Stats & Info: Jay Cutler

Bears' victory comes after steep climb

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
AP Photo/Tony Avelar
Brandon Marshall caught three touchdown passes to help the Bears catch the 49ers.
In Week 1 it was the Philadelphia Eagles. In Week 2, on Sunday night, it was the Chicago Bears.

For the second time in two weeks, a team that trailed 17-0 in the first half mounted a rally and pulled out a highly improbable victory.

On Sunday night, on the possession after the San Francisco 49ers took a 20-7 lead in the third quarter, the Bears’ win probability dipped to 5.2 percent. The Bears finished that drive with the second of Brandon Marshall’s three touchdown catches, making the score 20-14 and improving their probability of winning to 20.3 percent.

The first snap after the ensuing kickoff was the game’s biggest play in terms of win-probability swing. Kyle Fuller’s interception of Colin Kaepernick’s pass boosted the Bears’ chances of winning by more than 25 percentage points.

The Bears’ win probability surpassed 50 percent on Jay Cutler’s touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett on the next play, and the Bears never had less than a 45 percent likelihood of winning in the final 13 minutes.

Less is more
Whether it’s because the Dallas Cowboys win more often when Tony Romo passes less, or it’s that Romo passes less when the Cowboys are winning, there’s no denying Romo has performed better when he throws fewer passes. In his career, his win-loss record, touchdown-to-interception ratio and Total QBR are much better when he attempts fewer than 30 passes in a game.

Romo threw 29 passes Sunday in the Cowboys' 26-10 win over the Tennessee Titans. He completed 66 percent of his passes, but he was sacked four times and averaged 6.1 air yards per pass. His Total QBR was 63.

Total QBR is a metric on a 0-to-100 scale, with 50 being average. Even when Romo throws 30 or more passes, he performs at a level above the NFL average.

Don’t blame Saints’ offense
The New Orleans Saints have posted an NFL-high plus-30.3 offensive efficiency this season. But their defense and special teams have combined for a minus-34 efficiency, the worst in the NFL. Efficiency accounts for the impact of each play on a team’s potential point margin.

Five other teams since 2006 have posted a worse defense/special teams efficiency in their first two games, and four of them finished under .500. But there might be some hope for New Orleans -- the 2007 New York Giants finished 10-6 and won the Super Bowl.

Chicago, Trestman good fit for Cutler

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Jay Cutler agreed to a seven-year contract with the Bears on Thursday.
Four days after losing in Week 17 to miss the playoffs, the Chicago Bears have re-signed Jay Cutler to a seven-year deal.

In only five years in Chicago, Cutler has already put up some of the most prolific passing numbers in franchise history. His 14,913 passing yards and 1,258 completions are already franchise records, and his 101 touchdown passes are second behind Sid Luckman’s 137.

But it hasn’t all been positive. In his first season with the Bears, Cutler threw 26 interceptions. The only player in franchise history to throw more was Sid Luckman (31 in 1947).

During his five seasons in Chicago, Cutler has thrown interceptions on 3.6 percent of his passes. Only Mark Sanchez and Ryan Fitzpatrick have been picked off more frequently in that span.

Part of his problem was staying upright. From 2009 to 2012, the Bears allowed 184 sacks. Only the Arizona Cardinals allowed more.

The offensive line was much improved this season, allowing only 30 sacks. That was tied for fourth-fewest in the league.

Cutler took well to Marc Trestman’s new offense. His average throw was nearly a yard shorter and he threw far fewer passes to his wide receivers. That resulted in an increase of 4.3 percentage points in his completion percentage.

He posted a 66.4 Total QBR this season, his highest in five seasons in Chicago. In eight seasons in the NFL, only his 72.0 QBR in 2008 was higher.

Another good reason for Cutler to stay in Chicago is the Bears supporting cast of Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.

Forte was third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2013. Jeffery and Marshall became the second pair of Bears teammates to record 1,000 receiving yards in the same season, joining Jeff Graham and Curtis Conway in 1995.

During his career, Cutler’s numbers are almost the definition of league average. Among 33 qualified quarterbacks, his winning percentage, Total QBR, passing yards per game and touchdown-to-interception ratio all rank between 14th and 23rd.

Matchups to watch: Packers at Bears

December, 26, 2013
The Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers in Week 17, with the winner taking home the NFC North division title and more importantly, a playoff berth.

Aaron Rodgers is expected to start for the first time since Week 9, when the Packers lost to the Bears by a touchdown after he was injured in the first quarter. Jay Cutler didn’t play in that game, and his 1-8 career record against the Packers could level the playing field.

Cutler’s checkered past against the Packers is just one of the key matchups to watch in the game.

Jay Cutler versus Dom Capers

Since joining the Bears, Cutler has thrown eight touchdowns and 17 interceptions against the Packers. Against the other NFC North foes, Cutler has thrown 33 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers joined the Packers the same season Cutler joined the Bears, and his schemes -- specifically the pass rushing tendencies -- have caused problems for Cutler.

Cutler has completed 49 percent of his passes with one touchdown and eight interceptions when the Packers have sent five or more pass rushers over the last five seasons.

One of the reasons these pass rushes have been so successful is that Capers brings added pressure when Cutler might not be expecting it. The Packers have sent five-plus 43 percent of the time on first down against Cutler, something the rest of the NFL has done only 29 percent of the time to Cutler.

However, Cutler has more support his season, leading to another key matchup:

Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery versus Packers’ secondary

Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are one of two sets of teammates with 1,000 receiving yards this season (Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker). In Week 9 against the Packers, the duo combined for 12 receptions, 167 yards and two touchdowns.

Marshall and Jeffery did a majority of their work on the right side of the field in that game (defense’s left), the side cornerback Tramon Williams predominantly works. The duo grabbed eight of their passes for 115 yards and both touchdowns on the right side of the field in the game.

The Packers’ secondary has struggled all season, allowing 28 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions. The Packers have allowed no more than 29 touchdowns and recorded no fewer than 18 interceptions in any of the previous four seasons.

Packers run game vs Bears rush defense

The Packers nearly won in Week 9 without Rodgers due to the success of the run game. The Packers gained 199 yards on 29 rushes, including two touchdowns, in the game.

Eddie Lacy rushed 22 times for 150 yards against the Bears, but could be limited in Week 17 due to an ankle injury. Even if he is out, James Starks has been just as capable, averaging 5.2 yards per rush this season (6.7 in Week 9).

The Bears’ rush defense has only gotten worse as the season progresses. Prior to the Packers game the Bears were allowing 4.0 yards per rush, but have since allowed a whopping 6.5 yards per rush. To put that into perspective, no team has allowed more 5.3 yards per rush in a season over the last 10 years.

Matchups to watch: Bears at Eagles

December, 19, 2013

Elsa/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy has been the best running back on zone reads this season.
Both the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles control their division title destinies with two weeks left in the regular season. Let’s take a look at some of the key matchups between these division leaders.

Eagles zone read vs. Bears defense
The Eagles run the zone read better than any team in the NFL and it’s not close. The Eagles have rushed for 1,479 yards and nine touchdowns on zone-read runs, 886 yards and five touchdowns more than any other team.

There have been seven games in the NFL this season in which a team ran for 100 yards on zone-read rushes, with the Eagles accounting for six of them.

LeSean McCoy has more yards (1,017) and touchdowns (five) on zone-read rushes than any team this season.

Opposing teams have run 12 zone-read rushes against the Bears this season, the fewest any team has faced.

The Bears have been far from impressive in limited action against the zone read. Opposing teams are averaging 9.1 yards per rush on such runs, with only the Lions allowing more (10.1).

Jay Cutler in the Fourth Quarter vs. Eagles defense
Jay Cutler has been at his best in the fourth quarter this season. His Total QBR of 95.2 in the fourth quarter leads the NFL and is on pace to be the second-highest since 2006.

Only Peyton Manning, in his Super Bowl-winning season in 2006 posted a higher fourth-quarter Total QBR than Cutler has in 2013.

Of Cutler’s 16 passing touchdowns this season, eight have come in the fourth quarter, including two in the final 15 minutes last week against the Browns.

But something has to give in the fourth quarter Sunday, as Cutler goes against an Eagles defense that has excelled in such situations this season.

Opposing quarterbacks have posted a Total QBR of 39.8 in the fourth quarter against the Eagles, ninth lowest in the NFL. And much better than their 59.9 opponents' Total QBR in the first three quarters of the game.

Can these offenses be stopped?
The Bears are scoring 29 points per game, second most in the NFL behind the Broncos. The Eagles are the seventh-highest scoring team in the league, putting up 26 points per game. The two teams have not been as strong on the defensive end, as they both rank in the bottom half of the league in points allowed.

How many points will be scored Sunday night?

The over/under opened at 56 at the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook, the highest total of any game in Week 16. This will be the fourth game for the Bears and 10th game for the Eagles that the Vegas over/under is in the 50s this season.

Times have certainly changed for the Chicago Bears under offensive guru Marc Trestman. In the previous 20 seasons, only one Bears game had an over/under in the 50s.

Cowboys pay for Romo's costly picks

December, 16, 2013

AP Photo/James D. SmithTony Romo threw two interceptions in the final three minutes against the Packers
Leading 36-31 late in Sunday's game, the Dallas Cowboys appeared in good position to win and pull into a tie for the NFC East lead. Two plays went a long way toward changing that.

Tony Romo’s interception with 1:24 left in the 4th quarter against the Packers dropped the Cowboys’ win probability by 51.1 percentage points, the 2nd-most costly 4th-quarter interception in his career in terms of win probability (the most costly was Darrelle Revis’ interception of Romo in 2011; see chart below). His interception earlier in the quarter dropped the Cowboys’ win probability by 17.5 percentage points (from 88.6% to 71.1%) and set up the Packers' go-ahead touchdown.

Romo has thrown 7 career 4th-quarter interceptions that have dropped his team’s win probability by at least 20 percentage points (the Cowboys have lost all 7 games). Using that definition of a costly interception, only Matt Schaub (8) has thrown more than Romo since 2006.

Cowboys’ defense non-existent
The Cowboys’ defense contributed -22.8 expected points to the team’s net scoring margin in the 2nd half against the Packers. That is the worst defensive EPA by any team in the 2nd half of a game this season.

The Packers scored a touchdown on each of their 2nd-half drives, excluding their final drive, which was 3 kneel downs. The Packers got first downs on 47 percent of their 2nd-half plays and converted 6-of-7 third downs during that span.

The Cowboys’ defensive EPA is -6.8 points per game this season. Only the Vikings (-8.0) have been worse.

EPA looks at the impact of every play on each team's potential points, attributing those to the actual unit on the field – offense, defense or special teams. When aggregated over the course of a game or season, EPA numbers show how much each unit contributed to the team's final point margin. EPA takes into account each unit’s impact on moving the ball, creating turnovers and scoring points.

Cutler good when it counts
Jay Cutler had a 99.9 Total QBR in the 4th quarter, completing 5-of-7 passes for 71 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Bears’ 38-31 win over the Browns. Cutler's Total QBR in the 4th quarter this season is 95.2, 1st in the NFL among qualified QBs.

Cutler overcame 2 costly interceptions in the game. His 1st interception, thrown into the end zone on 1st and 10 at the Browns’ 14, cost the Bears an expected 4.9 points. Combined with his pick-six in the second quarter, Cutler cost the Bears 11.0 expected points with his 2 interceptions.

Saints leave offense at home
The Saints' offense contributed 6.0 expected points to their net scoring margin against the Rams, almost doubling their offensive EPA on the road this season (now at 13.3, 15th in NFL). Their offense has added 104.9 expected points at home this season, and no team averages more per game.

Drew Brees’ Total QBR was 35.5 against the Rams and is 55.8 on the road (12th in NFL) this season. It is 80.3 at home (2nd in NFL).

Quick hitters
Eli Manning’s Total QBR was 2.1 against the Seahawks, his worst Total QBR in a game since the start of the 2006 season. Manning threw a career-high 5 interceptions, and converted one of nine third downs. Manning’s Total QBR this season is 36.0, more than 10 points worse than his previous low (46.2, 2006).

Matt Cassel posted a career-high 96.3 Total QBR (min. 15 action plays) against the Eagles. Brett Favre (97.5) is the only Vikings quarterback to post a higher Total QBR in a game since 2006 (44-7 win in Week 17, 2009, vs Giants).

The Rams’ special teams added 6.4 expected points against the Saints. They blocked a field goal attempt by Garrett Hartley, and Hartley missed another field goal wide left late in the game. The Rams’ special teams unit has added 2.4 expected points per game this season, 2nd in the NFL behind the Chiefs (3.0).

Carson Palmer posted an 86.6 Total QBR against the Titans. His Total QBR is 77.6 since Week 8, 2nd-best in the NFL behind Josh McCown (Cardinals: 6-1 during that span).

The Chiefs’ offensive EPA was 21.2 against the Raiders, their 2nd-highest total in a game since the start of the 2006 season. The Chiefs’ offense added 20.3 expected points from Jamaal Charles’ 5 touchdowns (over 95% of their offensive EPA). Charles’ last touchdown added 6.2 expected points. EPA is measured on a play-by-play basis, taking the difference between what the expected points an average team would be expected to score in that same situation (based on historical NFL data), from their expected points after the play, and adding them up through the course of a game.

Keys to victory: Bears defeat Giants, 27-21

October, 11, 2013
What were the three biggest keys to the Chicago Bears win over the New York Giants on Thursday night?

The short passes worked
Jay Cutler was 20-of-27 for 187 yards and two touchdowns on throws that traveled 10 yards or fewer. Cutler's 27 attempts and 6.9 yards per attempt were both season highs.

This was the fifth time this season that Cutler had multiple touchdown passes in a game, matching the total he had for the entire season in both 2011 and 2012.

Cutler was 9-for-10 when targeting Brandon Marshall, matching the best completion rate to Marshall in any game since Marshall joined the Bears.

DB blitzes scared Manning
The Bears brought a defensive back as a pass rusher on three Eli Manning dropbacks. Two of those blitzes resulted in an interception.

Manning has thrown five interceptions this season when facing a defensive back as a pass rusher, more than any quarterback had in all of 2012.

Manning has thrown an interception once every 7.2 dropbacks when facing a defensive back who was a pass rusher compared with one every 24.5 dropbacks not facing one.

Manning is the first player to throw 15 interceptions in the first six games of a season since Dan Fouts did so for the San Diego Chargers in 1986.

Unsung key: Podlesh's punts
Bears punter Adam Podlesh might not have had the most impressive day on the stat sheet, but his punting definitely played a role in the Bears win.

Adam Podlesh
Podlesh averaged only 36.7 yards per punt on his three kicks, but the Giants did not return any of those boots. That resulted in their starting field position being on their own 9, 8, and 10. They were able to score on the first of those, but did not score on either of the last two.

The Giants average starting field position after punts was their own 9. That's the worst starting field position for a team against a punter in any game in which that punter punted multiple times all season.

Top things to know: Giants at Bears

October, 10, 2013

Elsa/Getty ImagesEli Manning has already thrown 12 INT this season, three fewer than he had all of 2012.
Week Six of the NFL season begins tonight as the New York Giants take on the Chicago Bears from Soldier Field.

Through five weeks, every NFC East team has a losing record and the division is a combined 5-14, worst in the NFL.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the only time an entire division has been under .500 through five weeks since the merger in 1970.

Let’s take a look at some storylines for this game.

1. The Giants are 0-5 for the first time since 1987. The only time the Giants lost their first six games of a season was in 1976, when they opened 0-9.

One reason for the Giants rough start has been their defense. They are the second team in NFL history along with the 1954 Chicago Cardinals to allow MORE than 30 points in their first five games of a season. No team has ever allowed MORE than 30 points in each of its first 6 games.

2. Through five games, Eli Manning has been sacked 15 times and has thrown 12 interceptions. He’s already approaching his 2012 season totals in both categories (19 sacks and 15 interceptions).

In addition, his QBR (34.2) is less than half of what it was in 2012 (68.9).

Of the league-high 20 turnovers the Giants have this season, Manning has been responsible for 14, tied for the second most by a player through five games since realignment in 2002.

With two turnovers tonight, he’ll tie Daunte Culpepper in 2002 for the most turnovers through six games.

Manning is one of three starting quarterbacks this season completing under half of his attempts thrown at or behind the line of scrimmage. Both of the other quarterbacks (Brandon Weeden and Josh Freeman) were removed from their starting jobs.

3. Jay Cutler has been sacked three times in each of the last two games (both losses) after being sacked a total of three times in the Bears' 3-0 start.

In addition, he has thrown for 300 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 2009. He’s never thrown for 300 yards in three straight games. Cutler has also thrown a TD pass in 11 straight games, tying a career high.

4. Brandon Marshall expressed frustration with the Bears offense after their Week 5 loss. He was targeted five times last week after averaging more than 10 targets in his first four games.

Marshall leads the Bears with 46 targets this season, but has just one more than the next highest receiver (Alshon Jeffery, 45).

Marshall finished with 131 more targets than the next highest Bear last season.

The Giants are last in the NFL in rushing at 56.8 YPG. They’ve rushed for under 100 yards in all five games this season.

The Bears have lost two straight following a 3-0 start. They’re 3-4 in their last seven home games since starting 2012 4-0 at home.

Despite forcing no turnovers last week, the Bears still lead the NFL with 58 takeaways since the start of 2012. Last week snapped Chicago’s streak of six straight games with at least three takeaways, the longest in the NFL since the Bills from 2004-05.

The Bears have lost four straight home games against the Giants since beating New York at Soldier Field in 1991.

Stat your case: Luck or Wilson?

October, 3, 2013

USA TODAY SportsRussell Wilson and Andrew Luck are two of the top young QBs in NFL.
Each week, the Stats & Information Group will look at a noteworthy discussion topic and debate the possibilities that come from it, using data to back up their points.

This week’s topic is “which second year quarterback would you rather have, Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson?”

Andrew Luck
Luck is the better second-year quarterback, largely because of the improvement he’s shown from his rookie season to this year.

Luck posted a 65.2 Total QBR last season, ranking 11th out of 36 qualified quarterbacks. But he has been even better this season (76.2 QBR), partly because he’s completing a higher percentage of his passes.

Luck is throwing the ball downfield at a similar rate this year compared to 2012, but it’s his performance on short throws that has helped his overall game. Luck is completing 75.3 percent of his passes thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, the sixth-highest percentage in the league and up from 60.3 percent last season (lowest in league).

Running the ball is another area where Luck has improved. He is averaging 31.5 rush yards per game, nearly double the amount he had in 16 games during his rookie season (15.9).

He has two rushing touchdowns through four games and is one of only four quarterbacks to scramble for a touchdown.

Wilson may have the reputation as the better running quarterback, but when you compare their stats this season, Luck comes out on top.

Luck’s play in the clutch also swings the argument in his favor. He has led eight game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his career, the most in the league since the start of last season. Wilson has six game-winning drives.
-- Evan Kaplan

Russell Wilson
Since the start of the 2012 season, Russell Wilson is fifth in the NFL with a Total QBR of 68.1. Andrew Luck’s Total QBR of 67.4 ranks seventh. Those are the two highest QBRs of any first, second or third-year quarterbacks.

Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record for most touchdown passes with 26 and led the Seahawks to 11 wins last season, their first winning campaign since 2007.

Through four games this year, Wilson’s Total QBR is 50.4 compared with 71.7 last season. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

The Seahawks offensive line has been decimated with injuries and they have gone through seven different offensive line combinations. Pro bowler Russell Okung has missed multiple games and Max Unger missed the Seahawks’ Week 4 game against the Texans.

Wilson’s receivers have also not been the most reliable. This is perhaps why they have a pass drop percentage of 4.1 percent, 13th highest in the NFL. By comparison, the Colts have a 1.5 percent drop percentage, third best in the NFL.

Wilson is attempting just 24 passes per game this season, the fewest of any qualifying QB. That’s partly because the Seahawks are using designed rushes on 48.4 percent of their snaps, the second-highest rate in the NFL.

Even with all the injuries to the line and lack of a “go-to” receiver, Wilson has found a way to produce wins despite facing two of the top three passing defenses in the NFL in the 49ers (third) and Texans (first).

The reason for the success has been his ability to hit on passes outside the pocket. Of the 14 quarterbacks with at least 15 pass attempts outside the pocket, Wilson’s 70.9 QBR is the highest (Jay Cutler is next on the list at 55.3).
-– Sunny Saini

Bears offense catching up to D’s greatness

September, 24, 2013

AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMarc Trestman is the 3rd coach in Bears history to win each of his first 3 games with the team.
The Chicago Bears jump into the top 5 of this week’s NFL Power Rankings following their third 3-0 start in the last 20 seasons.

New coach Marc Trestman joins George Halas and Neill Armstrong as the only coaches to win their first three games with the Bears.

Trestman was billed as an offensive-minded coach coming into Chicago, and his changes to the offense have made the Bears formidable on both sides of the ball.

Short and Sweet
The biggest change to the Bears’ offense this season has been the shortening of the passing game.

Last season Jay Cutler was one of two quarterbacks (Andrew Luck) with an average pass length 10 yards downfield. This season Cutler’s average pass has traveled 7.0 yards downfield, 27th in the NFL.

Cutler percent of attempts in 2012:

Cutler percent of attempts in 2013:

Shorter passes have led to more completions. Cutler has never completed more than 63.6 percent of his passes in a season, and has never been higher than 60.5 percent with the Bears. So far this season, Cutler has completed 67.3 percent of his passes.

The higher rate of completions is just one of the benefits to the shorter passing game.

Less Sacks
Shorter passes don’t take as long to develop which means Cutler has been able to get rid of the ball quicker.

This, along with some offseason improvements to the offensive line, have led to fewer sacks for Cutler.

From 2009 to 2012, Cutler was sacked on 7.6 percent of his dropbacks, the highest rate in the NFL. This season he’s been sacked on only 2.9 percent of his dropbacks, the second lowest rate in the NFL.

More Forte
Matt Forte has averaged 24 touches per game through the first three weeks of the season. If the season ended today, that would rank as the highest rate of his career.

Trestman has gotten the ball to Forte more on the ground, with his 18.3 rushes per game ranking as his second highest career rate.

But Cutler and Trestman have increased Forte’s involvement in the passing game as well.

Forte has 18 receptions through three games this season (6.0 rec per game). Through the first five seasons of his career, Forte averaged 3.6 receptions per game.

Forte’s increased presence in the passing game takes some of the pressure off of Brandon Marshall.

Last season Marshall was targeted on a league-high 41 percent of his pass routes. This season, only 30 percent (with only a slight drop in production, -0.7 receptions per game).

Some Things Haven’t Changed
Not everything has changed in Chicago, and the Bears’ defense is proof of that.

Chicago’s defense has continued to force turnovers and put points on the board. The Bears’ three defensive touchdowns lead the NFL and equal the offensive output from both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars.

What challenges await new NFC coaches?

July, 25, 2013
Eight NFL teams welcome new head coaches to the sideline this season. We take a closer look at some of the challenges those coaches will face. Here’s a look at the NFC (the AFC can be found here.

Arizona Cardinals: Bruce Arians
2012 record: 5-11

Big addition: Carson Palmer has to be an improvement on the 21.4 Total QBR posted by Cardinals quarterbacks last season, worst in the league.

One headache: Has the offensive line improved enough? Adding Jonathan Cooper and Earl Watford in the draft should help, but Arizona’s line allowed a sack every 11.7 dropbacks last season, worst in the NFL.

Key stat: The defense is ready to win now, finishing with the fourth-best Total QBR allowed last year (40.0). However, the offense cost the Cardinals 217.4 expected points last year, more than 100 points worse than the second-worst offense (Kansas City Chiefs, -107.94).

Chicago Bears: Marc Trestman
2012 record: 10-6

Big additions: Free-agent offensive linemen Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Eben Britton and first-round pick Kyle Long will help keep Jay Cutler upright. Cutler’s been sacked every 13.2 dropbacks in his Bears career (2009-12), most among 28 quarterbacks with 1,000 dropbacks in that span.

One headache: Can anyone take pressure off Brandon Marshall? There was a 140-target difference between Marshall (188 targets) and Earl Bennett and Alshon Jeffrey last season (48 each), the second-biggest margin between a first and second target in the league.

Key stat: In the last five seasons, the Bears’ defense allowed 16 more touchdowns than interceptions with Brian Urlacher off the field and had 12 more interceptions than touchdowns with him on the field.

Philadelphia Eagles: Chip Kelly
2012 record: 4-12

Big addition: Cary Williams is the biggest addition in the secondary, after disrupting 24 dropbacks last year (interception, pass defensed or sack). Only Richard Sherman (26) had more among defensive backs.

One headache: Lane Johnson may not be enough to upgrade an Eagles offensive line that ranked last in sacks or tackles for loss allowed.

Key stat: Chip Kelly’s Oregon offense averaged a play every 20.9 seconds, which would have been easily the NFL’s most up-tempo offense (New England Patriots, 24.9 seconds per play). Oregon averaged 82.8 plays per game, well beyond New England’s NFL-most 74.4 per game.

Which unit is more to blame for Bears slide?

December, 12, 2012
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJay Cutler has struggled during the Bears' recent 1-4 stretch.
Each week, Stats & Information has a point-counterpoint discussion on an NFL topic of note. This week, two of our stat analysts weigh in on whether the offense or defense is more to blame for the Chicago Bears' recent 1-4 stretch.

The Offense
The Bears’ offense is more to blame for their recent 1-4 stretch. Not only are the quarterbacks turning the ball over more, the offense has been much less effective while it has possession of the ball.

Jay Cutler threw eight interceptions in the first eight games of the season. Over the past five weeks, Cutler and Jason Campbell have combined to throw seven picks, tied for fifth-most in the league.

The duo’s yards-per-attempt has fallen from 7.3 in the first eight games to 6.0 in the past five games, third-worst behind the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings during that span.

Cutler and Campbell also have targeted Brandon Marshall at a very high rate, making their offense very predictable. In the first half of the season, Brandon Marshall was targeted on an NFL-high 37.9 percent of the Bears’ total targets.

Marshall has been thrown to even more in the last five games, getting 40.3 percent of his team’s total targets. He is also being tackled more quickly after the catch, averaging only 2.2 yards after catch per reception in his last five games, compared 3.7 in his first eight.

On top of the stagnating passing game, Matt Forte has been much less effective running the ball recently. Forte averaged 5.0 yards per carry during the first eight weeks of the season. Since then, that rate has fallen to 3.5.

-- Mike Bonzagni

The Defense
Although it might be difficult to find many faults in the Bears’ defense, it cannot be totally ignored when debating which unit is to blame for the teams’ 1-4 record over the past five games.

During the Bears 7-1 start, Chicago’s defense accumulated 99.5 net expected points, by far the highest total in the league during the first nine weeks of the season.

It was not realistic to assume that the Bears could continue at this extraordinary pace, but their regression to the league average has been extreme in weeks 10 through 14.

During that span the Bears’ defense has added a total of three net expected points. That’s a far cry from the two touchdowns per game they had been averaging through Week 9.

The defense has been hurt by a lack of turnovers and struggles in the red zone. The Bears forced 28 turnovers in their first eight games, but just seven in their past five games.

During the 7-1 start they allowed a touchdown on 10.1 percent of their opponents’ drives, second-best in the league. During this recent slide, that rate has ballooned to 17.2 percent, which is tied for 11th over the last five weeks.

-- Hank Gargiulo

Newton's legs are key in grounding Falcons

December, 10, 2012

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton posted one of the highest QBRs this season in the Panthers win over the Falcons.
As a reminder, Total QBR is a quarterback rating that takes into account all of a QB’s significant contributions (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, penalties) to his team’s scoring and winning and summarizes them into one number on a 0-100 scale, where 50 is average. Since 2008, the team with the higher QBR has won 86 percent of the time.

Cam Newton posted a 97.0 Total QBR in the Panthers win over the Falcons, the second-highest by any player with at least 40 action plays in a single game this season and the highest by any Panther over the last five seasons.

The difference between Newton and the other players on the list on the right is that he did much of his damage with his legs.

Newton rushed for a career-high 116 yards and a touchdown and was the only player on that list to post a perfect 100.0 QBR on his rushing plays in their given game.

According to NFL passer rating, Newton’s game Sunday (119.3) was the 15th-best performance by a QB this season because that metric does not account for rushing contributions (min. 40 action plays).

• Jay Cutler had a 20.8 Total QBR in Sunday's loss to the Vikings, his lowest against Minnesota since joining the Bears in 2009. Cutler had posted a QBR of at least 65.0 in each of the previous five games against the Vikings including four of at least 75.0.

• Colin Kaepernick had a 64.1 Total QBR in Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins, including a perfect 100.0 in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick has a 99.2 fourth-quarter QBR since his first start in Week 11, best in the NFL over that span.

• Andrew Luck had a season-low 18.4 Total QBR on 44 action plays against the Tennessee Titans, the lowest for any player with at least 40 action plays in a win this season.

• Aaron Rodgers posted an 82.7 Total QBR in Sunday night’s win over the Detroit Lions. It was his 17th game with a QBR over 80 in the last two seasons, tied with Drew Brees for the most in the NFL over that span.

• Matthew Stafford’s fourth-quarter Total QBR was 84.5 from Weeks 1-8, the fourth-highest in the NFL over that span. Since Week 9 his fourth-quarter Total QBR is 18.4, the fourth-lowest in the NFL, including a 14.1 on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers.

Total QBR can be used to quantify just how important the quarterback position has become to winning in the NFL. Looking back to previous years, the team with the higher Total QBR has won 86% of regular season games since 2008 (as far back as Total QBR goes). That is higher than the comparable mark for teams with the advantage in total yardage, turnover differential, and NFL passer rating.

Get to know your backup QBs

November, 16, 2012
We know that two backup quarterbacks will start this week, and as many as four. Here’s a look at what they’ve done in the limited playing time.

NICK FOLES, PHI (34.9 Total QBR in Week 10)

Nick Foles
Nick Foles went 22-of-32 with a touchdown and an interception in his NFL debut last week. Although Foles threw only one interception (which was returned for a TD), it could have been worse. Foles had two potential interceptions dropped and another interception called back due to a penalty. It was the fourth time this season that a quarterback had multiple interceptions dropped in game. It wasn’t all bad for Foles. He connected on 4-of-6 attempts more than 10 yards downfield, with two of those completions gaining 30-plus yards. Michael Vick had two 30-plus yard plays in a game only twice this season.

BYRON LEFTWICH, PIT (61.7 Total QBR in Week 10)

In his limited playing time since the start of 2008, Byron Leftwich has posted a 52.2 Total QBR, which means he has played at an average level. If there’s one area in particular that Leftwich has performed below average during that time, it’s on deep throws. Leftwich hasn’t completed a pass more than 20 yards downfield since Week 2 of the 2009 season when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and has completed just 4-of-21 attempts of more than 20 yards downfield since the start of 2008. That’s the third worst completion percentage of any quarterback with at least 20 attempts.

JASON CAMPBELL, CHI (21.7 Total QBR in Week 10)

Similar to Leftwich, Jason Campbell’s 50.9 Total QBR over the last five seasons puts his performance at an average level, but he may be able to capably fill Jay Cutler’s void. The San Francisco 49ers have sent four or fewer pass rushers 78.8 percent of the time since the start of last season, that’s the second-highest rate in the NFL. Both Cutler and Campbell have posted Total QBRs over 60.0 against such pressure, with Campbell actually posting a better completion percentage.

Don’t expect Campbell to air it out too often, though. Of the 30 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 attempts in the last five seasons, Campbell’s 6.6 yard average throw distance ranks as the shortest. Cutler’s 8.2 average is tied for the ninth highest.

COLIN KAEPERNICK, SF (40.7 Total QBR in Week 10)

Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick’s biggest strength so far this season has been running the ball. Kaepernick has averaged 8.8 yards per rush on 14 designed runs. That rate is best among quarterbacks, and 3.8 yards higher than Cam Newton’s 5.0 designed yards per rush average. However, Kaepernick might be too quick to run on pass plays this season, scrambling on seven of his 38 dropbacks (18.4 percent). Not only is that the highest scramble rate in the NFL (minimum 20 dropbacks), but it’s nearly double that of the next highest quarterback (Robert Griffin III, 9.7 percent).

Bear neccessities: Defense, Cutler star late

October, 28, 2012

AP Photo/Michael ConroyPeyton Manning has improved his deep passing in his last four games.

The two things that have been integral to the Chicago Bears success this season- defensive scoring and Jay Cutler’s fourth-quarter success- came through one more time in a win over the Carolina Panthers.

The Panthers were true to form as well, succumbing in a close game yet again. It’s something they’ve done often recently.

Let’s recap the key notes and numbers from a dramatic victory.

An unusual kind of win
This was the third time the Panthers have ever lost a game in which they led by 10 or more entering the 4th quarter (entered 57-2 all-time in such games)

The Bears have won twice in the last 30 games in which they trailed by at least 10 points entering the fourth quarter.

They snapped a 16-game losing streak in such games, winning for the first time since Week 6 in 2006 when they rallied to defeat the Arizona Cardinals, 24-23.

The Bears are now 4-0 all-time at home against the Panthers.

The Panthers are 1-10 over the last two seasons in games decided by seven points or less.

Cutler slices up Panthers in fourth
The Panthers went conservative in their pass rush in the fourth quarter and Cutler made them pay the price.

Cutler went 12-for-14 for 106 yards and a touchdown in the final 15 minutes, all of which was done against four or fewer pass rushers.

As the chart on the right shows, that pass rush worked very effectively against Cutler in the first three quarters of the game.

But Cutler was great in the fourth quarter once again, posting a 92.4 Total QBR. He entered the day with an NFL-best 94.2 Total QBR in the fourth quarter.

Six Pick-Sixes!
The interception return for a touchdown by Tim Jennings was the Bears sixth interception returned for a touchdown this season, the most-ever by a team in its first seven games of a season.
The six touchdowns are a Bears single-season record and only three shy of the record set by the 1961 Chargers.

Both of the Cam Newton’s interceptions were thrown against the Bears’ four-man pass rush.
The Bears entered the game limiting opposing QBs to a 26.0 Total QBR sending such pressure, including 11 interceptions, both of which ranked best in the NFL.

Good as Gould
Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal was the 200th of his NFL career. Gould ranks second in Bears history in field goals made, trailing only Kevin Butler’s 243.

Gould’s 200 field goals since entering the league in 2005 are the third-most in the NFL in that span. Only David Akers (212) and Rob Bironas (201) have more.

Cutler, Bears 'turn' corner against Lions

October, 22, 2012

Nuccio 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, they 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.