The Chicago Bears averaged 28:07 minutes in time of possession (T.O.P.) during the 2016 regular season, which ranked 30th in the NFL.
It goes without saying but if you can't maintain control of the ball, it makes it much harder to win games at the sport's highest level. Out of the 10 worst teams in T.O.P. average this year, only three made the playoffs. In 2015, only one team out of the bottom 10 in T.O.P. made the playoffs.
Some teams can overcome a negative T.O.P. differential but not the Bears, whose mediocre talent level last year left very little room for mistakes, thus the franchise-worst 3-13 record.
Looking back at the 2016 campaign, there are three clear areas of concern that led to the time-of-possession disparity, all of which can be easily corrected next season.
Play-Calling on Offense
When you run the football in the NFL, the clock continues to run between plays. When you thrown an incompletion, the clock stops.
It's such a foundational element to the sport, it seems silly to even point it out. Yet the value of running the football was completely lost on the Bears this season, which is why I bring it up.
In 2015, the Bears had the 6th most rushing attempts in the NFL (469). In 2016, the Bears finished 25th in rushing attempts (380), with 90 fewer carries than the previous season.
The lopsided pass/run ratio under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains must be resolved next season. The Bears have one of the best young running backs in the NFL in Jordan Howard, who finished second in the league in rushing yards (1,303) his rookie year, and the team could be christening a rookie quarterback next season.
The only chance the Bears have of controlling the clock going forward is to ride Howard and the run game. Head coach John Fox must do everything in his power to drill that easily understandable concept into Loggains' head this off-season.
On the other side of the ball, stopping the run is critical to putting opposing offenses into 3rd-and-long situations and getting off the field. When you're being gashed on the ground, your opponent eats up clock, which doesn't your offense an opportunity to put points on the board. This is basic, elementary stuff.
The Bears allowed 121.9 yards per game in 2016, which ranked 27th in the NFL. They allowed 4.38 yards per carry, which was 23rd in the league.
Copious injuries to the front seven played a role in Chicago's porous run defense, with full-time contributors Eddie Goldman, Ego Ferguson, Danny Trevathan, Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston combining to miss a stunning 48 games due to injury. In addition, Jerrell Freeman was suspended four games and first-round pass rusher Leonard Floyd missed four games of his own and finished the year on IR.
That's a combined 56 games missed from, essentially, your entire front seven. That's tough to overcome.
The Bears have talent up front and, with better health and a choice addition or two, the run defense should be much improved next season, which will further aide in winning the T.O.P. battle each week.
Lack of Turnovers
The Bears finished with a franchise-worst 11 takeaways this season, which tied for the lowest number of turnovers in a 16-game campaign in NFL history.
That's unacceptable from every conceivable standpoint but in terms of time of possession, the lack of takeaways was too much to overcome. If the defense couldn't stop opposing offenses on 3rd down, drives just continued, as game-changing turnovers were as rare as a politician telling the truth.
That's a systemic issue that must be resolved by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio but GM Ryan Pace can aide him in that effort by landing playmakers in the secondary this off-season.
The 2017 NFL Draft is chock full of high-end cornerbacks and safeties. Many believe this year's class is the deepest secondary class in recent history, meaning the Bears will have plenty of chances to find players who can change games with timely interceptions.
The Bears don't have a lockdown cornerback on the current roster. In fact, it could be argued the Bears don't have a legitimate No. 1 corner on the roster. That needs to change.
Pace must invest heavily in the secondary -- either through free agency, the draft or both -- in order to resolve the turnover issues. A disruptive pass rusher would help in that effort as well.
If the Bears want to improve in the time-of-possession department, and thus win more games, three things must happen next year: commit to the run game on offense, stop the run on defense and create more turnovers by stocking up on playmakers in the secondary.
If Pace and Chicago's coaching staff can accomplish those three goals next season, we won't be talking about a T.O.P.-starved Bears team in 2017.