This is the Friday edition of Monday Morning Quarterback. And it’s definitely an enjoyable Friday morning with a Bears victory and the day off work.
What we witnessed yesterday may have been agitating at times, but the ultimate goal was fulfilled. It was an entertaining, playoff-like atmosphere and the Bears left the evening with a victory. Pressure suddenly shifts to the Vikings, who have a tough road game this week in Arizona. Sure, the Cardinals clinched the NFC West division, but they won’t be lying down. They will be playing for a first round bye, or, at the very least, the No. 3 seed. It should be a great game and I encourage everybody to watch it. I believe it’s the nationally-televised 3 p.m. game on FOX. And, just for kicks, I’ll be watching Green Bay at Jacksonville on the NFL Ticket at noon with the hopes the Packers can drop their fourth straight.
But, I’m digressing here.
I want to reiterate my point from last night’s postgame thoughts that, if not for Danieal Manning, the Bears may not have won this game. I’m a big proponent of the idea that something that happens early in the game has little to no effect on another thing that occurs later in the game. However, it can have immediate effects on subsequent events.
For example, if Manning doesn’t return that opening kickoff for a touchdown, it’s possible the Bears go 3-and-out and punt to the Saints, giving them good field position with a 0-0 score.
Or, on Manning’s next kickoff return, all the momentum was with the Saints, who had just tied the game at 7. Had Manning not returned the kickoff 52 yards into Saints territory, who knows if the Bears would have scored on that drive? And maybe, instead of taking a 21-7 lead into halftime, it would have been 14-14, or New Orleans might have had the lead.
Special teams played a big role in the Bears developing an early enough lead to eke out a victory.
While we all have our criticisms of the Bears’ defense, it did a great job of keeping the best offense in football in check for most of the game. We know by now that the pass defense is terrible and we fully expected Drew Brees to methodically work his way down field at some point in last night’s game. But in perspective, holding Brees to 55% passing with 232 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions was a solid effort. Although the Bears only had one sack — two, if you count the one that was erased by a penalty that had no effect on the play — the Bears did put pressure on Brees early and force him to move around and not get into a comfort zone. And that’s exactly what a pass rush has to do.
I gave you the good earlier about Manning, now here’s the bad: he is not good at almost everything on defense. When you play zone and don’t get pressure from your front four, any quarterback in the league can find the soft spots when given enough time. So, I’m not going to pin everything on Manning. But when the Bears have been in nickel coverage while Manning has been thrust into the nickel back role, the chances of him being beat are pretty good. I just don’t think he understands certain coverages, which makes it understandable that the coaching staff has made him a nomadic defensive back the past couple years.
Offensively, the effects of having little help from the receiver position are really taking a toll on Kyle Orton and Ron Turner.
First, from Orton’s perspective, he can’t have much confidence in his receivers when they keep dropping passes. Take Rashied Davis, for example, who let a pass go right through his hands that wound up being intercepted and led to a Saints touchdown last night.
As far as Turner goes, his play-calling has been questionable in the second half of the last four games, but can you blame him? Forget about the running plays. We all know the Bears have went away from the running game too quickly, and Turner can’t be let off the hook for that. However, calling pass plays has become a tough chore for him because his receivers can’t run good routes or be counted on to catch the football in tight spots.
Orton has had a solid season, but we do know the one thing he has trouble with is throwing the deep ball. Hence, Devin Hester then becomes useless because that’s the only thing he can do well. You can’t count on Hester being interfered with twice in one game every week. Since the receivers don’t run crisp routes or know when to break off and find the soft spots in zone coverage, the Bears can’t exactly run too many intermediate routes.
So, that leaves the short, underneath stuff which the Bears have been running all season and which was used exclusively on the final drive of regulation that led to a game-tying field goal. It’s the primary reason that Matt Forte leads all running backs in receptions this year. A short pass here, a dump off there. A quick out to Greg Olsen, a hitch to Hester. A lot of passes to tight ends and backs.
Using the final drive of yesterday’s game is a bad example, because as an offense, you take what the defense gives you. And during final drives, the defense tends to play softer so as not to get beaten by the deep pass. However, this is the line of play-calling that Ron Turner has been forced to execute thanks to a shoddy receiving corps.
This has made the Bears’ offense more predictable, and teams — who already were gaining respect for Forte — increase the focus of their game plan on shutting down the rookie. Forte had just 34 yards rushing on 11 carries. Granted, he missed some time with a hurt toe, but finding room to gallop and not straying from the run game have been a problem the past few weeks.
One team the Bears need to run the ball well against are the Packers, who come to Soldier Field a week from Monday. We saw how the Packers wanted nothing to do with last year’s contest in Chicago. They were all huddled up on the sideline, standing around heaters and dreading going back onto the field. It’s not likely that’s going to happen again this year. Even though they’re not going to make the playoffs, it’s still a rivalry game, so the Bears can expect the best from the Packers.
In a playoff-like, win-or-go-home atmosphere — as well as having added motivation to payback the Packers for the beating they took a month ago — you can expect the best from the Bears, too. Because if not, they certainly will be going home early this year.