Numbers Crunch: Where to Improve

There are myriad reasons to help explain why the Chicago Bears had such a terrible 2007. While you never want to focus entirely on the stats, a few of them are much more revealing than others. Here are three numbers that need to be improved upon if this team wants to turn it around in 2008.

Third-down efficiency
The Bears converted only 81 of their 238 third downs on offense into first downs this past season (34 percent), which was 29th in the league. The running game was the biggest culprit in their failure to keep drives alive, averaging a dead-last 3.1 yards per carry. Getting sacked 43 times made things much worse from a down-and-distance perspective, as well. A completion percentage of just 57.5 means there were a lot of passes that hit the ground, helping explain why this team had even more trouble on third-and-7 or longer (19.2 percent).

A stronger running game and a higher completion percentage on first and second down will give the Midway Monsters more manageable third-down opportunities – they did convert at a clip of 55.8 percent in 2007 on third-and-5 or less.

Time of possession
The Bears had a tough time keeping drives alive a year ago, partially because of their struggles on third down that were highlighted above. Consequently, they were 30th in the league in time of possession, averaging only 28:28 of ball control on a weekly basis. Not only is it impossible for the offense to score points when it is standing on the sideline, but an inability to move the football consistently eventually starts to take a tremendous toll on the defensive unit. Never was this more on display than in Week 3 against Dallas, when the Bears maintained possession for just 24:39 before falling apart in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys stampeded to a 17-0 advantage in the final stanza for a 34-10 romp at Soldier Field.

Chicago held the ball for 31 minutes or more on four occasions in 2007, posting a 3-1 record in those contests.

LB Brian Urlacher
Nam Y. Huh/AP Images

Turnover ratio
The Bears were about even from a turnover standpoint in 2007, coming up with 33 total takeaways but also coughing up 34 total giveaways. Points off turnovers were also about even, as Chicago scored 64 points off those 33 turnovers and surrendered 67 points off their 34 giveaways. Head coach Lovie Smith's version of the Cover-2 D is predicated on getting a ton of turnovers instead of simply being a three-and-out machine, as evidenced by the Super Bowl unit of the year before forcing 23 fumbles and intercepting 24 passes – good for first and second in the NFL, respectively. That team had a solid turnover ratio of plus-8, tied for fourth in the league. Even-Steven in the takeaway-giveaway category isn't going to get it done if Smith and Co. want to be contenders again.

Curiously enough, the Bears lost one game last season with a plus-4 turnover ratio (Week 13 against the Giants), lost another with a plus-3 (Week 15 at the Vikings), but won once despite a minus-2 (Week 12 against the Broncos).

It appears the old adage rings true again: there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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