Upon further review, maybe the Bears' defense wasn't as good as coach Lovie Smith suggested on Sunday when he said, "Our defense outplayed their defense. That's the way you look at it."
Only if you're in a house of mirrors would the vision of a Bears defense that yielded 543 yards of total offense be better than a Panthers unit that permitted 317 yards, even though the Bears came out on top 34-29.
By noon Monday, Smith gave a more realistic assessment.
"Defensively, we didn't play as well as we needed to, it's kind of as simple as that," he said. "Whenever you give up that many yards you're not happy with that."
That could be an accurate description of the Bears' defense through the first four weeks of the season. Granted they have played some of the NFL's strongest offensive units, but the Bears are No. 31 in total team defense, having allowed an average of 425.8 yards per game. Only the Patriots are worse.
The Bears are 24th in rushing yards allowed per game at 124.2 and even worse against the pass, where they have allowed an average of 301.5 yards per game, 29th in the league.
"We need to get more pressure on them," Smith said of a defense that failed to sack rookie quarterback Cam Newton even once, while he threw 46 passes. "We gave up big plays in the passing game. We didn't play the run well. You just can't have that, but you have to give (the Panthers) a lot of credit."
WR Steve Smith
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
True, the Panthers under Ron Rivera appear to be a much-improved unit over the 2-14 team that got John Fox fired last year, but the Bears' defense deserves criticism as well. The Panthers had a ridiculous 10 plays of 20 yards or longer on Sunday. They have put up monster numbers throwing the ball this year in each of their games, partly because they have trailed much of the time, and that was true Sunday against the Bears.
But the 169 rushing yards seems especially irksome to a team that prides itself on stopping the run.
"We're working on that," Smith said. "I can't give you a reason why (Sunday was so bad). Believe me, if we knew that we wouldn't let it happen. We wouldn't be talking about it afterwards. When things aren't working exactly the way we like, we go back to the practice field, we identify it, which we have, and we'll work to get it better.
"We won't play defense like that very often around here. It's still early. We'll get the run defense -- and not just the run defense -- I'm as disappointed in some of the big plays that we've given up defensively as much as anything, but these are all correctible things."
REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS
PASSING OFFENSE: D - The Bears didn't need to throw much, which was a good thing because they still didn't protect QB Jay Cutler very well, and Cutler was ineffective at best, completing 9 of 17 passes for 102 yards with one interception and a passer rating of 46.7. WR Johnny Knox had three catches for 48 yards, but the other four wide receivers combined for two catches and 31 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A - Matt Forte was given 25 carries and responded with 205 yards, and the offensive line, which still isn't at full strength, did an excellent job of opening holes all afternoon. Even when it didn't, Forte made significant yardage on his own. He had runs of 46, 40 and 20 yards in addition to a 17-yard touchdown run.
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus - Steve Smith (eight catches, 181 yards) made the Bears look sick, but nickel corner D.J. Moore picked off Cam Newton and scored on a 20-yard return. Even though Newton threw 46 passes, the Bears failed to get a single sack, and their defensive line is not living up to its reputation.
RUSH DEFENSE: D - The Panthers came in with the No. 25 ground game, but they trampled the Bears for 169 yards on 26 attempts, a 6.5-yard average. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs each had eight tackles, but there were no impact plays.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Devin Hester's 11th punt-return touchdown, a 69-yarder, gave him sole possession of first place on the all-time list, moving out of a tie with Brian Mitchell. He also had a 73-yard kickoff return that set up a touchdown.
COACHING: C - It only took offensive coordinator Mike Martz back-to-back losses to figure out that the Bears need to run the ball to be effective as an offense and a team. The defense was ineffective against a rookie quarterback for the most part, although it did come away with one takeaway.
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