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Sunday, 19 October 2014 14:24

Dolphins vs Bears Breakdown - Week 7 Featured

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The Miami Dolphins enter their game against the Chicago Bears at a critical juncture of their season. At 2-3 with a winnable Jacksonville game upcoming, a road win would set them up to at least continue to compete for the division title. A loss would threaten the chance of the Patriots starting to run away with the division. The pressure is starting to build and Miami must start to execute consistently to keep pace. However, records are just the outcomes of games played on the field and dictated by matchups; let’s take a look at some keys to this one.

The Chicago Offense

Chicago is ranked in the middle of the pack in both points and yardage with a pass-dominated attack. Their 23.8 pts/game ranks 15th in the league while their 370.2 yards/game has them at 14th. They have thrown the ball for 72.3% of their yards with 267.7 yards/game (9th overall) and rushed for 102.5 yards per game (21st overall). Their TD breakdown reflects their pass-centric approach with 13 pass TDs and only 3 rush TDs.

Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, which again adjusts for strength of opponent, has their overall offense ranked as 16th best in the league with their pass offense at 13th and their rush offense at 15th.

Chicago has had an up and down year as reflected by their 3-3 record. After opening the year with a 23-20 home loss to Buffalo, they won two road games at SF (28-20) and at the NYJ (27-19). This was followed by two consecutive losses with a fairly one-sided game at home vs GB (38-17) and a close affair at Carolina (31-24). Finally, in last week’s game, the Bears won at Atlanta (27-13). Looking at some offensive statistics between their wins and losses gives a sense as to what has led to these discordant results.

 

Game/Outcome

Total yards

Passing yards

Passing TDs

Rushing yards

Rushing TDs

Sacks

Ints

TO differential

Time of Possession

Bills - L - 20-23

427

341

2

86

0

2

2

-2

52.2%

at Niners - W - 28-20

216

170

4

46

0

1

0

4

43.6%

at NYJ - W - 27-19

257

197

2

60

0

4

0

2

46.9%

GB - L - 38-17

496

261

2

235

0

1

2

-2

60.6%

at Car - L - 24-31

347

262

2

85

1

4

2

-1

55.0%

at Atl - W - 27-13

478

375

1

103

2

2

0

1

60.4%

                   

Wins

317.0

247.3

2.3

69.7

0.7

2.3

0.0

2.3

50.3%

Losses

423.3

288.0

2.0

135.3

0.3

2.3

2.0

-1.7

55.9%

 

While every game is its own microcosm, which can be dissected, one clear trend that emerges in looking at Bears wins vs losses is the importance of turnover differential. In each of their 3 losses, Jay Cutler has thrown a pair of picks contributing to a -1.7 turnover deficit in those games. In the 3 wins, with a 2.3 TO differential, it’s been just the opposite.

 

QB Play

Cutler for the year has graded out as the 15th best QB overall by PFF and at 13th using Football Outsiders’ DYAR metric. His accuracy has been respectable at 75.7% (12th overall) and he has completed passes 68.1% of the time (5th overall). Speaking to the strength of Chicago’s passing game is also his 13 passing TDs (5th). PFF also charts QB play under pressure, which shows Cutler as one of the best in the game this year when under duress. Cutler has completed 61.1% of his passes under pressure (1st overall) with 72.9% accuracy (2nd overall).

cutlerdown.jpg

WR Play

The Bears offensive arsenal features formidable challenges to any defense with their two primary receivers in Alshon Jeffery (6’3”, 216 lbs) and Brandon Marshall (6’4”, 224 lbs). Only 6 other teams have more combined yardage from their top 2 WRs than their 796 receiving yards this season (Bal, Den, Det, GB, Ind, Pit).  Their size advantage poses major issues for nearly any secondary. PFF’s WR rating, the quarterback’s rating when throwing to that WR, has Jeffery at 4th overall with a WR rating of 122.8 and Marshall at 19th with a WR rating of 96.9.

marshall.jpg

TE

To make things even more challenging from a pass coverage perspective, at TE, the Bears feature Martellus Bennett. Bennett (6’6”, 259 lbs) has the most receptions of any TE this season with 36, while racking up 364 yards (5th) including 169 yards after the catch (3rd). Moreover, he’s been sure-handed with only 1 drop on 48 targets. Combine these stellar receiving numbers with solid performances in run blocking and, unsurprisingly, Bennett grades out as PFF’s 2nd best TE overall thus far.

 

RB

Matt Forte rounds out the impressive skill position group. Forte has a respectable 399 yards rushing this season while averaging 4 yards/carry. However, what really separates him from his peers is the damage he does in the pass game. Forte leads all RBs by over 100 receiving yards with 376 yards on 46 receptions. Looking at Forte’s receptions by direction and distance (via PFF subscription services), the vast majority of his targeting is in the middle of the field with 19 targets in the middle behind the line of scrimmage and 24 targets 0-9 yards out. Forte’s use outside the numbers, right or left, in the pass game has been minimal with a total of 8 targets combined. Forte also contributes positively in pass protection as he’s allowed only one sack and one pressure on 49 pass block snaps this season.

forte.jpg

Trench Play

The Bears offensive line has been serviceable in the pass game. Their pass blocking efficiency (PFF, via subscription), which takes into account the number of sacks, hits, and hurries allowed has them at 15th in the league. The line does have some weaknesses however. 2nd year player Jordan Mills grades out on PFF as the 2nd worst RT in the league so far. Mills was particularly taken advantage of by  Atlanta and Jonathan Massaquoi last week as he gave up 1 sack, 1, hit, and 6 QB hurries. Run blocking is difficult to quantify, but it should be noted that Chicago’s unit currently ranks as the best in the league by PFF in run blocking. Additionally, they will be somewhat improved on the left side as Jermon Bushrod, solid in the pass and run block game, is probable to return from injury at LT.

 

Implications for Miami

Clearly there is no easy way to stop the Bears pass game. The combination of Marshall, Jeffery, and Bennett is an imposing challenge for any defense. The Dolphins secondary will have to step their game up significantly. This is worrisome as Cortland Finnegan tries to bounce back in a game where he was repeatedly beat by GB and where he contributed with crucial errors in the game’s final moments. Moreover, Finnegan (5’10”) and Brent Grimes (5’ 10”) are at a major height disadvantage in this game. While only a limited sample size since being on the Dolphins, Grimes has performed decently vs taller wide-outs; AJ Green was limited to 5 receptions on 9 targets with no TDs and Vincent Jackson to zero receptions on 2 targets last season. As noted above, Cutler does well under pressure and this is in no small part due to his top-tier targets. Miami has to be ready to play an extremely physical game against this squad and be ready for the jump ball when the front 7 gets pressure.

grimes.jpg

The Bears offense has turned the ball over with two Cutler interceptions in each of their losses. Cutler at times can force passes, which can be taken advantage of given good pass coverage. Miami only has 3 interceptions on the year, which puts them at 21st in the league; the secondary has to be ready to step up if Cutler presents them with an opportunity.

Chicago does run block respectably, but Matt Forte is a fundamental piece to their offense predominantly through their pass game. The Dolphins LB unit has seen a breakout performance this season so far by Jelani Jenkins. No matter what metric one can look at or what game tape one can watch, Jenkins has been turning heads as one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the league. In combination with Koa Misi continuing to play in his new MLB spot, the chess match vs Cutler/Forte will be absolutely crucial in trying to slow down the Bears offense. Miami’s use of safety play in the run game also figures to play an important role as Reshad Jones return last week showed immediate results vs GB in run and short pass defense.

jelani.JPG

Lastly, like in every other game, the Dolphins elite defensive line can be a critical game-changing force against Chicago. Cam Wake will have a juicy matchup against a struggling Jordan Mills. Optimally, when not getting beat in one on one coverage, the Bears would have to slide Forte over to help with extra pass protection and decrease his usage as a target. Cutler is not extremely elusive, but he usually either takes a sack or gets off a decent pass to one of his bigtime receivers. Miami can go a long ways to turning this game in their favor however if they can rattle Cutler and force some errant throws.

 

The Chicago Defense

Statistically, Chicago on defense is in the middle of the pack. They have allowed an average of 349.8 yards/game (16th overall) with 246.2 pass yards/game (17th) and 103.7 rush yards per game (10th). They have given up an average of 23.8 points per game (18th) including 10 pass TDs (17th) and 4 rush TDs (14th), while giving up 4.3 rush yards/attempt.  Football Outsiders has the Bears defensive DVOA as 8th best overall. Their pass defense DVOA ranks as 5th best and their rush defense DVOA ranks as 18th best. Interestingly, the Bears defensive performance variance, a measure of how consistently they have played, has them as the 4th most inconsistent team on defense this year so far.

Looking at the Bears defense by wins and losses reveals some interesting findings.

Game/Outcome

Total yards

Passing yards

Passing TDs

Rushing yards

Rushing Tds

Sacks

Ints

Bills - L - 20-23

360

167

1

193

1

1

1

atNiners - W - 28-20

359

232

1

127

1

4

3

atNYJ - W - 27-19

414

300

1

114

0

3

2

GB - L - 38-17

358

302

4

56

1

1

0

atCar - L - 24-31

321

231

2

90

1

2

1

atAtl - W - 27-13

287

245

1

42

0

4

1

               

Wins

353.3

259.0

1.0

94.3

0.3

3.7

2.0

Losses

346.3

233.3

2.3

113.0

1.0

1.3

0.7

 

As seen above, the Bears defense has significantly less sacks and interceptions in their losses. Combined with the interceptions thrown by Cutler in their losses, an unfavorable turnover differential has been a key to beating them.

Front 7

On the defensive line, defensive end Lamarr Houston is having a very nice season rushing from the left side. Although he has no sacks, he does have 21 QB pressures (6th overall) including 8 hits on the QB. Meanwhile, offseason pickup Willie Young, a former 7th round draft pick, is having somewhat of a breakout season as he leads the league with 7 sacks. Rounding out Chicago’s defensive pressure is veteran Jared Allen who, though not as impressive as his younger self, has continued to provide pressure at key moments for Chicago.

The Bears LB corps has been depleted by injuries. Lance Briggs will be out vs Miami and Jonathan Bostic is questionable in coming back from a back injury. MLB DJ Williams, out last week with a neck injury, is probable to return as is Shea McClellin, who is returning to start at the strong side linebacker position from a broken hand.

Although the front seven looked much improved against Atlanta last week, even with all the injuries, teams have had success in both throwing underneath coverage and running against this group.

Secondary

The Bears secondary has featured impressive play this year from rookie Kyle Fuller, their 1st round, 14th overall pick. Fuller was thrust into the spotlight after Chicago lost Charles Tillman to injury early in the season and he has responded well to the call. Fuller has three interceptions this season and generally has been a reliable playmaker as he’s played every defensive snap since being thrust into starting action week 3. At Safety, the Bears will be playing rookie Brock Vereen and 5th year player Danny McCray alongside Ryan Mundy as Chris Conte has been ruled out with a shoulder injury. Vereen, a 4th round pick out of Minnesota, has seen only limited action this year with 83 snaps. McCray, known for being a big hitter, has been taken advantage of in coverage at times this year, including two critical TDs by Carolina TE Greg Olsen in week 5.

 

Implications for Miami

The Bears have a respectable defensive line that can create pressure. Houston, Allen, and Young are not to be scoffed at and they were a major force in dictating Chicago’s win last week against Atlanta. However, behind them they are playing with an injury-depleted secondary and LB unit, which Miami should be able to do damage against.

The Dolphins offensive line has provided decent time and protection for Ryan Tannehill this year overall. If they can give him enough of an opportunity, there should be space downfield this week. Kyle Fuller has played well as a rookie, but he was prone to the deep threat in college and Mike Wallace should give him a major headache. Behind Fuller is a safety squad missing a starter that can also be beat.

The Dolphins run game this year has been a welcome surprise. Lamar Miller is averaging 5.2 yards per carry (5th in the league). From a play-calling standpoint this year however, the Dolphins have struggled to maintain balance. Even though they are averaging 5 yards/carry, 3rd best in the league, they rank 16th in total rush yardage on the 24th most attempts.

Against Chicago, the Dolphins should have the opportunity to establish a respectable run game and draw the Chicago defense in before hitting them deep with the pass. The Dolphins have run the 8th most play-action snaps in the league this season and I would expect to see plenty of it vs Chicago.

Charles Clay, coming off a big year, has been quiet in 2014. Last week against GB he started to show signs of life again. Jarvis Landry, in the slot with his most significant action last week, made the most of his opportunity and repeatedly flashed the talent and effort that had many fans praising him on draft day. Against Chicago, Clay and Landry should both have plenty of opportunities in the intermediate pass game and I would expect to see them targeted in the seam frequently.

The Dolphins have been the epitome of a slow-starting team this year. Resultantly, Miami is averaging only 8 points per 1st half, 30th in the league; conversely, their 16 points per 2nd half ranks them as the best in the NFL. Quite frankly, whether it be QB timing and decision making, WR reliability and intensity, or in the trench game, the offense has looked like two different squads when comparing the 1st and 2nd halves. Miami’s defense should be able to keep them in this game, but they will have a substantially better chance to victory if they can start the way they have finished.

 

Prediction

Miami 24 – Chicago 20. 

Read 81759 times Last modified on Sunday, 19 October 2014 15:12
Pablo Knowles

Pablo is a FinDepth co-founder. Having grown up in South Florida, he's been a Miami Dolphins fan since childhood. His main avenue of football analysis is through a statistical approach. He also enjoys quality music and a good laugh. Pablo can be found at @PabloKnows on twitter and can be reached via email at PabloKnows54@gmail.com. 

 

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