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Bears and Colts: The Importance of Staying on and Getting off the Field

Eric JAnalyst IJuly 13, 2009

MIAMI - FEBRUARY 02:  (L-R) Head coaches, Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts pose together with the Super Bowl Trophy during a press conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center on February 2, 2007 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

There are plenty of reasons to link the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts

Both teams are currently headed by Tony Dungy disciples, and both teams have been under the Dungy influence either directly or indirectly for the past several seasons. 

Both teams are located in the Northern Midwest region of the country. In fact, before the Colts rolled into town to give the state of Indiana a professional football team to call their own, many in the state rooted for the relatively close by Bears (and many still do). 

The Bears and Colts have even faced each other fairly recently in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2006 season; and it was the Bears who this past season gave the Colts their first loss in the month of September in four years.

However, the common thread that gives me reason to talk about the Bears and the Colts now is both teams having spent a peculiar amount of time on the field per drive, resulting in an abnormal number of drives in recent years for both teams.

The only difference really is that these two teams lie on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. To take a closer look, I will use the last three seasons (2006-2008).

The Colts have had the fewest offensive drives in the league for each of the past three seasons. That not only gave them the fewest offensive drives over the past three seasons, but it gave them the fewest offensive drives by a wide margin. 

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The Colts had 52 fewer offensive drives than the team with the next fewest offensive drives over the past three seasons. That was the same difference between the team with the second fewest offensive drives and the teams tied for the 24th fewest offensive drives.

The Bears on the other hand have had the most defensive drives in the league for each of the past three seasons, which gave them the most defensive drives over the past three seasons by a similarly wide margin.

The Bears had 43 more defensive drives than the team with the next most defensive drives over the past three seasons. That was the same difference between the team with the second most defensive drives and the team with the 23rd most defensive drives.

To take a closer look at just how “out there” the Colts and Bears were, I will rely on cumulative normal distribution probability. Cumulative normal distribution probability can tell us, based on the assumption of a normal curve, the likelihood of another team having as many or fewer drives.

The Colts 450 offensive drives from 2006-2008, which varied from the league average (i.e. mean) of 537 by 3.4 standard deviations. 

Cumulative normal distribution probability tells us that there was only a 0.03 percent chance of a team having as few or fewer offensive drives over three seasons given a mean of 537 and a standard deviation of 25.5.

The Bears had 616 defensive drives from 2006-2008, which varied from the league average (i.e. mean) of 537 by 3.1 standard deviations.

Cumulative normal distribution probability tells us that there was only a 0.09 percent chance of a team having as many or more defensive drives over three seasons given a mean of 537 and a standard deviation of 25.2.

So how do we explain the oddities that are the drive totals of the Bears and Colts? 

It all comes down to how well offenses can stay on the field and how well defenses can get off the field.

Over the past three seasons, the Colts have averaged both longer offensive drives and longer defensive drives than any other team in the league.

Congratulations would be in order for the Colts, except that long drives are a bad thing for defenses. 

The more clock a defense allows an opposing offense to eat up, the fewer opportunities its own offense is going to have to score; and the better rested the opposing defense will be.

Way over on the other side of the spectrum, the Bears have averaged the shortest offensive drives and second shortest defensive drives in the league.

No offense has done a worse job of staying on the field to give its defense rest than the Bears' offense, and only the Ravens' defense has done a better job of getting off the field quickly to give its offense a better opportunity to score than the Bears' defense.

Just as no offense wants to face a well rested defense, no defense wants to be gasping for air when it goes back out on the field.

Just as no offense wants fewer opportunities to score points, no defense wants more opportunities to give up points.

It's the juxtaposition of having one unit being so good on the issue of time of possession and its counterpart on the other side of the ball being so bad that has led to such extremes in terms of the number of drives for the Bears and Colts.

The most extreme of the four units involved in this discussion is clearly the Colts defense. 

It averaged nearly 15.5 more seconds per drive than the next worst defense over the three year span, which was roughly the same difference between the second worst defense and the 20th worst defense.

Needless to say, the probability of a defense taking as long or longer to get off the field per drive is rather small (0.13 percent).

To give you an idea of how important staying on the field is for an offense and how important getting off the field is for a defense, we can look at the net of offense and defense.

The team with the worst net average drive duration—the Detroit Lions—just so happens to have the worst record over the past three seasons in the league.

The team with the second best net average drive duration—the New England Patriots—just so happens to have the best record over the past three seasons in the league. 

The team with the best net average drive duration was the Baltimore Ravens in case you are wondering. 

Only one team in the top ten for net drive duration—the Washington Redskins—has a losing record over the past three seasons.

Only one team in the bottom ten for net drive duration—the Carolina Panthers—has a winning record over the past three seasons.

The Colts are the only team ranked in the bottom 10 for defensive drive duration with a winning record over the past three seasons. Except for the .500 Denver Broncos, all of the other nine teams in the bottom 10 have a losing record over the past three seasons.

The offensive side of the ball is not quite as bleak since the Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans share with the Bears the distinction of having a winning record over the past three seasons despite placing in the bottom 10 for offensive drive duration.

This may be sheer coincidence, it may indicate that a defense that can get off the field is more important than an offense that can stay on the field, or it may tell us that unless you are without quality play from the always elusive quarterback position, there really is no excuse for a good team being this bad in either area.

However, fear not Bears and Colts fans; there is reason for hope in 2009 and it comes in the form of yet another common thread. Both the Bears and Colts will be featuring former Broncos who might just give them exactly what they need.

The Broncos offense has been above average in the past two seasons with Jay Cutler as their full-time starting quarterback, ranking 12th in offensive drive duration during that span. That’s not great, but I’m sure the Bears' defense will be more than happy to take it.

Say what you want about Jay Cutler, but he is absolutely a huge step up from Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton.

There is absolutely no reason to think that the Bears' offense won’t be able to do a better job of staying on the field in 2009 with Jay Cutler under center.

Where has the great Bears' defense gone? 

Perhaps if we see a little bit more of the Bears' defense on the sideline, we will start to see a little bit more of the great Bears' defense on the field.

The Colts' offense has even more reason for excitement. 

The Broncos' defense ranked second behind only the Ravens in defensive drive duration from 2003-2006 with Larry Croyer as their defensive coordinator.

If the Colts' offense managed to remain highly productive with so few drives against so well rested defenses up until Manning’s preseason knee injuries pushed them down to a “mere” top five offense per drive in 2008, what will they be able to do with more drives against less rested defenses?

Will Larry Croyer be the Colts’ answer? Was Ron Meeks the Colts’ problem? The Colts had better hope so, and the Panthers had better hope not.

A team that ranked only 28th in offensive drive duration over the past three seasons can't afford to fall into the below average range for defensive drive duration.