ONE QUARTER DOWN
In yesterday’s 38-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears blew a golden opportunity. A victory at Soldier Field would have put the team at 3-1, two games ahead of the Packers. Not only that but it would have knocked Green Bay to 1-3, forcing them to win nine or 10 of their next 12 contests.
In essence, the Bears wasted an opportunity to dump their NFC North rivals in a deep hole. For Chicago fans, it’s a tough pill to swallow, especially considering the recent history of failure against your neighbors to the North.
Yet the 2014 campaign is young my friends. It’s easy to overreact when your archrivals come into your home and smack you around like a redheaded stepchild. If you aren’t bothered by yesterday’s defeat, I’d question your dedication to the team, but by no means is the season lost.
There are still 12 games to play this year, and if the Bears win 10 of those, no one is going to care what happened in Week 4. Take a deep breath, punch the wall if you must and then move on.
The Bears are now tied with the Packers at 2-2, one game behind the 3-1 Detroit Lions. Chicago has five division games left to play, so there’s more than enough time and opportunity to earn a playoff berth. With a banged up Carolina Panthers team next on the docket, the Bears can work their way into the positive in the “Win” column and build from there.
If all goes well, you’ll all be laughing in January at how angry and desperate you felt following Sunday’s drubbing.
PULLING OUT ALL THE STOPS
Head coach Marc Trestman understood the importance of beating the Packers yesterday. He deployed formations and plays he’s never before shown as an NFL head coach, reaching deep into his bag of tricks to throw Green Bay off balance.
For the most part, it worked. The Bears scored two touchdowns and a field goal on their first three drives and then moved the ball to the 1-yard line before the half. The offense totaled 496 yards, with 235 coming on the ground.
Almost everything Trestman touched turned to gold, including the onside kick he called in the second quarter. With the Bears up 17-14 following an Alshon Jeffery touchdown, kicker Robbie Gould bounced a short kick 15 yards down the field. The ball flopped around for a few seconds before squirting loose into open field. Yet Cornelius Washington was unable to locate the ball at his feet and the Packers ended up recovering.
The Packers got the ball near midfield and from that point on, Green Bay outscored the Bears 24-0.
Despite it’s failure, the onside kick was a good call. The Packers were not ready for it and if luck had been on Chicago’s side, the Bears would have had the opportunity to go up 11 points heading into the half. With the way Aaron Rodgers was playing and the fact Green Bay opened the second half with possession of the ball, the short kick was a risk worth taking.
With 177 yards from scrimmage on Sunday, running back Matt Forte crossed the 10,000-yard career threshold. His 10,037 yards from scrimmage (6,924 rushing and 3,113 receiving) are second most in Bears franchise history behind only Walter Payton (21,264).
The 171 yards from scrimmage – 122 rushing, 49 receiving – were the seventh highest total of Forte’s career. It was Forte’s 21st career 100-yard rushing contest, breaking a tie with Gale Sayers for second most in franchise history. It was the 19th game in his NFL career with 150 or more yards from scrimmage and his second of the season (169 in Week 1 versus Buffalo).
Martellus Bennett also had a career day, catching nine passes for 134 yards, both single-game highs for the sixth-year tight end. It was Bennett’s first career 100-yard receiving game.
Bennett’s previous career-high for receiving yards was 90 at Detroit on September 29, 2013. His previous high for receptions was eight versus Buffalo on September 7, 2014 and at Detroit on September 29, 2013. Bennett now paces the team in both receptions (29) and receiving yards (295) in 2014 to go along with four touchdown receptions.
I wrote about the Bears’ lack of pass rush in more detail here but it’s worth mentioning again. Coming into the game, Chicago’s defense was averaging a sack every 0.08 drop backs, seventh highest in the NFL. Against Rodgers, the club garnered just one sack on 30 total drop backs, or .03 per drop back. And that one sack was little more than Ego Ferguson being in the vicinity of Rodgers as he ran out of bounds one yard behind the line of scrimmage.
Not having Jared Allen on the field had an impact on the pas rush but he doesn’t have a single sack this year, so it’s not as if the defense has been leaning on him the first quarter of the season.
In reality, Chicago’s defensive line could not take advantage of 1-on-1 opportunities against an offensive line that had allowed nearly four sacks per game through the first three weeks.
This is going to be an issue going forward unless something changes. Like Allen, Lamarr Houston – who signed a five-year, $35-million contract on the first day of free agency – has zero sacks. In fact, Chicago’s two nose tackles, Ferguson and Stephen Paea have four combined sacks, while Allen and Houston are posting goose eggs.
Willie Young’s 4.0 sacks have been a blessing for the Bears’ pass rush but he was highly ineffective yesterday as well.
The Bears historically have had success against Rodgers using a Cover 2 shell and attacking underneath throws. Coordinator Mel Tucker attempted to follow that template yesterday and the defense failed to force a punt. Even after the Packers took just two minutes to systematically move down the field and score a touchdown on their first drive, Tucker continued to dial up two deep safeties and four pass rushers.
According to Pro Football Focus, Tucker called just six blitzes yesterday, none of which finished.
“I think you have to be very careful pressuring,” coach Marc Trestman said following the game. “We did it at times but you have to be careful pressuring Aaron Rodgers. He is as good as it gets. Having the right pressure at the right times is something that we had talked about but we just couldn’t get it done today.”
If Tucker, as well as the players, can’t correct the inconsistencies in pass rush, good quarterbacks are going to continue eating the defense.
The Bears came into the Week 4 contest ranked 32nd in rushing offense and 26th in rushing defense. Those numbers will take a big jump this week after dominating performances on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
The Bears rushed for 235 yards on 41 carries (5.7). It was the most rushing yards for the team since recording 242 yards on September 25, 1988 at Green Bay. It was the most rushing yards by Chicago in a loss since rushing for 283 yards versus Dallas on September 30, 1984.
The Bears had 102 rushing yards in the first quarter on Sunday, their first time having over 100 rushing yards in the opening quarter of a game since having 122 at Carolina on October 10, 2010.
This is a great sign for a run game that struggled mightily the first three weeks, averaging just 64.0 yards per game. If Forte and rookie Ka’Deem Carey, who pitched in 77 yards on the ground in Week 4, can continue to move the ball in the run game, Chicago’s offense will eventually take the next step.
DIGGING THEIR OWN GRAVE
If you want to look for reasons why the Bears are 2-2 through four games, look no further than turnovers. In the club’s two victories, Jay Cutler has zero combined interceptions. In their two losses, he’s thrown four picks.
That’s not a coincidence. The Bears have one of the most prolific offenses in the league. When they are clicking, they are borderline unstoppable. So far this season, the only thing that has stopped Chicago’s offense is Chicago’s offense. I can say with certainty that if Cutler had thrown just one interception in each of their losses, the Bears would be 3-1 or 4-0 right now.
Going forward, it’s obvious the offense will be able to move the ball up and down the field. We’ve seen it for two straight years and if the key components stay healthy, the Bears could wind up with a Top 3 offense in 2014. Yet all those yards won’t mean anything if they don’t convert them to points.
“We had a lot of positives but we had a lot of negatives in the game,” Bennett said today. “I think we had 500 yards of offense, but 500 yards of offense and 17 points really doesn't even go together. It's like having dessert before dinner.”
Making matters worse is that all four of Cutler’s interceptions this season, as well as Brandon Marshall’s fumble in Week 1, came in enemy territory. They’ll need to start converting those turnovers into touchdowns or else the Bears will miss the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
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.