The Bears generally had a good rushing attack and bad rushing defense last year. Their offense was only 17th in rushing yards, but 6th in yards per attempt. On defense, they were 27th in rushing yards allowed and 21st in yards per carry allowed.
These basic stats are easy to look up, and I think most fans generally know Chicago’s run game was good (thank you Jordan Howard) while the run defense was bad. What’s more interesting to me is to look at why that happened for both. That is, what areas of the field did they do well running to/stopping the run in, and where did they struggle running/stopping the run?
Thankfully, that information is all available through the NFL Game Statistics & Information System (username and password are both “media” if you want to poke around), so I’ve compiled it into a few handy images that we can look at. This should be helpful heading into 2017, as much of the personnel in the run game (OL/RB) and run defense (front 7) is similar. I’ll re-visit this at the bye week to see how things have changed halfway through the season. At that time, I’ll also add in passing offense and defense, I didn’t bother with those now because the personnel for both has changed so drastically.
Here’s the data for Chicago’s rushing attack in 2016. The line at the bottom is the line of scrimmage, runs are split into 7 zones, and attempts and yards per carry are listed for each zone, with ranks relative to the rest of the NFL in parentheses. The height of the bar is proportional to yards per carry, and bars are colored green for top 10, red for bottom 10, and yellow for middle 12. Note expected yards per carry varies by region, so the colors are relative to their peers in that region.
Here we see a lot of green, which is good. The Bears were generally efficient running the ball last year, and you can see that play out in runs to many areas of the field. A few of my observations (feel free to add yours in the comments below):
- The Bears ran off guard quite often, but didn’t really have much success. Perhaps injuries to starters Kyle Long and Josh Sitton factored in there. Ranking much higher in volume of attempts than efficiency is not exactly ideal. Hopefully they track this information better this year and stop doing so many runs that aren’t being effective.
- Speaking of a difference between volume and efficiency, the Bears ran up the middle an astonishingly small amount (the next team up had 48 carries, and middle of the pack teams were around 120) despite having very good success there. It’s always possible one big run can skew the numbers with a small sample size like that-I think Jordan Howard’s long run against the Vikings was right up the middle-but the Bears might want to consider running up the middle more often this year.
- The Bears had great success on outside runs. They were excellent to either side, and did it quite frequently. That might seem odd considering Jordan Howard is not exactly a burner, but their interior OL are athletic and can pull to the outside well.
- They seemed to generally favor the left over the right side in terms of volume. Perhaps that speaks to trust in Charles Leno as a run blocker, but I found that a bit odd considering it’s supposed to be Bobby Massie’s strength. I’m not complaining, though, because they were quite effective. I’ll be interested to see if the trend continues this year.
Here’s a similar chart for Chicago’s 2016 run defense. It’s not nearly as pretty.
A few thoughts, and again please share yours in the comments:
- Teams generally ran on the Bears a lot last year. They rank in the top 10 in attempts against them in 5 of the 7 zones. That makes sense considering Chicago spent an awful lot of time in the 2nd half trailing, with teams looking to bleed the clock. I think it speaks more to game situation than the quality of Chicago’s pass defense.
- Chicago wasn’t really good in run defense anywhere, but you can see pretty clearly there was one general section of the field where they were consistently awful. I’m guessing that would be the opposite side from Akiem Hicks, as he was the only healthy defensive lineman who was any good last year. Hopefully a healthy Eddie Goldman (knocks on wood) plus Jaye Howard and an improved Jonathan Bullard can help shore that up.
- Teams didn’t run up the middle on the Bears much, and I’m not really sure why. They never really proved they could stop it.