Sunday’s victory over the Browns was a big step for the Bears for many reasons. First, it broke a losing streak that they were in and gave them some much-needed confidence after a demoralizing loss to the Bengals last week. Second, the victory paired with the Packers’ loss to the Vikings pulled the Bears into a tie with Green Bay, a deadlock in favor of the Packers by virtue of their Week 1 victory over the Bears.
Perhaps the most important revelation from Sunday’s win was further proof that there are issues that still need to be resolved. Aside from the Lions, the Bears have faced some tough opponents this year. The Seahawks are just an okay team, but they’re pretty good at home. So, there’s always been an excuse out of Halas Hall for why either side of the ball hasn’t executed this year. There is no excuse, however, for failing to execute against the Browns.
The Bears’ defense played well against the Browns and I respect that. If they hadn’t, the Bears would have a whole new list of concerns to worry about this week. But the offense’s failures in the red zone can’t and won’t go unnoticed. Also, we’ve known all year that the run game isn’t where it needs to be, but we really saw Jay Cutler take a beating due to poor pass protection as well.
It was discouraging to see the Bears struggle to get any points — or to even get a first down — on their first two series of the game.
I was pleased to see Matt Forte top 90 yards for the day, but it came on 26 carries for a 3.5 average. That puts him on par with his season average, but that average isn’t nearly good enough and fails to compare favorably with any of the top running backs in the league.
Every time Cutler takes a hit, I cringe. If he were to go down with an injury, this team wouldn’t go anywhere this year without him. But what if it were a serious injury that required a year of rehabilitation? That could affect next year, too. There were a couple hits Cutler absorbed against the Browns where I thought he had gotten hurt. And a lesser quarterback might have been removed from the game. But I think Cutler proved his toughness to those who may not have been aware of it.
I’m not overly critical of Ron Turner, but I’ll admit he needs to improve his play calling. I won’t get into many specifics, but the offense’s struggles in the red zone aren’t due to talent and execution deficiencies alone. I’m certainly not a fan of the Wildcat offense — and if you’ve read my weekly predictions, I’m almost always critical of the Miami Dolphins. But there’s a difference between the Dolphins and the Bears. The Dolphins have the linemen and running backs to execute that offense. The Bears don’t. So, I was not pleased to see the Bears in that formation against the Browns and immediately get stopped in the backfield for a loss. It was ill-timed and poorly executed.
Going back to the defense, I was generally pleased with the Bears’ performance against the Browns. The pessimistic side of me — and it’s a normally small side that has grown a little larger this year — says the Bears faced one of the league’s worst offenses featuring Derek Anderson, an over-the-hill Jamal Lewis, and a poor offensive line with one Pro Bowler. But the optimistic side of me says, “Who cares?” Every now and then it’s good to have a cupcake on your schedule to boost confidence and pad your win total.
I think my favorite and least favorite moments in Sunday’s game occurred within minutes of each other.
My least favorite moment was late in the fourth quarter when the Bears offense drove the ball into the red zone and had a first and goal at the Cleveland 2-yard line. Should mean points, right? Cutler threw an incomplete pass to Desmond Clark on first down. Matt Forte was stuffed on second and third down. And Cutler misfired to Clark on fourth down as well because he was under heavy pressure due to a breakdown in pass protection. Why did the Bears go for it on fourth down with a big lead, you may ask? Because the offense struggled putting points on the board inside the red zone all game — and all year — and they needed a boost off which to build. Didn’t happen.
My favorite moment occurred on the next series when the defense took the field. On first down from the Browns’ 1-yard line, the Bears stuffed Jerome Harrison for no gain. Replays showed that Harrison just barely got the ball across the goal line to avoid a safety. On second down, it was Lewis’ turn to get stuffed for no gain and another near safety. Finally, on third down, rather than try to run again to create room for their punter, Cleveland thought it’d be a good idea to pass out of its own end zone. Thanks to a good jump off the ball by Mark Anderson, Browns quarterback Derek Anderson felt the pressure and had to get rid of the ball quickly. His pass was intercepted by Charles Tillman and returned 21 yards for a touchdown.
It might have been a short series at the end of a blowout against a bad offense whose play calling was altered due to perilous field position, but that series was the most inspired football I remember the Bears defense playing in quite awhile. They looked hungry to get a safety, were clearly playing with confidence, but instead of two points, they picked up six. That was the type of attacking defense that is necessary to avoid getting chewed up by opposing offenses. It’d be nice if they can stretch that out over the course of an entire game. I know I’d sure feel much better about their chances of going somewhere this year.
The Bears sure could use that type of defensive effort — and hunger — against one of the best passing attacks in the league next week against Arizona. The Cardinals have been a good road team this year, too. So, unless the temperature drops and a cold front comes through with a snowstorm, the Bears will have to take everything Kurt Warner and company throw at it. The fact that the Bears can’t run the ball effectively won’t matter much, anyway, because the Cardinals have one of the best run defenses in the league.
Here’s hoping they learned something from their win against the Browns.