Why Chicago Bears' Uptempo Offense May Hurt Their Defense

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Why Chicago Bears' Uptempo Offense May Hurt Their Defense
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Much of the talk out of the Chicago Bears' organized team activities and minicamps has been about the pace of their new offense.

While exciting for fans, that may not be a good thing for their defense.

In May, Chase Stuart of Football Prospective did a story showing which NFL offenses played at the fastest pace.

Not surprisingly, the New England Patriots topped the list and the Bears were near the bottom. The biggest thing that stuck out to me was the impact the pace of the teams' offenses had on their defenses.

Out of the 10 teams that played at the fastest pace, only two had top-10 scoring defenses. New England was first in terms of pace—running a play every 24.9 seconds—and had the 10th-ranked defense. Denver was 10th in terms of pace and fourth in terms of scoring defense—allowing 18.1 points per game.

In both cases, they played in divisions with inept offenses. Not a single one of their divisional opponents ranked inside the top 20 in terms of scoring offense. They combined to make up half of the worst 12 teams in the league.

Now, if you flip it, six of the slowest-paced teams were also in the top 10 in terms of scoring defense. In fact, the three stingiest defenses—Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco—were ranked 29th, 31st and 32nd in terms of pace.

The conventional thought is that those teams ate up more time, therefore opposing offenses had less of an opportunity to score on them. There is some truth to that. Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle all ranked in the top 10 in time of possession. However, so did Detroit, and the Lions played at the fifth-fastest pace in the league.

In the same story, Stuart listed the fastest-paced offenses since 1991.

If that list is any indication, the Bears will be as uptempo as many expect. Both Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer were parts of teams that are on that list. Kromer was the interim head coach/offensive line coach for the 2012 New Orleans Saints, and Trestman was the offensive coordinator for the 1999 Arizona Cardinals

Unfortunately for the Bears, most of the teams on that list struggled defensively, proving it wasn't just a trend in 2012. I took the information Stuart compiled and added each team's defensive numbers. As you can see, only four of the 25 teams ranked in the top 10 defensively.

There are a few reasons for this.

The most obvious is that offenses that play at a fast tempo don't typically stay on the field as long, meaning their defenses get tired.

Although they had the 20th most offensive possessions, the Patriots ran more plays than any team in the league by a significant margin. Yet, they weren't in the top 10 in time of possession. They led the league in scoring and yardage, but still put their defense out there more than many others. 

The Saints had the second most yards and the third most points, yet were 28th in time of possession because they played at the second fastest pace. They ranked 27th in terms of average time of their drives, a full 11 seconds per drive lower than the Bears.

It isn't just because those teams got big plays through their passing games. New Orleans was third in completed passes of 40 or more yards and New England was 14th, but the top two teams—Tampa Bay and Cincinnati—ranked 16th and 17th in time of possession, with a higher percentage of their yardage coming on big plays. 

Other teams on that list featured high-powered offenses and tried to win games merely by outscoring their opponents. The result of that left their defenses tired. Teams that try to win shootouts don't win Super Bowls. 

Overall, many of the teams on that list stunk, some were very good, but only one—the 2012 Baltimore Ravens—went on to win the Super Bowl.

The Buffalo Bills of the early-to-mid 90s are on this list five times. They had a number of very good defensive players, yet out of the five times they appear on that list, only twice did they have a top-10 defense.

Playing at a slow pace doesn't guarantee you'll have a good defense, but playing at a fast pace almost guarantees you won't.

Playing at a fast pace also doesn't guarantee you'll have a good offense. 

New England, New Orleans, Denver and Baltimore were the only teams that ranked in the top 10 in terms of pace and points per game. Four other teams—Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Oakland and Cleveland—ranked in the top 10 in terms of pace but the bottom 10 in terms of points scored.

So, what does this all mean for the Bears? It's impossible to say at this point.

While the buzz has been about their uptempo offense, there's no saying how fast-paced it is actually going to be. They were 29th in plays per second last year, a slight increase probably wouldn't make a huge difference. However, they must be efficient; they were anything but last year.

Chicago was 13th in points scored per play, but that ranking includes its defensive scores. Without the defensive touchdowns, the Bears offense was 21st in total points and points per play. They were 29th in points scored per possession

If the Bears are going to play at one of the fastest paces in the league, they'll have to be putting points up in bunches because it will be hard for their defense to keep up. That has proved true historically and may be even more true with the Bears' aging defense.

Trestman may be an offensive mastermind, but he's had struggles with defenses. As the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh pointed out, Trestman went through four defensive coordinators in five seasons coaching the Montreal Alouettes

Offensive-minded coaches struggling with defensive coordinators is nothing new. The offensive play-caller—which Trestman has been and will be for the Bears—has to be cognizant of how his style affects the other side of the ball. It's a hard balance to strike, and very few have mastered it.

At this point, it's impossible to predict what pace the Bears will play at. If it's as uptempo as many are expecting, the Bears should also expect to give up more points.

Under Trestman, the days of having a top-five defense may be over, but that won't be a problem as long as they're putting the ball in the end zone much more than their opponents

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