Checking the Numbers: Steelers-Bears Game

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

On Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears met for a game in which the Steelers were considered by many to be heavy favorites. However, there were also those who called this a must-win game for the Bears, already in this young season. As we now know, the Bears won a hard-fought, close game, but how did each team look compared to what we would expect statistically? As I did with a few games last week, here I wanted to look at this game from my own analytical perspective.

In this post, I took the box score stats from the game and compared how each team did against their season averages from the 2008 season. Soon, I may begin incorporating the 2009 numbers with those from last years, giving a weighting to each game, but that will require some background work that I haven’t completed yet. So, since the previous season usually serves as the baseline for predictions going into a new year, I think that analyzing against the previous season’s numbers will be acceptable for now.

So, anyway, on to the numbers! (Box Scores taken from Yahoo! Sports and 2008 averages from Below, I have four tables.

Steelers’ Offensive Boxscore vs. Steelers’ 2008 Offensive Averages

The first table is a comparison of Pittsburgh’s offensive numbers from this game with their average numbers from the 2008 season. This gives an indication as to how well the Bears’ defense performed in this game because it shows whether the Steelers’ offensive numbers were above or below their 2008 averages.

Team Statistics Bears’ Def vs. Steelers’ Off
  PIT PITAvgOff % Difference
  First Downs 21 18.13 15.86%
    Passing 13 11.19 16.20%
    Rushing 7 5.81 20.43%
  TOTAL NET YARDS 308 311.94 -1.26%
    Total Plays 59 63.44 -7.00%
    Average Gain Per Play 5.2 4.9 6.12%
  NET YARDS RUSHING 105 105.63 -0.59%
    Rushes 22 28.75 -23.48%
    Average Per Rush 4.8 3.7 29.73%
  NET YARDS PASSING 203 206.31 -1.61%
    Yards Per Pass Play 5.5 5.9 -6.78%
    Times Sacked 2 3.06 -34.69%
    Had Intercepted 1 0.94 6.67%
    Fumbles Lost 1 0.63 60.00%

Overall, the Bears’ defense kept the Steelers’ offense right on par with their 2008 numbers. The two most noticeable differences are in the sack numbers, where the Bears had 2, nearly 35% below what the Steelers averaged allowing each game last year, and the yards/rush, where the Bears allowed nearly 30% above the Steelers’ 2008 average. Over at BTSC, Blitzburgh mentioned in his post game analysis that the Steelers’ running game was working well in the second half. These numbers bear that out.

Bears’ Offensive Boxscore vs. Steelers’ 2008 Defensive Averages

The second table is a comparison of the Bears’ offensive numbers from the game to the Steelers’ defensive averages from 2008. This tells us how the Bears’ offense performed compared to Steelers’ defensive averages from last year.

Team Statistics Bears’ Off vs. Steelers’ Def
  CHI  PITAvgDef % Difference
  First Downs 17 15 13.33%
    Passing 13 9.31 39.60%
    Rushing 2 4.56 -56.16%
  TOTAL NET YARDS 275 237.19 15.94%
    Total Plays 57 60.88 -6.37%
    Average Gain Per Play 4.8 3.9 23.08%
  NET YARDS RUSHING 43 80.25 -46.42%
    Rushes 18 24.38 -26.15%
    Average Per Rush 2.4 3.3 -27.27%
  NET YARDS PASSING 232 156.94 47.83%
    Yards Per Pass Play 5.9 4.3 37.21%
    Times Sacked 1 3.19 -68.63%
    Had Intercepted 0 1.25 -100.00%
    Fumbles Lost 0 0.56 -100.00%

The Bears’ offense performed well overall against the Steelers’ defense, particularly in the passing game, with 48% more yards than the Pittsburgh’s defense average allowing in 2008. That, combined with only allowing a single sack (nearly 70% below the Steelers’ 2008 average) and no turnovers, is likely the reason the Bears came out on top. The Bears’ main weakness in these numbers was in the rushing game, where they gained over 46% below the Steelers’ 2008 average (which was already very low).

Bears’ Offensive Boxscore vs. Bears’ 2008 Offensive Averages

The third table compares the Bears’ offensive output in this game against their average offensive output from 2008. So, it gives an indication as to how the Steelers’ defense performed against the Bears’ 2008 offensive averages.

Team Statistics Steelers’ Def vs. Bears’ Off
  CHI  CHI AvgOff % Difference
  First Downs 17 16.5 3.03%
    Passing 13 9.56 35.95%
    Rushing 2 6.13 -67.35%
  TOTAL NET YARDS 275 295.88 -7.06%
    Total Plays 57 61.94 -7.97%
    Average Gain Per Play 4.8 4.8 0.00%
  NET YARDS RUSHING 43 104.56 -58.88%
    Rushes 18 27.13 -33.64%
    Average Per Rush 2.4 3.9 -38.46%
  NET YARDS PASSING 232 191.31 21.27%
    Yards Per Pass Play 5.9 5.5 7.27%
    Times Sacked 1 1.81 -44.83%
    Had Intercepted 0 0.88 -100.00%
    Fumbles Lost 0 0.81 -100.00%

Ironically, this table actually shows that the Steelers’ defense performed pretty well against the Bears’ offense. So, between the two tables, we see that both units had below average statistics for the game. In fact, they were close to the average of their respective averages. The main area that the Steelers’ defense struggled was against the pass, but they excelled against the run. This is somewhat to be expected, with Jay Cutler replacing Kyle Orton.

Steelers’ Offensive Boxscore vs. Bears’ 2008 Defensive Averages

The fourth table compares the Steelers’ offensive output with the Bears’ average defensive numbers from 2008. So, this gives an indication as to how the Steelers’ offense performed against the Bears’ defense.

Team Statistics Steelers’ Off vs. Bears’ Def
  PIT CHI AvgDef % Difference
  First Downs 21 19.63 7.01%
    Passing 13 13 0.00%
    Rushing 7 5.81 20.43%
  TOTAL NET YARDS 308 334.69 -7.97%
    Total Plays 59 67.94 -13.16%
    Average Gain Per Play 5.2 4.9 6.12%
  NET YARDS RUSHING 105 93.5 12.30%
    Rushes 22 27.31 -19.45%
    Average Per Rush 4.8 3.4 41.18%
  NET YARDS PASSING 203 241.19 -15.83%
    Yards Per Pass Play 5.5 5.9 -6.78%
    Times Sacked 2 1.75 14.29%
    Had Intercepted 1 1.38 -27.27%
    Fumbles Lost 1 0.63 60.00%

Of any of the tables, this one may tell the tale of the game more than the others. With several players returning from injury on offense, and another year together for the offensive line, the offense was expected to improve this year, particularly considering that they faced so many top defenses last year. However, the Steelers did not significantly exceed any of the Bears’ average defensive numbers from 2008. The area that they did exceed the Bears’ defensive averages was in the running game, but they only rushed the ball 22 out of 59 plays. This may be an example of not doing a good enough job of making in game adjustments.

Overall, this was a tight game with the Steelers having the edge in yards gained but losing the turnover battle and, ultimately, the game. This game may have been an example of a team that was more desperate making just a couple more plays to win. Of course, these statistics don’t account for the two missed FGs that Jeff Reed had, either. But, on the whole, it appears that it was the offense more than the defense that cost the Steelers the win.

Let me know your thoughts.


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5 Responses to “Checking the Numbers: Steelers-Bears Game”

  1. Phantaskippy Says:

    Good post.

    I think the running success we had might be a case of using the run more efficiently, AKA the pass setting up the run, instead of vice-versa.

    instead of forcing them to load the box, we took advantage of pass oriented defense with a few good runs. I think the running backs and O-line we have can benefit from that style.

    My favorite line of this post by far is “In fact, they were close to the average of their respective averages.” If Tomlin was into stats, he’d say something like that.

    If I interpret it correct is reads: “this game is what it should have been statistically.” I agree. missed field goals and a fumble, these things were the turning point in a game where both teams followed their game plan and did just enough to win.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Glad you liked the line. 🙂 Yeah, essentially, this is referring to the Bears’ offense vs. Steelers’ defense. The performance was somewhere between their averages, which, as you say is somewhat to be expected.

      If anything, these numbers and the other reviews that I’ve read have told me that the game was lost because the offense didn’t execute well enough to overcome a defense that shouldn’t have given them so much trouble. Of course, we’ll find out in coming weeks if the Bears defense is improved over last year, in which case, maybe this loss is not as unexpected as we think.

      • Phantaskippy Says:

        With their performance against Green Bay it might be the case, but then Green Bay lost again and struggled against Cincy’s defense, so it could be that GB has dropped off. Either that or Cincy’s defense really is improved.

        It’s fun looking at stats this early, largely because you get a front row view of the reality of these teams as it reveals itself.

        • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

          So far, the Bears have a top 5 defense and the Bengals’ was top 10 last year, so it’s not a terrible stretch.

          I had never thought of the stats from that standpoint. I’m usually more interested in having a big enough sample to have valid results, but it is kind of cool seeing the teams form themselves into what they’ll be remembered for in 2009.

  2. jadimeo Says:

    Sports data mining FTW

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