The Chicago Bears pulled off an exciting 31-30 come-from-behind victory over the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday, but did it need to be that close?
The Vikings scored on a kickoff return and defensively on a fumble return, so it’s hard to pin too much of the blame on Chicago’s defense for the 30 points allowed. Yet, had the Bears been able to get off the field defensively, the game would not have been close.
Minnesota was 7 for 16 on third-down attempts, many of which were due to Christian Ponder’s scrambling ability. The Bears couldn’t’ corral him in the pocket and Ponder made them pay. In the regular season opener, Andy Dalton was also efficient on third down, converting 7 of 11 attempts, and he did it with his arm.
Through two weeks, Bears opponents have converted 14 of 27 third-down attempts. That 51.9 conversion rate ties Chicago with the St. Louis Rams for worst in the NFL.
This is a far cry from the manner in which Chicago’s defense has handled third downs the past few years. Here is a third-down numbers comparison from the previous three seasons.
|Opponent Third-Down Percentage|| || |
As you can see, the third-down performance of Chicago’s defense this year has been extremely sub-par. Much of the blame can be heaped on the pass rush, which has picked up just two sacks in the first two contents. Yesterday, head coach Marc Trestman said the wet field on Sunday had a lot to do with the lack of pressure.
“It’s tough to rush the passer in wet weather for both sides. It’s tough to get a pass rush with a soggy field and a wet field and it’s an advantage to run the football on a rainy day,” said Trestman. “With rain really the advantage goes to the offense because we can sit back there and protect, it’s really hard to configure a pass rush to get close. We got close at times, and we got close to get Ponder outside the pocket to force him outside, we just didn’t do the job in our rushes to contain him the two or three times that he got outside. We certainly aren’t where we want to be [but] our focus certainly was on our run fits. I thought they were excellent throughout the game. Stop the difference maker (Adrian Peterson) first and put the game in the hands of [Ponder].”
Either way, the inconsistencies of the pass rush are a major concern. Coming into the season, the defensive line was considered the strength of the team. Through two games, they are actually dragging the defense down. Pro Bowlers Henry Melton and Julius Peppers have been nonexistent. If those two don’t pick it up, the Bears will continue to struggle on third downs, which will end up costing them down the line.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.