Bear PAWS: Zero is the key against Broncos in Week 2

Bear PAWS: Zero is the key against Broncos in Week 2

Going from football "hero" to a quarterbacking "zero" is a fate most NFL quarterbacks potentially face weekly. Currently, Mitchell Trubisky is under media and fan scrutiny due to a lackluster performance against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1. Chicago-Green Bay is the NFL's most historically celebrated rivalry, and their matchup was chosen as the spotlight game to open the league’s 100th season. The Bears scored zero touchdowns at home on national television. Ouch!

The Denver Broncos have a new head coach and it is the Bears' former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Even first-year head coaches are not immune to criticism when losing to a bitter foe as Denver did to the Raiders on Monday Night Football. So, with the Bears and Broncos charting zero wins, just how significant does the number zero become in changing their fortunes? Let’s use P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Statistics) to dig out an answer.

A total of 16 first-time NFL head coaches were hired between 2017 and 2019, selected from a professional pool of offensive and defensive coordinators. The league trends toward picking offensive coordinators to helm franchises, believing innovative scoring methods are key to winning in today's game. Yet former defensive coordinators like Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, and others have won 10 of the last 15 Super Bowls, suggesting that defensive-minded coaches know how to derail high-powered offenses.

Typically, a first-time head coach does not hire a coordinator opposite his expertise with zero NFL experience in that position. Last year, new head coach Matt Nagy kept the veteran Fangio as his defensive coordinator, and this season Matt LaFleur of the Packers retained defensive coordinator Mike Pettine on his staff. This year there are three teams (Bengals, Dolphins, and Broncos) taking a less conventional path toward their recent hires. Each team lost last week.

Vic Fangio has zero NFL experience as a head coach and his choice for an offensive coordinator, Rich Scangarello, also has no pro experience in his new role. Scangarello spent some time in the NFL as a quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers, learning offensive schemes under head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Last year, Scangarello was the offensive coordinator for college football's Wagner Seahawks, an FCS school with a 3,300-seat stadium, and they averaged 26 points per game. Fangio, on the other hand, is a widely-respected defensive guru that has orchestrated some of the best NFL defenses of this decade. Against the Raiders last Monday, the vaunted pass-rushing duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb recorded zero sacks and Scangarello's offense had zero rushing touchdowns.

For the past few years, both the Bears and Broncos have been known more for outstanding defenses than their inconsistent offensive production.

During the 2018 season, the Broncos recorded a sack in every game, totaling 44 quarterback takedowns on the year. However, when Von Miller (their best pass rusher) didn't get a sack, Denver had an 0-5 record.

Conversely, in games last year where Khalil Mack went without a sack, Chicago finished with a 5-2 record.

Both Miller and Mack shared a strange quirk, in that neither had a sack in Weeks 16 or 17 of the 2018 NFL season. Miller's Broncos finished with two losses, while Mack's Bears went 2-0 in those weeks and made the playoffs. This season, they once again share a stat line of zero sacks. The only difference this time is that both teams have zero wins.

Zero has been a more intimidating number for Bears opponents than for Chicago itself since last season.

The Bears held teams to zero rushing touchdowns 12 times, going 8-4 in the process. More impressively, the Bears were 5-0 when they allowed zero passing touchdowns. Chicago forced more turnovers than any other team last season, but when they committed none themselves, they had a 4-0 record. The Bears defense is key to their continued winning, but Trubisky must be the focal point if they are to ascend to Super Bowl contender status.

As a starting quarterback, even going back to college, Trubisky has lost his first start of each season, going 0-4. To his credit, Trubisky has won the very next start each time so far. Nine times in his professional career, Trubisky has thrown zero touchdown passes, winning 44% of those games. When he's thrown at least one or more, he has won 61% of those contests.

Trubisky must repeat his trend of winning after losing an initial start because going 0-2 in the NFL is hazardous to one's playoff hopes. Since 1990, when the league expanded to a 12-team playoff format, only 13% of teams make it to the second season when they lose their first two games. Only 16 teams since 2002, when the league went to eight divisions, have gone to the playoffs after losing their first two games, an 11% rate. Come Sunday, one of these two teams will be staring at zero wins and two losses, consequently looking at an uphill battle to make the playoffs.

The Bears will win.....

- if they keep Von Miller sack-less.  Denver is 0 - 6 since 2018 win he's without a sack

- should their pass defense prevent a passing TD ( 5 - 0 in 2018 )

- if Trubisky continues his trend of improving after season-opening losses

Three keys and a prediction: Bears at Packers

Three keys and a prediction: Bears at Packers

1. Don’t let Aaron Rodgers beat you. Really! 
You’d think this goes without saying, and yet here we are, going and saying it. There’s some truth to the counter-argument, I guess: Rodgers hasn’t thrown for more than 243 yards since mid-October, and over the last 2-3 years, his QBR has leveled out well below where it was when he was tearing the souls from every other NFL team’s body. It helps when you have Aaron Jones and the 4th-ranked (DVOA) rushing attack, but I just find it hard to believe any Bears fan can look at this game and think they have a better chance to win if they let Rodgers throw the ball 40+ times. Over his career, he’s averaged more yards per game, and has more touchdown passes, against the Bears than any other NFC North opponent. Getting Akiem Hicks back, even in a limited fashion, obviously helps on both fronts. If the Bears are going to be comfortable putting the ball in someone’s hands and hoping they don’t beat them, maybe don’t make it the first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback who has a history of humiliating your franchise? 

2. Give the ball to David Montgomery and let him cook. 
Montgomery’s finding a groove, evident by the fact that he’s been given more rushes and gained more yards in each of the Bears’ last three wins. I’ve probably hammered this point a half dozen times already this season, but the Bears are 7-2 when they run the ball 20+ times. 7-2! And they’d be 8-1 if Eddy Pineiro hit the game-winning field goal against the Chargers. And while you could probably find one or two moments in most NFL games that swing the outcome, the bigger point remains: the Bears’ run game isn’t pretty, but they win when they commit. It’s also going to be like, four degrees out and the Packers’ have the 26th-ranked run defense (DVOA) in football. Run the ball! 

3. It’s just a football field – treat it like that. 
The Bears talked at length this week about how the spectacle of Week 1’s Bears-Packers game kind of got to them, and that they were disappointed with how players and coaches seemed shell-shocked for much of it. Now think back to Week 1 of 2018, when the Bears let a big halftime lead slip away. Since then, Nagy’s admitted that the moment may have been a little big for him that night, too. And frankly, there’s so much noise and so many narrative retreads during Packers Week, so it’s not exactly hard to blame them. It’s a lot easier said behind a keyboard than done on a (cold, so damn cold) field, but if the Bears want to find themselves in bigger moments down the road, they’ll need to minimize the one coming on Sunday. 

Prediction: Bears 27, Packers 24 (OT)
I don’t think the Bears are going to make the playoffs, and I think if you got them in a moment of honesty, they’d agree and admit they’re playing these last three games for pride. That’s not a slight against them at all – they’ve looked legitimately better across the board over the last month. The Packers don’t seem like a 10-3 team to me; they’re a 7-5 team according to their Expected W-L, football’s version of baseball’s Pythagorean formula. Their best win of the season came against a Chiefs team that didn’t have Patrick Mahomes. And while this game means everything to Chicago, there is actually not a whole lot on the line for Green Bay: per FiveThirtyEight, the Packers’ odds of winning the division currently sit at 93%. A loss would drop that to 86%. There are fair gripes out there about what Nagy’s shown as a play caller though two seasons, but these types of motivational situations are where he does his best work. The Bears get their biggest win of the season, and are rewarded with a week of Pat Mahomes prep. 

George Halas, Mike Ditka among three Bears named to NFL 100 All-Time Team

George Halas, Mike Ditka among three Bears named to NFL 100 All-Time Team

The Chicago Bears continue to be well-represented on the NFL 100 All-Time Team with three more additions to the roster Friday night: George Halas (coach), Dan Fortmann (offensive line) and Mike Ditka (tight end).

Halas' Bears coaching career spanned four decades and 324 wins. As the founder of the Bears and one of the NFL's original owners, his name is synonymous with the history of the league.

Halas is one of 10 coaches who will be selected to the All-Time Team. The coaches revealed so far include Bill Belichick, Tom Landry, Chuck Knoll, Vince Lombardi, Curly Lambeau, Joe Gibbs and Paul Brown.

Ditka was one of five tight ends chosen for the historic roster after a career that included five Pro Bowls in six years with the Bears. He last played for Chicago in 1966 but still holds the team records for career receptions, yards and touchdowns for a Bears tight end. He's also one of the franchise's all-time greatest personalities after leading the Bears to their only Super Bowl win as head coach in 1985.

Forttman, a seven-time Pro Bowler in the late-30s and early-40s, played guard for the Bears and was named to the 1940s All-Decade Team.