Bears vs Lions Preview: Inside the Numbers

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Nov 18, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; A general view outside Ford Field before the game between the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note

Hey Bear Goggles On readers.  We’re auditioning a prospective new writer Trent, who offers this look Inside the Numbers as a preview to the Bears vs Lions Week 4 matchup.  Let us know what you think of his work in the Comments.

This Sunday the Bears (3-0) will take on the division rival Lions (2-1) in the Motor City in a matchup that could have major playoff ramifications by season’s end.  Although the Bears have owned the Lions recently, dropping just one contest intheir last ten meetings, a revamped Detroit squad will look to exploit some notable matchups. Conversely, Chicago hopes to keep the early season success rolling in an effort to pull away from a crowded NFC North. Let’s go inside the numbers, supported by the great analytics from Pro Football Focus.

Sep 22, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) throws a pass during warm-ups against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Much of the Bears’ offensive success should be attributed to a vastly improved Jay Cutler. Through three games, Cutler boasts a 94.50 PFF QB Rating, good for fifth in the league (and one spot ahead of Aaron Rodgers). The PFF QB Rating challenges the traditional QB Rating as a more comprehensive approach to quarterback play.

The traditional tool takes into account completion percentage, average yards per attempt, percentage of touchdown passes, and percentage of interceptions. Meanwhile, in addition to the traditional rating, PFF’s formula takes into account dropped passes, spiked passes, and thrown away passes, along with the work a receiver does after the catch.

In simpler terms, PFF recognizes some situational QB play and gives credit where credit is due, so to speak. Cutler’s aforementioned improvement has lead to an eleven point upswing in PFF QBR from 2012. Further, he has outpaced his 80.78 mark amassed throughout his Bears’ tenure. By comparison, Cutler posted an 88.51 rating in 2008, his last year in Denver before he was jettisoned to Chicago.

Number Six’s stats have improved, due in large part, to Coach Marc Trestman’s quick decision, quick throw, West Coast Offense. While the offseason additions of tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills and guards Matt Slauson and Kyle Long have seemingly helped the offense, the numbers tell a somewhat different story.

In 2012, Cutler had 2.79 seconds to throw (the point until he attempts pass, is sacked, or scrambles past the line of scrimmage), ranking tenth in the NFL. Through three games in 2013, Cutler has 2.71 seconds to throw, 15th in the league. The difference is marginal, yet Cutler has only been sacked three times — a great success considering the Bears have faced notable defensive fronts including Cincinnati, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh. Further credit can be attributed to the new play-calling philosophy when looking at the percentage of dropbacks under pressure per total number of dropbacks. Last year, Cutler was under duress 37.5% of the time he passed and, this year, the number stands at 38%.

Thus, the key to Sunday’s tilt against the Lions will be Cutler’s ability to get the ball out quickly against Detroit’s fearsome front-line. According to Pro Football Focus, Detroit boasts a Top 10 pass rush (8.2 grade), but middling pass coverage (-2.7 grade). Common sense suggests that if the Bears’ O-line can neutralize the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Israel Idonije, Willie Young, and Ezekiel Ansah, and Cutler continues to make quick decisions, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett should carve up the Detroit secondary. However, PFF does not look favorably upon the Bears’ pass protection.