EDITOR’S NOTE: These stats- and smarts-heavy Bears Previews come courtesy our friends at Football Outsiders. For more, visit www.footballoutsiders.com.
The good news for Bears fans is that the much-needed win over Minnesota moved Chicago up a spot to fifth overall in our DVOA rankings, which measures team efficiency. The bad news is that, even after a loss, the next opponent, Seattle, is fourth overall, despite their pedestrian 6-5 record.
Remember, games are won and lost for a variety of reasons, and wins and losses are not necessarily the best measure of a team’s strength or weakness. Take the 10-1 Falcons, for example, who are only 12th on our chart.
Several key Bears players are questionable with injuries, but so long as Jay Cutler is in there (Hey, look! He’s popular this week!), Chicago has a shot.
BEARS ON O
Seattle’s defense is keyed by a pair of shutdown corners, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Alas, they have (allegedly) been bad boys, getting suspended by the league for use of the banned substance Adderall. However, the two defenders will go against Chicago, as their appeal hearing won’t be until next week
That’s bad luck for Cutler and the Bears offense, as the Seattle pass defense is third overall, and tops in the league at quieting opposing No. 1 wideouts (a mere 41.1 yards per game allowed). Brandon Marshall will be facing corners able to match his size and physicality. The Seahawks are eighth in Adjusted Sack Rate as well, another factor in Seattle’s strong numbers against the pass and more bad news for Cutler.
But the ‘Hawks can be run against, ranking but 17th in DVOA in that category. That could be an even more inviting option if stud Seattle defensive end Red Bryant (injured foot) doesn’t play. Bryant excels at setting the edge in run defense, usually lining up on the defensive right side, where Seattle’s run defense is top ten. On the other side, they are bottom ten, or close to it. So, even if Bryant is in there, the smart tactic is to run away from him.
BEARS ON D
Russell Wilson is quietly having an effective rookie season behind center up in the Pacific Northwest. He’s lost in the Andrew Luck/RG3 hype, but Wilson actually ranks considerably ahead of Luck in the efficiency department, and is 12th overall, twenty spots ahead of Mr. Cutler. Still, he is a rookie, and in games against top defenses, Wilson has struggled. Chicago’s top-ranked pass defense certainly qualifies, so look for a game plan that emphasizes the run even more than usual.
Having faced Arian Foster, Frank Gore, and Adrian Peterson in consecutive weeks, now Marshawn Lynch comes to Chicago, bringing his high DVOA ranking (seventh) in his travel bag. For all of Lynch’s “Beast Mode,” he has only five touchdowns on the season. Still, he is one of the toughest backs going. He isn’t a huge breakaway threat, though, despite the lingering memory of his incredible run in the playoffs against New Orleans two seasons ago. Seattle is only 22nd in Open Field Yards, indicating that they run more of a pound-it-out attack.
When Seattle does throw it, Sidney Rice will present a challenge. He is having an astoundingly efficient season, ranking third overall, behind only Malcolm Floyd and Brandon Stokley at maximizing effectiveness on each reception. In our cumulative metric, Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR), Rice ranks eleventh, not bad considering he has been thrown to only 59 times in Seattle’s conservative offense. On the other side, Golden Tate has been almost as good, ranking eleventh in DVOA himself.
Seattle has been murder on first down, ranking first in passing efficiency and third overall. But they are only 24th in third down passing, which makes sense with the rookie at the helm.
ODDS & ENDS & KICKOFF COVERAGE
Seattle had a good special teams game against Miami, paced by Leon Washington’s 98-yard kickoff return TD, boosting the unit to fourth in our rankings, one place behind Chicago. Washington will be a challenge for the Bears’ second-rated kickoff coverage unit. Seattle has been good at kickoffs and covering them as well, while Chicago has only been fair in the return game. A boost in this phase would help the Bears cause.
The Seahawks boast one of the league’s best home field advantages, so playing them at Soldier Field is a break. Seattle’s home/road splits are what you might expect—5th/17th in offensive DVOA, 2nd/10th in defensive DVOA. The Bears are more consistent, at least on defense, where they are first at home and second on the road.
For all of Seattle’s defensive strength, they rank only 15th in Drive Success Rate, which measures the percentage of drives that feature first downs and touchdowns. And they have given up 27.5 points per game over the last four contests. So the Bears can put up some points if they run the ball well and protect Cutler.
Seattle should be the more desperate team. Can we use a metric to quantify that intangible? Why, yes, in fact. Last week’s results gave a turbo boost to Chicago’s playoff odds, pumping them up by 14% to a 90.6% likelihood of postseason play. The Seahawks are at 69.0%, and locked in a tight battle with several teams for the NFC’s final playoff spot. Fans in Tampa, New Orleans, Minnesota, Dallas, and Washington will be hoping the Bears match Seattle’s intensity and come to play.