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Thursday, September 29, 2011
Air and Space: Bears' offensive imbalance

By Kevin Seifert

It has been interesting this week to hear so many people suggest that the Chicago Bears need to establish an offensive "identity." Chief among them have been general manager Jerry Angelo, who provided this quote to the Bears’ website: "To accomplish the things that we want to be able to do on offense -- regardless of the run/pass ratio -- we have to execute and create an identity for ourselves."

In truth, the Bears have had an obvious identity this season. It might not be the one they need, but there is no mistaking it: The Bears are the pass-happiest team in the NFL.

That’s right. Intuitively, I think we all know the Bears are throwing more often than their personnel can support at this point. But Mark Malzewski of ESPN Stats & Information tells us that no NFL team has called a higher percentage of passes among its total plays than the Bears. The monster chart to your right, formatted by ESPN.com editor Brett Longdin, shows that the Bears are the most imbalanced offense in the NFL.

Malzewski classified sacks and scrambles as passing plays to give us the most accurate view possible. Most statistics are relative, and it's true that the NFL is a pass-happy league where teams are trying to throw on a little more than three of every five plays on average. But that’s what makes the Bears’ ranking here so revealing. A year after a shift toward balance helped win the NFC North, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz is calling a higher percentage of passing plays than anyone else.

As Angelo noted in his interview, there is nothing wrong with throwing often when you’re doing it "flawlessly." And I also don’t think you can run the ball for the sake of running it. Last Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, the Bears fell behind 14-0 in the first half and were in catch-up mode for a good portion of the afternoon.

But Martz is calling more passing plays for Jay Cutler than Tom Brady is getting with the New England Patriots, more than Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and more than Aaron Rodgers of the Packers. That's not just too much. That's completely out of control.

Meanwhile, the rest of the NFC North is sitting around the NFL average. After a strong and frequent running performance against the Bears, the Packers brought their percentage down to 61.1 percent. The Detroit Lions are at 60.1, and the Minnesota Vikings are at 55.0 with tailback Adrian Peterson the centerpiece of their offense. Those numbers sound reasonable to me.