Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Jan 2011

Bears, Packers Must Focus on Three Key Areas

Some stat breakdowns of the NFC Championship Game. Really just an excuse to coin the term "Walden Pond" as an alternative to "Revis Island."

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 19 Jan 2011

10 comments, Last at 20 Jan 2011, 10:10am by TheBearsStillSuck


by Will Allen :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 1:45pm

I haven't looked at the piece yet, but I'd say most games come down to pass rush, pass protection, and qb performance, given how the rules shape the game. Yes, db and wide receiver performance can render pass protection and pass rush less central, but terrible performance in pass rush or pass protection (or the mirror image) tends to render everything else to a very secondary status, unless the qb just stinks the joint out.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 2:01pm

Now, having read the piece, it is certainly the case that a special teams performer like Hester changes a game significantly, and given the status of the Packers coverage units, special teams has a huge chance to affect this game more than is the norm for a conference championship game. The ranking of the Bears defense in third an short doesn't mean much to me, given the Bears' defensive success is predicated on getting the opponent into third and long situations. I suspect that if the Packers have a lot of success on first down, they'll win. My expectation is that they won't, and that Rodgers is going to smacked hard in situations where the Falcons pass rushers missed him. My expectation is for a close, low-scoring game, where the home field and Hester provides the margin for the Bears. The likely wild card, in my view, is whether Cutler throws the game away. If the Packers get the lead, that is more likely to happen.

by beargoggles :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 4:55pm

I tend to agree with your analysis. Home field and ST are enough for Chicago to pull it out. Wild card are the Packer WR hands, which undermined them in several close losses and were an issue in week 17. Tillman seems to be really improving, so if he can keep Jennings under control, that puts pressure on James Jones and the others.

Regarding the 3rd and short, is it just me or does Kuhn actually suck? Seems like they overuse him and he can't get it done. Use the new guy instead, he does fall forward on contact. Maybe QB draw could also be an effective option, as the time left to concussion is shrinking.

BTW, my handle refers to other Bears. I'm rooting for Aaron Rodgers in this one.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 5:03pm

I'm that rare NFL fan who does not automatically dislike the divisional rivals of the team I root for, so I've got nothing against either team. I do like to see the team which is better on the line of scrimmage prevail, so if one team does clearly win that battle, I'd hate to see one of the qbs throw it away, or some other ball handlers screw it up. I just want to see some well played, extremely physical, football.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 6:33pm

It's the kickoffs that are the Packers really big weakness.

They have been a good punting team since week 7. What happened with the punts in week 17 was not a fluke, you punt 8 times to Hester and only allow 35 return yards, that is good. Masthay has won special teams player of the week honors a couple of times. His game vs the Jets (week 8) and Detriot (week 14) were particularly good.

FO stats back it up with the Packers going from worse than -4 on punting to positive 4. If Masthay had kicked the whole year the way he did for the last 10 games the Packers might actually rank in the top 6 on punts.

I'm honestly only mildly worried about Hester on punt returns, which actually worries me more since you should always be worried about Hester. :)

I do agree that Rodgers is likely to get hit and I'm worried it's going to be coming from Tommie Harris (Peppers is going to get him twice too). Which is why I agree the Bears 3rd and short defense and Packers 3rd and short offenses won't matter much. It's the 3rd and 6 or longer offense and defense that will matter.

I actually think that applies going the other way, which is why Cutler has had a tendency to try and lose the games to the Packers the last two years (he has like a 50.1 QB rating and I would imagine negative DYAR) vs the Packers. Actually I'm going to find that out.

2010 . . Cutler . Rodgers
Week 17 . 77 . . . 201
Week 3. . 76 . . . 198
Week 14 . 29 . . . 31
Week 1. . -110 . . 21

Totals. . 72 . . . 451

So I was wrong, Cutler was a bit better last year and better in week 3 than I thought. Those are from the quick reads for each week so not with final opponent adjustments. But Rodgers has always outplayed Cutler and and usually by a wide margin.

The Bears offense changes a lot from 09 to 10, and a lot from week 3 to week 17 this year as well, but the Packers D hasn't changed as much.

Both teams end up in 3rd and long a lot. I worry about the Bears exploiting the Packers weakness with middle of the field passes (I've argued a few times the injuries to Barnett, Chillar, and to a lesser extent Jones and Zombo) have hurt their coverage on tight ends, and running backs, and even slot receivers running over the middle when they are in zone coverages.

If Hawk or Bishop can make a play in coverage that you don't expect things will go much better for the Pack. If the Packers get some unexpected pressure on Cutler (think Raji or Jenkins hitting him when they are only rushing 4) that could be a turning point as well.

I'm still thinking the Packers are going to win a 17-13 game because for some reason I feel McCarthy won't screw up clock management, that Hester will be contained again on punts. The Bears are still going to get their TD after a 40+ kick off return, they'll get a field goal off a short field from a Rodgers interception, and they'll get the other field goal after the Packers have to punt from within the 10. Cutler will throw an int losing them a score. Yep I'm going out on a limb with a detailed prediction. :)

by ammek :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 2:35pm

Now that James Starks has emerged as an all-purpose rushing threat, the Packers are much more effective in short-yardage situations.

Are you sure about that?

In the past three games, the Packers have run the ball a grand total of two times on third down (excluding two unsuccessful Rodgers scrambles). The first time, against Chicago in week 17, John Kuhn was stuffed for a loss of three. Then, against Philadelphia, Kuhn fumbled on third-and-one, although he did recover his fumble for a first down.

Short-yardage runs on other downs haven't been great either. I think Starks has converted 3-of-5 on first- or second-and-short, most notably failing to score from the one-yard line on first down against the Eagles.

By contrast, the Packers have been converting a lot of third-down passes, especially with 5-7 yards to go. I'm not sure this has anything to do with Starks or the supposedly revitalized running game; instead, it's a reversion to the form of 2008-09, when the Packers had a ridiculous DVOA on passing downs. During the 2010 regular season, they weren't so hot.

Which reminds me: how has 2010 played out for last year's third-down offensive superteams? In the Almanac, Aaron talked lengthily about third-down offense being a better predictor of following season DVOA than overall offense over the last few years, and wondered whether this was an outlier or a trend. Answer?

by Jay Z (not verified) :: Thu, 01/20/2011 - 12:13am

I expect Rodgers to get sacked; he gets sacked at some point by most every team. I also expect Cutler to get sacked several times. The Bears have scored a fair number of points in the second half of the season, but in this game they'll likely be dependent on field position, not big plays, for their points. IMHO.

by bottomline (not verified) :: Thu, 01/20/2011 - 2:40am

Heres the deal... take all of the analytics and place directly into garbage. One stat is all you need for this game. Points off turnovers. Leader in that department wins the game.

by Jerry :: Thu, 01/20/2011 - 4:19am

You're overthinking it. Take "off turnovers" out of your post.

by TheBearsStillSuck (not verified) :: Thu, 01/20/2011 - 10:10am

Rodgers is 4-2 versus the Bears winning by 34, 6, 7 & 7. Both losses were by three points and the bears blocked a FG. So all the Packers have to do is not have a FG blocked.