Bears Notebook: Bears run defense starting to come togetherNovember 8th, 2011 - 6:18 pm
One of the keys to beating the Eagles Monday night was to contain their run game, which ranked No. 1 in the league heading into the week. The Bears managed to do just that, holding LeSean McCoy to just 71 yards, 33 of which came on one play, a touchdown run. If you take away that one broken play, the defense held him to just 2.5 yards per carry on 15 attempts.
Michael Vick, meanwhile, gathered 34 yards on 5 attempts, his third-lowest rushing total on the season.
Last year, the Bears finished the season ranked second against the run, which was a major factor in why they made it to the NFC title game. They got off to a slow start this year, but against two of the league’s best running backs — Adrian Peterson and McCoy — the Bears held them to a combined 110 rushing yards.
Offensive line has great game protecting Cutler
Not only did the Bears offensive line continue opening holes for Matt Forte to explode through, but the unit did a great job protecting Jay Cutler. The Eagles defense, which entered the game ranked sixth in the league in sacks, failed to register even one sack against the Bears. That’s the first time Cutler hasn’t been sacked in 29 games.
The level of play from the line has improved a great deal in the past month of the season and Lance Louis’ play at right tackle in particular will make it difficult for rookie Gabe Carimi to return to action.
Bennett has great comeback game
Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett will not get mistaken for a flashy, Pro Bowl receiver. But what the receiver means to the Bears was clearly evident on the prime time stage Monday night.
Bennett has the surest hands on the team and is Cutler’s preferred target in third-down situations. In his first game back after a chest injury against the Saints in Week 2, Bennett caught five passes for 95 yards and the go-ahead touchdown against the Eagles.
After the game, Bennett spoke about the lack of respect the Bears receivers get.
“All you hear is about DeSean Jackson … and Jeremy Maclin and what type of group they have over there and the type of plays they are making,” Bennett said. “We wanted to come out and show we are elite receivers.”
Unfortunately, Bennett’s only mistake of the day was that quote. While he stepped right in and played as if he hadn’t missed a single game, neither he — nor any other Bears receiver — is anywhere near “elite.”
Receivers don’t inspire confidence in making big plays
Speaking of the receivers, my confidence level in the group to make big plays down the field is probably at its all-time low. The amount of chances that Cutler has taken downfield that have dropped harmlessly to the turf is so great that I have no hopes of a completed pass when I see the ball in the air that high and deep. In all seriousness, I remain more stoic than Lovie Smith in a training camp media session when I see Cutler heave a deep pass.
When you have a player like Cutler who can deliver passes on the money — for the most part; I won’t pretend that he hasn’t over or under thrown his receivers — it’s frustrating at how many times the ball deflects off his receivers’ hands. Roy Williams, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox. All these players have had their bouts with either dropping long passes or not even going up to try to make a play on the ball.
As I mentioned previously, Bennett has the best hands on the team, but he’s not a deep threat like these other guys are supposed to be.
Forte’s stock took a dip Monday night
I think it’d be foolish to suggest that Forte had anything but football on his mind during the Eagles game, or any other contest this year.
But he’s readily admitted to reporters that he thinks about his contract situation all the time because he’s “human.”
My guess is that he’ll be thinking about how much money he’s lost from his next contract with those two costly fumbles that led to 14 Eagles points. When you think about how well the rest of the team played, it’s unnerving to realize that those two fumbles could have meant the game.
I don’t mean to say that Forte had a bad game. His 133 rushing yards on 24 carries was a solid night. But you can’t demand to be paid higher than most running backs in the league and then put the ball on the ground twice in one of the most important games of the season.
Two special teams plays turned the tide for the Bears
It can’t be said very often, but Dave Toub stood across the sidelines from a special teams coordinator on or near his level on Monday. The Eagles’ Bobby April is widely considered one of the top special teams coordinators in the league and he usually has his teams ready to play.
The Eagles did a good job containing Devin Hester and Johnny Knox in the return game, but they made a pair of costly mistakes that clearly had a positive impact for the Bears and helped swing the momentum their way.
At the end of the first half, DeSean Jackson fielded a punt inside his own 20 and was caught victim of “trying to do to much.” He started backpedaling to try to avoid the oncoming coverage of the Bears, but Corey Graham and Zack Bowman converged on him too quickly. Graham punched the ball loose and Sam Hurd recovered it, off of which the Bears capitalized with a touchdown a few play later.
Later in the game, the Eagles were lined up for a punt when they noticed that their two gunners on the outside were left uncovered by the Bears punt return team. The players on the field called an audible to run a fake punt, but rookie punter Chas Henry’s pass attempt to the gunner fell incomplete and the Bears took over with good field position.
Tear the Wildcat formation out of the playbook
We can give credit to Mike Martz for much of his play calling against the Eagles, particularly on the opening drive when the Bears drove 79 yards on 12 plays and chewed up 5:42 off the clock before jumping out to a 7-0 lead.
But one formation that Martz continues to use despite its minuscule success rate is the Wildcat, in which the Bears line up a receiver or running back in the backfield to take the direct snap. Bennett was the lucky winner this week.
My advice to Martz is to tear that out of the playbook. It doesn’t work. And even if and when it ever does work, the risk far outweighs the reward.
Why would you allow a receiver, unless he played college quarterback and can actually throw the ball, to take a snap? What you’re doing is telling the defense that there’s a better chance you’re going to run the football than when Cutler is in the game, because the defense doesn’t have to fear Bennett beating them with his arm.