Bears Notebook: Final thoughts on Bears-Saints game

September 19th, 2011 - 7:09 pm
Mike Martz may have panicked and abandoned the run too early against the Saints.

Mike Martz may have panicked and abandoned the run too early against the Saints.

During the Bears’ 30-12 beating at the hands of the Saints on Sunday, it was clear that they had abandoned the run, but it wasn’t until after the game with time to analyze the play calling that we realized just how lopsided it was.

The Bears’ 12 rushing attempts tied a franchise record for second-fewest in a game. When you consider that Cutler’s one rushing attempt was actually a scramble, and add to that fact that he was sacked six times, the play calling was 52 passes to 11 runs. Even if Cutler hadn’t been sacked once and if he completed half of those passes, that’s an unacceptable balance.

During his Monday press conference, Lovie Smith said, “I know the balance as far as running-passing wasn’t there. All I can say is we’ll get it better. We can’t win football games with that kind of balance.”

Henry Melton’s disappearing act

Next to the pass protection woes, one of the biggest issues facing the Bears was the lack of pressure on Drew Brees. After recording two sacks in the season opener against the Falcons, Henry Melton failed to even show up on the stat sheet against the Saints.

Julius Peppers had his troubles, too, so it’s difficult to pin all the problems on Melton and the interior of the defensive line, but pressure up the middle is vital to the success of the defense.

After good start to the game, Saints defense set up camp in Bears’ backfield

Smith mentioned in the press conference Monday that the offensive line played well in the first half and that Cutler did not get sacked until the second half, and five of the six sacks came in the fourth quarter.

That doesn’t inspire much confidence, but he does make a valid point. Part of the trouble might have been that Gabe Carimi left the game with a knee injury. The other cause for the floodgates opening was the lack of balance in the play calling. When the defenders know what’s coming, they can pin their ears back and get up the field.

Said one unnamed Saints defender: “We kicked their ass. They refuse to block blitzes. It was unbelievable how much we hit Cutler.”

Meriweather’s unfortunate timing on Henderson touchdown

The turning point in the game — and, subsequently, in Martz’s play calling — came early in the second quarter when Brees hit Devery Henderson for a 79-yard touchdown pass to take the lead.

The play came on a third-and-long and against the Bears’ Cover-2 defense, a system designed to stop such over-the-top plays. I had wondered why we saw rookie Chris Conte on the field during the play — even though he had nothing to do with the breakdown; it was Major Wright who blew the coverage — and it was later revealed that Brandon Meriweather was getting his ankle re-taped.

Clearly, that was bad timing but I’m not sure if it would have made a difference if Meriweather were on the field. Perhaps Brees wouldn’t have taken a shot down the field if he saw the veteran Pro Bowler deep in the secondary, but I guess we’ll never know.

Jimmy Graham has a big mouth

Wright had a bad game throughout and he’s proving to be a fragile player in his young career. On one play he suffered a head injury when trying to tackle Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham got up and talked trash to Wright as the Bears’ safety lay motionless on the ground, but that wasn’t the only trash talking from Graham.

It seemed like every play he made, Graham turned to a Bears defender or the Bears’ sideline to spew a few comments. While I like Graham’s ability and think he’s the next big thing at tight end in this league — and I liked when he mocked Aaron Rodgers in the regular season opener by pretending to put on the championship belt after scoring a touchdown — he needs to keep his mouth shut and get back to the huddle or else he’s going to make some enemies in this league and take a few hard shots.

Lovie unable to challenge Sproles touchdown

Many Bears fans were quick maybe not to criticize but to question why Lovie Smith did not challenge the Darren Sproles touchdown reception late in the game, when replays showed that Sproles’ foot appeared to be touching the out-of-bounds stripe.

At first discussion, it was thought that Smith might have been waiting to see if the referees would review the play before throwing the challenge flag. Upon further review, though, the new NFL rule states that coaches cannot challenge scoring plays, so Smith had no choice regardless.

Officials miss defenseless receiver penalty on Sanzenbacher hit

The missed replay of the Sproles touchdown wasn’t the only misstep by the officials. The crew also failed to throw a flag on a play earlier in the game when Dane Sanzenbacher was knocked to the turf after dropping a pass. Sanzenbacher clearly was a “defenseless receiver” because he was just on his way down to the ground and had his eyes on the ball, not the defender.

Bad call by the officials on Cutler roughing the passer penalty

Another mistake by the officiating crew was flagging Roman Harper for roughing Cutler in the first quarter.

As explained by the referee, the defender “drove the quarterback several yards back and then dumped him to the ground.”

I’ve heard a roughing the passer penalty called because a defender drove a quarterback into the ground with his body weight, but never “dumping” him to the ground.

Regardless, it should not have been a penalty, but the Bears capitalized with a Sanzenbacher touchdown on that drive.

Good no-call on Briggs hit

I’ve got a bit of praise for the officials for not flagging Lance Briggs for his shot on Robert Meachem with about five minutes to go in the first quarter. Several in the Chicago media, of all places, claimed it should have been a penalty — and some say it should be a fine — but upon further review it was a good no-call.

Briggs actually made contact with Meachem before any part of Meachem’s body touched the out-of-bounds stripe. That eliminates the “late hit” part of the penalty. The only other argument that can be made was whether Briggs rode him out of bounds or shoved him down afterward. Although in live speed it looks like Briggs might have shoved him, that was not the case. Briggs’ arm barely went forward as Meachem stumbled to the ground. That was simply a case of a receiver losing his balance in traffic.

Cutler takes the high road

I’ve got to give credit — and so should all Bears fans — for his handling of the beating he took. Not only did Cutler get sacked six times and knocked down on several other occasions, but he got kicked in the throat during the game and had a raspy voice during the postgame press conference.

Cutler has done a good job of not throwing teammates under bus since he arrived in Chicago, even though we all know his line has been horrible.

If he won’t throw them under the bus, I will. This is a bad group of players and it is going to shorten Cutler’s career if they don’t start protecting him better.

Receivers didn’t help the cause, either

With all the negativity given to the offensive line and Martz’s play calling, let’s not let the receivers off the hook, either. Roy Williams was out with a groin injury and Earl Bennett left with a chest bruise. That left Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, two smurfs, as the lead receivers. Sam Hurd, mainly a special teams threat, and undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher were the other active receivers.

That’s a collection of stiffs, to be perfectly honest. None of them are able to beat press coverage or go up and win a jump ball. Cutler threw a pass to the back corner of the end zone intended for Hester at one point in the game, but there was no way Hester was going to make that catch.

Jerry Angelo taking a beating Monday, and rightfully so

So, who is to blame for the Bears’ offensive line struggles and their lack of playmakers at wide receiver? General manager Jerry Angelo, that’s who. The same problems the Bears had last season are occurring this year. How Angelo could have neglected to recognize and attempt to rectify these issues is beyond me.

“Biggest improvement” clearly did not come this week

Lovie Smith is famous for a lot of cliches, everything from “we get off the bus running” to “Rex is our quarterback” and even his breakdown of the regular season into “four quarters.”

One of his other popular expressions is that teams make their biggest progress from Week 1 to Week 2.

Let’s hope that was the case for the Saints and not the Bears because that would have alarming indications for the rest of the season.