When Jay Cutler went down with a thumb injury, everybody from the NFL players to the analysts to the fans knew that the Bears were going to have to rely more on their run game with Caleb Hanie taking snaps for the offense. Even the cheerleaders and the beer vendors could have predicted that.
With that prevalent knowledge, it was pleasing to see the Bears have success moving the ball on the ground considering Matt Forte had struggled in the two previous games prior to the battle with the Raiders.
Despite their early struggles on Sunday, the Bears finished with 122 rushing yards, minus Hanie’s 50 yards of scrambling. The Bears used a two-back attack with Marion Barber leading the way with 63 yards on 10 carries and Forte right behind him with 59 yards on 12 carries. Both had solid yards-per-carry averages and each broke off a long run of more than 20 yards.
It is this kind of one-two punch from the running game that just might help the Bears sustain momentum until — or if — Jay Cutler returns to help the passing game. But in the meantime, Hanie will still need to aid the run game by completing some passes.
Field position was the Achilles heel for Bears offense
Hanie made his fair share of mistakes — like three interceptions — and poor decisions, but he didn’t receive a lot of help from his special teams.
The Raiders special teams, led by Pro Bowl-caliber specialists, pinned the Bears deep in their own end of the field all afternoon. On the opening kickoff of the game, for instance, a holding penalty by Craig Steltz forced Hanie to begin his first NFL start from inside the Bears’ 20-yard line. The Bears would begin nine more drives at or inside their own 20 the rest of the game, including two from inside the 4-yard line.
Moving forward, the Bears should be at an advantage on special teams and will undoubtedly help the offense by cutting down the length of field they’ll have to travel to get points.
Shaky call by Martz, but worse awareness by Hanie
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is under heavy criticism again by the local media and fans for calling a screen pass at the end of the first half that was intercepted and returned 73 yards the other way. The play wound up killing a drive that could have led to Bears points and gave the Raiders a field goal instead.
Was the call questionable? Sure it was. The Bears were running the ball effectively and had a second down with one yard to go inside the Raiders’ 10-yard line. But to modify an old expression: if you lead a horse to poisoned water, it’s his own fault for taking a drink.
In other words, it’s Hanie’s own fault for showing bad awareness on the play and throwing the pass in the first place. Just because he was in his first career start, he’s not getting leniency from me for not recognizing where the linebacker was.
Defense will need some help moving forward
As most of us expected, the defense stepped up with an inspired effort against the Raiders and wound up caving at the end due to an excessive workload.
Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski set a franchise record for most field goals made with six because the Bears defense did such a good job clamping down on the Raiders offense and not letting them get the ball in the end zone … until late in the game.
Because the Bears offense struggled to get things going and were impacted by poor field position all game, the defense was left on the field far too long and Tim Jennings wound up giving up the play of the game on a third down conversion that led to the Raiders’ only touchdown.
The offense and special teams can do the defense a favor by converting some more first downs and winning the field position battle in the games to come.
Lance Louis avoided a “loaf” for hustling down INT return
When the Bears watch game film, the defensive coaches assign grades to each defender and award what is called a “loaf” to those defenders who do not finish a play strong.
Such instances that are assigned loafs include, but are not limited to, passing up on a hit, being passed by a teammate on the field, staying on the ground, and not getting off a block.
You can bet Lance Louis won’t be credited with a loaf — at least on one play — when the team reviews game film. In fact, his effort will be shown to teammates and will be used as an example for quite some time to come.
On the interception return by the Raiders at the end of the first half, Louis — all 320 pound of him — chased down Raiders linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and saved a touchdown by dragging him down by the jersey, which wound up wrongly being penalized as a horse collar tackle.
It was a huge, game-altering play by Louis and it not only shows his athleticism as a former tight end, but also his determination and effort.