In 2008, the Detroit Lions went 4-0 in the preseason, with a league-high 48-point win margin. The Lions then dropped 16 straight games in the regular season, becoming the only team in the Super Bowl era to go an entire campaign without winning a single contest.
What does it mean?
It means the preseason is no indication of how a team will fare once the games count. There’s value in analyzing individual performances but it’s impossible to make concrete conclusions about any NFL club after just one preseason game.
The same holds true for the Chicago Bears, who were pummeled 34-6 last night on the road against the Seattle Seahawks. The starters for both teams played the entire first half and Seattle had its way with the Bears in every phase of the game.
Remember though, Seattle is the best team in the NFC, the club that made arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Peyton Manning, look like Rex Grossman in last year’s Super Bowl. In addition, CenturyLink Field is one of the toughest stadiums in which to play for road teams.
All in all, it was the perfect storm for a Bears squad that wasn’t prepared to play. Yet that doesn’t mean anything in terms of the upcoming season. If the Bears had won 56-3 last night, everyone would be calling them Super Bowl contenders, and I’d be saying the same thing: It’s not healthy or productive to get too high or too low based on a meaningless game in August.
Mistakes were made and the team played bad but corrections can and will be made by the time the Buffalo Bills roll into town in Week 1. Last night was rough but the world isn’t ending.
With that in mind, let’s break down the many things we learned last night and how they will impact the Bears going forward.
Token Run Game
In Chicago’s first two preseason contests, running back Matt Forte had carried the ball seven times for -7 yards. The coaching staff talked all week about getting the run game going in order to give the first-team confidence heading into the season.
Coach Marc Trestman obviously had a change of heart, sending in pass plays on nine of the first 10 snaps on offense. The good news is that Forte had some success, averaging 5.7 yards on three carries, yet it was surprising to see Trestman lean so heavily on the passing attack.
Sure, he likely wanted to test the Seattle secondary, which is easily the best in the league, but Trestman didn’t do the first-team run game any favors in the first quarter.
Chicago’s passing attack finished fifth in the league last year, yet the run game ranked 16th. You tell me, which part of the starting offense could have used more work last night?
This is a trend that Trestman will very likely carry over into the regular season. The Bears no longer get off the bus running.
Defense at a Turtle’s Pace
There has been a lot of discussion about the Bears’ new defense under coordinator Mel Tucker and what schematic changes we might see this year. The belief is that Tucker, who is no longer shackled to the Lovie 2, can create a hybrid system that will raise the Bears defense out of the basement of the NFL.
Tucker may have that in him but, since the defense has used mostly vanilla packages in the preseason, we won’t know for sure until the regular season begins. It’s possible that, had Tucker game planned for Seattle’s offense, the Bears might have done a better job slowing down Russell Wilson and company.
Yet there’s one aspect of this defense that Tucker won’t be able to fix with schematic changes to his system: speed. Last night, Chicago’s defense looked very slow, which is concerning, as you can’t fix speed. The Bears have six defensive starters over 30 and it showed.
Tillman Tipping Point
Charles Tillman did not stand out in training camp and he looked like a shell of his former self against the Seahawks. Tillman lined up against Jermaine Kearse for most of the night. Kearse, a 2012 undrafted free agent, had his way with the former Pro Bowl cornerback to the tune of 4 catches for 63 yards and a score.
Tillman struggled to mirror Kearse and even fell down trying to break on a routine deep out route. On the touchdown score, Tillman was far too late breaking on the skinny post, resulting in the easy score for Kearse.
That said, we’ve seen this from Tillman before. In 2011, he looked like he was on his last leg during the preseason, yet he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl that year. He’s 33, so age is a legitimate concern, but let’s see how the veteran performs in the games that count before we go throwing Tillman under the bus.
Defensive Bright Spots
Jon Bostic is starting to come around. In the past two games, he’s taken on more blocks head on than he did all of last year, when he routinely ran around blocks. Bostic is still making mistakes, particularly in coverage, but he’s heading in the right direction.
Working with the starters in place of Jared Allen, who missed yesterday’s contest with a bone bruise in his shoulder, Willie Young was outstanding. He picked up a sack on a quality speed rush around the edge, yet he was even more impressive against the run, continuously shedding blocks and wrapping up ball carriers en route to a team-leading six total tackles. Young will have a lot of value this year against both the run and pass.
Chicago’s two rookie defensive tackles played well last night. Ego Ferguson showed outstanding hustle and surprising speed for a player of his size. His quickness chasing down ball carriers sideline to sideline was very impressive.
Will Sutton picked up a QB hurry to go along with two total tackles, one in which he threw his blocker to the ground before wrapping up the ball carrier. If these two kids continue to develop, they’ll be the foundation of the defensive line for years to come.
Other than losing contain on Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown run, defensive end Lamarr Houston had an impressive outing. He showed up on the stat sheet with just two total tackles but Houston displayed a lot of power and was able to collapse the pocket a handful of times. On Young’s sack, it was Houston bowling over the right tackle that forced Russell Wilson into Young’s arms. Houston’s strength at the point of attack will be a big boost for the Bears this year.
Chris Conte came ready to play. He flew to the ball and was fearless attacking the offense. His PBU in the end zone broke up a sure touchdown. He suffered a concussion, which is disheartening, but if he can return in the near future, his play tonight should give Bears fans confidence that Conte has put the struggles of last season behind him.
Sherrick McManis might be one of the top three cornerbacks on the Bears rosters. He’s been unbelievably consistent in training camp and the preseason, picking up a TD-saving PBU in last night’s contest. At this point, the coaching staff might want to consider McManis before Kelvin Hayden, who struggled last night, as the primary corner backup.
Brick Wall of Protection
Michael Ola had a rough outing, giving up a sack and multiple hurries, yet other than that, Chicago’s starting offensive line was again solid in pass protection. The unit that allowed the fourth fewest sacks in the league last year has been stout again in the preseason, consistently keeping Cutler off his back.
With Trestman’s short passing attack in full effect, don’t expect to see Cutler on the ground too much this season.
Character Zero in Return Game
Chris Williams (hamstring) was a last-minute scratch against the Seahawks, which was disappointing, as he might be the only player on Chicago’s roster who can salvage the return game. Last night, the Bears gave Micheal Spurlock, Darius Reynaud and Senorise Perry opportunities to return kicks and none of the three stood out. The long return of the day was 27 yards by Perry.
Unless Williams comes back and somehow manages to stay healthy, don’t expect much from the Bears return game this season.
In fact, don’t expect much from special teams in general. The coverage units struggled again in Seattle, giving up returns of 46 and 59 yards in the first half. Even Robbie Gould had a rough night, missing a 47 yarder in the third quarter.
At this point, it appears Mel Tucker has some company on the hot seat, as special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis may soon be looking for work unless something changes very soon.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth 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.