Things have changed for the Chicago Bears. No longer is this team known for its defense. Instead, the success of this franchise going forward will be almost entirely dependant on the offense and its ability to outscore the opposing team.
There are a number of reasons for the dramatic drop off in production from Chicago's defense this year, with injuries being the most significant, yet it's hard to justify giving up 45 points and 499 total yards to the Washington Redskins this afternoon.
To give you an idea of how far things have shifted defensively, in the 95-year history of the franchise, the Bears have never lost a game when scoring 40 or more points. Never.
They scored 41 today and lost by four.
It's time to accept the new-age Chicago Bears for what they are: a team that cannot stop anyone and will be involved in shootouts for the rest of the year.
Starting up front, the club has not been able to weather the injuries of their top two 3-technique defensive tackles, Henry Melton and Nate Collins, both of whom are on injured reserve. In addition, the Bears are starting a rookie at middle linebacker, Jon Bostic, due to the season-ending pectoral injury to D.J. Williams, while Charles Tillman hasn't played a full game since Week 3.
And to top it all off, Lance Briggs left today's contest with a shoulder injury and never returned. When you throw in the absolutely horrendous play of the safeties this year, and a non-existent pass rush, you end up with a surefire recipe for failure. Such was the case today, when the Redskins basically scored at will throughout the contest.
Yet even after Jay Cutler was lost for injury, Chicago's offense gave the team a chance to win, going up 41-38 with a little more than four minutes to play. The defense needed one stop and the game would have been over. Yet the Skins drove 80 yards in a little more than three minutes before scoring the game-winning touchdown with 45 seconds to play. The final score came on an inside run by running back Roy Helu, who pounded out three touchdowns on the day.
"We just didn't have enough," coach Marc Trestman said after the game. "They had the ball one more series than we did."
The problem is that there's no answer on the horizon. Injuries have devastated the unit to the point where the club has no other option than to literally pull players off the street. The only way to get better is for the athletes on the current roster to play better, which includes Julius Peppers, who was again invisible for most of the game.
Yet the biggest issue as at safety, where both Major Wright and Chris Conte have lost the ability to cover anyone. Something has happened to these two and they cannot get things right. Today again they gave up play after play deep down the field, allowing receivers to get wide open in their areas in zone coverage.
The icing on the cake was a prayer that Redskins QB Robert Griffin threw up midway through the third quarter. Griffin scrambled and launched a ball 45 yards in the air into double coverage. Conte was there but he fell down as the ball approached, allowing receiver Aldrick Robinson to make the easy grab. It was a microcosm of the poor play exhibited by Chicago's safeties all year.
If Conte and Wright continue to play like D-III college players, there's no chance the Bears can stop anyone going forward.
Luckily for the Bears, they now have a bye week to get players healthy, although improved health won't be enough by itself to cure what ails Chicago's defense.
"We're just going to go back to work," said Trestman. "The only way to recover when you don't play as well as you like is you go back to work. We'll do that as coaches in terms of evaluating our football team and what we're doing. Getting healthy over the next couple of weeks will be a big part of that. We're going to be a fresher team when we come out of this break."
There were two positives on defense today. First was the play of Corey Wootton, who was an absolute beast at getting penetration in the Redskins backfield. He was so dominant early on that Washington was forced to double team Wootton for the final three quarters. Unfortunately, neither Peppers nor Shea McClellin stepped up to take advantage of their 1-on-1 matchups.
The second positive was Bostic, who made some mistakes early but truly shined in the second half. The kid is going to give up some plays but he looks like a great long-term option at middle linebacker.
Other than that, the future looks dim for Chicago's defense. Tillman ran back an interception for a touchdown, so they are still forcing turnovers. But when they're not taking the ball away, they're giving up huge chunks of yards and a lot of points, which surely has Aaron Rodgers salivating.
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.