Only one NFL defense has allowed more yards than the Chicago Bears. Opponents are averaging 24.5 points and 21 first downs per game, both of which rank in the bottom third of the league.
Those numbers are drawing some double-takes both around the NFL and in Chicago, where the Bears assumed their defense would pick up where it left off after last season's NFC North title. Even general manager Jerry Angelo admitted he was "depressed" last Sunday after the Carolina Panthers ran up 543 yards in a 34-29 Bears victory.
Obviously the Bears won't win many games when an opponent piles up that many yards. Sunday probably would have been a loss were it not for a pair of Devin Hester kick returns and cornerback D.J. Moore's interception return for a score.
But I don't find myself in a panic quite yet about the Bears defense. Angelo told the team's website that he isn't "as depressed" upon further review, and I agree that there are several important contextual aspects to at least consider.
First, as discussed in the video below, the Bears offense has put the defense in a pretty tough spot. The Bears have run the second-fewest number of plays (228) in the NFL and have the fourth-lowest average time of possession per game (26 minutes, 32 seconds).
Those figures alone don't necessarily explain away the Bears' defensive performance, but they do illustrate the disproportionate bind its been put in.
Second, it's only fair to point out that the Bears have faced three of the top five offenses in the league this season, based on total yards. The Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers have been gashing everyone this season. Again, that doesn't excuse the Bears but it does put their performance in a different light.
Angelo said he feels "strongly that we’re going to rebound" and added: "That’s a lot of yards, and we’re not used to seeing that around here. We have a high standard and we expect to play to that standard each and every week, regardless of the opponent."
Monday night at Ford Field would be a nice place to start. I don’t like the Bears' chances of keeping pace in a shootout with the Lions offense, and I bet you don't either. I'm pretty sure the Bears will lose if the Lions reach their season average of 33 points.
The Bears will need to capitalize on the Lions' vulnerability to the outside pass rush. And they'll also need to remember what it took to turn Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford into a checkdown machine in the teams' 2010 matchup at Soldier Field. In just under a half of play, Stafford completed 11 of 15 passes for just 83 yards before defensive end Julius Peppers knocked him out of the game with a blind-side sack.
The Bears have a blueprint and most of the same players from that game. If they can't rise above the context Monday, they'll find themselves in a three-game hole in the NFC North.