Sunday School: What We Learned

All the Chicago Bears had to do Sunday was defeat the 7-8 Texans to get back into the postseason, but Houston proved to be the better football team. Here are five more things we learned about the Midway Monsters after a 31-24 loss at Reliant Stadium that ended their season prematurely once again.

1. Turner should script the entire game when it comes to calling plays
The Monsters of the Midway scored more points on their opening drive of the game than any team in the NFL this season, which is really saying something since they were only tied for 14th in the league at 23.4 points per game. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner should be commended for what he's been able to put together with marginal talent at most every position, scripting the first 15 plays of each game and allowing his unit to get off to a fast start more often than not. Kyle Orton and Co. again drove right down the field in the first quarter Sunday, getting a touchdown from Brandon Lloyd on a 4-yard fade pattern.

But perhaps Turner should script all 60 or 70 plays per game as opposed to just the initial 15 – maybe then the offense wouldn't go into the witness protection program in the third quarter.


CB Corey Graham
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2. Good thing Tillman and Graham can tackle
When you delve into the box score from Sunday's loss in Houston, Charles Tillman led the defense with 10 total tackles and Corey Graham was tied for second with seven stops. Head coach Lovie Smith prefers to have tough cornerbacks that are top-notch tacklers, although he'd rather have them putting ball carriers on the ground in the running game as opposed to the passing game. The reason Tillman and Graham had so many tackles against the Texans was the fact that quarterback Matt Schaub was playing pitch-and-catch in his backyard with wide-open receivers most of the afternoon, before turning to tailback Steve Slaton and the ground attack in the fourth quarter when Chicago was dog tired on D.

Lots of Bears fans would like to see Graham starting full-time next season opposite Tillman, but that might not be so easy since it will cost $7.6 million in dead salary-cap space to cut the signed-through-2012 Nathan Vasher.

3. The running game isn't nearly as good as Forte's numbers suggest
Not to take anything away from running back Matt Forte, who was sensational his first season in the league and should be the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year, but don't let his 1,238 yards rushing fool you into thinking the Bears had a good running attack. Chicago was just 24th in the league on the ground at 104.6 yards per game, and the team's average of 3.9 yards per carry tied them with lowly Cleveland for 26th. The main reason Forte's numbers look so good but the overall output looks so bad is because the former Tulane Green Wave didn't have anybody to spell him and be productive – he carried the ball 316 times, fourth most in football, but Kevin Jones only got 34 attempts all year long.

It's no secret that the offense simply wasn't the same with Forte on the sideline, but subjecting him to as much punishment as the coaching staff did is a sure way to shorten his career.


S Danieal Manning
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

4. Stop moving Manning around so much already
It's been frustrating for Bears fans to watch the arc of Danieal Manning's young career, as the 2006 second-round draft pick just can't seem to get the most out of his off-the-charts measurables. However, the third-year pro was really starting to come into his own in the second half of the season, getting better each and every week as the nickel corner and turning into one of the better kickoff returners around – he actually led the league with a 29.7-yard average. But then he was asked to start at free safety Sunday after the injury to Mike Brown, which led to him getting badly burned by Andre Johnson on a 43-yard touchdown pass that looked eerily similar to the one Peyton Manning hit Reggie Wayne with in Super Bowl XLI two years ago.

It's great that Manning has the physical attributes necessary to play more than one position and is enough of a team-first guy to always do what's asked of him, but jerking him back and forth from one spot to another and back again is only slowing his development.

5. Babich doesn't have the respect of his unit and might be deep-sixed
If you read between the lines of what veterans like Tillman and Alex Brown were saying in the locker room after the loss to the Texans, both of them were screaming for new leadership on the defensive side of the ball. Bob Babich probably wasn't qualified to take over for Ron Rivera as defensive coordinator before the 2007 season, and it's now impossible to ignore the pedestrian numbers a once great defense has put together the last two years with the same system and most of the same cast. While the Bears were second in total D in 2005 and fifth in the Super Bowl season of 2006 under Rivera, Babich has been responsible for a 28th-ranked unit in 2007 and now 21st in 2008.

With another one of Smith's good buddies, fired Lions head coach Rod Marinelli, currently looking for a job, it's possible Babich could be the fall guy for Chicago not making the playoffs two years in a row.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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