Commitment To Run Key To Breaking Bears On 3rd Down

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 7, 2012 – 7:31 am

When it comes to the battle on 3rd down between the Vikings offense and the Bears defense, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that the Vikings rank just 23rd in 3rd-down offense (35.5%) and the Bears rank 3rd in 3rd-down defense (34.4%). The good news, though, is that the Vikings can flip that stat around on Sunday by using their dominant rushing attack.

The Bears yield 4+ yards on 1st down rushes at a 47.7% clip this year, which ranks 26th in the NFL. Given that stat, it’s unusual that the Bears would have such a good 3rd-down defense. You’d think that facing 2nd-and-6 or less nearly half the time would lead to much success on 3rd down against the Bears. Here’s the problem: teams don’t stay committed to the run against this Bears defense.

On 2nd downs against the Bears this season, opponents have passed the ball 62.1% of the time; they’ve called 148 passes compared to just 90 rushes. And while the Bears are one of the NFL’s worst 1st-down rushing defenses, they are one of the NFL’s top 2nd-down passing defenses. The Bears have yielded just a 67.1 passer rating on 2nd down, 3rd-best in the NFL, and they are 1st in the NFL with 8 INTs on 2nd down. What this means is that teams get ahead of schedule in the down-and-distance on 1st down via the ground game, but then they go to the air on 2nd down, which allows the Bears defense to catch up and, more times than not, put the opposing offense in 3rd-and-long.

In total, the Bears defense has faced the 3rd-fewest rushes in the NFL. Teams run the ball against the Bears 23.25 times per game. In contrast, the Vikings average 28 carries per game.

Long story longer, Chicago has one of the NFL’s best defenses, on any down. They lead the NFL in takeaways with 34, they are 2nd in scoring defense, they have a top 10 defense against the run and the pass, and they rank 5th in total defense. But the numbers above illustrate that teams haven’t challenged them by staying committed to the run. The Vikings have the best RB in the NFL and the League’s 3rd-ranked run game. If any team can challenge this Bears defense on the ground it’s the Vikings.

It will be interesting to see if that’s what the Vikings do on Sunday when the Bears visit Mall of America Field.

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