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The Bears Are Who We Thought They Were...Again

With season-end statistics in from Football Outsiders, it’s worth looking at how Chicago compares to the rest of the NFL in terms of cold, hard numbers.

Chicago Bears vs Arizona Cardinals - October 16, 2006
Calling it since 2006
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The Bears are who we thought they were...again.

Football Outsiders released their regular-season numbers for the 2020 season, and their analysis match more or less what many have been saying about the Chicago Bears all season long. This was a middle-of-the-road team buoyed by a strong (but not elite) defense and held back by an inept offense.

First, here’s a quick overview—the 8-8 Bears came in 15th in total DVOA (the catchall-metric that attempts to adjust on-field results for opponent and circumstance). Obviously, that ranking was not evenly distributed across all three phases of the game. The offense was ranked 25th by their metrics, placing them behind the Cowboys but ahead of the Giants—and this during a great year to be so readily compared to NFC East teams, too. The defense, on the other hand, was the eighth-best unit in football. They were better than Baltimore, but not quite as good as Indy. If you want an explanation as to why the defense didn’t look like a top ten unit, some of it had to do with their opponents. Per FO, “Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, and Minnesota had the toughest defensive schedules.”

Meanwhile, special teams doesn’t seem to be the hang-up for Chicago, at least not this year. They were ranked 8th overall (behind Dallas but ahead of Cincinnati) in that category.

Of note, while specific numbers are behind a paywall, Mitchell Trubisky was the 24th-ranked quarterback on their list in terms of DVOA (value per play); that is five spots ahead of Nick Foles, but neither had a positive impact on the team’s chances compared to a “typical” starting quarterback facing the same defenses. Normally Football Outsiders makes a point of explaining that it’s not completely possible to separate a quarterback’s performance from his line, and it’s also worth pointing out on behalf of those who criticize Matt Nagy that the same is also likely to be true of separating a quarterback’s performance from that of his supporting coaching staff. One way or another, the offense’s total rank is more or less in line with its quarterbacks’ relative ability.

What might be a surprise to some (but still shouldn’t be) is that David Montgomery is 29th in DVOA and 28th in DYAR for running backs—in other words, both overall and on a per-play basis, he was below replacement-level. He was enough of a workhorse, though, that he did have some value. This matches his conventional stats as well, as he accumulated yards, but not at a rate disproportionate to his touches (he was 27th in yards per rush attempt).

It’s the same story with Allen Robinson—with the caveat that it’s really hard to separate a receiver’s performance from his quarterback’s ability to get him the ball. Still, DVOA tries. Robinson’s ranking among receivers was more favorable to him than simply considering his yards-per-target, which places him 48th in the NFL among wide receivers. Instead, Football Outsiders ranked him 40th in DVOA, or per-play value, when adjusted for use and defenses faced. Did Robinson produce? Sure. That production relied on very heavy use, though. He was essentially force-fed yards, and that resulted in him being 24th in DYAR (Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement). That sounds right for a player who was third in targets but only ninth in yards gained.

Speaking of being used at a high rate, both Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet were used at high enough rates to qualify for their charts, but neither was a standout player (31st and 47th, respectively).

More or less this paints the picture of a team that is middle of the road. Offense has a greater impact on team performance, and the Bears are strong on the wrong side of the ball. No single playmaker on offense is a positive difference maker, and so the team needed to back into the playoffs.

Advanced metrics seem to agree with popular consensus. The Bears are who we thought they were. For now, in losing to the Rams, the Cardinals let them off the hook.