When one expresses himself based on his emotions, those words have a tendency to be nonsensical and factually untrue. Thus, while I don’t condone the “sky is falling” attitude of many Bears fans on a miserable Monday morning following the Bears’ 21-15 loss to the Packers Sunday night, I can understand from where it is coming.
More than anything else, I believe the one fact to keep in mind is that for as awful as the Bears played last night, they were in position to win the game. Lost in the shuffle of Jay Cutler’s career-high, four-interception game was a defense that did a good job stopping one of the best and most proficient offenses in the league.
Obviously, that defense was not perfect. Nathan Vasher gave up the winning touchdown after he bit on a play fake on third-and-one and then stumbled while trying to keep up with Greg Jennings down the field. Rookie safety Al Afalava made some nice plays, as did Kevin Payne, but both were fortunate that Aaron Rodgers was erratic with his deep passing because both could have been burned for touchdowns.
What you saw from the offense was a result of a unit that has no cohesion right now. I’ve defended the notion for years that a great quarterback will make receivers better, but that statement only works when the receivers know what they’re doing. If they have average talent, but they’re instinctive players, then average receivers can have good years. This group of receivers, however, seems to lack that knowledge, and that comes as a result of not having much experience. We knew Earl Bennett did not have a catch last season. We knew Johnny Knox — who saw action because Devin Aromashodu was out with an injury — wouldn’t jump right into the offense and make a splash as a rookie. And we knew Devin Hester — who actually played very well — wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. So it should not come as a surprise that Cutler and his receivers are not on the same page. Cutler has no idea what his receivers are thinking nor does he know where they’re going to be, and his receivers don’t have a clue where Cutler wants them to be.
It’s bad enough that the passing game is out of sync, but the run game was almost non-existent. Sure, if the Bears had been trailing by two touchdowns, it would have made sense why Cutler threw the ball 36 times. But their biggest deficit was 8 points, which is still one possession. It’s inexcusable why the Bears went away from the run game, but it’s understandable why Matt Forte finished with only 55 yards and a 2.2 average. The offensive line did not look good at all. There are three new starters on the line, and the best offensive lines in the league are those that have continuity and work as a unit instead of as five separate individuals.
Defensively, I was happy to see a rejuvenated front four get after Aaron Rodgers. That was vital to keeping the Bears within reach of the victory. We must temper our enthusiasm for Adewale Ogunleye — who had two sacks — because the right tackle that he was working against might not have a job for too long. He was awful. But I liked the way that Mark Anderson played, Alex Brown was reliable, and the tackles clogged the middle. I was not happy with Tommie Harris, however, who really must not be anywhere near 100% because he’s not doing much to help this team.
The Bears’ special teams units were okay, minus a big Packers kickoff return to open the game and a boneheaded audible called by long snapper Patrick Mannelly, who thought he could catch the defense with 12 men on the field so he changed a punt to a fake.
Having had at least 12 hours to digest yesterday’s loss, I’m already over the game and looking forward to the next week, when they have a terrible matchup with the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chicago Tribune’s Steve Rosenbloom — not exactly one of my favorite members of the media and someone I seldom agree with — said it best when he wrote in his blog:
If the Packers can wreck the Bears offense when they’re just learning the 3-4 defense, what’s going to happen next week when the Steelers come to town with a 3-4 defense that is the NFL’s gold standard?
That’s a scary thought and one in which the Bears had better come up with a solid game plan to neutralize.
Speaking of scary, the loss of starting linebackers Brian Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa could have devastating consequences. Urlacher is out for the year with a dislocated wrist and reports say Tinoisamoa could miss anywhere from 3-6 weeks.
My initial reaction when learning of the loss of Urlacher was that it wasn’t going to have as much an impact as Urlacher’s last injury-shortened season in 2004, when the Bears went 5-11 in Lovie Smith’s first season as Bears coach. Urlacher’s best days are certainly behind him and we won’t notice as big a difference without him in the lineup as we would in years past.
Don’t get me wrong, though. The injury is still a scary proposition. The Bears have reportedly had talks with former Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks, a guy who revolutionized the position in the Tampa-2 defense Lovie Smith installed. But if the Bears do sign him, that would mean they’d likely have to move Lance Briggs to the inside to fill Urlacher’s position, and that’s something Briggs is uncomfortable doing. So, the likely scenario would be to start Hunter Hillenmeyer there, who is a smart player but is far from the ideal athlete to drop into coverage down the middle of the field.
As if the pressure on the defensive line to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season wasn’t high enough, making up for an inexperienced secondary and a banged-up linebacking corps is going to be difficult to do.
It could be a terrible start to the season for the Bears, one in which they may not be able to recover from in time to make a late-season push for a wild card spot. But, at least there’s 15 more games to go and things couldn’t possibly look worse for Cutler and the offense as they did Sunday night.