Losing Despite Cutler
Coming into Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was 25-1 in his career when he threw for a passer rating of 100 or better. You can now make that 25-2, after the Bears lost 26-18 to the Saints despite Cutler's 128.1 QB rating. He also didn't throw any interceptions and piled up 358 yards through the air.
It was an impressive showing from a player whose performance was extremely sub-par the week before. Historically, when Cutler plays that well, his team wins. And the final stat line favors the Bears, who had more total yards, passing yards, rushing yards and first downs than the Saints. Chicago also converted 4 of 10 third downs (40 percent) and was 2 for 3 in red zone efficiency.
So how did the Bears lose this game?
First off, the numbers are a bit skewed. Chicago was behind for most of the contest, resulting in a lot of garbage-time yardage and points when the game was already decided. The Saints reeled off 13 straight points to start the game due mainly to the offensive line's inability to protect Cutler, who was sacked three times in the first quarter and a half. One of those sacks resulted in a fumble that was recovered by the Saints in Bears' territory.
"Our offense's inability to move the football, it was unacceptable. We had five drives [to start the game] and it was totally unacceptable," coach Marc Trestman said today. "It all came down to how we started this game. You can't start that way and give Drew Brees 36 minutes with the ball and expect to win."
Second, the collective poor play of the entire team in the early going put the Bears too far behind to recover. The offense did finally get into a rhythm and cut the lead down to 13-7 with a little more than 2:30 to play in the first half. Yet Chicago's defense immediately allowed Drew Brees and company to march down the field and score a touchdown to give the Saints an insurmountable 20-7 lead.
Third, when the Bears' defense doesn't create turnovers, the club cannot win. Even with a relatively strong overall showing against New Orleans, the defense could not force that one game-changing turnover to give the team the momentum it needed.
Earl "Hands" Bennett
A few years ago, Pro Football Focus charted the dropped passes of every receiver in the NFL. Bears wideout Earl Bennett was one of two players that season that did not drop a single pass.
Things have changed. Bennett, now the team's fifth option in the passing game, doesn't get a lot of looks on offense. But when he does, you expect he'll at least catch balls thrown his way. You know, because that's his only job.
Yet when the Bears needed him most, on a fourth-quarter, fourth-down play the offense had to have to keep the game alive, he failed to step up. Bennett beat his man on an out route and Cutler delivered a perfect pass that bounced right off his receiver's hands. Had Bennett caught that pass at the New Orleans' 23-yard line, the Bears may have gone on to score, cutting the Saints' lead to six points with roughly seven minutes to play.
Instead, the Saints got the ball back and marched down for a field goal to go ahead 26-10. Bennett came up big two weeks ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers but drops like the one he had Sunday are unacceptable.
Briggs' Brain Fart
Lance Briggs was a beast yesterday. His effort against the Saints' rushing attack was phenomenal, with him making play after play in the New Orleans backfield. Yet, like Bennett, this veteran made a brutal late-game error.
Following Bennett's dropped pass, Chicago's defense forced the Saints into a 4th-and-1 situation near midfield. Getting the ball back would have kept the game alive for the Bears yet Briggs jumped offside and was penalized for a neutral zone infraction. The Saints would go on to kill nearly four more minutes of game clock before kicking a field goal to go up 26-10.
Graham's Big Day
In essence, the Saints have two players to worry about on offense: TE Jimmy Graham and RB Darren Sproles. The Bears did a great job limiting Sproles, who had just 41 total yards on the day, but they apparently forgot about Graham, who caught 10 passes for 135 yards.
To be fair, nobody has been able to stop Graham this year. He's easily the best tight end in the game and is nearly uncoverable at times. Still, the Bears should have employed some type of strategy to limit Graham, possibly the same bracketing scheme the Saints used to limit Brandon Marshall. If they had stopped Graham, Brees would have been out of viable options.
Safety Chris Conte is a smart player but so far this season, he has not shown the requisite speed to be left alone as the last line of defense. Repeatedly this year, opposing offenses have attacked the soft spot in Chicago's Cover 2, which is the sideline area between the corner and safety, and Conte hasn't been able to get there.
Either he needs to read and react better, or the Bears need to find someone who can reach the sidelines before the ball.
Why no Hail Mary?
At the end of the first half, the Bears moved the ball to midfield with just two seconds remaining on the clock. The offense lined up a Hail Mary formation, sending five receivers deep at the snap. Cutler scrambled around, bought enough time for his pass catchers to get in the end zone, then decided to throw a 20-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery 30 yards short of goal line.
One can't help but wonder what harm it would have done to at least chuck the ball into the end zone to see what happens?
"We had a play called for it," Cutler said. "They had everyone down there. I was just trying to kind of bide some time, got flushed out of there. Didn't really have a good feel for where their guys are, saw Alshon in my view, just thought I'd get it to him, maybe if he'd bust a tackle and catch a block he'd get in."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.