Stats Analysis: 3rd-Down Offense

We all know the Chicago Bears had one of the worst offenses in football in 2007. And by using statistical analysis, it is possible to pinpoint exactly where the Midway Monsters struggled so mightily. Apparently, it's all about third down. Ed Thompson crunches the numbers thanks to the good folks at STATS.

During the 2007 season, the Chicago Bears struggled mightily to move the chains on third down. In fact, they finished the year ranked 29th in the NFL in that category, earning a new set of downs just 34 percent of the time.

The average for the league's 32 teams was 39.5 percent, but the Colts showed the rest of the clubs what was possible by setting a league-leading 49.3 percent mark. The Patriots finished second at 48.2 percent. The only teams to finish below the Bears in third-down conversions were the Bills (33.3), Lions (32.6) and 49ers (31.4).

Ron Turner's offense not only had problems on third down in general, but it made matters worse by finishing fourth in the league in three-and-out drives – returning to the bench after just three plays on 26.8 percent of its offensive possessions. The league average was 22.1 percent.

Here's how the Monsters of the Midway fared in various third-down situations during the season:

3rd and 1 or less
Chicago had few problems converting first downs in these situations, finishing as the third-best team in the league in the category. Out of the 25 times the Bears needed a single yard or less on third down, they succeeded 84 percent of the time.

QB Brian Griese
Nam Y. Huh/AP Images

The Best: Cowboys (86.7) and Browns (85.0).

The Worst: Packers (40.0) and Seahawks (42.9) – surprisingly, a pair of division winners.

3rd and 3 or less
The Bears held their own when they needed less than four yards, finishing 17th in the league with a 59.3-percent conversion rate. They were the third-best team in the league in rushing for first downs in these situations, converting 76.5 percent of those attempts. But their 36-percent success rate when they tried to pass for a new set of downs pulled their overall number down substantially. The Vikings were the only team in the league more futile at converting a first down through the air with less than four yards to go, posting a 33-percent result. By comparison, the Patriots converted 76.7 percent of those third-downs with their passing game.

The Best: Patriots (71.9) and Eagles (69.3).

The Worst: Bills (45.9) and 49ers (47.9).

3rd and 4-6
The Bears succeeded on 22 of 54 attempts (40.7 percent), finishing 20th in the league. They had better success moving the chains through the air in this situation, converting 41.9 percent of their chances. But they were one of just six teams in the league that tried to run the ball in this situation 10 times or more during the year – another good indicator of the lack of confidence in their passing game. The results from their 11 attempts weren't very good, as the team converted just 36.4 percent of those chances.

The Best: Colts (55.6) and Jets (55.1)

The Worst: Falcons (28.3) and Chargers (30.4).

3rd and 7 or more
In more obvious passing situations, here's where it gets ugly for the Bears. They converted just 24 of 125 attempts (19.2 percent), finishing 30th in the league. Chicago even tried to run for the first down 19 times in these situations, converting just 15.8 percent of those tries. Out of their 106 pass attempts to move the chains, they succeeded just 21 times (19.8 percent) – putting them in a tie for last place in the league for passing success in these situations.

QB Kyle Orton
Nam Y. Huh/AP Images

The Best: Jaguars (39.0) and Packers (37.4).

The Worst: Chiefs (17.1) and Texans (18.1).

The Bears needed more than 10 yards on 70 third-down plays during the season, the fourth-most of all teams. Only the Chiefs (80), Falcons (74), and Raiders (73) found themselves that far away from the first-down marker more frequently. The Bears converted just nine of those situations (12.9 percent), which was the fourth-worst result in the league. The Steelers were the best at 10-yards-or-longer conversions, with a 30.9-percent success rate.

There were substantial differences between Chicago's trio of signal-callers with regard to their third-down success. Brian Griese – he's now back with the Buccaneers – was the best performer, completing 45 of 69 passes (65.2 percent) while posting a passer rating of 86.3 on third down. By contrast, Rex Grossman only completed 25 of 61 passes (41.0 percent) for a passer rating of 52.1.

While he didn't get many chances in 2007, Kyle Orton completed 42.3 percent of his 26 attempts and posted a 56.4 passer rating – both marks better than the more experienced Grossman. He also didn't take a sack on any of his third-down plays, while Griese was dropped seven times and Grossman went down 12 times.

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the network and at You can contact him by email through this link.

Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2008 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited. 

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