CHFF Game of the Week: Chargers-Bears

The Chargers (4-5) visit the Bears (6-3) in an inter-conference battle between two clubs fighting to keep pace in crowded divisions. San Diego could wake up Monday tied for first place or all alone in last place in the AFC West. The Bears need to scratch and claw through the end of the season to pick up the wild-card playoff crumbs the undefeated Packers will leave behind in the NFC North.

Here are three Cold, Hard Football Facts you need to know about Chargers-Bears before kickoff:

1. Matt Forte(notes) … you … are … ridiculous!

With all due respect to Chicago’s explosive, record-setting return man Devin Hester(notes), Forte is the engine that powers the suddenly potent Bears offense.

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For a team that always seems to struggle to generate offense, Forte is a one-man all-purpose wrecking crew: he leads the team in both rushing (166 attempts, 869 yards, 3 TD) and receiving (42 receptions, 439 yards, 1 TD). He’s accounted for an incredible 44 percent of Chicago’s total offense this year (1,308 of 2,950 yards) and is on pace for 2,325 yards from scrimmage, which would be the seventh most in NFL history.

In fact, here’s the all-time yards-from-scrimmage Top 10.

1. Chris Johnson, 2009, Tennessee – 2,509 yards
2. Marshall Faulk, 1999, St. Louis – 2,429 yards
3. Tiki Barber, 2005, N.Y. Giants – 2,390 yards
4. LaDainian Tomlinson(notes), 2003, San Diego – 2,370 yards
5. Barry Sanders, 1997, Detroit – 2,358 yards
6. Steven Jackson, 2006, St. Louis – 2,334 yards
7. Projected: Matt Forte, 2011, Chicago – 2,325 yards
7. LaDainian Tomlinson, 2006, San Diego – 2,323 yards
8. Marcus Allen, 1985, L.A. Raiders – 2,314 yards
9. Edgerrin James(notes), 2000, Indianapolis – 2,303 yards
10. Priest Holmes, 2002, Kansas City – 2,287 yards

So the Top 10 is certainly in Forte’s sights. More importantly, the Bears have scored 177 points in their last six games, winning five of them. Forte has been a big reason why: he rushed for 750 yards in those six games, averaging an awesome 5.7 YPA during the process.

Chicago will look to ride him once again, especially as a pass catcher, against a San Diego defense that is 21st against the run (4.55 YPA) and a dismal 29th in Defensive Passer Rating, a key Cold, Hard Football Facts Quality Stat.

2. San Diego can’t even pretend to be a good team anymore

We’ve long called the Chargers the Forrest Gump of the Gridiron – physically gifted, yet a little slow upstairs. “Stupid is as San Diego does” – that’s our motto.

The Chargers historically, but especially under Norv Turner, often create the illusion of being a very good team by dominating statistically, even in our Quality Stats. But they consistently fail to win the number of games that you’d expect from a team with such impressive statistical productivity. The reasons are obvious: repeated dumb mistakes, turnovers and poor special teams play.

The 2010 season was the worst example yet of the “Stupid is as San Diego does” Chargers. The team topped the NFL in both total offense and total defense and dominated many of our Quality – stats that consistently correlate very highly to success on the field. But not for the 2010 Chargers.

They won just nine games and failed to make the playoffs. They were a rare historical anomaly the likes of which we’ve never seen – and the Cold, Hard Football Facts have studied the statistical history of every NFL team since 1940.

This year, the Chargers are not even pretending to be good. In fact, the downfall from the statistical juggernaut of 2010 to the struggling statistical lightweights has been dramatic – especially on defense.

Here’s how the 2011 Chargers stack up against last year’s club in several commonly used indicators as well as in several Cold, Hard Football Facts Quality Stats.

San Diego QB Philip Rivers(notes) has taken a lot of heat for the decline in his play this year. But he’s hardly the biggest problem on the Chargers. The biggest problem is a catastrophically bad defense that’s No. 27 in scoring and No. 29 in Defensive Passer Rating – the two most important defensive indicators when it comes to predicting team-wide success.

The need to keep opponents off the scoreboard speaks for itself.

The need to make life miserable on opposing QBs may not be as obvious – but it should be.

NFL games are won and lost by dominating the skies. And the best way to measure the ability to dominate the skies on defense is through Defensive Passer Rating, our Quality Stat that simply takes the formula used to rate passers and applies it to team-wide pass defense. Great teams and great defenses all throughout history were dominant in Defensive Passer Rating.

Super Bowl champion Green Bay and AFC champion Pittsburgh finished Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in Defensive Passer Rating last season, for example.

In other words, the Packers and the Steelers competed for the Super Bowl last year because they had highly productive quarterbacks on offense and then made life miserable for opposing QBs when on defense.

It’s always the formula for success in the NFL. In fact, the average NFL champion since 1940 posted a 55.1 Defensive Passer Rating. Here in the Live Ball Era (1978-present), the average NFL champion posted a 66.4 DPR.

The 2011 Chargers have posted a 96.4 Defensive Passer Rating. You can’t win in the NFL if you can’t stop opposing passers – and right now the Chargers can’t stop opposing passers.

(By the way, just for a bit of trivia, the No. 1 pass defense of the postwar NFL belonged to the 1973 Steelers, with a 33.1 Defensive Passer Rating. Quarterbacks get a 39.6 passer rating if they fail to complete a single pass.)

3. Lovie Smith and Jay Cutler need some love

Smith’s name rarely comes up when comes time to name the best coaches in the NFL.

But maybe it should be in the mix: his Bears have won three division titles in his seven previous seasons, including a 2006 NFC championship with Rex Grossman at quarterback. The 2010 season may have been his best yet: not only did the Bears edge out the Packers for the NFC North crown, Smith’s crew was two plays away from toppling the powerful Pack in the NFC title game – with third-stringer Caleb Hanie at quarterback.

The Bears ultimately fell short, losing 21-14. The winning points came when Hanie threw a pick-six to Green Bay defensive lineman B.J. Raji. It’s the closest the Packers have come to defeat during their 15-game win streak, and the Bears almost pulled it out playing with a quarterback who’s a phone call away from selling insurance for the rest of his life.

It’s unlikely Chicago will surpass the unbeaten Packers for the NFC North title this year. But the Bears are 6-3 with wins over the Falcons, Buccaneers, Eagles and Lions. They are very well positioned for a wild-card spot – it would be the fourth postseason appearance for Smith in eight seasons.

Head Coach Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears watches a replay during a game against the Carolina Panthers at the Soldier Field on Oct. 2, 2011, in Chicago.
(Getty Images)

Chicago’s embattled quarterback Jay Cutler, meanwhile, is also largely unappreciated around the NFL, even in Chicago (perhaps especially in Chicago).

Is he Tom Brady or Dan Marino? No. But Brady and Marino did not play behind the worst the worst offensive lines in football year after year.

Cutler has.

He joined Chicago in 2009 and has been forced to stand behind an offensive line that’s better suited to a schoolyard round of Red Rover than it is to life in the trenches of the NFL.

The 2009 Bears ranked No. 25 on our Offensive Hog Index and No. 22 at preventing Negative Pass lays (sacks, INTs).
The 2010 Bears ranked No. 32 on our Offensive Hog Index and No. 32 at preventing Negative Pass Plays – the worst team in football on both counts.
The 2011 Bears rank No. 21 on our Offensive Hog Index and No. 20 at preventing Negative Pass Plays.

Life wasn’t so tough on Cutler in 2009. He was sacked 35 times that year, about the league average. But his OL was overwhelmed in 2010, when Cutler was sacked 52 times – suffering 12 more takedowns the next QB on the list (Joe Flacco). He’s been sacked 23 times this year – fifth most in the NFL.

Through it all, Cutler has been fairly productive. He threw 26 picks in 2009, his first season in Chicago. And there’s no excuse for that kind of performance in the modern NFL.

But over the past two years, he’s been fairly productive. Here are his 2010-2011 cumulative numbers:

425 of 715 (59.4%), 5,307 yards, 7.4 YPA, 85.6 passer rating.

Those numbers in the modern NFL won’t get you into the Hall of Fame. But considering that Cutler is typically under more physical pressure from opposing defenses than any quarterback in football, the production is quite good.

By the way, looking at last year’s near miss NFC title – it’s even more miraculous that Smith nearly brought the Bears to the Super Bowl for a second time when you consider that third-string QB Hanie was playing behind the NFL’s worst offensive line and against the league’s top-rated pass defense.

The Cold, Hard Football Facts

The Bears and Chargers are two teams heading in different directions.

The Bears come into this game as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. They’ve won four straight and launched themselves back into the thick of the NFC playoff race. The Chargers come in as the same fraudulent bunch of brain-dead posers they’ve been for the last several seasons and have lost four straight.

The big difference is on pass defense. San Diego’s pass defense is one of the worst; Chicago’s pass defense is rapidly regaining the championship-caliber form it showed in 2010 after a slow start to the 2011 season.

In fact, here’s a quick look at how the two teams stack up in Bendability, our measure of overall defensive efficiency (it quantifies the bend-but-don’t-break phenomenon) and in our key measures of pass defense, each of which has a direct correlation to winning football games.

Bottom line: red-hot Chicago, with the highly productive Forte and the talented Cutler, leading the way, should find plenty of opportunities to exploit one of the league’s most porous pass defenses. Add in Chicago’s strong defense and the truly ridiculous big-play scoring punch provided by Hester against a team that’s notoriously vulnerable on special teams, and you have all the makings of a big victory by the home team.

The Pick: Chicago 28, San Diego 17 is dedicated to cutting-edge analysis and to the “gridiron lifestyle” of beer, food and football. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook. E-mail comments to

Season record: 7-3

Week 1 pick: Detroit 24, Tampa 20
Week 1 result: Detroit 27, Tampa 20

Week 2 pick: New England 27, San Diego 24
Week 2 result: New England 35, San Diego 21

Week 3 pick: New Orleans 30, Houston 23
Week 3 result: New Orleans 40, Houston 33

Week 4 pick: Detroit 26, Dallas 24
Week 4 result: Detroit 34, Dallas 30

Week 5 pick: Green Bay 34, Atlanta 24
Week 5 result: Green Bay 25, Atlanta 14

Week 6 pick: Detroit 23, San Francisco 20
Week 6 result: San Francisco 25, Detroit 19

Week 7 pick: Tennessee 27, Houston 21
Week 7 result: Houston 41, Tennessee 7

Week 8 pick: Kansas City 23, San Diego 21
Week 8 result: Kansas City 23, San Diego 20

Week 9 pick: Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 17
Week 9 result: Baltimore 23, Pittsburgh 20

Week 10 pick: San Francisco 24, N.Y. Giants 19
Week 10 result: San Francisco 27, N.Y. Giants 20

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Updated Friday, Nov 18, 2011