Bears at the Bye: Defense (and Specials)

| October 15th, 2019

With five games under their belt, the Bears are roughly 1/3 of the way through the season. I already checked in on the offense, so today let’s take a closer look at how the defense is doing.

No Regression

I wrote this offseason that the Bears’ defense was likely to regress a bit from their 2018 selves but still be one of the best in the NFL. So far this year, you could make the argument that this defense is better in 2019 than it was in 2018, as you can see in the table below.

The Bears are giving up fewer points and getting more sacks than they did a year ago, but the turnovers and touchdowns (the 2018 stats most likely to regress) are both down a bit, which is why their DVOA has fallen so drastically. Still, this remains one of the absolute best units in the NFL, even if they had a thoroughly disappointing showing heading into the bye week. That alone should give the Bears a chance in every game they play.

Individual Coverage Stats

Now let’s take a look at how individual players have fared in coverage so far this year, courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

A few thoughts:

  • Teams continue to throw at Kyle Fuller far more frequently than Chicago’s other CBs. This is the 3rd year in a row that’s been the case, likely due to the soft coverage he provides that leaves underneath stuff open. He continues to be fairly effective in making it inefficient when teams throw at him, though the yards/target number is a bit higher so far this year than the past two seasons.
  • Buster Skrine has been nothing short of fantastic so far this year. He’s fit in very well in this defense.
  • Eddie Jackson is only getting thrown at on very short passes this year. New DC Chuck Pagano seems to be moving him up closer to the line than in the past and letting HaHa Clinton-Dix handle the deep, roving responsibility, which probably explains why Jackson doesn’t have any interceptions yet in 2019.
  • Danny Trevathan was awesome in coverage last year, but is struggling there a bit in 2019. I’d particularly like to see the yards after catch come down a good bit for him.
  • If you’re wondering why Nick Kwiatkoski isn’t a starting linebacker, he’s now given up 13 completions on 13 targets in very limited action since the start of the 2018 season.

Special Teams

Don’t look now, but Chicago’s special teams have actually been a strength so far this year. After an offseason of intense angst over the kicker position, Eddy Pineiro has been rock solid, making 8 of 9 FGs and 9 of 9 extra points. The 1 kick he did miss came in a game when he had an injured knee and could barely jog out onto the field.

Punter Pat O’Donnell, meanwhile, is having the best season of his career. He’s 15th in punt average and 12th in net average, with 8 punts downed inside the 20 and only 1 touchback. Chicago’s gunner tandem of Cordarrelle Patterson and Sherrick McManis have also been excellent, helping limit opponents to 6.3 yards per punt return, which is 11th in the NFL.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s return duo of Cordarrelle Patterson and Tarik Cohen were mostly quiet before both had an impact against Oakland. Patterson had a 39 yard kickoff return late in the 1st half that put the Bears in good field position for a late scoring try (it’s not his fault they failed to take advantage), and Cohen had a 71 yard punt return that set the Bears up for the go-ahead touchdown in the 3rd quarter. On the season, Patterson is averaging 29 yards per kickoff return (2nd for anybody with 5+ attempts), while Cohen leads the NFL with a 14.9 yard punt return average.

Playoff Odds

According to Football Outsiders’ playoff odds, the Bears currently have the worst chance to make the playoffs of any NFC North team. After week 5, they were given a 13.8% chance of winning the division and 16.0% chance of getting a wildcard, meaning they have slightly less than a 1 in 3 shot at making the playoffs according to their projections. They were up near 50% before losing to Oakland, which highlights how much these can change in 1-2 weeks, especially early in the season.

The Bears are in decent position with a 3-2 record, but they have a difficult upcoming schedule and an offense that has been one of the worst in the NFL to this point. If the offense doesn’t get fixed, then the Bears are probably not going to the playoffs. However, even if their offense gets close to average, this defense still makes them one of the best teams in the NFL.

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