Twitter is such a wonderful tool for sports fans and media alike. It is a place where fans can go to show their undying love for sports teams and star athletes with just a simple tweet, which can be for better or for worse.
Unfortunately, it is also a place for nonsensical takes such as arguing that the 2018 Chicago Bears are destined to become the next Jacksonville Jaguars. In other words, the Bears are doomed for regression and a disappointing 2019 season.
2019 Bears ~ 2018 Jaguars
— Eric Eager 📊🏈 (@PFF_Eric) March 12, 2019
Much more likely the Bears will be worse in 2019 than they were in 2018. It's a near lock. Unsustainable turnover rate and health success. We see it happen every year. Ask the Vikings.
— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) March 14, 2019
After an encouraging 2018 campaign which saw the Bears win 12 games and make the playoffs for the first time since 2010, the numbers, eye test, and common sense suggest the Bears are actually here to stay.
Here’s why the Chicago Bears are undoubtingly not the 2017 Jaguars.
For Starters, the Bears Defense Was Much Better
DVOA, which stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, is an advanced metric meant to contextualize plays within a game to more accurately rank offenses, defenses and teams as a whole.
For example, a three-yard run on third-and-2 is a highly successful play for the offense as it gains a first down, while a three-yard run on second-and-15 is not successful at all and leaves the offense in a difficult third down situation.
By this defensive metric, the 2018 Bears (-25.6 percent) were significantly better than the 2017 Jaguars (-16.2 percent) … Note: Negative numbers are better for a defense.
Even looking at the week-to-week DVOA rankings, the Jaguars never reached as high as -25.6 percent from Week 4 on, which is when DVOA begins to stabilize.
There are, however, defenses in recent years who rate similarly to the Bears and fared quite well the following season.
The 2013 Seattle Seahawks, with new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, had a -25.9 percent DVOA in 2013, which dropped to -16.8 percent in 2014, but was still the No. 1 defense in the NFL.
The 2015 Broncos, with recently hired coordinator Wade Phillips, ranked No. 1 with a -25.8 percent DVOA and fell to -18.3 percent in 2016. But they too remained the league’s top defense.
Will There be Defensive Regression?
The idea that losing Vic Fangio will be the cause of regression, while understandable, is misguided.
Consider that this was the best defense that Fangio has ever coached in his 19 years as a defensive coordinator, based on DVOA rankings. While the defensive scheme certainly plays a role in the success of the defense, the players are ultimately the key component in whether a unit succeeds or not.
The Bears are returning 10 of 11 starters, all of whom will be 30 years old, or younger. Chicago also added Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who has 14 career interceptions, and Buster Skrine, who Matt Nagy labeled as one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league.
New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will most likely implement new, and therefore unscouted, looks — which will prevent the defense from becoming stale.
Perhaps Pagano will never be viewed as a defensive guru the way Fangio was, but in his only year as a defensive coordinator in Baltimore he managed to help the defense improve in almost every facet.
Baltimore’s already talented defense went from sixth to first in DVOA, 11th to second in yards per play, 32nd to third in sack percentage, 15th to second in third-down percentage, 10th to third in scoring percentage, and all while forcing one less turnover than the previous year, proving his system can thrive even without turning the offense over.
Pagano’s niche is coaching the secondary and it is easy to see the impact he had in Baltimore. In 2007, the year prior to Pagano becoming the secondary coach, the Ravens allowed a passer rating of 87.6, ninth worst in the NFL. In 2008, the opponent’s passer rating dropped to a league-best 60.6.
Falsehood of Divisional Opponents Having ‘Down Years’
One of the many things the Jaguars had going for them in 2017 was the absence of two starting quarterbacks on divisional opponents.
With Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck injured, the Jaguars went 4-0 against the Texans and Colts respectively, allowing all of six points per game.
In 2018, instead of facing TJ Yates and Jacoby Brissett, both of the aforementioned franchise quarterbacks returned and the Jaguars went 1-3 against them.
In the NFC North, the Packers offense was still rated seventh best by DVOA and maybe that will improve with a new coach … But by how much?
Kirk Cousins struggled mightily against the Bears both games, including a must-win game in Week 17, and Matthew Stafford failed to do much either.
All in all the 2018 Bears faced Rodgers, Stafford, and Cousins, all arguably top-15 quarterbacks, twice each, which resulted in a 5-1 record. They allowed 18.2 points per game in those divisional contests, which is not far off their season average of 17.7 points per game.
While NFC North teams struggled against Chicago, it is not like the Bears were beating Trevor Siemian, Deshone Kizer or Matt Cassel.
Don’t Overlook the Offenses
The main reason the Jaguars failed to sustain success, and arguably the biggest factor in the Bears maintaining their success in the case the defense does regress, is the progression of the team’s offense.
In 2018, the Jaguars went from fifth in points scored to 31st while also going from sixth in yards to 27th and 16th in offensive DVOA to 30th.
Luckily for the Bears, there are many signs that the offense is ready to take the next step forward. Much of last year was focused on the coaches teaching the offense while the players were learning the offense.
Looking forward to the upcoming year, quarterback Mitch Trubisky will now be able to focus on what the defense is doing in front of him rather than worrying about what his progressions are or if his receivers will even be in the right spot.
Jacksonville outperformed their offensive expectations through unsustainable success as they were tied for 11th in yards per play on offense yet they were sixth in yards.
According to sharpfootballstats.com, Jacksonville was 19th in run success rate and 27th in pass success rate, but they were the fifth best scoring offense which is begging for regression.
Meanwhile, the Bears offense should improve as they were 10th in successful run rate and 14th in successful pass rate, yet 21st in yardage.
Finally, Blake Bortles was in his fourth year with a career-high passer rating of 88.2 and was aided by the leagues most rushing yards despite the team ranking seventh in yards per carry.
The team did little to add to the offense and help Bortles believing they could win in the NFL by running the ball and playing defense while masking Bortles’s flaws, a vastly different strategy from the one Ryan Pace and Nagy are taking.
Conversely Trubisky, only in his second year, had a 95.4 passer rating despite being in his first year of an intensive offense, and he was surrounded by other players and coaches also in their first year of the offense, with a rookie head coach and an offensive coordinator who was new to the NFL.
He also had a lead running back who did not fit the offense especially well, a No. 1 wide receiver who was coming off a torn ACL who he had never thrown to, as well as a rookie receiver who was coming off a foot injury and tore his labrum in Week 3, all on top of being an notoriously inexperienced player coming out of college.
So, yes Bears fans, it is safe to assume that Trubisky’s best quarterbacking is still ahead of him.
For all these reasons it is unlikely the Bears have a similar season to the Jaguars of 2018.
Even in the case that the defense does regress, the continued growth of Trubisky and the offense, as nearly everyone enters their second year, should keep the Bears firmly in the driver’s seat of the NFC North.