Most of us are familiar with the phrase “catch-22” - a situation where one loses out no matter what decisions he or she makes - essentially, stuck if you do and stuck if you don’t. A “catch-23” however, is a little different, wherein by attempting to solve a problem, one creates an even larger dilemma. Enter the 2019 Bears and Detroit Lions, poster boys for this year’s “catch-23” display of futility. Maybe by using P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Statistics), we can discover why this nefarious number (23) is so toxic to both franchises.
The 2018 NFL season in Chicago and Detroit was headlined by new head coaches (ironically, both named Matt) determined to correct the deficiencies of their predecessors. Detroit hired former New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to improve a moribund defense and recreate that winning Patriots attitude with the Lions. The Bears chose Matt Nagy, the Chiefs’ former offensive coordinator and Andy Reid disciple, to lead a simplistic offense into the 21st century. Paired with revered defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s top-ten defense, Chicago’s brain trust envisioned a youthful team destined for many winning seasons.
After back-to-back 9-7 seasons with one playoff appearance (a loss), the Lions seemed stuck in the mud as a franchise. Armed with a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback Matt Stafford, Detroit appeared playoff-ready on offense. The Lions’ mediocrity was blamed on a porous defense and the low-key temperament of former head coach Jim Caldwell. Although the hiring of Patricia slightly improved the defense and decreased the points allowed from 23.5 per game (21st) to 22.5 per contest (tied for 16th), the overall results declined from 9 wins to 6.
Chicago, on the other hand, enjoyed a division-winning season flush with several postseason awards for players, coaches, and management. Most notably, the Bears improved their scoring average from 17.1 to 26.3 points per game on offense. Supported by a top-three defense, Chicago finished with the fourth-highest scoring differential (+138) in the NFL. Moving forward with incremental and exponential successes from both teams, what could possibly go wrong? Catch-23.
In 2018, season-ending injuries to RB Kerryon Johnson and WR Marvin Jones along with a mid-season trade of Golden Tate crippled the Lions offense and led to a losing record. Attempts to improve the offense for 2019 included hiring a new offensive coordinator and acquiring several skill players. Unfortunately, improving the offense didn’t solve the Lions’ losing ways, as their defense has taken a tremendous step backward. Statistically, Detroit’s defense has: plummeted from tenth to 26th in total yards given up; fallen from 21st to 27th in passing TDs surrendered; and regressed from sixth to 18th in rushing TDs allowed. Currently, their 3-7-1 record and Patricia’s career 33% win rate beg the question...have the Lions actually become worse as a franchise? Catch-23.
During this past offseason, because of the change in defensive coordinators (Fangio to Chuck Pagano), many pundits signaled a regression for the Bears’ highly-rated defense. Instead, Nagy’s offense that was expected to explode under 3rd-year QB Mitch Trubisky has regressed and the Bears’ 5-6 record reflects the unit’s poor play. Even with key injuries on defense, the Bears are performing at a top-ten level on that side of the ball. Conversely, Chicago’s offense is ranked 29th in total yards gained, tied for 25th in passing TDs, and tied for 23rd in rushing TDs. The Bears are averaging a pedestrian 17.1 points per game, down an average of nine points from last year. Publicly, media and the fans are asking if the Bears are “for real” or just a one-season wonder? Catch-23.
Nagy, the expert offensive mind, and Patricia, the scheming defensive intellect, were hired in part to improve those areas on each team. Inexplicably, this year the Bears offense has worsened and the Lions defense has become a sieve.
Another sign of team effectiveness are the hidden yards lost and gained from penalties. In 2018, the Bears accumulated 46 offensive first downs from penalties, ranking first in the NFL. This year they rank 11th, having only acquired 26 first downs caused by the opposing teams’ infractions. Last year, Detroit’s defensive penalties helped other teams get first downs often, tying for 22nd in league. The Lions have gotten worse this season, currently tied at 30th in penalties (31) granting automatic first downs for opponents. Catch-23.
Sometimes the best of us outsmart ourselves with the worst part of ourselves - our pride. Each coach could probably use this season as a self-assessment, or “teaching moment” to learn and adjust going forward. Thursday offers a great opportunity for the Bears to get a head start against an injury-riddled Detroit team by…
● Passing on a Lions’ defense that has only 23 sacks (2.0 per game), tied for 27th in the NFL
● Improving on its 23rd ranked placekicking game (73.7%); kicking indoors should help with that task.
● Defensively shutting down the Lions WR Kenny Golladay, who’s ranked 23rd among wideouts with 72.0 receiving yards per game.
Hopefully, Chicagoans will enjoy Thanksgiving Day football, watching their Bears avoid “catch-23” moments and make things better for themselves by not making them worse.
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