How many quarterbacks have to light up the Bears defense like a Roman candle before someone realizes there is a problem?
During Monday's press conference, coach Lovie Smith said: "We tweak our defense each week, and it's not like we play the same call each play. We'll always tweak it."
Well, by all means, let the tweaking begin.
Sunday's passive performance allowed yet another quarterback to have a milestone performance against the Bears. Kerry Collins' passer rating of 108.7 was almost 36 points higher than his 72.9 rating for the season coming into the game. He was sacked just once while throwing 41 passes, 30 of which were completed. And the Titans came into that game ranked 29th in the NFL in passing yards, with no marquee pass catchers.
That was just the latest in what has already become a long line of productive outings for opposing quarterbacks, none of whom are likely to end up in the Hall of Fame.
The Lions' Dan Orlovsky threw for a career-best 292 yards while completing 28 of 47 passes. A week before that, the Vikings' Gus Frerotte racked up a season-best 298 passing yards, completed 25 of 40, including two TD tosses, although he was intercepted four times. A week earlier, Falcons rookie Matt Ryan had a career-best 301-yard passing day and completed 22 of 30 passes with one touchdown. He was neither sacked nor intercepted. And who can forget Week 3, when Brian Griese chucked it up 67 times, completing 38 for 407 yards and two touchdowns without being sacked.
Clearly there is a problem, and it doesn't figure to get any better Sunday in Green Bay against the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, whose passer rating of 93.3 is higher than any of the quarterbacks who have previously shredded the Bears. Rodgers' primary targets, wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, form the most talented tandem the Bears have faced this season.
The Bears' two most notable defensive deficiencies have been lack of pressure on the quarterback and soft coverage.
Through nine games, it's obvious there are no elite pass rushers on the Bears roster since no one has more than three sacks. A key to the Bears defense is getting pressure with just the front four, but that has yet to happen this season, and there's no reason to expect that it will. Defensive coordinator Bob Babich and Smith, who is heavily involved in the defense, have to provide pass-rush assistance to an overpaid and underachieving defensive line.
Blitzes by linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher aren't the answer. They have one-half of a sack between them and a combined one quarterback hurry. And there should be an Amber Alert out for backup defensive end Mark Anderson, who had 12 sacks as a rookie in 2006 and five last season but none this year.
The Bears need to use cornerbacks and safeties in the pass rush. If nothing else, that might at least get a cornerback in the vicinity of the line of scrimmage, where one might maybe bump a receiver. An effective jam at the line has been known to disrupt those quick, short passes thrown after a three-step drop. And those short drops are the reason the Bears' linemen can't get to the quarterback.
If the Bears take away the short stuff and force longer passes or even disrupt the timing of the shorter ones, it might give the pass rush enough time to get to the quarterback.
Whatever you do, don't tell Rod Marinelli to hang in there.
"It's a way of sympathy or feeling bad for you," Marinelli said. "You don't grow."
The Lions are 0-9, the only winless team in the NFL. Marinelli is 10-31 since becoming the Lions' head coach in 2006. He would rather take heated criticism or pointed questions — and he has gotten plenty — than have people feel sorry for him.
"I will embrace that, and I'll listen to everything you say," Marinelli said. "I have a chance to grow. But, ‘Hey, hang in there. Things will be better.' No. I don't grow. I stay the same."
The Lions cannot stay the same. People are clamoring for change, because they want to change the fortunes of a franchise that has won one playoff game since 1957, has gone an NFL-worst 31-90 since 2001 and is starting to lose its loyal fans. Ford Field had sold out 50 straight games since its opening in 2002. Now it has failed to sell out back-to-back games.
But Marinelli mainly sticks to his approach.
"I think the one thing you always do when times are tough is, don't react to what other people want," Marinelli said. "I think it's really important. ... Somebody keeps influencing you. You listen, you listen, you listen, you take it in and now you apply."
Marinelli used a metaphor he used in his first season, when the Lions went 3-13.
"You're in this dark tunnel, and you've got no way out," Marinelli said. "You're waiting for light, and you see that light, what do you do? Yeah, you start digging and getting out. You're waiting for somebody to do something for you.
"See, I've always believed you stay in the tunnel, and you keep digging when you expect no light. You have the same faith when you expect no light. You have the same belief in what you're doing when you expect no light. You believe in the people you're with when you expect no light.
"I sum that up. It answers how I go through all this every day. It's dark, and I'm going to dig, though. My shovel is sharp, and my pick is sharp, and my will is outstanding."
Doesn't Marinelli need a different shovel?
"No," Marinelli said. "That's where I totally disagree with you, because that's soft. You're looking for dependence on somebody else. You can blame it on your shovel. You blame it on this? No. You just keep digging with belief and expectations. That's what I do."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
As much as shoddy pass protection and persistent struggles in run defense were at the heart of the Packers' latest setback, their continued inability to play clean football again played a major role.
Green Bay was penalized 10 times for 80 yards in a 28-27 loss at the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
"It's troubling. We've got to do a better job," said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, pointing the finger at his mostly culpable unit.
Eight of the infractions were by the offense — ranging from an intentional grounding by quarterback Aaron Rodgers that resulted in the first of two safeties by the Vikings in the second quarter to several holding and procedural gaffes that nullified big plays and backed the Packers up into unfavorable down-and-distance situations.
Consequently, Green Bay managed only one touchdown on offense and totaled but 184 yards, its second-lowest output of the season.
Philbin said the rash of penalties exacerbated what already was poor execution by the offense, which had seven plays for negative yards from sacks (four) and runs.
"That's 15 (minus) plays," Philbin said. "Wow, that's a lot; it's too many. It makes it too difficult to function."
The Packers incurred 22 penalties for 198 yards in the two meetings with the Vikings this season. Green Bay hung on for a 24-19 win in the Sept. 8 season opener.
Through nine games, Green Bay has been penalized 72 times, tied with Arizona for worst in the NFL, and leads the league with 655 penalty yards. The San Francisco 49ers are No. 2 on the latter list with 560 yards in walk-offs.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was emphatic Monday in saying that the penalties don't stem from a lack of focus and discipline by his players.
"Are they mental errors? Are they pre-snap penalties? Unacceptable," McCarthy said. "The way we train our players, the way we practice them, everybody knows that. Now, you have your combative penalties, whether it be holding or defensive holding, contact and things like that, there is judgment to that. Do I agree with every call that the referees make? No, but it's part of the game.
"I can't control it, but we're always going to err on the side of being more aggressive, and the players know that."