It’s commonplace in sports to say that you learn more from losing than you do from winning. Following Sunday’s 48-41 victory over Minnesota, I’m sure the Bears learned plenty.
Normally the optimist — sometimes to a fault — it’s my perfectionist side that often holds veto power.
Out of all the positive things I could talk about from yesterday’s victory, I’m actually going to start with a negative. Not because I dwell on negatives, but because it has become the most prevalent problem through the first seven weeks of the season, and it could be a fatal flaw in the future.
And that problem is the pass defense.
Who would have thought the Bears run defense would go from a liability last year to a reliability this year, while the pass defense has grown from a deficiency to something much worse?
Perhaps the Bears insistence that they not get beaten by the run has infringed their ability to rush the passer. After all, we know the Bears can get after the quarterback in passing situations. Case in point: Tommie Harris got a sack on the Vikings’ final drive of the game because he knew they had to pass the ball. That’s probably why the Bears’ defense has generally been good on third downs — specifically third-and-long — under the Lovie Smith regime. As a defensive lineman, you just pin your ears back and get up the field, trying to pressure the quarterback.
But the inability of the front four — and in some cases, the front seven — to put pressure on the quarterback has been the Bears’ Achilles’ heel this season. As a result, the defense stays on the field longer and becomes fatigued to the breaking point. In yesterday’s game, the Bears had a two-touchdown lead and the defense was gasping for air on the Vikings second-to-last drive that ended with a Bernard Berrian touchdown catch. If you remember, the Vikings converted on what I believe was a 4th-and-16 to keep the drive alive.
If the Bears are going win the division and attempt to make some noise in the playoffs, they’re going to have to correct this problem before it becomes a fatal flaw. And it all starts with the highly paid players up front.
Moving on to some good news for the Bears defense, Adrian Peterson’s 121 yards rushing are a bit deceiving. If you take away his 54-yard touchdown run, the Bears held him to 67 yards on 21 carries, a 3.2 yards-per-carry average. The Bears may take a dip in the league’s run defense rankings, but they’re still playing stout in that area, save for one broken play.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner reminds me of a kicker. When the Bears lose or the offense struggles, he’s the first guy everybody blames. When he does well, he’s seldom given credit. Turner has been one of the driving forces behind the Bears’ offensive success this year and he deserves to be acknowledged for it.
Yesterday’s game was another work of art for him.
I could go quarter-by-quarter, drive-by-drive, play-by-play and point out some of the great plays he called, but there’s just one play I want to point out that I thought was a stroke of genius. It happened on the Bears’ final drive of the game. They had the ball with under three minutes to go, protecting a one-touchdown lead. They needed two first downs to run out the clock, which we know they didn’t get. But it was the first play of that drive that stood out and is still stuck in my head.
The Bears came out in a running formation with Greg Olsen lined up on the right side of the line. Kyle Orton took the snap and faked a pitch to the left to Matt Forte. The offensive line — Olsen included — pulled to its left and the entire Vikings defense bit on the play-fake. Both Olsen and Orton then rolled out to their right and Orton hit his tight end for a 9-yard gain. The Bears subsequently picked up an easy first down on the next play and were able to milk another minute off the clock and cause the Vikings to burn their timeouts.
The play was well-executed and called at the right time because the Vikings knew the Bears were just trying to run down the clock. Turner was aware of that and he caught the Vikings snoozing and got them to overpursue. If the Bears hadn’t at least picked up 1 of the 2 first downs they needed, the Vikings would have had a lot more time left when they got the ball and our entire conversation could be different today.
I can’t overstate the importance of yesterday’s win. While there are some pundits out there still spewing how the Bears are in a tough situation because they have 3 conference losses to playoff contenders, I’m still focused on winning the division, and the Bears are now 2-0 within the division. The only way those losses to the NFC South will come into play regarding the division title is if the Bears were to split the head-to-head matchups as well as the divisional record with either the Packers or Vikings. A lot needs to happen for that to take place.
The bye week came at an excellent time for the Bears as they essentially can give Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher three weeks of healing time — last week, this week, and next week — which should put them at full strength for the Lions game. Devin Hester and others have bumps and bruises that could use healing time as well. It also allows them to try to shore up some of their pass defense deficiencies and get prepared for a tough November, which includes a home game against the Titans and then three straight road games at Green Bay, St. Louis, and Minnesota.