The “comparison game” doesn’t always add up

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After Armageddon occurred on Sunday and Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs left the Redskins game with injuries that’ll keep them out of action for significant periods of time, the “sky is falling” mentality struck Bears Nation.

Callers into sports talk shows — heck, even the radio hosts themselves — suggested that if a Bears defense could give up 45 points to the lowly Redskins, then an offense like the Packers with the hailed Aaron Rodgers could put up 60. And how can the Bears win games if the Bears defense allows so many points? (As they completely disregard the Bears offense’s ability to score).

Comparative scoring — comparing what one offense did against a defense versus what a better offense could potentially do — does not work like that.

I’m going to throw out an obscure reference for those basketball fans out there. Remember back in 2003-04 when the Los Angeles Lakers tried to “buy” an NBA championship? With two future Hall of Famers — Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal — already on the roster, the Lakers acquired (or “rented”) two more future Hall of Famers in Gary Payton and Karl Malone with the intent of running through the league and winning a title for the two newcomers. Many people already penciled in the Lakers as champions that year before the season even began.

The theory was that by combining these four players and their scoring averages, suddenly the Lakers would have the best offense in the league. Bryant averaged 30.0 points per game the year before. Shaq had averaged 27.5, Payton had averaged 19.6, and Malone had averaged 20.6. Add up those averages and suddenly those four players alone should have accounted for 97.7 points per game together, right? Then add in whatever the other players on the team scored and they should be the highest scoring offense in the NBA, correct? It’s simple mathematics.

Doesn’t work like that.

In that season — in which they lost to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals — every one of those players saw a decline in their scoring average. Bryant’s average went down from 30.0 to 24.0 per game. Shaq’s from 27.5 to 21.5. Payton’s from 19.6 to 14.6. And Malone’s from 20.6 to 13.2. And as a team, the Lakers actually went from averaging 100.4 points per game before this “dream team” was assembled down to 98.2 with the four Future Hall of Famers.

There was only one ball. Only one player could score per possession. Only “x” number of minutes per game.

So … what’s the point of my obscure reference? The point is, you can’t just look at a team, say it is better, and expect better results.

That brings us back to the Bears. It doesn’t matter that they’ll be facing a Packers team two Mondays from now with a much better offense than the Redskins. The teams will be playing on the same 100-yard field that they did against the Redskins. The game will be played with the same 60-minute clock that the Bears and Redskins operated under. And, despite the loss of the Bears’ best defender, Lance Briggs, the teams will be playing with the same 11-versus-11 player odds.

One ball. One score per possession. “X” number of minutes per game.

What matters in football games is execution and time of possession. Sure, while a defense can score off takeaways, a team cannot otherwise score without the football.

So, the idea for these Bears is to hold onto the ball as long as possible and don’t let the opposing offense score quickly. Make them work for their points. (translated: Don’t get beat by the deep ball; keep everything in front)

The Bears have had a problem with time of possession. They had the ball just 26 minutes against the Redskins. If they move the ball methodically with Josh McCown filling in for Jay Cutler, if they give the ball more to Matt Forte and chew up more clock, there’s no way a good Packers offense will automatically score more than the Redskins just because they’re comparatively better.

We have to be careful about assuming losses for the Bears during Cutler’s and Briggs’ absences just because these teams coming up on the schedule are comparatively better than the woeful Redskins bunch that put up 45.

Like the old adage goes: The best team doesn’t always win; that’s why they play the games.

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