Bear Down, Nerd Up: Over 14-game losing streak, Bears defense has been historically bad

Defense on par with winless 2008 Lions, 2017 Browns

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson gets the ball off just ahead of the pressure of Chicago Bears defensive end DeMarcus Walker during their game Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

For the third time in team history, the Bears blew a 21-point lead.

Sunday’s 31-28 loss to Denver will go down as a historic collapse. Twice before the Bears blew a 21-point lead: against the Patriots in 2002 and against the 49ers in 1953. It was the sixth time the Bears blew a lead of 20 points or more, and the first since the 2018 season opener against the Packers.

Here are the other numbers, stats and figures that stood out this week.

Can’t stop, won’t stop (opposing offense): The Bears’ defense has been historically bad during this 14-game losing streak. Over the past 14 games, dating to an Oct. 30 loss to the Dallas Cowboys last season, the Bears have allowed 33.4 points per game and 400.9 total yards per game.

Just how bad is that?

No NFL team has allowed 400 yards per game over the course of a full season since 2020 (scoring hit an all-time high that season). The Bears haven’t lost 16 consecutive games, so this sample size is not quite a full season’s worth of data. And I know the 2022 defense isn’t the 2023 defense. But it’s still eye opening how bad this defense has been under head coach Matt Eberflus, particularly during this losing streak.

The Bears are on one of the worst stretches of defense we’ve seen in the 21st century. The 2017 Cleveland Browns and the 2008 Detroit Lions – teams that went 0-16 – performed better than the Bears have over the past 14 games.

Here’s a comparison:

  • 2008 Lions defense: 32.3 points per game; 404.4 yards per game
  • 2017 Browns defense: 25.6 points per game; 328.1 yards per game
  • Bears defense during current 14-game losing streak: 33.4 points per game; 400.9 yards per game

The 2017 Browns defense wasn’t actually that bad. It ranked 14th in the NFL in yards per game. Cleveland’s problem that year was the offense couldn’t stop turning the ball over.

The 2017 Browns totaled 34 sacks in 16 games. The 2008 Lions totaled 20 sacks in 16 games. The Bears have 10 sacks during this 14-game losing streak.

The streak goes on: Two weeks ago in this space, I noted that the Bears’ losing streak was at 12 games and nearing historical relevance but suggested we don’t freak out until it potentially hits 14 games.

Welp, it’s at 14 games.

It’s now tied for the 19th-longest losing streak in NFL history. If it were to stretch to 17 games, that would place it among the top-10 longest losing streaks.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the record for the longest losing streak at 26 games from 1976 to ‘77.

The Chicago Cardinals sort of hold the record, but it comes with an asterisk because they combined with the Pittsburgh Steelers for one season during World War II. The Cardinals lost 16 straight from 1942-43, then lost all 10 games in 1944 as “Card-Pitt,” then lost the first three games of 1945 as the Chicago Cardinals again. All in all, it was a 29-game losing streak, but it also wasn’t just one organization in 1944, so it typically is thrown out of the record books.

The previous Bears franchise record losing streak was eight games.

A breakthrough? Quarterback Justin Fields had his best game as a passer in his NFL career Sunday.

He totaled career highs in passing yards (335), completions (28), touchdown passes (four) and passer rating (132.7).

He also set a career high in NFL Next Gen Stats’ “completion percentage over expected” at 18.1%. Only Brock Purdy and Lamar Jackson had higher marks in Week 4.

On passes that traveled 10 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, Fields went 9 for 12 for 189 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. In Week 1, remember, he attempted only four passes that went 10 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Efficient running: Bears running back Khalil Herbert continues to be one of the most efficient running backs in the NFL. Herbert totaled 108 rushing yards on 18 carries and a receiving touchdown.

His 1.66 rush yards over expected per carry, per Next Gen Stats, in Week 4 ranked second behind only Atlanta’s Bijan Robinson. On the season, Herbert ranks ninth in Next Gen Stats’ “efficiency” rating, which takes the total distance a player traveled and divides it by yards gained. The lower the number, the more north to south the ball carrier runs.

Herbert was one of the league’s most efficient runners a year ago, and he has picked up right where he left off.

Big cushion: One other Next Gen Stats nugget here. The Broncos were giving receiver DJ Moore one of the largest cushions in the NFL during Sunday’s game.

On average, the nearest defender to Moore was 9.3 yards away at the time of the snap. That doesn’t mean they weren’t covering him, though. His average separation at the time of the catch was only 1.9 yards. Moore finished his afternoon with eight catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos felt more comfortable keeping Moore in front of them. The result was Moore’s best game of the season so far.

This was similar, although slightly more extreme, than how Tampa Bay played Moore in Week 2. The Bucs gave him an average cushion of 7.3 yards. Moore had an average separation at the time of the catch of 3.1 yards in that game.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, didn’t give Moore any room. The nearest defender was an average of 3.3 yards away from him at the time of the snap.

A sack! The Bears recorded one sack Sunday. Sadly, every time they record a sack it is now considered notable. Linebacker Jack Sanborn disrupted Russell Wilson and nearly finished the sack himself, but Wilson escaped only to be brought down by Dominique Robinson and Zacch Pickens.

The Bears have two sacks through four games this season. There are 48 individual NFL players with at least two sacks this season. The Bears’ 1.57% sack rate still ranks last among 32 NFL teams.

Snap notes: Sanborn played 65% of defensive snaps. That means the Bears were in their base 4-3 scheme (with three linebackers and four defensive backs) for 65% of the game. The Bears were in their nickel defense (five DBs and two linebackers) for 35% of the snaps.

That is a higher percentage than the Bears typically play in their base defense. With several injuries in the secondary, the Bears might have simply felt more comfortable with Sanborn on the field than some of the reserve DBs.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.