At the three-quarter pole of a season, absolute numbers by themselves are one thing. Trend lines are another, and several key ones are trending in decidedly wrong directions as the Bears work to hold course for the postseason.
With three losses in the last four games against teams with winning records, falloffs should be no surprise. But the losses are the effect, not the cause.
Offensively the fact that the Bears are still 32nd in the NFL in yardage on first-down plays (4.28) after committing to improving in that area is concerning because it indicates that the Bears are still setting themselves with too much to pick up too often on subsequent downs.
A month ago, going into the Houston-San Francisco-Minnesota-Seattle stretch, the Bears were at 4.27 yards per first-down play. They were able to survive that as long as the opponents were Tennessee or Jacksonville; not the Texans or 49ers.
Bigger picture, the stunning receiving numbers of Brandon Marshall had the Bears at 29th in passing yards a month ago. Now the Bears are 31st even with Marshall catching 32 passes for 385 yards in the past quarter-seasons games.
Coach Lovie Smith rarely calls out players in public but he left no doubt that the receiver group has not been producing enough outside of Marshall.
I think weve been saying that for awhile, someone needs to step up, Smith said. I think the guys will say that. Hopefully, we still have time.
How much time really remaining?
Time and games, however, are running out, particularly if the trends are going in the wrong directions.
The Bears have a total of six offensive touchdowns over the last four games. They had 15 in the four second-quarter games, but that included six against Tennessee and five against Jacksonville, and five of the 15 were scored by the defense and special teams.
Questions about how good the Bears would be when the takeaway faucet ran a little dry have been answered. Not very.
A month ago the defense ranked No. 6 in rush yards allowed per game (88). Now it is 10th with 103.5, and 22nd in yards per attempt, up from 4.3 per attempt to 4.5.
Not surprising. After allowing only Cedric Benson and the Green Bay Packers to top 100 yards in the first six games, the Bears have held no team to fewer than 114 in the last six, with Houston, San Francisco and Seattle all netting more than 120.
The 3.6 per carry of the Texans went to 4.2 by San Francisco to 5.7 for the Vikings and 5.5 for Seattle.
Usually an optimist like Smith can point to a positive performance somewhere. In the 12th game of the season, when a defense should be hitting its stride, good was nowhere to be found.
Cant even point anybody out, Smith said. Just about every good defensive game weve played around here, weve all had something to do with that player-wise. And vs. Seattle we all had something to do with that performance that were not proud of.
We havent had many of those but it does happen. Got to make sure it doesnt happen again.