Numbers vs. Reality
The Chicago Bears were bludgeoned last night at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys 41-28. Looking at the stat sheet, you’d think it was all the fault of the defense, who allowed 40-plus points for the third time this season.
While that’s true, it doesn’t tell the whole story, as Jay Cutler’s stat line is incredibly misleading: 32 for 46, 341 yards, three total touchdowns. He threw just one interception, on the last play of the game. Other than that, Cutler appears to have had one of his best games of the season.
Look closer though and you realize 64 percent of his yards came in garbage time after the Cowboys had built a four-score lead. Before the fourth quarter, Chicago’s first six offensive drives resulted in punt, punt, touchdown, fumble, punt and punt.
The issue here is that Cutler is posting very good numbers in spite of his inability to lead the offense when the games matter. It’s fool’s gold.
So when it comes time to consider his future with the team, GM Phil Emery is going to justify keeping Cutler as the team’s quarterback because of his numbers, which are career highs nearly across the board. Yet in reality, he’s the biggest reason why the offense has underachieved to such an embarrassing extent.
“You can call it garbage all you want but [the defenders] are still rushing hard. You’re one-dimensional, that makes the offensive line’s job tougher, the quarterback’s job is tougher, the receiver’s job is tougher,” Jermon Bushrod said after the game. “So you can call it garbage for a quarter and a half, we were pass protecting and we fought to keep the guy’s off of Jay to the best of our ability but we were down.”
While it’s understandable for a player to feel that way, if Bears brass take Bushrod’s stance this offseason, all the same pieces will stay in place and nothing will change next year. That’s the danger of only being effective when games are out of reach: your numbers give the illusion you’re better than you are.
Third Down Killer
The kicker is that the Bears completed passes on four of those 10 plays, yet converted just two of them. Obviously, Tresman’s offense is wildly over-dependant on yards after the catch, as he continues to call third-down plays in which the receivers run routes short of the sticks.
The Bears have young talent at the linebacker position. Christian Jones, Jon Bostic, Shea McClellin, they’re all superior athletes. Yet yesterday, as has been the case all season, all three looked lost on the field.
In particular, Bostic’s lack of instincts is troubling. He’s fast, he has great change of direction and he can hit, but he’s lacking mightily in the read-and-react category.
On Dallas’ numerous stretch runs to DeMarco Murray on Thursday, Bostic overran nearly every one of them. And on plays run away from him, his pursuit angles were very poor, allowing Murray numerous cutback lanes.
The loss of Lance Briggs hurt this unit, which is now without its leader, and it’s showing. Linebackers coach Reggie Herring was supposed to be the savior for this group but instead, the Bears linebackers look little changed from last season.
China Doll Conte
Chris Conte allowed two touchdowns last night, both to Cole Beasley, before leaving the game with a back injury. To recap, Conte has been knocked out of games this year with shoulder injuries, two concussions, an eye injury and now the back malady.
At a certain point, wouldn’t it make sense to shut him down and let fourth-round rookie Brock Vereen take the rest of the snaps at safety? It’s time to put Conte’s health at the forefront, especially considering this lost season.
And for all those fans who cheered Conte getting hurt last night, there will come a time when you have to answer for that.
Feeding the Unicorn
Martellus Bennett has been beastly of late, catching 20 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown the past two games combined. In his three games prior, he combined for just 10 catches, 111 yards and 0 touchdowns.
Bennett has clearly emerged as one of the top all-around tight ends in the league and he’s been Chicago’s most consistent offensive player for most of the season.
Yet here’s the rub: in all but one of Bennett’s big games this season, the Bears have lost (Week 1: 8-70-1 vs. BUF, Week 4: 9-134 vs. GB, Week 8: 6-95-1 at NE, Week 13: 8-109 vs. DET, Week 14: 12-84-1 vs. DAL).
In order to get the most from Bennett next season, he needs to find a way to have in impact when the games are still at hand. Bennett can carry the passing attack going forward, in the same way Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham do, he just needs to be more consistent.
Ola Out, Groy In
The Bears all year have talked about the value of Michael Ola as a versatile offensive lineman. The first-year NFL player has started at left tackle, right tackle and left guard this year, filling in wherever needed due to injuries up front.
Yet apparently, after a poor outing at left guard last night in which he missed multiple blocks and had a holding penalty, the coaching staff had seen enough. In the second half against the Cowboys, Ola was benched in favor of undrafted rookie Ryan Groy.
“We wanted to get [Groy] in,” Trestman said. “We wanted to give Ryan some work and keep him in a competitive mode. Mike wasn’t having a great night.”
The rise of Groy (6-5, 315) is interesting, as he was once considered a mid-round pick before falling out last year’s draft altogether. He was with the team in training camp and earned a spot on the practice squad before being elevated to the 53-man roster on Nov. 10.
Over the next three games, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer might keep Groy in the starting lineup to gauge his potential. If the tryout goes well, Groy could be an integral member of the offensive line next season.
Kyle Fuller led the NFL in interceptions following Week 3 of the regular season but he hasn’t had a pick since. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Fuller has graded positively in just one game between Weeks 4-14. His -10.7 overall grade is worse than every other secondary player on the team, finishing last night with his worst single-game grade (-4.1).
Fuller has a lot of potential in this league but the past three months have been very eye opening for him. He still has a long way to go.
After watching the film, rookie defensive tackle Will Sutton got off a grand total of two blocks last night, in 47 snaps. Per PFF, he graded the worst of any defender against Dallas with a -6.2 overall grade and a -5.8 grade against the run.
Like Fuller, Sutton has a steep climb ahead of him.
Whenever he’s had the opportunity, Bass has produced, so why isn’t he seeing the field more? At this point, with the season lost, it only makes sense to get him as many reps as possible.
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.