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They defy logic, but these odd stats can be explained

Strange things are a happenin' statistically in the NFL these days ... stranger than Curtis Enis and Troy Hambrick once being first-rounders in fantasy drafts. Perhaps even stranger than Lando Calrissian's creepy bald-headed assistant.

Here's three of the weirdest happenings through seven weeks:

» The Chargers -- at the top of the NFL charts in total offense and defense -- can't get a win to save their life.

» Drew Brees and the defending champion Saints fell to another rookie quarterback.

» The Bears, led by Mike Martz and Jay Cutler, going 0-for-28 on third down.

That's right, with Cutler under center, Chicago went 28 straight third-down plays without converting a single snap into a new set of downs. No better place to start trying to explain the seemingly unexplainable than with the Bears' fetish for punting.

Third-and-long shot

Martz's offense has been in the cellar on third down all season, but over the last couple of games its reached epic proportions. So how can a team that has a really sharp offensive coordinator and a quarterback with fantastic physical tools falter so miserably? Three reasons:

1a. Too much reliance on the pass.

1b. Too many protection schemes for the offensive line.

1c. An offensive line that's been in need of addressing for years.

The list is designated 1a., 1b., and 1c. on purpose because each is interconnected. Martz has been passing over the running game like my older brothers incessantly played the skip and reverse cards on me in UNO. How's this for a statistical nugget: Over the last 10 quarters the Bears have a 76 percent pass-to-run ratio. Terribly unbalanced.

So the defense knows the Bears are passing on almost every down. That means pass rushers like Osi Umenyiora and Brian Orakpo can tee off with little concern for a draw, or any running play for that matter. Considering the Bears have given up the most sacks in the league (31), Cutler is getting knocked around a lot. So by the time it's third down, you have a quarterback who is hearing footsteps, pass rushers who know they can just worry about collapsing pockets, and ultimately, little chance of picking up a first down.

Making matters worse, there have been some whispers that Martz has too many protection schemes for his linemen to process. While many teams have around 20, some people believe Martz has upwards of 40.

"Forty is a lot of protections," NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said. "That's too much for an offensive line that's struggled."

Having to learn so many protections -- and execute them -- is especially hard when the line isn't playing well, or frankly, doesn't have enough good players. Chicago has only drafted one offensive lineman in the first three rounds of its last eight drafts. Thus, the trouble with sacks.

"(Martz) definitely needs to simplify his protection schemes, because that (pass protection) is an issue they've been having," NFL Network analyst Brian Billick said.

Drew Brees when Saints face rookie QBs in 2010
W-L Comp pct. TD/INT Passer rating
0-2 64.2 4-7 66.8
Other games
4-1 72.4 10-3 103.5

Rookie see, rookie do

You have to wonder if Colt McCoy saw the Cardinals' Max Hall beat the Saints a few weeks back. Both are rookies, and each has the distinction of taking down the defending champs this season.

How did that happen?

It's a simple equation: All-Pro quarterback plays like a rookie, New Orleans loses to a rookie.

As you can see in the chart above, Brees' play against Arizona and Cleveland left a lot to be desired. His first of two pick-6's to Browns linebacker David Bowens changed the complexion of the game on Sunday, taking the score from 13-3 to 20-3.

QBs with wins over the Saints the last two years
Team Player Career W-L Career rating
Cowboys Tony Romo 39-21 95.4
Bucs Josh Freeman 7-8 69.1
Panthers Matt Moore* 7-4 76.7
Falcons Matt Ryan 25-12 85.5
Cardinals Max Hall 1-1 43.7
Browns Colt McCoy 1-1 76.5
*Brees didn't play in Week 17 of 2009

Brees scrambled to his right and tried to throw across his body to Devery Henderson streaking across the middle -- eerily reminiscent of Brett Favre's interception to Tracy Porter in the NFC Championship Game. Brees never saw Bowens, launching the ball right at his facemask. The veteran linebacker made a juggling catch after a fortuitous carom off Jahri Evans' behind, and took it to the house. All in all, it was just one of several bad throws -- and reads -- by the Saints' all-world quarterback.

Besides increasing the Cleveland lead, the Bowens touchdown also took Saints running back Chris Ivory, who racked up 158 yards on the ground in Week 6, out of the game. The undrafted rookie ran the rock just four times in the second half. The Saints, playing from behind, called just five runs the entire half.

Not to mention, losing to a wet-behind-the-ears player like McCoy is not a first for the Saints (see chart above).

Despite New Orleans' sterling 17-6 record over 2009-'10, four of the six losses came against quarterbacks who were more of backup Chase Daniel's ilk than Brees'.

First in everything ... except standings

The 2-5 Chargers are ranked first in both offense and defense. Total offense and defense. So who -- or what -- are the culprits for a team seemingly performing so well?

Start with turnovers in the red zone. The Chargers have turned the ball over five times inside the opposing 20-yard line, most in the league. For a team whose five losses were all one-score games, the importance of this figure can't be understated. Nor can the fact that Norv Turner's team can't hold on to the ball. Guess who leads the NFL in lost fumbles with 12? Your San Diego Chargers! That's four more than the next closest team in the AFC.


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But once again, special teams let San Diego down against New England on Sunday, much like the losses to Kansas City (Dexter McCluster punt return touchdown), Seattle (two Leon Washington kick return TDs), and Oakland (two punt blocks.)

Late in the first half, the Chargers had a chance to pin the Patriots deep in their own territory with just over two minutes to play. However, the punt coverage unit couldn't contain Julian Edelman, whose 34-yard return set up a key New England field goal. There's three points.

Then, every Chargers fan had to live through Kris Brown's field goal miss at the end of the game. Granted, it was 50 yards on grass, and Brown isn't the regular kicker, but this team really needed that kick.

Two special teams plays accounted for six points ... the Chargers lost by three. That's one way the top offensive and defensive club starts 2-5.

Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.

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