My biggest concern heading into Saturday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals was that the Bears might be in a no-win situation and might still be criticized if they had played a perfect game. As it turned out, we never got that opportunity to find out if that’d be the case.
If Saturday’s third preseason game traditionally serves as the dress rehearsal for the regular season, I’d hate to see what the Bears have in store for us for Sept. 12’s matinée. That’s when they open the regular season against Detroit, one of the few winnable games, or so it appears at this stage of the preseason.
Things were in disarray from the first offensive snap of the game when Jay Cutler threw a pass intended for Devin Hester deep down the middle of the field. Or was it intended for Johnny Knox? Both were in the vicinity and neither one looked sure that he was the intended target.
Hester and Devin Aromashodu each caught first down passes of more than 10 yards on the opening drive, so things began to look up as the Bears marched down the field. Then, according to Cutler after the game, another miscue with Knox led to an interception by Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Cardinals’ first offensive play was an 11-yard completion by Derek Anderson to tight end Stephen Spach, both guys who make you scratch your head and say, “Who?” It was only one play, but considering how it contrasted with the Bears’ first play, discouragement slowly crept in. It turned out to be a four-and-out, though, as the defense settled in and forced a punt.
The Bears tried to establish the run game on the second series as Matt Forte carried the ball twice for just three yards before Cutler on third down succumbed to the first of four sacks on the game. The Cardinals responded with a three-and-out of their own on the ensuing series.
The Bears’ third possession of the game was more successful as they ran a 12-play drive that took almost six minutes off the clock. Cutler was 5-for-8 on the series for 83 yards, completing passes to Desmond Clark, Knox, Forte, and Chester Taylor. Unfortunately, the drive that started with such promise ended in demise. On the final first down of the series, Hester fumbled the snap out of the Wildcat formation. Cutler’s pass for Knox fell incomplete on second down. Cutler was sacked on third down. And on fourth down, Robbie Gould’s 38-yard field goal was blocked.
Arizona answered that drive with a 10-play, 72-yard drive of their own that ended with an Anderson 27-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Stephen Williams, an undrafted rookie from Toledo.
Preseason is all about making adjustments and seeing how your team responds in actual game-like situations. The Bears responded well on their ensuing possession by taking the ball 43 yards down the field into field goal range, but Gould missed his second field goal of the night, this one hitting the left upright.
On the drive, Cutler showed his elusiveness by scrambling 12 yards for a first down. Taylor flashed how valuable he could be out of the backfield by taking a handoff to the left, evading a tackler, reversing field and scampering for a 34-yard gain while making more tacklers miss along the way. I always knew Taylor had a burst in the way he ran the football, but I was never able to grasp just how quick and agile he is when he was wearing Vikings purple.
On the Bears’ next possession, Cutler was sacked for the third time and lost the ball. Olin Kreutz recovered the fumble to avoid a turnover, but it was only momentarily. On the next play, Cutler threw his second interception, a pass intended for Aromashodu that was underthrown and never should have been attempted.
The Bears appeared to be headed for more trouble to close out the half as the Cardinals drove close to the end zone. Danieal Manning, who had a nice game and led the team in tackles, forced a fumble from Cardinals running back Chris Wells and a Jay Cutler kneeldown mercifully ended the first half.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Anderson completed 7-of-12 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown, the Cardinals proved their quarterbacks are interchangeable as Matt Leinart started the second half and led the Cardinals to a touchdown on the team’s second possession. Leinart finished with nine completions on 10 attempts for 84 yards and a score.
Things didn’t go well for the Bears’ starting offense on their only possession of the second half. Taylor ran twice for minus-two yards and Cutler was sacked for the fourth time as the Bears went three-and-out.
Rookie quarterback Dan LeFevour had a much better third outing as he completed 10-of-12 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown while leading the Bears on two scoring drives. His touchdown pass was for three yards and caught by Juaquin Iglesias — No. 17 in your programs, the former third-round draft pick who is on the bubble. Yes, that guy.
There were definitely good and bad moments in the game, but unfortunately it appeared as though the bad outweighed the good.
There are also good and bad things to look forward to for the regular season. The good news is that the duo of Forte and Taylor has the potential to be one of the top backfields in the league. The bad news is that they won’t be able to fulfill that potential without adequate blocking. The good news is that the wide receivers have continued to make strides since last year and Cutler can make accurate throws down the field. The bad news is that the offensive line isn’t giving the receivers enough time to complete their routes or allow Cutler to stand in the pocket to deliver those throws on a consistent basis. And the good news is that Cutler is a tough guy without an injury history. The bad news is that he’s been sacked 9 times in two games and his toughness is being tested even before one snap of the regular season has taken place.
Notice any similarities in the bad news? The offensive line is every bit as bad as feared heading into training camp and not much has improved.
There is also good news and bad news for the defense. The good news is that Julius Peppers is worth every cent of the $20 million he will make this season. The bad news is that teams can neutralize him with quick passes the way the Chargers did in the first preseason game. The good news is that the Bears got great pressure on the Cardinals quarterbacks. The bad news is that the quarterbacks were able to stand in there and get rid of the ball while shredding the secondary. And the good news is that part of the Bears’ poor play stemmed from the fact that they were missing three linebackers including Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Nick Roach. The bad news is that they’re dropping like flies and Urlacher is dangerously close to heading down the path that Mike Brown took with injuries that led to his dismissal from the team.
There’s one more preseason game and it will come off a short week Thursday night in Cleveland. The starters usually play only a series or two, if at all. So, what you’ve seen so far is what you’ll get come Sept. 12. The Bears have two weeks til then to figure out how to keep Cutler upright, how to create holes for the run game, how to pressure the quarterback, and how to get the defense off the field on third down. If they can’t right the ship by then, it could sink quickly.
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