without someone key getting injured is basically miraculous.
3) Nagy's scheme, new this year to the Bears, evolves and closes the holes that were discovered and exploited as the year went along. The counter-risk, of course, is the more they see of us (and KC,) the more tape they have to figure out how to beat it.
4) Obviously, the ideal is all three. If all three happened? Then 12-4 would be a disappointing season. This team with a similar D and an offense that scores another TD per game probably goes 16-0.
The only way to know is to wait, of course. But if the Bears want to win championships, the biggest thing they have to fix is that offense. Only five times did the other side score more than 20, and two of those were OT games. If we had KC's scoring? There's three games that we would have a chance of losing. Just three (NYG, MIA, NWE) scored more than 26. Odds are good we go at least 15-1. If next year is bad, the reason is likely to be that we're not scoring more points, and the defense is letting just a few more through. Six games this year were decided by less than a TD, and four more by 7 points. Giving up just one TD more? Six games this year flip from wins to losses or ties, which means a record between 9-7 and 6-10.
"Defense wins championships" is what teams that can't score tell themselves so they can sleep at night. What wins games is dead simple: More points that the other guy, and you can have the best D in the world and find yourself playing golf early January.
Just ask the Bears about that.
Postscript: As to
Connor Barth Cody Parkey. Yeah, he's not good enough. However, you score more points, and suddenly, Parkey doesn't matter as much. Your kicker can't hurt you late if you get ahead by more than three points and stay there. Yes, he was bad: But who's fault is that, just him, or is the offense that left games depending on his kicking as much a part of that?