It’s become excessively clear just how poorly this season has been for the Bears when the Monday morning following a victory is one filled with melancholy and disinterest. And to some, disappointment with the win.
It’s clear that Bears fans collectively view their team’s 17-9 win over the Rams on Sunday with a glass is half-empty approach. Most of the discussion on talk radio has centered on what the Bears did wrong instead of what was right. I’ve generally always had that mindset, not because I’m pessimistic but because I strive for perfection.
What stood out most to me was how reserved the Bears’ offense was Sunday. Jay Cutler attempted all of 17 passes, completing 8 of them, while the offense focused on rushing the ball 38 times. Understandably, the game plan called for a ball control offense because the Rams have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. You can’t be upset that Cutler didn’t get more opportunities to throw the ball considering the game plan worked and the Bears won the game. But the 3.1 yards per carry average was still a cause for concern.
It was encouraging that Cutler completed a few passes down the field early in the game. He hooked up with Devin Hester for 48 yards early in the first quarter and connected with Earl Bennett on a 71-yard catch-and-run on the next possession. Unfortunately, those two plays accounted for 119 of Cutler’s 143 yards in the game.
We had no reason to expect eye-popping numbers from the run game considering it entered the game as the NFL’s worst. But with all things considered, Matt Forte’s 91 yards on 24 carries (3.8 average) was respectable enough not to harshly criticize. Kahlil Bell saw more action than previous weeks and rushed 11 times for 35 yards. His style of running could make him a good complementary back in the future, which is probably the only role he’ll ever have while lacking the desired speed of an NFL running back.
Defensively, Jamar Williams was credited with a game-high 18 tackles, which is a good performance regardless of whom the opponent is. He’s a free agent at season’s end and I’m sure he gladly appreciates the opportunity to show what he can do. Kevin Payne was the team’s second-leading tackler and his substitution for Danieal Manning probably had more to do with his ability to stack the box and stuff the run than his overall ability.
I was not happy with the play of the defensive line. Three of the starters — Alex Brown, Tommie Harris, and Marcus Harrison — were credited with just one tackle apiece. And Adewale Ogunleye only registered two tackles. The Bears did have three sacks, all from the defensive line, which was necessary, if unspectacular against a poor Rams quarterback.
Sunday’s game was one of the worst performances I’ve seen from a Dave Toub-led special teams in quite some time. Their coverage was poor, allowing Danny Amendola to average 12 yards per punt return with a long of 30, and 27 yards per kickoff return with a long of 43.
Then, there was the punt and punt return teams. Both of those units had a problem with getting 11 players on the field and the punt team had to blow a timeout because of it. As for punt returns, Devin Hester struggled mightily. When he was supposed to fair catch punts, he instead allowed them to bounce and be downed inside the 5-yard line. And when he should have let the punts bounce, he called for a fair catch inside the 10-yard line.
When Hester got hurt on offense and had to leave the game, first Johnny Knox came in to replace him and wound up looking just like him, catching a punt and running backward and laterally for a gain of zero yards. This was after Knox bobbled the catch. Then, Bennett stepped in and he muffed a punt while trying to catch it inside the 5-yard line and had to fall on it there.
In the past, when one of the two main units, the offense or defense, didn’t play well, at least Bears fans could rely on a stellar performance from the third phase. Now, the special teams are playing just as poorly as the other two phases. I think that has everything to do with the front office’s inability to bring in enough talent. If they can’t draft or sign enough quality starters on offense or defense, they certainly can’t find anyone to play special teams.
This is how far the Bears have fallen from grace. They’ve picked up a win and we’re criticizing their performance. To some, it’s considered nitpicking. To me, it’s demanding more from our team, which is perfectly reasonable. You should never settle for anything less than perfection, even if perfection is unattainable.
But I think the criticism has more to do with the quality of the Bears’ opponent than anything else. For instance, I think if the Bears go out and beat their hated rival this week, Bears fans will have a feeling of satisfaction no matter how ugly the performance is.
I’ll take the ugliest possible victory over the Packers before I accept a dominating, nearly flawless loss to them.
I don’t expect the Bears to win another game this year. The year 2009, that is. The Bears should be able to beat Detroit in January, but that’s not a given considering how competitively the Lions played against the Bengals in Cincinnati this week and how poorly the Bears have played all year.
What I want to see in the last four games of the year — Lovie Smith’s “fourth quarter” — is some signs of improvement for the future. I was extremely disappointed to see Gaines Adams inactive Sunday. I know he hasn’t played well since the team traded for him, and maybe he doesn’t get any better the rest of his career. But how do you expect him to improve if he’s in street clothes on Sundays?
I also would like to see Chris Williams continue to play on the left side of the offensive line. Whether or not Orlando Pace becomes healthy enough to play should be irrelevant. Williams was drafted to be the left tackle of the future and he needs more work there before you can count on him for next year and beyond.
I still would like to see Frank Omiyale move to his more natural position of right tackle and insert Josh Beekman into the lineup to replace him at left guard. I’d also like to see more of Kahlil Bell because I think he could make Garrett Wolfe expendable next year and he could also push Kevin Jones for that lead backup role.
At receiver, Devin Aromashodu dropped a quick screen pass and also failed to come down inbounds after making a great leaping catch down the sideline. His ability to go up and get that pass is exactly the reason why he should continue to get more playing time the remainder of the season. He’ll never be a No. 1 or No. 2, but he could develop into a No. 3.
If the Bears do finish 1-3 in the “fourth quarter” of the season, they’ll be 6-10 on the season. Is that enough for the McCaskeys to eat the remaining two years of Lovie Smith’s contract as so many Bears fans are calling for? Probably not, but the fact that there was a report that ownership was inquiring about Bill Cowher’s interest in coaching the team is enough to keep Lovie’s seat hot. I know the players respect and admire Lovie and will continue to play hard for him, but the damage could already be done.
A win over the Packers this week might not tone down the “Fire Lovie” rhetoric, but it could make for a warmer holiday season.