Road mark determining factor in success

Bears play 4 of next 5 away from Soldier Field and playoff teams almost always above .500 on road

The Bears embark on the clarifying journey of their 2013 season with most observers unsure if the team is on the road to glory or the road to perdition.

All that is certain is that the Bears sure are on the road, with four of their next five away from Soldier Field starting Sunday against the Rams in St. Louis. They rap up the regular season at home against the Packers.

No team with a losing road record made it to the Super Bowl in the first 42 years of the game. In the last five years, two teams have pulled off the feat, the runner-up Cardinals after the 2007 season and the champion Packers after 2011.

Moreover, winning on the road is essential to making the playoffs. Since the NFL went to a four division alignment in 2002, just 17-of-132 playoff teams had a losing road record during the regular season. Throw in 15 teams that finished with a .500 road record and you have more than 75 percent of NFL playoff teams boasting a winning road record.

Only 10 teams in the league, four in the NFC, currently have winning road records. None of those NFC teams are in the North Division. The Bears are 2-2 on the road with just one opponent currently with a winning record remaining on the road schedule. That team, the Eagles (6-5), are one of the great enigmas in the league with a lousy home record (1-4) that already ensures they won't be above .500 at Lincoln Financial Field. The Browns (4-6) are the only remaining opponent with a winning record at home (3-2).

The Eagles and Browns both are coached by rookie NFL head coaches in Chip Kelly and Rob Chudzinski respectively. They join Marc Trestman in that respect.

What does Trestman have to do with the Bears to ensure a road success and with it a playoff berth? There is no secret formula. Teams have success with the same formula they would at home, including success in the turnover battle and limiting mistakes like dumb penalties. The Bears are one of 23 teams in the 32-team NFL in or within one game of a potential playoff berth.

Here's a blueprint for winning on the road:

Defense travels: Five of the 10 teams with winning road records this season are among the top 12 in defense this year, including four in the top seven in the 32-team league. Moreover, a whopping nine of those 10 teams are among the league's top 12 in points allowed. The Bears have struggled on defense through most of the year, including being downright awful in run defense. They don't play well on special teams so field position isn't the given it was in previous years.

The Bears only have 17 sacks with three multi-sack games. Two of those multi-sack games came in road victories at Pittsburgh (three) and Green Bay (five). The only other game in which they produced multiple sacks was Sunday against the Ravens.

Turnover ratio: The Bears defense is good enough when producing takeaways and not up to it when it doesn't. The Bears won the turnover battle in both their road victories, getting a whopping five against the Steelers and topping the Packers 1-0. They are 5-0 this year when they win the turnover battle.

That's why it was hardly a surprise to hear Trestman prioritize protecting the ball when asked about Josh McCown's performance against the Ravens. Here's hoping Jay Cutler was taking notes.

"The number one thing is a quarterback's job is to take care of and protect the football,'' Trestman said. "That's the number one thing you ask a quarterback to do. He has to be efficient, but even before he can be efficient he has to take care of it.''

Score early and often: The Bears can't afford to open the scripted portion of their game plan with the sort of confusion and disorganization they showed against the Ravens. The idea is to take an opposing crowd out of the game to operate easier.

Offense comes down to timing and communication and those elements are gone when crowd noise disrupts them. Scoring early can take away enthusiasm.

Most teams that lose on the road often beat themselves. You can't leave points on the field. The Bears have been doing that at an alarming rare lately, scoring touchdowns on just two of their last seven red zone possessions after opening the season with 19 of 31 touchdown conversions in their first eight games.

Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5-9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.

CHICAGO

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