EDITOR’S NOTE: These stats- and smarts-heavy Bears Previews come courtesy our friends at Football Outsiders. For more, visit www.footballoutsiders.com.
Chicago was poor in the downpour last Sunday night, as the rain and the Houston Texans dumped on the Bears. Now comes a Monday Night match-up with the San Francisco 49ers, who fell from the top of our overall efficiency rankings to sixth with a mediocre performance in a tie game against St. Louis.
Both teams are without their concussed starting quarterbacks. When it comes to backups Colin Kaepernick and Jason Campbell, the 49ers have the edge with the speedy and slippery Kaepernick, although it should be noted to everyone knocking Campbell that he was quite good in 2011. Before he was injured, Campbell was our sixth-ranked QB in efficiency. Don’t read too much into his performance against Houston.
BEARS ON O
If you thought the Texans were tough to run against, wait until you see the Niners. They are our top-ranked run defense by a comfortable margin. The secondary plays a key role in their strong run defense—the back four are consistent tacklers with the speed to close off perimeter running. The unit is top-ten in Second Level and Open Field Yards allowed, indicating that the soft spot is the front line, which lacks a standout run stuffer in the middle.
Last season, San Francisco terrorized opponents with a relentless pass rush. The heat they place on QBs has lessened in 2012. Their Adjusted Sack Rate is only 4.3%, placing them 29th in the league. Again, give the secondary credit for keeping the pass defense relatively high, given the lack of pass rush. The pass defense is 11th overall, with the only regular struggle being defending passes to running backs. Matt Forte was wide open last week for what might have been a game-changing play, but the pass was badly thrown. If the Bears get more chances like that one this week, they’d better make the completions.
BEARS ON D
Chicago’s ball-hawking secondary has the opposite problem—they haven’t been the best tacklers, and the defense’s lone area of weakness so far has been Second Level Yards allowed. The 49ers present a very athletic offensive line, and employ a creative package of trap plays, pitchouts, and other methods designed to get Frank Gore, our second-rated running back but not the speediest runner, to that second level. His backup, the ultra-quick Kendall Hunter, has been superb with his limited workload. The onus will be on the linebackers in particular to maintain gap control and tackle well to prevent San Fran’s backs from turning solid gains into large ones. Playing against Kaepernick will present another set of problems defending the run, although his inexperience in the passing game will allow more concentration on stopping the run.
At the wide-receiver position for the 49ers, Michael Crabtree, a first-round pick, has made progress, but he still is just 21st in our wide receiver rankings. After Crabtree, you have to go down to the 60th spot to find SF’s No. 2 pass catcher, Mario Manningham. Tight end Vernon Davis gets lost in the “Gronk and Graham” worship, but he ranks second in our rankings (the unrelated Kellen Davis of the Bears, after a decent start, has plummeted to 27th). Covering Davis on his assortment of deep wheel routes and shallow crossing patterns is critical to slowing the Niners. Easier said then done.
ODDS & ENDS & ADAM PODLESH
Chicago’s average special teams work against Houston, coupled with former-Texan Jacoby Jones running wild in Baltimore, means the Ravens have nudged the Bears out of first place in our rankings for special teams, the first time all season the Bears haven’t led the league. Still, Chicago has a clear edge on the Niners in this department, another surprise given how strong SF’s special teams play was in 2011. While the punting game remains excellent behind Andy Lee, the kicking game has suffered, with David Akers’ overtime miss last week symbolizing the struggle.
Bears punter Adam Podlesh has seemingly had a poor season thus far, but our numbers indicate that only three punters have been more efficient. Gross and net punting averages are an imprecise manner of judging punters, as they don’t take field position into account. We translate punt yardage into a point system based on the average scoring an NFL offense can expect from any point on the field. In other words, Podlesh has been effective at keeping opponents from starting drives in quality field position. If anything, the cover unit has not lived up to Podlesh’s performance.
Despite their virtually identical records, San Francisco’s odds to win the NFC West are much better than Chicago’s odds of winning the NFC North: 56.1% to 48.8%. However, the Bears have a better chance of making the playoffs, with a 90.1% shot, as opposed to San Fran’s 85.9%.
So take a deep breath, Bears fans. The Bears have a good chance to bounce back on Monday night, and a great chance of playing postseason football.