After Sunday's performance against the St. Louis Rams, who rolled up 258 yards on the ground, the Chicago Bears now rank dead last in the league against the run. Coordinator Mel Tucker's defense is giving up 145.2 rushing yards per contest. The unit has also allowed 14 rushing touchdowns, which is second worst in the NFL.
It's a bad situation and when you consider the injuries, it's hard to see things getting dramatically better. Yet Tucker still has enough time to make improvements that can get the run defense back to a level of relative respectability – and as we'll soon find out, they don't have to be dramatically better.
Luckily, despite the porous run defense, Chicago (6-5) is currently in a tie atop the NFC North with the Detroit Lions (6-5), with the Green Bay Packers (5-5-1) a half game back. So the Bears are still in a very good position to make the playoffs. Hope isn't lost by any means.
Yet even if Chicago is able to win the division, what kind of success can we expect if the defense continues to play at its current level?
Let's look back at the past five years, at both the AFC and NFC Conference Championship games, to find out what it takes to make it to the final four in terms of stopping the run.
Baltimore: 20th ranked rushing defense
San Francisco: 4th
New England: 9th
N.Y. Giants: 19th
New England: 17th
San Francisco: 1st
Green Bay: 18th
N.Y. Jets: 3rd
New Orleans: 21st
N.Y. Jets: 8th
In the past five conference championship games, the average regular-season rank against the run was 9.85. That's not great news for the Bears, as we all know they aren't going to suddenly become a Top 10 rushing defense.
Yet it's worth noting that three of those 16 teams made the final four with ranks of 20 or lower, including last year's Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens. In fact, the highest-ranking run defense of the past four Super Bowl winners was the Packers in 2010, who ranked 18th overall.
Recent history shows us that, to win a title, a team only needs a run defense that ranks near 20th overall. Currently, the 20th ranked run defense in the league, the Kansas City Chiefs, is giving up 115.9 yards on the ground. That means the Bears, on a per-game basis, must shave off 29.3 yards against to play like the 20th ranked rushing defense.
Defenses usually have to defend roughly 65 snaps per contest. If we assume half of those are runs, that means the Bears need to reduce opponents by less than one yard per carry (0.87 to be precise) to be a defense effective enough to have postseason success. That's not unreasonable and something the Bears can accomplish over the next five weeks.
If Chicago can take these small steps and stop ball carriers less than one yard shorter on every snap, the season won't be lost. The Bears have a Top 10 offense, the seventh ranked passing attack and are the fourth highest scoring team in the NFL. Trestman's boys on the other side of the ball can put up points with the best of them, they just need a little help from the defense.
We're not talking about dramatic change, just incremental steps toward improvement. There is still plenty of time to get it accomplished but it has to start this week against Adrian Peterson. If the Bears can have some modicum of success against AP, that could give them the confidence they need going forward. And considering they only need to improve 0.87 yards per carry, confidence may be all they need, especially if Lance Briggs returns in a couple weeks.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.