Chicago Bears' Most Intriguing Preseason Stats so Far
Nobody should base much off of the NFL preseason, but two games into it, the Chicago Bears have some interesting statistics that could prove to either be anomalies or the start of some trends for the regular season.
The biggest concern for the Bears following their 24-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers to open the preseason was their offensive line. They made some changes up front before their second game against the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night, including benching starter J'Marcus Webb and starting first-round pick Kyle Long.
The results haven't been all bad for the Bears up front, and in coming weeks, we'll find out if it was a rough start or a sign of things to come.
There have also been a number of very good preseason signs for the Bears, whether it is veterans playing up to their standard or young players shining so far.
While these stats shouldn't be taken as life or death, they could prove to be interesting down the road.
P.J. Lonergan Did Not Play
Perhaps nobody should worry too much about an undrafted rookie center not playing in the first preseason game, but P.J. Lonergan is an exception.
Lonergan came to the Bears after starting for three seasons at LSU. That kind of experience at a major college typically would get a center drafted, but it was thought that he somehow slipped through the cracks.
Many Bears fans were excited about Lonergan's potential. Some even believed that he could challenge veteran starter Roberto Garza this season. However, the fact that Lonergan didn't even see the field in the Bears' first preseason game was a sure sign that the team doesn't think he has a future in the league.
The Bears have Lonergan listed fourth on their depth chart. Since center is the only position he plays, it seems as if he'll be among the early cuts.
Those expecting a punting competition between veteran Adam Podlesh and rookie Tress Way may have been disappointed after the opening preseason loss to Carolina.
Podlesh struggled at times for the Bears last season, but has had a solid career. Way came to the team as an undrafted free agent with a big leg. The strength of his leg got many excited, but it's pretty clear he's not in the same class of Podlesh.
Both players punted three times in Week 1, but Podlesh averaged seven more yards per attempt. He also put two of his three punts inside the 20 with his longest punt of 56 yards. Way averaged just 31 yards per attempt, with one in the 20 and a long of just 41 yards.
Way was better in the Bears' 33-28 win over the Chargers Thursday night, but was still no comparison to Podlesh. The Bears' veteran punter averaged 50.5 yards on two punts, neither of which gave San Diego's return man much room to work with on the field.
The undrafted rookie from Oklahoma may have a future in the league some day, but it seems clear that Podlesh will be the punter for the Bears this season.
Matt Blanchard's Completion Percentage
Outside of one big mistake, it seems the reviews were mostly positive for Matt Blanchard after his first game.
While it's hard to say what he saw on the interception to Josh Norman, Blanchard showed very good accuracy against Carolina, completing 15-of-18 passes.
Although most of his passes were short, Blanchard showed great accuracy in the middle of the field. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Blanchard didn't attempt a pass beyond 20 yards, but completed all three of his passes beyond 10 yards. He was also 9-for-9 on passes in the middle of the field.
Perhaps his most impressive pass came on the Bears' biggest play of the night, when he hit Marquess Wilson in stride for a 58-yard completion.
The Bears didn't get to see much of Blanchard in their next game against San Diego. He completed his only attempt, but lost two yards on the play. He was also sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down before leaving with a hand injury. The Bears have not announced the severity of the injury.
Marquess Wilson's Statistics
As far as impressive debuts go, Marquess Wilson couldn't have done much more. As it turns out, Wilson didn't do much more in his second game.
Even if you took Wilson's longest play against Carolina out of consideration, he still would have tied for the team lead with three catches and ranked third in yardage with 24 yards. However, that big play did happen and he should get the credit for it.
On his 58-yard reception, Wilson streaked across the middle of the field on a crossing route where Matt Blanchard hit him in stride and Wilson did the rest, turning on the burners and getting inside the 1-yard line.
However, against San Diego, he was missing in action and did not see a single pass thrown his way.
There had been much talk this week about Wilson's ability to stay on the Bears. The general consensus is that he'll have to be able to play special teams in order to remain on the active roster this season.
If Wilson can make plays like he did against Carolina, it seems the Bears wouldn't have much of a choice except to keep him and find ways to use him. However, if he isn't able to make more of an impact than he did against San Diego, the Bears may be left with a difficult decision.
Perhaps the biggest sign that things have changed in the Bears' offense was that they hardly have thrown the ball downfield at all this preseason.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), just two of their 32 passing attempts against Carolina traveled over 20 yards for a ratio of 6.3 percent. None of Jay Cutler's passes were that far, worth noting because he was tied for fourth in the league in deep balls last season at 15.9 percent, according to PFF (subscription required). The only deep pass that Cutler threw against the Chargers was the one that was intercepted.
The West Coast offense that new head coach Marc Trestman runs is dependent on shorter routes to open up deep passes. I would expect the Bears to throw deep more in the future, but they won't rely on shots down the field nearly as often in 2013.
Despite the fact that they didn't throw the ball deep, the Bears still gave up seven sacks in their first preseason game—more than any team in the league.
While most of those sacks came at the fault of the reserve linemen, it was still too many and the starters also struggled.
The sack that was most talked about against Carolina was the one right tackle J'Marcus Webb gave up on Jay Cutler, essentially ending what was a pretty good drive. Starting right guard James Brown also struggled, giving up two hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Second-string right tackle Eben Britton was also beaten for a sack, leading the Bears to make a drastic change by promoting fifth-round pick Jordan Mills to the starting lineup.
They also benched Brown in favor of Long, who was dominant on Michael Ford's late touchdown run.
The improvement wasn't obvious immediately against San Diego, as the Bears gave up two sacks on their first possession against the Chargers. The second sack, however, may have been due to Cutler holding onto the ball too long, but the result was the same.
It wasn't just the linemen who should take blame for the Bears' sacks, however. Ford admitted he missed two blocks out of the backfield that resulted in sacks against the Panthers.
Regardless of who was to blame, the Bears have to correct this mistake. Sacks have been killing their offense for years and the new regime needs that to stop.
The Bears were actually plus-one in this category after their first game and created plenty of turnovers in their second game, but the turnovers they committed were back-breakers.
Both of the interceptions thrown by the Bears against the Panthers—one by Cutler, the other by Blanchard—resulted directly in points by the Panthers. Cutler's pick put Carolina in field goal range while Blanchard's was returned for a touchdown.
Just as concerning was the fumble Armando Allen had in the red zone, taking at least a field goal off the board for the Bears. The Bears' turnovers directly resulted in at least a 13-point turnaround.
Against the Chargers, Cutler threw an unforgivable interception when the team was near field goal range. He also fumbled in the game, but was fortunate that the Bears recovered. Trestman wants his quarterback to take care of the ball and Cutler, quite frankly, is failing.
On the flip side, the Bears' defense is still full of ballhawks.
Jon Bostic, the Bears' 2013 second-round pick, seems to fit right in as he took an interception back for a touchdown against Carolina. Zackary Bowman added another interception, catching a horrendous throw by Derek Anderson.
Against San Diego, 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin sacked Philip Rivers and forced a fumble on the play. Safety Chris Conte also made a big play with a diving interception.
The Bears need their offense to start protecting the ball and stop wasting the extra opportunities their defense provides them. If they don't, there's little reason to think they'll be any better than they were in 2012.