Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

22 Nov 2005

Any Given Sunday: Bears over Panthers

by Ned Macey

When two division leaders met in Chicago on Sunday, it was supposed to be a contest between a contender and a pretender. After a convincing 13-3 win by the Bears, Carolina is exposed as a team that has feasted on a weak schedule, and Chicago is starting to believe it has a chance to make noise in the playoffs.

The Bears are clearly among the best defenses in football, but the real story of the game was the incompetence of the supposedly potent Carolina offense. Conventional NFL statistics measure teams in two ways, by yards and by points. By yardage, Carolina has looked like a very average team, but they entered Sunday's game as the fourth highest scoring team in football.

The idea that Carolina was anywhere near the fourth best offense in football is laughable. Carolina's offense features one exceptional player, Steve Smith. Other than Jake Delhomme, the rest of the offense is clearly below average.

Points scored is a poor measure of the skill of an offense because it does not take into account special teams or, more importantly in Carolina's case, a stout defense that creates turnovers. With short fields to work with, the Panthers have managed to score a good deal more points than they would with an average defense.

Our advanced statistics (which are explained in depth here) try to take out the bias of points by measuring each play compared to the league average. DVOA gives most of the credit for a score on a drive starting in the opponent's territory to the defense. By this measure, Carolina entered last week's game as the 17th best offense in the league.

The major concern is the complete absence of a credible running game. When the Panthers made the Super Bowl two seasons ago, it was largely thanks to a running game that featured the powerful Stephen Davis and the shifty DeShaun Foster. Carolina has never had a good running game this season, however, and the broken-down status of Davis has only exacerbated the issue.

Two years ago, the Panthers ranked 22nd in the league in rushing DVOA, while this year they have fallen to 30th. In 2003, Davis was above average according to DVOA and thanks to a heavy workload was the ninth most productive back in football. Carolina's overall numbers were brought down by DeShaun Foster, who specializes in one yard gains on first down and eight yard runs on third-and-11. This year, Davis has returned following microfracture surgery on his knee at the advanced (for a running back) age of 31. He has lost all effectiveness outside of one-yard touchdown plunges and is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry.

That leaves Foster, who had a classic DeShaun Foster game on Sunday. He had two good runs on the day, eight-yard and seven-yard gains on first down. He padded his rushing stats with a nine-yard run on third-and-16 and a 12-yard gain on third-and-21. On his other four runs, he gained three or fewer yards and converted zero first downs. Foster has developed into a useful receiver this year, but between his inconsistent running and Davis a glorified goal line back, Carolina has no running game.

Without a running game, all the pressure falls on Jake Delhomme, who when he is not throwing to Steve Smith is a poor quarterback. As I have documented before, Delhomme is a turnover machine. That was apparent on Sunday when Delhomme threw two terrible interceptions in the first half. The Bears returned both deep into Carolina territory and converted them into 10 of their 13 points.

Delhomme seems capable only of throwing to Steve Smith. When forced to his second option he struggles mightily. The Bears were aware of Delhomme's tendencies to lock on his first receiver, and when they covered him, Delhomme forced passes. After the two early interceptions, Delhomme began holding the ball when confused and was sacked an amazing eight times, all by defensive linemen. Avoiding sacks was one of Delhomme's primary strengths going into this game. After the early picks, however, Delhomme seemed flustered if his primary read was covered and held the ball too long.

On Sunday, Chicago held Smith to the quietest 14-catch, 169-yard game in history. Smith caught 14 of 20 passes intended for him, an impressive rate, but many of the passes were underneath. On eight of Smith's receptions, he gained seven yards or fewer, and only one of those was good for a first down. The Panthers have become so desperate to get Smith the ball that they are forcing him balls that even the amazing Smith cannot turn into big plays. Smith did have an excellent game, and he has been the best receiver in football this year. The Bears were able to control the damage, however, allowing him only two completions of 20 or more yards.

Carolina's offense may have holes, but its total domination by Chicago cemented the Bears as the best defense in football. What is so impressive about the Bears defense is that it is a balanced unit with absolutely no holes. The Bears rank first in DVOA against both the run and the pass. Their linebacking corps, with superstar Brian Urlacher and the very steady Lance Briggs, deserves the plaudits it receives.

Against Carolina the defensive line stole the spotlight with the aforementioned sacks, but the key was the strong play by the secondary. Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher form what may be the best pair of young cornerbacks in the league. Tillman emerged as a surprise star his rookie season out of Louisiana-Lafayette. After a sophomore slump, he has returned to a solid level of play. Vasher has taken over as the starter on the other side and excelled with solid coverage and a propensity for big plays. He not only picked off Delhomme twice on Sunday but also forced a fumble by Smith. Meanwhile, Jerry Azumah has assumed Vasher's old role as nickel back and has dominated opposing third receivers.

The Bears cornerbacks have been solid, but the key to their pass defense may be their safeties. The safeties have combined with the athletic linebackers to eliminate opposing running backs and tight ends as viable options. Safety Mike Brown has returned from missing most of the 2004 season to control the middle of the field and rookie Chris Harris has been as impressive as a fifth-round rookie can be.

Putting this whole unit together is Lovie Smith, one of the least-appreciated defensive minds in football. After working for Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay, Smith led the St. Louis defense from 2001 to 2003. Here is a chart of St. Louis's defensive DVOA from 2000 through 2004, the year Smith took over as head coach in Chicago. Remember, a negative DVOA means a better defense. (The years with Smith are highlighted.)

Rams Defensive DVOA
Year DVOA Rank
2000 11.9% 26
2001 -20.8% 3
2002 -5.1% 9
2003 -14.0% 6
2004 21.0% 30

In Smith's first year at the helm in Chicago, he oversaw a team that lost Brown for 10 games and Urlacher for seven and still improved from 17th to 12th in defensive DVOA. This year, with his team fully healthy, the Bears rank first in the league. Smith is rarely mentioned among the great defensive minds in football, but it is becoming very hard to argue with his results.

Both teams enter the home stretch with 7-3 records. If the playoffs started today, the Bears would actually have the number two seed and a first round bye thanks to their 6-1 record in the conference. According to DVOA, the Bears have moved into the top 10 overall and now rank ahead of the Panthers.

Still, the Bears face two major obstacles in their final playoff push. First, they have a difficult schedule the rest of the season. They close with four of their final six games on the road and play three teams with winning records. A win at Tampa Bay this weekend, however, will make them serious contenders for a first round bye.

The bigger problem is the abysmal play they have received from rookie Kyle Orton at quarterback. Because the Bears are winning, most people think Orton has developed into a competent game manager. In reality, he is among the worst starting quarterbacks in football. Playing behind a solid offensive line with a potent run offense, he is completing only 55 percent of his passes for an anemic 5.26 yards per attempt. Despite mainstream media reports that Orton is playing safe football, he has thrown 11 interceptions and fumbled eight times.

DPAR is a statistic that measures how many points a player has added above a replacement level player. Orton has an abysmal -26.3 DPAR, second worst in the league. His DVOA of -38.4 percent ranks 38th of the 41 quarterbacks who have attempted 80 passes. The lowest DVOA of any quarterback to start a playoff game since 1998 is the -23.8 percent, posted by Anthony Wright in 2003. Orton is only a rooke, but at this point in his career, he is not ready to be a starting quarterback. The three scoring drives against Carolina totaled 55 yards, and he threw an interception deep in Carolina territory on Chicago's most impressive drive.

Rex Grossman returns from injury in the next several weeks. Lovie Smith moved to avoid a quarterback controversy by declaring Orton the quarterback for the rest of the season. Grossman may be entirely unproven, but could he possibly be worse than Orton has been?

Carolina is in a dogfight for the competitive NFC South. With only three of their first ten games against teams with winning records, they should have built a lead by this point. With three games left against Atlanta or Tampa Bay, they certainly control their own destiny. Unfortunately, they also have a game against Dallas and a road game in Buffalo. The only apparent gimme on their schedule is a game against a New Orleans team that has beaten them twice in a row. If the Panthers do make the playoffs, it will be because their exceptional defense carries a very flawed offense.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the biggest upset of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these upsets as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 22 Nov 2005

57 comments, Last at 28 Nov 2005, 4:14pm by squintsp

Comments

1
by james (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 1:56pm

Ned,
I pretty much said the same things(though not as elequently) before the game and was laughed off of more than one site. This site "gets it". Selfishly, I hope not many others catch on. I seem like a genius when really I rely on FO to reinforce my assumptions. Keep up the good work please.

2
by NFC Central Freak (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:04pm

Ned:

Thanks for checking out the Bears.

Chicago has MULTIPLE players on defense who nobody knows about. Lance Briggs at linebacker. Pretty much the entire defensive line. I personally think that Mike Brown is about the sixth best player on the defense.

Vasher cannot be lauded too much for those INTs on Sunday. Those were two TERRIBLE passes.

I will continue to write it but I was never more wrong about a guy than Tommie Harris. I loathe drafting intellectually challenged players for the basic reason that the ability to LEARN is key to getting better. How can you adapt if you can't learn?

But Harris is brighter than what I believed or was told. My sources as well as observation told me this guy was a box of rocks.

Not the case. At least not in a football sense. Harris has been very solid at the point.

3
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:05pm

Great analysis, and a couple of comments. In 2003, Smith had a huge breakout year for Carolina. Then last season, with Smith hurt, Muhammed has a huge breakout year. Then this year Muhammed is gone and Smith is back to catch 10 balls for 100 yards every game. Sure seems like Jake Delhomme is only capable of seeing one receiver on any play, as mentioned in the piece. Surely a good playoff defense will shut this offense down.

Lastly, is this too early to re-open a discussion on Chicago's inability to sign a competent backup QB in the offseason? They made this mistake before last season, and then have repeated it this year. I think Chicago is a Superbowl quality team with an experienced, competent veteran at QB (eg. a Brad Johnson type)

4
by John (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:08pm

Orton may not be particularly good, but is he really that bad? What happens to his DPAR if you were, for example, to credit him with completions for the passes that his receivers flat-out dropped against Carolina?

5
by lafcadio (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:09pm

How can a win at home by a division leader be an upset ?

However, nice work.

6
by TomC (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:13pm

When Vegas says Carolina -3.

7
by Nate (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:14pm

I would have loved to have Brad Johnson or Gus Frerotte on the roster.
Ned didn't note this in the write-up, but although Orton has had some hideous games, the Carolina game wasn't one of them. Muhsin and TE Desmond Clark dropped a bunch of balls (the interception, although not well thrown, was catchable and hit Muhammed in the hands), and some of those catches were quite signifcant (a TD pass, and a couple third down conversions just outside of field goal range).Our receivers suck, basically.

8
by Independent George (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:15pm

Ok, wild speculation alert:

How David Carr would do with the Bears? At this point, I think he's damaged goods in Houston, but Chicago might be a good situation for him. The Texans really doesn't benefit from winning the Reggie Bush sweepstakes - would they be willing to deal and start fresh with Leinart? I can see David Carr as a backup, slowly recovering on the bench from post-traumatic stress disorder until Grossman sneezes too hard and pinches a nerve in his neck.

9
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:18pm

Re #3: Well, they have Rex Grossman. As far as backup QBs go, he's certainly not a downgrade from the starter.

Re #4: I'm sure accounting for dropped passes would improve Orton's ranking, but what if you credited ALL the QBs for dropped passes? Are the Bears the only team in the NFL with a case of the dropsies? And even if it moves him from 38th to 30th, isn't he still a huge liability to a Chicago team that's trying to make a case for being the second best team in the entire NFC?

10
by Nate (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:21pm

Another point - I love the statistic showing St. Louis' defense before and after the Lovie Smith era.

11
by pawnking (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:22pm

You show the defenses ability to shutdown #1, #2, and #3 WRs and RBs on throwing plays. Can you also show a metric of QBs DVOA to their #1, 2, etc? This would mathematically prove your point, and would give important clues to matchups in the coming weeks.

If I had seen a stat like Delhomme is +50 DVOA with his #1 WR, and -50 to all other WRS, and was facing a defense who can shutdown one WR but not more (Pittsburgh is a good example of this), then I'd expect that defense to perform better than anticipated.

How about it?

12
by NFC Central Freak (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:23pm

John:

He isn't dreadful, but nor is he the savvy rookie the talking heads are making him out to be.

Something to keep in mind is that the Bears coaching staff has clearly stripped down the offense to simplify things for Orton. Lovie has decided, quite sensibly I might add, that with this defense and a semblance of a running game why invite the risk of giving the opponent good field position? So Orton either dinks or when he goes downfield it's to MM who can be trusted to either make the catch or keep anyone else from making it.

I know folks have attacked me for being overly negative or not appreciating Orton's "progress". But I have watched this young man now for four years, and the improvement is incremental. Again and again and again I will write he has the PHYSICAL skills for the position. But I am puzzled by his very flat learning curve. Without the VERY clear specific instructions from the Bears coaching staff I am sadly confident that the interception total would be much higher.

My fellow Bears fans bemoan the 3 yard pass on 3rd and 5 but Orton has his orders. And in this instance he is doing what he is told.

Tiller gave Kyle more freedom at Purdue and some games would blow up as Orton would fail to recognize coverages or anticipate that which was not there.

And getting smacked clearly rattles him as it did in college. Nobody likes to get hit but Orton seems to lose focus for several plays after taking a lick.

Not uncommon but still disappointing.

Eventually the Bears will need him to make a series of plays to win a game. It is to be hoped that by then the small confidence builders the coaching staff has made available to him will pay off in the order of scoring drive when times look tough.

Until then, GO DEFENSE!

13
by John (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:31pm

#9: Good point--in fact, it would probably be worthwhile to incorporate dropped passes into *every* QB's DPAR. If we're trying to establish an independent metric for QBs in the NFL, shouldn't the ability of the receivers be accounted for?

14
by Jerry P. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:44pm

"When Vegas says Carolina -3"

Vegas also said Arizona was a 9.5 point underdog on the road against St. Louis...and they won.

Vegas also said Oakland was a 6 point underdog after flying across the country to play in Washington D.C....and they won.

Vegas also said Tampa Bay was a 6 point underdog on the road against Atlanta...and they won.

Vegas also said Baltimore was a 4 point underdog at home against division leading Pittsburgh...and they won.

Ned's writing is definitely improving week to week and this particular article is very good but the choices of games for these articles almost seems to be driven more by who FO would like to write about than what team actually had the biggest upset.

I mean we talked about the NFC West home field advantage and then Arizona of all teams beats St. Louis on the road. We talked about Baltimore fans selling tickets on eBay to Pittsburgh fans then the Ravens actually win. Aaron writes a game preview where he picks Atlanta and Tampa to split their series with the home team winning each game then Tampa wins in Atlanta. Oakland somehow "upset" Buffalo at home but then goes transcontinental and beats a team projected on this site to have a very good shot at their division crown or at least a Wildcard spot and it's somehow not AGS worthy.

It looks like all the games I mentioned were ignored because FO needed a reason to fawn over the Bears defense.

In the interest of constructive criticism I'll offer again what I've said before. Don't feel the need to pick one game per week to write about. If a week goes by and there aren't major upsets worth writing about then revisit weeks like this where there are multiple games to choose from.

15
by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:48pm

#13

Problem is, it's not just dropped passes that cause a QB's quality to be affected by his WR's. The route running ability of the WR's is just as important as their ability to hold onto the ball.

16
by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:51pm

Another great piece.
I remember reading in a recent Lenny P article on ESPN that the Bears front office had done a great job making the D salary cap friendly for the next few seasons. (I did try and find it to link to, but couldn't).

If that is the case, the Bears will well set, as I believe that this is a young D. I'm sure NFCCF, Nate and the other Bears fans here clarify this, but aren't Mike Brown, 'Wale Ogunleye and Urlacher the oldest starters for the Bears D?
As good as they might be now, how much better could they become in 2-3 seasons, assuming that they remain a unit?

17
by Bowman (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 2:52pm

It's a bit of a nitpick, but the link showing that the "Bears rank first in DVOA against both the run and the past" shows the Bears ranking 3rd and 4th. Are you telling us the new #1 team ahead of schedule? (Not like it is any surprise; even if Jax would have shut out Tenn, the opponent's adjustment would have knocked them out of 1st.)

18
by calig23 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 3:15pm

Re:#14

Yes, there were bigger upsets, but I think their choice of this game was probably the right one. Sure, Arizona was a huge underdog against the Rams- but both teams stink, so who really cares? Oakland and Washington are both fairly mediocre, so it's a similar situation. Tampa/Atlanta might have been a good choice, but the GB/Atl game was done last week, and doing Atlanta again may have seemed like Macey/FO were trying to really rub it in Atlanta fans faces after the stuff that has gone on recently here. Baltimore/Pittsburgh would have been a good choice.... until one considers the fact that Tommy Maddox was at QB. The Steelers with Maddox aren't a good team, so it was barely an upset.

Thus, Chicago/Carolina is the best matchup here. Two good teams, no Maddox factor, and no pissed off fan factor.

19
by urge (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 3:18pm

"After a convincing 13-3 win by the Bears, Carolina is exposed as a team that has feasted on a weak schedule,..."
The same could be said for the Bears. Chicago lost both of the games they played against highly ranked teams by DVOA while Carolina played 3 teams that are mid level or better and went 2-1.
"When two division leaders met in Chicago on Sunday, it was supposed to be a contest between a contender and a pretender."
I'm confused, the inference here (the point of the article) is that Carolina is the pretender but in your mid-season projections you say...
"And yet, if the projection system is to be believed, the Panthers are about to run away from the Falcons. The numbers say that Carolina will have the best defense in football over the last eight weeks, and the offense will improve significantly as well. In this week's power rankings, I was somewhat skeptical of the Carolina bandwagon, but it turns out our projection system is pushing out 1.21 gigawatts of pure bandwagon power.

Carolina has great numbers when it comes to a number of important trends. Teams that have played better in the last few weeks are likely to continue to play better in the second half. Carolina qualifies on both offense and defense. Teams that haven't been as good this year as they were last year are likely to get better in the second half. Carolina qualifies on both offense and defense. Offenses that are successful converting third downs with the pass are more likely to be good in the second half than offenses that are successful converting third downs with the run. Carolina qualifies. A good defense against the run is more likely to carry over into the second half of the year than a good defense against the pass. Carolina qualifies."
Carolina ranks 17th on offense/8th pass offense/30th run offense and Chicago ranks 29th on offense/30th pass offense/11th run offense.
On defense Carolina is ranked 5th/10th pass defense/5th run defense and Chicago is ranked 2nd on offense/4th pass defense/3rd run defense(thru week 10). I'm sensing a little bias in this article (is Ned Macey perhaps a Bears fan?) I am not trying to start anything, while I like the Bears this year I live just down the road from Aaron (I grew up in mahgnimarf) and I am a Pats fan.

20
by NFC Central Freak (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 3:35pm

James:

Mike Brown is the "old man" of the defense at 27.

Ogunleye's birthdate is somewhat unknown. He could be older than Brown by a year or two.

Eat your hearts out cheeseheads! Da Bears are going to be around for a while. :)

21
by Jerry P. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 4:09pm

So let me get this straight. No matter what happens Arizona is not worthy of praise because they suck? Can't say I disagree with that theme on this site. By the way, I love the automatic "Arizona sucks so who cares" response on this site. It really goes well with constant opining about the dogshit Lions.

Next, Oakland and Washington are unworthy even though Washington is expected to go to the playoffs by this site's own metrics. Also, how do explain Oakland over Buffalo as an Any Given Sunday article? Surely Oakland and Buffalo combined are more unworthy than Oakland and Washington? And Oakland was at home for that game. And favored by the Vegas line. But wait, didn't this article basically conclude that Carolina is just a mediocre team? And isn't the consensus here that despite the Bears defense being good the offense makes them only mediocre and they aren't likely to go deep into the playoffs? How are Carolina and Chicago better choices than Washington here in terms of not being mediocre?

We can't have Tampa Bay over Atlanta because FO is scared of riling up the Atlanta fans? That's just weak. Please note I know this may not be the official FO reason, but if it is, it's weak. But wait, isn't this the THIRD Any Given Sunday where the Panthers have been victims? Shouldn't we be afraid of rubbing it in Panthers' fans faces', especially with more Foster jokes like we had in 2003? And after being in Any Given Sunday twice on the receiving end, why was it surprising Carolina lost when they were favored? On the road.

As for Baltimore and Pittsburgh, let me see if I can sort this out. Carolina was upset by Chicago because the oddsmakers favored Carolina by 3 and the oddsmakers know what they are talking about (this is #6's entire argument, which prompted my response). But then the oddsmakers didn't know what they were talking about when they favored Pittsburgh by 4 even though they knew Roethlisberger wouldn't be playing? Ok.

So we have;

A who cares they suck.
A who cares they are both mediocre. (even though the same could be said about the Bears and Panthers)
A we're afraid of offending Atlanta. (which might be the first time that's happened since 1865)
And an oddsmakers don't know what they are talking about.

Doesn't the fact that your argument is basically "This is the game we want to talk about the most despite it admittedly not being the biggest upset." back up my claim that this article was written because it was a good excuse to expound about the virtues of the Bears defense and not which game was the biggest upset?

I thought these articles were supposed to cover the biggest shock on the scoreboard, which Arizona putting up 22 in the 4th quarter on the road qualifies as, not "which upset featured the unit or player we'd like to talk about the most."

I have no problem admitting I'm a Cardinals fan and I'm willing to deal with the "Who cares it's the Cardinals" mentality from people who post here, the lack of effort in most instances of analysis, and the endless cheapshots but it's incredibly disappointing to see the one chance my team has at being portrayed in a positive light is flushed down the toilet because FO needs to gush about the Bears defense when at any time, for no reason other than the sheer folly of it, FO can write an article about how awesome the Bears defense is.

But thank you for reaffirming by belief that many external factors are at work in selecting these games besides what was actually the most socking defeat. Maybe I'm just confused about the purpose of the articles.

22
by ABW (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 4:22pm

Damn people, you want an article about the Cardinals or the Falcons or whoever, write one up, send it in to Aaron and see if he'll take it as a guest article. Or you could even start up your very own website and then nothing would be on it except what you wanted.

It was a fine article. If Ned thinks that the Panthers-Bears game had the most interesting stuff to write about, then it's his right to write about it. If you disagree with his analysis, fine, but whining about what he decided to write HIS article about is pretty lame.

23
by Chris I. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 4:25pm

Re: Orton --

While his stats may not really show it, he is a big improvement on the Quinn/Krenzel/Hutchinson three-headed monster the Bears used most of last season. His biggest problem is his horrible accuracy on any throw longer than about 20 yards. As other commenters have pointed out, he actually played well against Carolina, but Muhsin Muhammad seemed to be tight playing against his former team and had probably his worst game of the year.

The thing that bothered me about the game was offensive coordinator Ron Turner's questionable play-calling. Despite having a very good running game and a rookie QB, the Bears passed on 13 of their first 19 plays of the game.

Then, in the third quarter on 3rd-and-1 from the Carolina 27, they call for a 3-yard pass that is intercepted. It was infuriating to see a pass called there when Adrian Peterson (who is averaging 6.1 yds/carry and deserves more playing time) had just gashed the Panthers' defense for 37 yards on four carries during that drive. I can't stand it when coaches try to get cute by going away from a strength in order to "trick" the opponent. Run the damn ball until they prove they can stop you!

24
by Sara (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 4:32pm

All of us Panthers fans who've actually been paying attention knew this would be a rough game. I didn't think it'd be THAT rough, but still.

It was nice to see Muhammed dropping passes again. Just like old times.

25
by admin :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 4:33pm

Hey folks. Two answers to questions here.

First, when Ned came up with the idea for Any Given Sunday, the idea was always that we would use the column to analyze teams which were considered playoff contenders. It was only natural that, later in the season, we would pick a game that was not just an upset but also said some interesting things about two teams that will probably make the postseason. "Biggest upset" is not the only criteria.

Second, Ned is stuck linking to pages that have not yet been updated because it takes me a long time to write the FOX commentary, put the tables together, put up the HTML, and so forth. The choice is either get this article in mid-morning with some links to last week's numbers, or wait until late in the afternoon when the ratings are finished and online.

26
by Reinhard (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 4:47pm

Orton has 17 completions 20+ yards. Carr has 11. Orton has 1 40+ and Carr has none. Orton led the Bears on a 99 yard scoring drive this season... how many rookie quarterbacks have done that in the last year? He is not good. He is not a rookie sensation, but he plays well enough that opponents can't stack the box and take away the run. Even the Bears defence can't win if the offence can't run or pass. Just like a run up the middle might not net much for a particular offense, a pass may not net much for the Bears. But it helps keep up the variety in the offense in a way I think.
--
Orton has ten starts. His first three: 1-2, 1 TD, 6 int. Since then the Bears are 6-1, Orton is 7-5. The pick in the Carolina game was not a good throw, but the interception was not his fault. Chicago threw for 9 TD's all of last SEASON. So there are reasons why people like him...

27
by emcee fleshy (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 4:52pm

(sn)An Outrage! You would think that for what readers pay for this site, they would get custom analysis both before, during and after games for whatever teams they want! I demand double my money back!
(/sn)

As an ATL fan, this knowledge about the Panthers is quite comforting. Sure, we have three games left against the division leaders, but one of them is just as over-rated as we are!

That said, I think this week's quality performance in a loss might bring the falc's expected wins and actual wins about half a point closer together.

28
by Jerry P. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 5:05pm

Since #22 is directed at me I'll respond. In the end I expect the Cards to get shafted, so it's not like I expected him to write about it. If you'd actually read my first response you'd see it was prompted by the claim this was an upset because Vegas said so. I pointed out that Vegas said four other games were bigger upsets. The response to that is basically "who cares about the other teams" or "they are mediocre." First, I care. Second, the Bears and Panthers are mediocre so that's a pretty lame excuse. Sorry for including reasons why I thought those excuses were lame. What I meant to say was "What are you, drunk?" I don't know how those thought out responses crept in there.

About making my own site. You could say that about any single criticism on this site. I know Aaron doesn't like complaints without suggestions. So I gave one. I held up my end. I own a domain and some web servers, I certainly could host my own Cardinals website. But I don't get to see the games because I can't afford Sunday Ticket. I also don't have access to the stats the writers here do. Which is why I was thrilled at the possibility of my team, you know, getting some credit just once.

In the end, my original post was challenging the assertion this is an upset because Vegas said so by 3 points, even though other teams were bigger underdogs. I noticed no one's countered that. Instead I got the standard they suck or no one cares about them which I thought this site was above but I guess I am coming to understand it's not.

If Ned or Aaron or whomever at FO just said "Look, we took this as an opportunity to write about the Bears defense without having to write an extra article because we are like really busy", I'd be fine with that. But even the teaser on the front page admits this is a pundit upset, on a website that was started because pundits are idiots. I think there was a certain "even the mainstream media is noticing the Bears defense and hey we haven't talked about them since late September so we better get an article out" factor going on here. If I'm wrong, Ned or Aaron will call me on it.

To be clear, I'm not whining about the fact the Cards didn't get an article, I don't expect them to ever get good coverage here, even if they get good. But what I do expect (and am whining about) is the readership to have better arguments for why four other games weren't really that big of a deal when compared to a "pundit upset". I hope you can see the difference.

And lastly, FO is getting more complaints because they are saying one thing and doing another. I have no problems with moving Indy up to #1 last week. But don't brag that you only list objectively then list subjectively. It's an insult to readers who have basic reading comprehension that can see those two things are diametrically opposed. And saying once the system is "fixed" they'd be #1 doesn't cut it because the system is the system, not what you want the system to become (because that may not even be possible). Along those lines, if Ned thinks Panthers-Bears is the most interesting game to write about (and that's certainly his right) then don't name the article "Any Given Sunday" and claim it highlights the biggest upset of the week. Name it "Ned's Most Interesting Game of the Week Where the Team Favored by Vegas Lost" and call it what it is, the one of on average 4 upsets against the spread that happen every week that happens to be the most interesting to Ned.

All this because I challenged Bears +3 as being the automatic major upset. By the way, great article Ned, horrible title.

Apologies to all Bears fans like NFCCF for distracting from your teams moment in the FO spotlight, it was not my intention. So feel free to call me a whiny Cards fans or whatever, I won't respond and further distract from this articles point. (Plus I am leaving for Thanksgiving in a few hours and won't have Internet to respond anyway)

29
by CJ (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 5:14pm

I think Jerry P. is still smarting from the 134 yards that Brock Forsey hung on the Cards when he was a Bear.

30
by JG (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 6:14pm

Man, what ever happened to Brock Forsey? He coulda been starting for the Packers by like week 6. I kinda liked the guy.

31
by brasilbear (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 6:34pm

Sorry Jerry, it was the biggest upset with playoff implications. You have the Bears at 6-3 projected to win 3-5 games by everyone. They have haven't beat a single team with a winning record and most likely have been playing over their heads. On the other side you have a team many picked to be the NFC team in the Super Bowl . Yet you still want to read about the Raiders(out)/Washington(in free fall) or Rams(out)/Cards(never in)? Why?

32
by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 6:35pm

I won't respond to all of the above, but even as a Ravens fan, I would have found an AGS on Sunday's game useless.

Yes, it was an upset, to some, even a bigger upset than the Bears' win. But to analyze an upset win against a team starting a third-stringer, albeit one with all the compelling visuals of a multi-car pileup in the Fort McHenry Tunnel, is a waste of Ned's time and resources.

Yes, the Ravens beat one of the best teams in the AFC. This happened for three reasons:

As mentioned after the Halloween dogfight on MNF, these two teams know each other too well for one to dominate the other.

Tommy Maddox is not currently capable of playing quarterback in the NFL. Will covers the possible reasons why in Black & Blue; any further speculation is redundant at best. Why Cowher played him is Pitt's version of "Why is Jamal Lewis still getting as many carries?"

Kyle Boller is not many things, but he is a better quarterback than Anthony Wright.

Now if Ned publishes this, the thread gets no response and there's just a waste of space. Bears-Panthers was by far the more interesting game; would Arizona have won if Bulger had stayed in? Maybe, but do you hang an article on that? I know that Ravens-Steelers, as pleasing as it is in this lost season, isn't worth all the bandwidth.

33
by Todd S. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 7:06pm

#28 Hey, that Larry Fitzgerald looks like an up and coming star. I like him.

That said, I think you're being unfair with your criticism of the Colts situation. They were not moved to number one-they were only listed differently in the table. "The system" has been tweaked as it has evolved. Aaron has said many times that while this site is looking to "grow up" to eventually be like, for instance, a Bill James handbook, football analysis is still in its infancy relative to baseball. This means that DVOA (etc.) is constantly being looked at to see whether or not it can be improved.

I really think you are generalizing, and in an unfair way, Jerry P. And statements like "Arizona will never get any attention here, even if they're good" are simply immature. On what possible basis can you make that claim?

34
by Dman (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 7:10pm

Gotta love those cards fans calling the lions dogshit. Whats that make your team?

35
by Chris I. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 7:18pm

One other thing about this game that I haven't seen mentioned...

I thought Carolina should have kicked a field goal on 4th down from the Bears' 18 with 58 seconds left. They needed two scores anyway and if they get three points there and recover the onside kick, they still have some time to go for the end zone. Even if they make the first down on that play (instead of getting sacked) and eventually score, they had no time outs left and they might not have even had time score again.

36
by B (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 7:19pm

Every week Ned picks a game to write about, and every week readers post complaints about why thier favorite team wasn't chosen. Here's a thought, maybe Ned picks the games based on which games he thinks he could write an interesting article about. Since I enjoy reading the column, I have to assume he knows what he's doing, but why not involve a poll. Every Sunday at 8pm EST, FO could put a poll of four or so "upsets" and readers get to vote on which one they want to hear a write-up, with the assumption that if the SNF or MNF game turns into a big upset, Ned can select that game instead.

37
by bobman (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 7:19pm

I think Ned missed a key issue when he wonders why Bears' coach Smith is rarely mentioned among the best in teh league: He's named after Mrs. Thurston Howell III.

38
by Independent George (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 7:26pm

I'm telling you... We need an irrational open discussion thread on why FO is clearly biased against their favorite team.

Has anybody else noticed that Steelers and Bears fans seem to be harping on FO for giving them too much credit? Is it that when you've seen great teams in the past, you become that much harder to impress over what's in in front of you? Or is it just that people only flip out over negative comments on their favorite teams?

39
by brasilbear (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 7:37pm

re #38

I actually don't want FO to talk about the Bears at all. Look at what happened to Washington and Atlanta after they were featured in articles.

40
by charles (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 7:43pm

re 39:
what happened to washington and atlanta, when they had good records their dvoa was low, when they started losing games their dvoa went up. so while many a redskins and falcon fan weeped, many a outsider was able to go sound asleep.

41
by charles (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 7:47pm

no really my point is that i was happier when the redskins were overrated but were 3-0, not when the redskins went 2-5 but actually had good dvoa statistics. So ned writing an article about how kyle orton has a crappy dvoa is a good thing. The only way orton will have a high dvoa is if he pads his stats in garbage time, and garbage time means that the bears are getting blown out and have to throw the ball all the time to try and come back.

42
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 8:04pm

Re Jerry P.:

Bears/Panthers is the most relevant upset in the entire NFL. The Bears and Panthers were both leading their respective divisions- which means 8 different fan bases care about what happens to them. Not only that, but the Bears and the Panthers have two of the best record in the NFC, which means every other team vying for the playoffs in the NFC has a stake in the outcome of Chicago/Carolina. No, it may not have been the biggest upset, but it was an upset that has major ramifications for the Bears, the Vikings, the Packers, the Lions, the Panthers, the Falcons, the Buccaneers, the Saints, the Seahawks, the Cowboys, the Giants, and the Redskins. That's 12 teams- or pretty much the entire NFC except for Cards, Rams, Niners, and Eagles.

Meanwhile, the Cards/Rams upset probably only means something to NFC West fans.

In addition, there is a lot surprising about the Bears/Panthers upset. There wasn't that much surprising about Cards/Rams. Everyone knows that the Cards are capable of passing for an extremely large number of yards. Everyone knows that both teams have pretty bad defenses and will probably give up 20+ points. Everyone knows that both teams are pass first and ask questions later. If you had told someone that Bulger was going to get injured halfway through the game, I don't think they'd be that surprised that the Cards won. Which leaves two angles for a Cards/Rams AGS. First is Warner's return to St. Louis, which is an angle that has been beaten to death by the mainstream media. Sure, it was a nice feel-good story that the fans gave him a standing ovation, but it's a feel-good story that I heard elsewhere. The other angle would be the Cards holding Steven Jackson to 6 yards rushing, which was an absolute shock. I would have LOVED to read about the Cards holding Steven Jackson to 6 yards rushing... but that would be the entire article. "Welcome to Any Given Sunday. The Cards held Jackson to 6 yards rushing, and Bulger got injured. St. Louis lost. See you next week."

Meanwhile, I just feel like Chicago and Carolina, beyond appealing to a much larger number of people, had more compelling storylines. Chicago's defense, Steve Smith, Kyle Orton, I just think that there's more there that interests me as a casual fan of the NFC.

For the record, I have no stake in EITHER of the upsets. I'm a Denver fan, an AFC West fan, and an AFC fan, in that order. I really don't care as much about the NFC. I think the upset that was of most interest and most relevant to me would have been Balt over Pitt, since it moved Denver into sole possession of the #2 record in the AFC, and the second most relevant would be Oakland over Washington, both since Denver fans hate Oakland, and because Denver owns Washington's 1st round pick this year. With that said, I have absolutely no interest in reading a Balt/Pitt breakdown, or a Washington/Oakland breakdown. It just doesn't have any good storylines.

43
by little red tractor (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 8:05pm

re 36
wouldn't people just keep requesting the teams they support?

Let's just let Ned do it. We keep coming back don't we? Great site.

44
by Nick H. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 8:34pm

Great article by Ned. I'm a Bucs fan who just moved to Wisconsin, so I've seen all the Bears games this year. They remind me a lot of the '99 Bucs, who had the best defense I've ever seen, and lost to the Rams 11-6 in the NFC title game. Lovie Smith was the LB coach for the '99 Bucs, and has the '05 Bears playing the same Cover 2 with great team speed. Both teams are dominant in all defensive areas, and led by an All-pro vet LB (Urlacher/Hardy Nickerson) with an underrated young LB (Briggs/Derrick Brooks). Sadly for Bears fans, they have the same bad, ball-control offenses led by backup rookie QBS who, while scrappy and fun to root for, just aren't good enough to be successful in the NFL (Orton/Shaun King). Those '99 Bucs were one bad Bert Emanuel call from the Super Bowl, so Bears fans should have some hope, and would surely be satisfied with the Bucs' run of 4 playoff seasons and a Super Bowl. I'd be interested to see DVOA's comparisons of the two teams.

45
by TomC (not verified) :: Tue, 11/22/2005 - 9:27pm

Holy Christ, I never realized that defining "upset" as "underdog beats favorite" would elicit such vitriol.

46
by nick (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 12:36am

if the bears make it deep into the playoffs it will be an exceptional defense that carries a very flawed offense. The panthers played their worst game of the season. they beat themselves. Although some credit can be given to the bears defense, the bears defense is a bit overrated. the panthers offense is a good one. Carolina needs to get their younger running backs more involved in the running game. keary colbert has the potential and rod gardner is a proven reciever. the offensive line will strengthen from this loss. And dont forget about steve smith. look out for the panthers, this loss could be looked at as a fluke after this season is said and done.

47
by thad (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 12:58am

As always, great article.

48
by kleph (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 1:02am

ned.

keep doing your thing man. lots of us think your articles are well done and damned interesting.

49
by John P (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 3:28am

Re #46: Flawed passing game. Not flawed offense. The Bears have an above average running game, especially considering the combination of a no-threat passing game and all the injuries at RB. I agree that Orton is below average. I also think that our receiving corp is a #1 with a bunch of #4 wide outs.

50
by Kaare (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 4:18am

The criticism of Kyle Orton is way overdone; people seem to forget he is a rookie. The Bears are 7-3 and have won six in a row. Check out JP Losman, Alex Smith (total waste of a #1 pick in years, imo, the 49'ers needed a big time running back and an offensive line that can actually block and protect the passer) for comparison.

51
by Ice (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 8:55am

I'm 100% with Jerry P. That doesn't mean I don't like the site (I do), or that I don't like the article (I do). What I find spot-on is his point that he bothered to take the time to explain his criticism, and in response got mostly boorish ad hominem attacks.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

52
by lafcadio (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 9:44am

What about the true chances of the Bears now ? (I mean to go deep in play-offs and eventually reach and win the SB ).

Their passing game is not very good but Rex is coming back.
Their running game is a three-headed monster and can trust its o-line to make holes.

The defense is... The defense is able to keep the team in every game.

It's realistic to think the Bears will win the bye-week, then play the best team coming from the wild-card (Giants ?, Cowboys ?, Panthers ?). They can shutdown the Panthers. They can burry Bledsoe, Barber the third and Jones. They can freeze the G-men at Soldier field.
Ok, they're in NFC championship game facing the Seahawks in Seattle.
Their defense can stop #37 and do you trust Matt "the bold" to save his team by the strength of his arm ? I don't. Jones-peterson-Benson can rush on the Seahawks bodies.
So now they're in Detroit where everybody is speaking about them, comparing them to the team from 20 years ago.
They play the Broncos or the Colts.
The worst match-up for the Bears would be the Broncos, no doubt. Their rushing attack could stay on the field and so tiring the Bears'D, exactly what they planned to do to the Colts...
Will we have a secret Bears 05' team in future Madden ?

53
by B (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 12:57pm

Re 43: weLL, that's why the poll would be of only four games. Besides, what's wrong with reviewing the popular teams? This is, after all, the 3rd or 4th time Carolina has appeared in AGS.

54
by Nelphonious of Pennefielde (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 12:58pm

If teams do not quite fit DVOA,Est. and Pythag. win formulations=Go to the Drive charts.It helped explain the wacky not so obvious strenths of Denver and Carolina in 2004.
For 2005, Carolina and the Bears defensive strenghts, set up the not so potent offenses in great field position, where drives are not given away by turnovers.More Mysteriously the only thing Minnesota does well is get interceptions,and that weapon has won them some games.It's in the Drive charts Brutus.

55
by Jerry (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 6:20pm

Re #32:

Tommy Maddox is not currently capable of playing quarterback in the NFL. Will covers the possible reasons why in Black & Blue; any further speculation is redundant at best. Why Cowher played him is Pitt’s version of “Why is Jamal Lewis still getting as many carries?�

We know why Cowher played Maddox; he was the only healthy QB the Steelers had. As long as Taylor's healthy, the Jamal Lewis question will continue to hang over Billick.

And I'm glad that someone was able to enjoy that game Sunday.

56
by Jerry P. (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2005 - 12:18pm

"Bears/Panthers is the most relevant upset in the entire NFL. The Bears and Panthers were both leading their respective divisions- which means 8 different fan bases care about what happens to them. Not only that, but the Bears and the Panthers have two of the best record in the NFC, which means every other team vying for the playoffs in the NFC has a stake in the outcome of Chicago/Carolina. No, it may not have been the biggest upset, but it was an upset that has major ramifications for the Bears, the Vikings, the Packers, the Lions, the Panthers, the Falcons, the Buccaneers, the Saints, the Seahawks, the Cowboys, the Giants, and the Redskins. That’s 12 teams- or pretty much the entire NFC except for Cards, Rams, Niners, and Eagles.
Meanwhile, the Cards/Rams upset probably only means something to NFC West fans"

Okay, back from Thanksgiving. I keep getting all these responses about why this game was so important and how I somehow feel this is a slight against my team that this game was chosen. Let me try one last time to explain my view. First, I realize the game was important. I understand the NFL playoff system and what that means for teams later in the season. Second, I had this totally crazy idea in my head this series of articles was about major upsets because the term Any Given Sunday is used when talking about games like that, ironically in lieu of trying to explain why a crap team like the Cardinals won. I also had this crazy idea from this;

Welcome to the first edition of Any Given Sunday, an in-depth look at a major upset from the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game. Rather than just attributing these upsets to the nature of the league, these upsets can be used as a tool to learn more about the teams involved. The idea is not to prove the upset should have been expected but simply to explore what subtle aspects of a team can be revealed in a single game on any given Sunday.

That's the intro to the first ever Any Given Sunday article. Note how it specifically mentions "major upset" and note how it never mentions "playoffs" or "playoff contenders". Further, when I questioned before how the 3-3 Bills losing to 1-4 Oakland qualified as an upset (a game where Oakland was actually the favorite) I got this as a response.

"Going into the game, Buffalo was ranked 16th in DVOA and Oakland was ranked 20th. Given that Buffalo was 5th in DVOA a year ago and 2-0 since they subbed out Losman, I think that even if you thought Oakland was going to win this game, you certainly did not expect 38-17. I think this result, if you factor in score, was pretty surprising. Maybe before this game you knew already that Buffalo’s defense was nothing compared to last year, but I was shocked to see them give up 38 points."

Again, no mention of playoffs, just that the result was surprising. Was there anyone who thought this game was between playoff contenders anyway?

So can everyone understand why I thought this series was purely about major upsets?

Next, even if this has playoff implications, which all the other games I mentioned do to, it still wasn't an upset. The only way it was an upset was with the point spread, and like I mentioned the other games had bigger spreads. Beyond that, the intro to the article admits it's a "pundit upset", that the talking heads think it is and given that this site was founded to test the pundits claims, that's a good indication it wasn't really an upset. The article itself reads (and convincingly) like an explanation of why it is, in fact, not an upset. So even under some new definition that I was somehow supposed to be aware of (after all, I took the time to read the original article with accompanying introduction) I still don't see how this qualifies as an upset.

Instead of one single person telling me how it's an upset at all, which was what #5 was asking, and I was seconding, I get a bunch of responses about how it's supposed to be about playoff teams and how if I want articles about the Cardinals to do them myself (I actually expected Raiders over Redskins, which looks important now that Dallas lost). And again, the "it's supposed to be about playoff teams" was a qualifier that from my perspective is straight out of left field. If the intro to the first article had read like Aaron's #25 post here, I would have never even responded in these comments but I probably would have in the Bills/Raiders one because that one still doesn't make any sense.

Now in the end FO can write whatever they want, but the blind defense of the writers when the signals they sent in the past made it seem like my interpretation was correct instead of actual discussion of my points is weak.

Lastly, Kibbles, the Rams sucking it down against the Cards allows Seattle to clinch the West this weekend. Which everyone will be talking about when they choke out in their first playoff game. "Ooh, did clinching too early send the Seahawks into cruise mode..."

But anyway, if anyone can explain to me how I was supposed to know these articles are for playoff contenders based on the two quotes directly from the editor and author, I'm interested in hearing how. That's all I'm trying to say. Quotes affirming what Aaron said in #25 would be appreciated. I suppose most of the action is in other articles now anyways.

57
by squintsp (not verified) :: Mon, 11/28/2005 - 4:14pm

It apparently is rough being a Cardinal fan.