“Hindsight being 20-20” is an age-old adage implying something is more easily understood after the situation has already occurred. D’oh! Yes, I’ve resorted to quoting Homer Simpson, because the Bears’ 2019 season resulted in a massive 'd’oh' — an exclamatory remark epitomizing something foolishly done and not realizing it until later — moment. This comical saying fittingly applies to the Bears’ 2019 campaign and tangentially to this past offseason.
Using P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Statistics), let's see if we can improve upon the Bears vision for the 2020 season.
What a difference a year makes. The Bears were an elite team defensively in 2018, ranking in the top 10 statistically in six major categories. Although not elite in 2019, the defense still ranked top 10 in four out of six categories and acquitted themselves well amidst some key injuries. The onus for this underachieving 2019 campaign rests solely on an ineffectual offense, which ranks 23rd or lower in six major offensive categories.
During the 2018 season, Chicago finished in the top half of five key offensive categories. So what happened? How did an up-and-coming offense with an imaginative head coach/offensive coordinator and his protégé quarterback regress and fall out of favor so quickly? Well, the Bears never carved out an identity for themselves and in the process failed to impose their collective offensive skill set on opponents.
The Bears were much more aggressive running the ball last season, creating positive gains and accumulating a 12-4 record in the process. They ran for over 100 yards 11 times in 2018, whereas this season it’s the exact opposite, posting 11 sub-100 yard games and a 7-8 record. It matters because commiting to the run helps control time of possession, lessens chances for turnovers and improves the likelihood of facing shorter third down scenarios, allowing for a higher conversion percentage. The Vikings' last two seasons demonstrate how maintaining an aggressive running scheme works favorably for teams.
Last season, Minnesota won six games when they possessed the ball for 30+ minutes a game. They did not exceed 100 yards rushing in half of those victories. The Vikings lost each game where their time of possession was under 30 minutes and rushed for under 100 yards. Overall, Minnesota finished 6-2-1 when they held the ball for 30 or more minutes, and they were 2-5 when possession was less than 30 minutes.
This season, Minnesota has compiled 11 100-yard games and are 8-0 when they’ve controlled time of possession and gone over the century mark in rushing. They're 1-3 in games when they didn’t reach 100 yards rushing and under 30 minutes in time possession. The Vikings figured that out by utilizing a healthy running threat in Dalvin Cook, minimizing quarterback Kirk Cousins’ passing attempts and leaning on a top 10 defense that could better control a game’s narrative. The Vikings learned from last season’s struggles, adjusted and are headed to the playoffs.
On the surface, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s stats don’t look horrible, but compared to last year’s numbers and the amount of defensive help he received, one can see a pattern of inefficiency. Trubisky threw for 24 touchdowns and ran for another three scores in 2018, surrendering 15 turnovers. Last season, the Bears' defense forced 36 turnovers, providing cover for Trubisky’s mistakes on the field. This year, he has 11 turnovers and the Bears' defense has generated only 16.
Fifteen games into last season, Chicago rushed for 1,769 yards and 16 touchdowns. This year going into the last game of the season, they only have 1,300 yards rushing and a meager seven touchdowns on the ground. Minnesota, on the other hand, reversed their negative rushing output from last season. After 15 games in 2018, the Vikings rushed for 1,430 yards and eight touchdowns, while this year, they've amassed 1,959 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The Bears' third down conversion rate and red zone scoring percentage differ dramatically from 2018 to 2019, too. They converted third downs at a 41 percent rate last year, scoring 36 touchdowns in the red zone (66.7 percent). The Bears' rushing struggles this season decreased their efficiency on third down (35 percent) and in the red zone, where Chicago only scored 23 times (56.1 percent).
Last season, the Vikings finished with a 35.8 percent third down conversion rate, but with a renewed running attack this year, improved to converting 42.7 percent of third downs. In the red zone, the Vikings scored 27 times (54 percent) last year, but this season they’ve totaled 33 scores (64.7 percent) in the same high-pressure area.
Sunday's game means little overall to both teams. The Vikings are playoff bound, locked into the No. 6 seed, and the Bears are eliminated from the postseason. However, with some reflection and a bit of hindsight, the Bears can apply some foresight into personnel changes and develop an offensive identity.
If you don’t know who you are, then you’re only fooling yourself. Over and over again teams are victimized by their own ineptitude, forgetting that at times the genius of one’s success is in the simplicity of its execution. Looking ahead with clarity for the 2020 season begins for Chicago on Sunday, just like it did a year ago for the Vikings.