Chicago Bears: ESPN Stats & Information

#NFLRank: Matt Forte sits at No. 48

August, 26, 2013

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte on Monday made the latest installment of ESPN's NFL Rank project, which lists the top 100 offensive and defensive players in the league heading into this season.

Forte enters his sixth season in 2013, and ranked No. 48 among offensive players headed into this year, one spot behind Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (No. 47) and Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (46).

ESPN Stats & Information said this about Forte:

“Since entering the league in2008, Forte has 15 100-yard rushing games. The Bears are 14-1 in those games. Of the 19 running backs with at least 10 100-yard games over that span, Forte’s 14-1 record is the best.”

That’s not a surprise, considering the brand of football the Bears play, which is highlighted by a stifling, turnover-producing defense that allows the team to play keep-away.

Football Outsiders said: “Matt Forte’s struggles at the goal line, and shaky O-line has held him back a bit.”

I agree with the second part of that sentence, but disagree with the first part. Statistically, the numbers definitely indicate Forte has struggled from the goal line in the past. But I don’t think he’s a guy that can’t get it done on the goal line.

Forte provided proof of that against the San Diego Chargers on Aug. 15. From the 11-yard line, the Bears handed to Forte on three consecutive snaps, and the running back gained a total of 8 yards on back-to-back plays, before capping the drive with a 3-yard burst.

Obviously, the offensive line is a little better now with all the moves the Bears made through free agency and the draft. But credit also goes to Bears coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who have implemented zone-blocking schemes, which allow Forte to pick his own holes.

With the new blocking schemes in place, my guess is Forte will eventually shed his reputation as a poor producer on the goal line.

Inside the Bears single-safety success

November, 19, 2012
PM ET Ebaugh, ESPN Stats & Information
Roll over each area of the field to go deeper into the Bears single-safety dominance.

What has been the key to the Chicago Bears defensive success this season?

In recent years, the Bears have primarily played a split-safety Cover 2 formation with two defenders in the secondary. This season, they have utilized a single-high safety with fantastic results.

A single-safety defense is defined as one that has one safety deep in pass coverage. The split-safety defense is defined as two safeties ‘split’ deep in coverage.

The idea behind one deep safety as the last line of defense is that the second can be used at the line of scrimmage. It’s important to have cornerbacks who can cover 1-on-1 downfield for a single-safety defense to be effective. Tim Jennings has done just that for the Bears, leading the league with five interceptions on throws more than 10 yards downfield, including three when they are in single-safety coverage.

Let’s take a look at what our video review showed on the Bears defensive excellence. We broke down every coverage used by the Bears excluding penalties, spikes, a fake punt and plays inside the 10.

What the numbers show...

The Bears have balanced their secondary coverage, using a single-high safety on slightly more than half of the pass attempts.

With the Bears having played several blowouts, it’s important to note that when the score has been within one possession, the Bears prefer single-safety coverage on 64 percent of pass attempts.

The Bears single-safety defense is holding opposing quarterbacks to a much lower completion percentage (-14.4 percent) as noted in the chart on the right.

The most noticeable impact is in the short passing game, where the Bears single-high safety has held opponents to a 59 percent completion rate on throws 10 yards or fewer, with five interceptions and no touchdowns.

Their split-safety defense has allowed nearly 75 percent of such throws to be completed.

Looking ahead to Monday Night

The last time Chicago and the San Francisco 49ers met, the Bears "loaded the box" on nearly half of the defensive plays (45 percent), their fourth-highest single game percentage in the last four seasons. In that contest, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was sacked twice and threw his only interception against a loaded front.

No team in the NFL has used a “loaded front” on defense more often than the Bears (28 percent of plays). A “loaded” box is identified when the defense has more players in the ‘tackle box’ than the number of available blockers on offense.

While evidence suggests Chicago will utilize the single-high formation and load the box often on Monday, they might want to be weary of Colin Kaepernick’s strong arm. His average throw has traveled 10.5 yards downfield this season, the furthest in the league among quarterbacks with at least 20 attempts.

The 49ers backup has completed seven of 10 attempts traveling more than 10 yards downfield in his limited time this year, while the league average completion percentage on such throws is 48.9 percent.

Kaepernick could challenge the Bears loaded front downfield, but it should limit his scrambling. He has been quick to run this season, scrambling on seven of his 38 dropbacks (18.4 percent), the highest scramble rate in the league (minimum 10 dropbacks).

Cutler, Bears 'turn' corner against Lions

October, 22, 2012
Jay Cutler, Brandon MarshallNuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCTJay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and the Bears have won three straight games by an average margin of nearly 24 points per game.

The Chicago Bears host the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football (8 ET, ESPN), the latest edition of the second-most played rivalry in NFL history (165th meeting). The Bears have won seven of the last eight games with the Lions but Detroit holds the edge on Monday night, winning four of five on the weeknight stage.

The two teams enter their Week 7 matchup on different ends of the standings. The Bears are 4-1 for the second time in the last three seasons and looking for their first start of 5-1 or better since 2006 when they began the year 6-0. The Lions, however, are last in the NFC North at 2-3, albeit coming off of an OT win against the Eagles in Week 6.

If the Lions are going to turn things around, the will need to get off to better starts. Entering Week 7, the Lions had been outscored by 33 points this season in the first three quarters (26th in NFL) but had outscored their opponents by 22 points in the fourth quarter (4th in NFL). Only the Broncos (79) have scored more fourth-quarter points than the Lions this season (73).

Perhaps one reason behind the Lions’ inconsistency has been their inability to stretch the field. Matthew Stafford ranked among the top 10 quarterbacks in the league in both completion percentage and touchdown passes on throws more than 20 yards downfield last season. So far in 2012, Stafford is completing under 30 percent of such passes with an interception and no touchdowns.

On the other sideline, Jay Cutler has the NFL’s second-highest average throw distance (9.9 yards downfield), but has actually had his success when the Bears have used more conservative personnel groupings.

Entering Monday, Cutler had a higher completion percentage, more touchdown passes, and fewer interceptions with two or fewer receivers on the field versus snaps with three or more. He also connected on six of his seven 30-yard completions this season in two-receiver sets.

Against the Lions last season, Cutler completed 70 percent of his attempts and threw a touchdown pass with two or fewer receivers on the field. He completed 64 percent of passes on all other snaps against the Lions with no touchdowns.

Defensively, the Bears have held opponents to a league-low 14.2 points per game in 2012 and they have done it by forcing turnovers. Chicago entered Week 7 tied for the NFL lead with 17 takeaways this season including a league-high 13 interceptions.

Perhaps most remarkably, five of those 13 interceptions have been returned for touchdowns. No team in NFL history had ever returned five picks for scores in its first five games of a season and no team in Bears history had done in three straight games as this year’s team has done from Weeks 3-5 (Bye in Week 6).

Will they make it four in a row against the Lions? Detroit quarterbacks have thrown four “pick-sixes” over the last two seasons—-only the Titans (5) and Chargers (5) have thrown more over that span.