Season on the Brink

A season with high hopes has been detoured, via ambulance, into a battle to survive for the Chicago Bears.

Everything went right for Dick Jauron's Bear' last season. They finished 13-3 as key players stayed healthy and the ball consistently bounced their way.

It was more of the same to start the season. An improbable interception turned around the Week 1 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, and the Atlanta Falcons botched a couple fourth-quarter field goals as the Bears survived in Week 2.

Two defensive starters were lost in a home loss to New Orleans in which the Bears blew a 20-0 lead. Two more defensive starters were injured in the overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Suddenly, the Bears were 2-2 and their defense reeling.

Two of the injured defensive players - cornerback R.W. McQuarters and defensive end Phillip Daniels - came back to start against the Packers in the Week 5 Monday nighter. Their return was meant to inspire the unit. It didn't work, as Brett Favre completed an 85-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver on the second series of the game. Favre went on to have a typical Favre day against the Bears - he's 17-4 lifetime against Chicago and most of his single-game highs have come against them. The Packers scored 34 points, but it could have been 43 if not for three missed field goals. And it could have been worse yet had the Packers not put it on cruise control after a dominant first half.

At 2-3, the break couldn't have come at a better time. Daniels, for one, hobbled off the field and said the respite would help his bad ankle mend. Still, mammoth run-stuffer Ted Washington will be back late in the season at the earliest, and linebacker Warrick Holdman is out for the season. And while Daniels and McQuarters are back, Rex Tucker -one of the best guards in the league and a Pro Bowl alternate last season - is out for the year with a dislocated ankle and broken fibula, while wide receiver David Terrell is out seven to eight weeks with a broken bone in his right foot.

The Bears come off their bye with road games at Detroit and Minnesota. Then comes the meat of the schedule, starting with home games against Philadelphia and New England. A game at St. Louis suddenly looks a lot easier, however. After a home game against Detroit, the Bears play at Green Bay and Miami.

Surviving that schedule - the Eagles may be the best team in the NFC, the Patriots are the defending champions, Green Bay seems to have Chicago's number and Miami is one of the top teams in the NFL - without such vital players as Washington, Holdman, Tucker and Terrell will be a stern test for the Bears.

"There are three 4-1 teams that are two games ahead of us. All the other ones are one game ahead of us. That is what we have to focus on," Jauron said. "The good news, if there's any, is we're only five weeks into the season."

True, but the injuries are destroying the Bears' recipe for winning. Chicago counts on its defense to keep the game close until someone makes a game-breaking play in the fourth quarter. But the Bears' defense hardly resembles the unit that ranked No. 1 in points allowed last season. In this three-game losing streak, the Bears have allowed 29, 33 and 34 points. They rank 26th in total defense.

Washington's replacement, Alfonso Boone, has one assisted tackle and no solo stops in three games. The pass defense ranks 25th, including 31st in 40-yard-plus plays allowed and 28th in 20-yard-plus plays.

"I'm a street fighter and I've had my butt kicked many times," Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

After kicking butt last season, Blache's unit has been getting its rear knocked around the last three weeks. As the statistics bear out, the Bears' pass defense has been torched, and the reason is simple. The Bears lost cornerback Walt Harris and safety Tony Parrish in free agency. That's half the secondary, three-quarters when McQuarters was out. The weakened secondary, coupled with an abysmal pass rush, has spelled doom for the Bears.

Rosevelt Colvin leads the NFL in sacks, but those are coming on third down situations when he lines up on the end. Blache has tried to use blitzes to apply pressure, but they leave holes in the defense if the blitzer can't make the play.

The offense is no better. Including a playoff loss to Philadelphia, the Bears lost four games last season. The recipe to beat Chicago was demonstrated each time: Stop the run and dare quarterback Jim Miller to win the game. Through five games, reigning rookie of the year Anthony Thomas is on pace to rush for 1,072 yards, but he ranks just 66th in the league with a per-carry average of 3.0. To compare, he averaged 4.3 yards per rush last season.

With Thomas bottled up, Miller has been unable to take advantage. While Miller is having a better season - his yards per pass attempt are up a full yard per game - he is not making defenses pay for stacking the line of scrimmage. Marty Booker is having a huge season running intermediate routes, but the Bears have to make better use of the big-play talents of Marcus Robinson and, when healthy again, Terrell.

Changes must be made. An inefficient, grind-it-out offense isn't going to win games with an injury-riddled defense. The Bears need to open things up on offense, which in turn should create room to run for Thomas. Defensively, rookie Alex Brown - who was a big-time collegiate pass rusher at Florida, figures to become a bigger part of the scheme.

Bear Report Top Stories