Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Packers (12.25.11)

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Josh McCown had a nice performance against the Packers but the Bears defense couldn't live up to its responsibilities.
Josh McCown had a nice performance against the Packers but the Bears defense couldn't live up to its responsibilities.

I can’t figure out what made me more sick Sunday evening; the excessive platefuls of food I ate or the Packers embarrassing the Bears in a prime time game in front of a national audience.

It was probably the food, though, considering I expected a non-competitive game and yet we got one for two and a third quarters. After that, the Packers woke up and realized against whom they were playing.

On a day normally reserved for expectations — whether failed or achieved — for those who celebrate Christmas, I must say I was surprised to see the roles reversed for the Bears offense and defense. In the buildup to the game we knew it would be the Bears defense that would have to carry the offense led by third-string quarterback Josh McCown and the running back duo of Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen.

But what to my wondering eyes should appear but 441 total yards of offense and a 35:48 to 24:12 time of possession advantage. Let me repeat, the Bears outgained the Packers in total yards and had possession of the ball for nearly 60% of the game.

That means the loss is all on the defense. Not only did they let Aaron Rodgers throw five touchdown passes, including one over the top for 55 yards, and allow Zack Bowman to remain isolated in the red zone and get burned time and time again, but they hardly put up a fight and let the Packers score quickly without having to make them work for their points.

The sign of a good quarterback is one who can make an All-Pro receiver out of a player like Jordy Nelson, who caught six passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Nelson is a good receiver, better than anybody the Bears have on the roster, but he’s not an All Pro. Similarly, James Jones caught four passes for 50 yards and two scores as well. He’s another player who stepped into the limelight for no apparent reason other than the Bears couldn’t stop the Packers offense.

It’s discouraging not being able to criticize the Bears offense because that has clearly been the biggest problem since Jay Cutler and Matt Forte went down with injuries, but the offense did its job to the best of its ability. They picked up more first downs, rushing yards, total yards, and time of possession than the Packers and scored 21 points, their highest point total since Cutler and Forte went down.

Aside from two fumbles, Bell had a great game running the ball, finding holes that the offensive line was creating and taking advantage of them. He picked up 121 yards on 23 carries for an average of 5.2 yards per carry. Rookie Armando Allen, who resembled former Bear Garrett Wolfe with his diminutive frame and familiar No. 25 jersey, did well in complementing Bell. Allen finished with 40 yards on 11 carries.

The most credit goes to McCown, who completed 19 of 28 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown. He also scrambled 8 times for 38 yards to help keep the chains moving and limit sacks. McCown did throw two interceptions, one of which was his fault for throwing it right to Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. The other pass bounced off Earl Bennett’s usually sure hands.

I know the popular gripe from Bears fans today will be, “Why did it take the coaching staff four games to bench Caleb Hanie and play McCown?” It’s a good, fair question. Aside from a few promising plays late in the Raiders game, I didn’t see much else from Hanie that warranted continued playing time. Still, a few plays here and a few ones there from McCown might not have made the difference between making this team a playoff team or not. You can choose to look back and wonder, “what if?” but I’m pretty sure the Bears were destined to be one and done in the playoffs even if Cutler and Forte had been able to return to action.

The root of the problem stems a little bit deeper than simply a Bears team without its two best offensive players. The Bears are perilously thin all over the roster when it comes to depth. I’m not ready to anoint McCown the answer at backup quarterback for next year should the Bears choose to bring him back in that capacity. Nor am I ready to declare that Bell can unseat Marion Barber or replace Forte if the Bears don’t agree on a contract with him.

On Monday, Bell proudly proclaimed his goal was to be a starter in this league. I wish him good luck on that, but one game does not make a player a starter. Hanie once expressed similar sentiments and I’m not sure he’ll ever again be the primary backup quarterback on a roster, let alone a starter.

Other problems on offense include holes all over the offensive line and misevaluated talent at receiver. Johnny Knox is a slot receiver, Bennett is at best a No. 2, Roy Williams is way past his prime and Devin Hester is not a receiver.

And those are just the offensive problems.

God bless Israel Idonije, he’s a hard worker and a good guy. But he’s not what the Bears need opposite Julius Peppers, who is getting up there in age and won’t be the dominant force he is forever. Is Corey Wootton ever going to contribute to this team? The Bears also don’t have an inside pass rush, where Henry Melton shot out of the gates to open the season but has been mostly quiet for the rest of the year. The defense is thin at linebacker without good depth and Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are on the wrong side of 30. The secondary, meanwhile, is one big mess. Charles Tillman was talked about as a possible Pro Bowl player earlier in the year, but he’s getting older, too. Tim Jennings was a nice player for much of the year but dropped several interceptions and blew quite a few coverages. Zack Bowman earned the chance to start at cornerback this week and was destroyed by the Packers. As for the safeties, Chris Conte had an okay rookie campaign and deserves some more development time, but there are numerous question marks after him.

The question is, if the Bears were guaranteed to be completely healthy next season, could they compete for a Super Bowl? Think about that one carefully. The offense was clicking under Cutler and Forte and averaging more than 25 points per game. The defense was one of the top run defenses in the league and was keeping opponents out of the end zone for much of their win streak. Hester continued adding touchdowns to his historical career on special teams.

But even if they had remained healthy, I’m not sure they would have had enough pieces to beat the Packers in a playoff game. Or the Saints, Steelers, Ravens or Patriots. Texans and 49ers? Possibly.

The problem the Bears face is that general manager Jerry Angelo has neglected certain positions for far too long. The fact that he’s let the offensive line get this bad because he refused to address it through multiple drafts late last decade is inexcusable. Angelo is a big believer in developing talent from within, which is why he stood pat at the receiver position, among others. Aside from neglect, Angelo’s other problem is judgement. His judgement on various draft picks throughout the years has been so awful that the Bears have had to make quick fixes in free agency to cover up their mistakes and fill in those glaring holes.

The Bears have one final game left against the Minnesota Vikings, who will be without running back Adrian Peterson. It’s a game they could win but I’m not so sure they will as they try to reach .500 on the season. After the game, the real work begins trying to sort out which pieces at Halas Hall have to go and which ones can be instrumental tools moving forward and trying to win a championship.

There’s one big tool sitting comfortably in his office that certainly has to go if the Bears are going to start adding depth and replacing aging veterans.

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