An Utter Embarrassment
The Chicago Bears have the worst run defense in the league, and it's not even close. Against the St. Louis Rams yesterday, the Bears made two rookie running backs, one who wasn't even drafted, look like Walter Payton and Jim Brown respectively.
Zach Stacy, a fifth rounder this year, and Benny Cunningham, a UDFA out of Middle Tennessee State, ran wild over Chicago's once-proud defense to the tune of 258 rushing yards. And they gained those yards when the Rams needed them most, particularly on the game-clinching touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. The Bears had just cut the lead to six points and had the momentum, yet St. Louis came out and rushed six times for 61 yards, including Cunningham's nine-yard plunge to seal the victory.
It was like watching a blade cut through paper, with defensive linemen getting turned away from holes, linebackers missing their gaps and safeties taking horrible angles. Most Bears fans are remiss to remember a time when the defense was gashed at such an extreme level.
And it all came against a sub-.500 team with the 22nd ranked rushing offense.
NBC analyst, and former NFL player, Rodney Harrison said it best: "This is the first time in years I can look at this defense and say they straight played soft."
The defense has been decimated by injuries but their utterly disgusting performance yesterday had more to do with effort than maladies. It had more to do with in-game awareness than a lack of athletic prowess. It had more do to with heart than it did muscle.
Someone, whether it be Marc Trestman, Mel Tucker or Phil Emery, must instill some pride in the defense, must remind them of what it means to play on the defensive side of the ball for the Chicago Bears, and drill into them the fact that another performance like Sunday's is not acceptable, lest they want to be know as the joke of the league.
For safety's sake, the Bears do not tackle in practice. It's the same around the league. But Chicago's defense does work on angles of attack, as I witnessed on numerous occasions in training camp this year. Safety Chris Conte obviously has not been paying attention during those drills.
As has been the case for most of his two-plus years in the league, Conte yesterday repeatedly took poor angles when attempting to take down ball carriers at the second level. As a result, the Rams runners looked like All Pros, making one simple cut before blowing by Conte.
The impact of these mistakes cannot be understated, as the bad angles turned numerous short runs into big gains for St. Louis – the type of runs that, when they happen repeatedly, can file a defense down to the nub. It's a matter of discipline, something in which the coaching staff has yet to instill in Conte.
And for those calling for Craig Steltz or Anthony Walters (because honestly, how much worse can they be?) forget about it. Since Conte and Major Wright have kept their starting jobs after playing like the worst safety tandem in the league, through 11 games, they are obviously beyond reproach or replacement.
After catching seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1 this year, Rams tight end Jared Cook – who signed a hefty free-agent contract this past offseason – has been essentially nonexistent. Between Week 2 and Week 11, Cook caught one total touchdown and never had more than 45 receiving yards in any single contest.
Leave it to the Bears to make Cook look like the second coming of Mark Bavaro, as he caught four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. The inability of Chicago's defense to cover tight ends is another disturbing new trend.
Detroit's Brandon Pettigrew torcheded the Bear for 70-plus yards in both contests, Green Bay's Andrew Quarless led the Packers in catches two weeks ago, Washington's Jordan Reed posted nine catches for 134 yards and in Week 5, the Bears allowed the Saints' Jimmy Graham to catch 10 passes for 135 yards.
For most of the year, the Bears have started two All-Pro cornerbacks out wide. Those guys don't need help. So that leaves the rest of the defense, all three linebackers plus the two safeties, to cover the middle of the field. Yet even with a five-to-one ratio, Chicago just cannot corral opposing tight ends.
End of the Line
At different points during the Bear Report live game-day chat, I was asked if Julius Peppers and Shea McClelline were active for the game. They were out there all right but they apparently got into Mommy's invisibility cream before the game. Chicago's starting defensive ends combined for two tackles and one quarterback hit. That's it.
We all know Peppers has little left in the tank, and that McClellin is not a 4-3 defensive end, but both players have recently shown signs of life. Their performances over the past month gave life and hope to a defense that needed some type of spark.
Yet against the Rams, they both reverted back to their non-factor form. In the meantime, Chandler Jones was a pain in Peyton Manning's side during Sunday Night Football, racking up nine tackles against the Broncos.
One has to wonder just how cute Emery will get with next year's first-round pick?
Have you ever shot yourself in the foot? If you have, then you know how the Bears have felt that past two games after racking up 23 penalties for 195 yards. Penalties yesterday took 21 points off the board (and Chicago lost by 21, go figure) and may have cost Devin Hester his last real opportunity to break Deion Sanders' NFL record for return touchdowns.
The Oakland Raiders lead the league in penalties nearly every season. Guess how many Super Bowls that franchise has won the past 29 years?
If the Bears, who were one of the most-disciplined teams through the first 10 weeks of the season, continue with the egregious mental errors, they can kiss the playoffs goodbye.
Poise in the Pocket
Josh McCown is a baller. No one can deny what he's been able to accomplish for Chicago's offense since taking over for the injured Jay Cutler. Amidst heavy, relentless pressure all game long, McCown was poised, crisp and accurate against the Rams. He completed 36 of 47 pass attempts (77 percent) for 352 yards and two touchdowns, good for a 102.4 QB rating.
McCown was sacked just once but he was hurried on countless snaps and hit five times. Yet he showed tremendous poise, getting the ball out quickly and maneuvering in the pocket to buy extra time. Under Tretsman, McCown has developed into a legitimate NFL starting quarterback, even at the age of 34. Who says you can't teach old dogs new tricks?
In five appearances this season, with three starts, McCown has a better passer rating (100.3) than Jay Cuter (88.4) and a better completion percentage (65.5 compared to 63.0). And McCown has only thrown one interception, which came at the very end of yesterday's contest when the game was already well out of hand.
At this point, which quarterback do you feel more comfortable with, and which one deserves a franchise contract worth $10 million-$15 million a season?
Michael Bush carried the ball seven times for -5 yards. For a backup that makes $3.5 million, that is ridiculous. But it's hard to blame Bush, who was repeatedly hit in the backfield.
It's likely that Matt Forte, who finished with 77 rushing yards, would have had the same type of day if it weren't for his one-man show. On more than half of his carries, Forte was forced to make a defender miss at or behind the line of scrimmage. The run blocking, as it was last week, was not up to par, yet Forte consistently made something out of nothing, which is a testament to his field vision and his ability to elude would-be tacklers.
It's hard to remember a time during Forte's six-year career when he was playing at such a high level. If the Bears make the playoffs this season, he'll deserve the lion's share of credit.
Leaky Left Side
Jermon Bushrod has been solid on the left edge or most of the season. He gives up pressure every game but so does every other left tackle in the league (unless he's facing the Bears). But for the most part, Bushrod has been well worth the money Chicago spent on him this offseason.
That wasn't the case yesterday, as Bushrod was essentially manhandled by Rams DE Robert Quinn for the entire contest. The quick passing game and McCown's pocket presence kept Quinn from doing damage in the backfield, until late in the game when the Bears were desperate for a score. As happened all game, Bushrod was beat around the edge. Yet this time, McCown hadn't released the ball and Quinn got him, stripping the pigskin before recovering it and returning it for a touchdown.
Quinn is one of the best pass rushers in the game, so expecting Bushrod to shut him out was unrealistic. But to see Bushrod repeatedly beaten was both surprising and disappointing. He needs to rebound.
Earl Bennett is alive and well my friends. Chicago's No. 3 wide receiver caught all eight passes thrown his way for 58 yards. His eight catches were a career high, which is a great sign for a pass catcher who has been largely invisible for most of the season. If Bennett can build on that performance, the Bears' passing attack could develop into a juggernaut.
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.