Early Schedule Difficulties Make the Bears the Most Surprising 3-0 Team
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If you take the starts to the NFL season by the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, you might have looked at the schedule just before the season and probably would have at least the possibility that each team could have started 3-0. The Steelers weren’t playing a murderer’s row of teams, getting a strong Falcons team at home before going on the road to play the Titans and Bucs. That’s an above average schedule, but the Steelers were number one in my pre-season power poll, and they were Peter King’s pick to win the super bowl. I would have picked them to drop one of the three, but getting to 3-0 is hardly a surprise — I had them winning 12 games.
The Chiefs had one pitfall on their early schedule, a home game against a Chargers team, where if they got past it, the road to 3-0 was pretty wide open with simple execution. Sure, the Chiefs were an incomplete team who nearly fell to the Browns in Cleveland, but they won an ugly game, beat down the 49ers, and that’s good for a 3-0 start. That was hardly unfathomable.
The only other undefeated team in the NFL, the Chicago Bears, are much more of a mystery. Having to play at Dallas and home against the Packers early in the season was about as difficult an early schedule as any team in the NFL could be handed. To make matters worse, the Bears were challenged blow for blow by the Detroit Lions at home in the season opener. They almost dropped that one. Certainly, they would have been incredibly fortunate to get to even 2-1.
And, yes, the Bears would have had to consider themselves fortunate to take two out of their first three games. So imagine the surprise of league observers when the Bears not only eeked out a second win in the season’s first three games, but managed to get all three of them.
They’ve managed to do it behind a strong run defense and passing offense. Every year, the Bears have great special teams, and while this year is no exception, they’re hardly in uncharted waters with long kick and punt returns. They have no ability to run the football. They can’t protect the quarterback. Their zones are spacey and the pass rush inconsistent. They are penalized fairly often. Above all, they are 3-0. Which of these facts doesn’t fit with the rest?
The madness regarding Chicago’s football team doesn’t really stop there. Jay Cutler has been one of the league’s most efficient passers through three games, statistically. But in Cutler’s case, he doesn’t even appear to be seeing coverages any clearer than last year when he threw a career-high 26 interceptions. All offensive coordinator Mike Martz has done has taken the Bears’ problematic running game out of the equation entirely, and has just added to Cutler’s opportunities to make plays for his team. It’s worked out so far, but it’s looked pretty ugly in the process. None of the Bears’ big offseason plans have worked (save, perhaps, Julius Peppers), but the product is a 3-0 record that looks better when you consider their opponents, and worse when you actually watch the Bears do it.
Statistics, however, do not care how things look, or that Jay Cutler got four INTs called back against Green Bay by various interceptions. At least one system views Mike Martz’ offense, led by Cutler, Johnnie Knox, Matt Forte, and Greg Olsen, as the league’s best through three weeks. With the way they’ve pitched themselves out of a lot of 1st and 20 holes, why not?
The only recent comparable offense that the Bears remind me of is the pass-happy 2002 Raiders. I don’t think that Jay Cutler is going to win league MVP or anything with the flaws he exhibits, but that’s the last offense I can remember that simply did not care about the run, threw to the backs as often, and ran screens with such efficiency. This Bears team has a much better defense than that Raiders team did and those Raiders played in the super bowl.
Sure, that was a down year for the AFC, but have you seen the NFC this year?
If the Bears are indeed one of the early favorites to get the number one seed in the NFC, their fortunes could mirror that Raiders team as much as their offensive scheme already does.