Monday, September 19, 2011

Painful Bears Loss

After the Saints took it on the chin against the Packers, odds were they would be ready to play very hard against the Bears on Sunday. When I saw all five sportscasters on Fox Sports pick the Saints, I thought that maybe they hadn't been watching the Bears the last half of last season. I also wondered if they had seen the improved offensive line and improvements in Cutler's form and decision-making this year.

The game went well at first with Forte running very well and the line was giving Cutler enough time to pass. But it also seemed that Jay was falling back to some bad habits, running out of the pocket too quickly, waiting too long and throwing off balance. It looked to me that from the early portion of the game that Cutler was not going to have a great game, but I thought maybe the Bears could still pull it off with some strong rushing, tough defense and great special teams play.

At one time, in one of the early series, I saw Cutler and Gabe Carimi talking and Jay had a big smile on his face. That seemed to bode well. With Carimi rides a lot of promise for the Bears offensive line. It's amazing just how important offensive tackles are to the game.

The effectiveness of the Saints' pass rush and Cutler's ability to deal with it seemed like the key to the game offensively. As it turned out, in my opinion it would also turn out to be the key to the game defensively.

The Bears played well enough at first, but things fell apart. It looked to some sports writers like Earl Bennet was not just hit hard, but speared in the chest. Strike one, Cutler's go-to guy was gone. Gabe Carimi went down with a knee injury. Strike two, the new promising tackle was out. Once Cutler got into the scramble mode and the Saints smelled blood, the offense was on the field way too little and the defense was on the field way too much. And when Cutler is running for his life and the defense gets too many short rests, the defensive becomes beatable--strike three.

Cutler is really in a no-win situation at times with the Bears. If the receivers are not doing well--not getting open fast enough and not following through on their routes, it's hard for Cutler to throw the ball away because one down can look the same as the next. He presses and scrambles and tries to make something happen. Unfortunately, a lot of time it ends in a sack where the Bears lose yardage and Cutler takes a hit. It's easy to make a case that he should have thrown the ball away and should be much quicker with his passes, but the Bears receivers do not inspire a lot of confidence. Some suggest that if someone like Williams can step up and play very well, he can make the rest of the guys that much better. I suppose it's like having Julius Peppers on defense, it keeps the offense on edge all the time and they overcompensate. You do get a sense that no one on the Bears is scaring the opposing defenses and they need to do that. Maybe Forte is getting there.

The way the offensive line played in the second half suggested that schemes were too complicated for the players on the field. They were missing two starters. I suspect the Bears will look at making the simplification adjustment that they made at mid-season last year.

Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees passing statistics run at least five percentage points better than Cutler's and that may not change much. But, I believe the Bears defense is still better than the Saints or the Packers. If the Bears can patch up the offensive line again, simplify their offensive game plan and improve their running game--the defense will have them playing head-to-head with any team. That's a lot of ifs, but the stars have to line up just so for any team to become a top contender. The Saints had a lot of ifs that didn't happen last year; the Packers had a lot of ifs that did.

Simplifying the Bears game plan should be a slam dunk. Improving the running game often comes with time, but sometimes you have to take it on the chin in a game or two before it happens. Patching up the line is the hard part, especially if Carimi is out for a while. Carimi was already getting praise from the Bears great offensive tackle of the 1980s, Jimbo Covert (football card image above). The Bears need a Covert kind of guy to make the offense work over the long haul. I hope Carimi is that kind of guy.

The Bears were also hurt by the fact that two new veteran acquisitions, Roy Williams and Marion Barber were out. When the team is in the heat of the game trying to win and they lose two yards on a first yard run, it's hard to maintain a balanced attack. Maybe Barber would have made a difference and mixed things up more. Sometimes I think we miss Payton, not so much because of his long runs, but because he never seemed to lose any yards.

On a positive note, when your team plays one of the best teams early, your weaknesses are revealed and it gives you more time to adjust. The Bears will have another diagnostic test run when they play the Packers on Sunday.

Sporting Chance Press

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