The Bears entered Seattle on Sunday, one of the most difficult places to play a football game, and walked away with an exciting, 25-19 victory to advance their record to 2-1. Considering the circumstances, which included two difficult road games and a home opener against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Bears appear to be in a good position at this point in the young season.
So, why does it feel like something is missing? The victory over the Seahawks, much like the win over the Steelers last week, left a lot to be desired. It had an air of satisfaction, yet also left a small empty feeling in the pit of your stomach.
I don’t mean to sound like the ungrateful child who gets a brand new red bicycle for his birthday, but asks his parents to return it because it’s not blue. The Bears produced a win, and I’ll take it. But it was far from convincing and it makes you concerned about what lies ahead, and whether the deficiencies they’ve displayed through three weeks will eventually slow them down when teams exploit those weaknesses.
I think what concerns me most is the uncertainty. We’ve never seen this formula work for the Bears in the past. Conventional wisdom says the surest way to win football games is to run the football well and to play stout defense, neither one of which the Bears have been able to do yet this season. Thankfully, Jay Cutler has been carrying the team on his back for the past two weeks, and reportedly just posted the highest passer rating for a visiting quarterback in Qwest Field history.
How long can the Bears rely on Cutler to shoulder the load? He’s a great quarterback, it’s apparent, but what happens when the weather takes a turn for the worse and passing the football becomes a little more difficult? What happens if, God forbid, Cutler has another game like he did against the Packers?
See, we as Bears fans are used to seeing a solid defense, a strong running game, and dependable special teams win games. When two of those three facets are not producing, it’s unnerving.
What bothered me most about Sunday’s game against the Seahawks was that we did not see enough of Jon Ryan. Does that name ring a bell? No, he’s not the venture capitalist played by Owen Wilson in the movie Wedding Crashers. He is Seattle’s punter. And we saw him punt the ball just twice. And the fewer punts that we see mean the fewer times Devin Hester gets his hands on the ball in open space. And Hester reminded us of what he can do with the ball in those situations when he scored the game-winning touchdown on a slant pass thrown from Cutler during the Bears’ final drive.
Last week, Hester was on the field to receive just three punts against a Steelers offense that has great weapons. We should have expected to see more of Hester this week, not less.
I understand that Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 scheme is a bend-but-don’t-break system that keeps the action in front of the defense to prevent the big play. And more often than not, this defense will yield big chunks of yards but prevent a lot of high scores. But this defense is going to wear down if they don’t get off the field quicker. And they can’t keep relying on opposing kickers missing two field goals per game.
As far as the run game goes, some people are questioning Matt Forte and wondering if last year was a fluke. I’m not one of them. Forte is still a good back with great vision and patience while waiting for his blocks to develop. The problem is that so far this year, the blocking isn’t developing in front of him. It might be too early to panic and start making changes, but if things don’t turn around, expect Josh Beekman’s name to be brought up quite often. The guy is hardly a great NFL offensive lineman, but his successor, Frank Omiyale, is having problems.
I was pleased with the way the offense played in general, though. Scoring 25 points on the road is never an easy thing to do. Even the dynamic New Orleans Saints scored just 27 this week on the road against Buffalo, although the Bills’ defense is better than Seattle’s. The Bears did run the ball 23 times against the Seahawks, and sometimes just committing to the run even if it doesn’t produce results is good enough to get the job done and keep a defense honest.
The Bears have had to play from behind in each of their first three games — which is something that has got to change — but not enough can be said about Cutler’s ability to lead a comeback. When the Seahawks took the lead, 19-17, my first thought was not, “can Cutler lead a comeback drive?” After all, he led go-ahead touchdown drives against Green Bay and Pittsburgh. My two thoughts were, “Is Ron Turner going to play for a field goal or a touchdown?” and “How much time will be left on the clock for Seattle’s offense?” Cutler came through as I had expected and hoped he would and the defense came through big on Seattle’s final drive.
I also have to give credit to Lovie for sending extra pressure on that last drive. Without it, the Sehawks may have gotten closer to the end zone and had a chance to pull out the win.
When asked after the game how he felt about his team’s victory even though it wasn’t “pretty”, Lovie said: “Every win I’ve ever been a part of is pretty. So I don’t know exactly what you’re talking about there. When we get more points than they do, it’s a great win for us.”
In essence, he’s right. You play the game to win, not to get style points or pad your stats.
Let’s just hope the Bears continue to find ways to win for the duration of the season, whether it be by land or air.