Monday Morning Quarterback: Week 11November 17th, 2008 - 9:14 am
Six hours of watching other football games and after a good night’s sleep, the sting of a blowout loss to our neighbors to the north, people who wear orange hunting suits doused in deer urine and wedges of foam cheese on their heads, does not hurt any less.
I’m still baffled by the complete failure of both the offense and the defense and the lack of contribution from the special teams. A 37-0 shutout would have been worse, but scoring 3 points isn’t much more comforting.
Examining the game statistics, it’s astounding that the Packers’ 200 net rushing yards are just 34 shy of the Bears’ 234 overall net yards. The Packers have a good team, but they’re not that much better than the Bears. Trying to figure out why the Bears failed to show up to play yesterday isn’t that complicated.
We start at quarterback, where Kyle Orton valiantly played on a sprained ankle that hadn’t quite fully healed yet. He was also hit low by a Packers defender early in the game, which seemed to have aggravated it. There’s a Neanderthal gene in every football player which motivates him to want to play hurt. And fans appreciate that willingness to sacrifice one’s self for his team. But you’ve also got to be smart and understand that if the injury affects your performance and hinders your team’s ability to win a football game, maybe it’s best if you sit out.
I’m not saying that was the case with Orton. Maybe he did recover sufficiently enough. But it’s something to consider.
Moving to the run game, Matt Forte rushed for 64 yards on 16 carries, a 4.0 average. A lot of people will complain that the Bears didn’t run the ball enough, but, unfortunately, when you’re trailing by two-plus scores the entire second half, you can’t exactly keep running the ball. I think if the Bears could have kept the game closer, and were only trailing the Packers by a touchdown at halftime, the Bears could have continued moving the ball on the ground and perhaps had a shot at the end to win.
The Packers were able to sit back and focus on defending the pass because they knew the Bears had to throw to try to get back in the game. As a result, they scored a defensive touchdown off a fumble return to add insult to injury.
I want to briefly discuss special teams before we get into the crux of the problem on the third side of the ball. I’m not sure if it was a temporary decision on the Bears part or if it was a sign of things to come, but I was pleased to see the Bears insert Danieal Manning in the fourth quarter to return kickoffs. That had been something I was advocating for a while now.
It’s not as if Hester is that much faster than Manning — if at all. Manning is one of the fastest players on the team. And, Hester’s only secret to success — as he put so succinctly his rookie year — is running away from the players wearing the other colored jerseys. He’s obviously adopted a different philosophy this year, which is to run directly at the different colored jerseys and fall down. At least he hasn’t fumbled the ball in a while.
As long as Manning holds onto the football, it’s my contention that he should continue returning kickoffs and Hester should be relegated to punt return duties. The thing I like about Manning is that he takes the kickoff and hits the wedge with authority. Did anybody see his second-to-last kickoff? That is, if you hadn’t turned off the game out of disgust by that point. It was the one that he fielded on a bounce at the 21-yard line, and then he ran through a couple of missed tackles and dragged the defenders to the 50-yard line? It was the Bears’ best field position all game, but by that point it was too late.
Manning had kick returns of 23, 29, and 30, in that order. Even if he doesn’t fare any better than Hester — which I believe he will if given the opportunity — it’d at least be refreshing to see a kick returner run with determination.
Now, on to the dreaded defense.
I was listening to 670 The Score after the game, and David Schuster was in the locker room looking for reactions from players. Mike Brown — the one Bears player who tells it like it is — summed it up best.
“Once we come to grips our defense isn’t what it’s supposed to be, then we’ll all be better off. The perception is we have a good defense. The reality is we don’t. Everyone wants [our defense] to be what it used to be, and it’s not that.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. The defense is getting paid all the money and yet we are relying on the offense to win games. As Bears fans, did we ever expect to see the day when the offense was picking up the slack for the defense? At least, in most games this year. Yesterday, nobody was picking up anybody’s slack.
Somebody is at fault here, and yet nobody wants to point the finger. I admire that. I’ve always lived by the motto that you don’t air your dirty laundry in public. So, maybe behind closed doors, there’s some questioning going on — either by the players of the coaching staff, or the coaches of the players. However, even though I believe that pointing the thumb at one’s own chest is more noble than pointing the finger at another, it’s clear that digits have to be pointed and solutions have to be found.
The single most important issue to be resolved is the defensive line, which is vital to this or any other defensive scheme. If the four starters up front can’t get to the quarterback, put somebody else in there. If nobody on the team can get into the backfield, start blitzing more. Let Bob Babich study film of Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, the blitzing mastermind.
I like Lovie Smith. I think he’s done some great things for this organization. In his five years with the team, he’s helped transform the psychology of the franchise from what it was in the 90s. But one thing that bothers me — although, keep in mind, this is the case with almost all football coaches — is that his stubbornness is wearing thin. He believes in his defense and he doesn’t want to change it. And that’s fine. Because completely changing the defense at this point in the season will not work. It’ll be like trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
But subtle changes need to be made because this defense cannot stand pat for the rest of the season and hope to succeed. I’m not naïve enough to claim I know how to fix the defense, as some Chicago media members have done. What I do know — and what any fan out there who’s watched this team knows — is that what we’re watching on the field right now is not working. And after 10 weeks, that’s not a lack of execution, it’s a fundamental problem.
So, where do the Bears go from here? It’s not like the season is over, even though that’s the prevailing feeling after a devastating loss to a division foe and a bitter rival.
It’s important to remember that in a league as level as it is, the Bears are only 4 games behind the conference leader. They’re a in a 3-way tie for the NFC North lead.
Anybody remember the White Sox season? It wasn’t that long ago. They played 162 essentially meaningless games. Because it all came down to a 1-game playoff to determine if they were going to the postseason.
Well, consider the first 10 games of this season meaningless. The Bears are almost completely healthy and they’re starting a six game season next week in St. Louis, a team they shouldn’t just beat, but dominate.
If they can’t beat St. Louis, it’ll be a sign of much worse things to come. Although, as I’ve stated numerous times, anybody can beat anybody, so nothing can be taken for granted.
Particularly if the defense plays as lousy this Sunday as it has all year.