Bear PAWS Week 8: Run game critical against Chargers


I’m pretty sure we can all agree that the Los Angeles Chargers and the Bears are struggling to win games. Both teams are on losing streaks, facing a myriad of questions as to how such talented rosters can appear to be so lost and underwhelming after achieving 12-4 win-loss records last season. “What a difference a year makes,” is probably a truism that best exemplifies each squad at this point.

Good ‘ole truisms - expressed opinions that are universally accepted as “truth,” especially when the majority of people agree on them - are hard to argue or debate. Well, there’s no debating each team currently stinks, so let's utilize P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Stats) to see if either squad can claw its way to victory.

Oddly enough, for all their collective struggles, if you look back to the first seven weeks of 2018 and combine the win-loss results with this year’s initial seven weeks, both teams have a .500 winning percentage. The Chargers were 5-2 last season and are now 2-5 in 2019. Chicago, on the other hand, repeated the same 3-3 record in back to back seasons. Clearly, Los Angeles is not operating at the same efficiency, having only won two games at this point.

Yet, at 3-3, the Bears are trending downward, showing regression at the quarterback position and in play selection. Why? What is different from last year to this season? The simplest answer resides in a loss of identity forged through a consistent running presence.

Currently, both teams are rushing for less than four yards per attempt. The Bears are fifth-worst in the NFL at 3.4 yards per attempt, and the Chargers are seventh-worst at 3.5 yards per attempt. Seven weeks into the season last year, head coach Anthony Lynn had his Chargers humming along at 124.4 rushing yards per game. Meanwhile, Bears head coach Matt Nagy schemed Chicago to 130.7 yards rushing per contest over their first six games played.

Their successful running styles, coupled with efficient passing attacks averaging 250 yards or better per game, propelled them to positive point differentials (Bears at +36, Chargers at +32).

Pathetically, the Chargers’ point differential currently sits at a sad -1, whereas the Bears’ paltry +7 is a significant 25-point drop from the previous year. Only one NFL team has a plus differential with a losing record, and that’s the 3-4 Tennessee Titans. Conversely, the 3-3 Oakland Raiders are the only team with a negative differential (-38) without a losing record.

Nagy and Lynn have a few things in common, like both coaches finishing last season with identical 12-4 records. Each took over 5-11 teams when they were named head coach, and each were former offensive coordinators before accepting their current position. Mysteriously, both head coaches have rushed far less than they did the previous year.

During the first six games in 2018, the Bears averaged 28.7 rush attempts per contest. In their first seven games in 2018, the Chargers rushed an average of 25.4 times per game. This season the Bears are averaging 20.8, while the Chargers, at 21.1 attempts per game, are marginally better.

Confidence in rushing generally coincides with aggressive run plays being called within the red zone. The Eagles’ Jordan Howard (formerly of the Bears) has 16 red zone rush attempts this season. His 16 carries are one more than the Bears have attempted as a team. As a matter of fact, the top running backs from each NFC North team [Vikings - Cook (22); Packers - Jones (17); Lions - Johnson (15)], either tie or exceed the Bears’ collective red zone rush attempts by themselves.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Bears have scored 58 points less in 2019 than they did last year to this point. They're averaging 18.7 points per game, seventh-worst in the league, and the Chargers are 10th-worst in the NFL at 20 points.

The Chargers are 2-5, but their losses have all been by seven points or less. Essentially, Los Angeles is one or two plays away from having a winning record. Since he’s been the head coach, Anthony Lynn has never had a losing season, finishing 9-7 and 12-4 respectively, with a .500 playoff record (1-1). Injured players like Melvin Ingram, Justin Jackson and Keenan Allen will eventually return and help a talented team improve in the win column. Plus, the Chargers still have a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Philip Rivers they can rely on in crunch time.

Despite allowing 60 total points in consecutive losses the past two weeks, the Bears still possess one of the better defensive units in the NFL. Chicago’s defense is first in passing yards allowed per attempt (5.3) and fifth in the league in rushing yards allowed per carry (3.8). Nagy is in exactly the same position record-wise as he and the Bears were last year, so there is still time to make adjustments and win games. Plus, his running game can only improve after last week’s performance of seven measly rush attempts against New Orleans.

The Bears face an injury-riddled Los Angeles team and can take advantage of that by:

●  Running 20+ times (Bears are 3-0 this year when they’ve attempted at least 24 rushes)
●  Aggressively attacking an injury-riddled Chargers defense with a good mixture of run/pass plays
●  Remembering this Shakespearean truism: “ thine own self be true.”

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