So that is what an NFL offense is supposed to look like. And that is what having a “No. 1” wide receiver is supposed to do. And that is the 1-2 punch at running back the Bears have been seeking since their Super Bowl season with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. And that …
…well, the defense didn’t play particularly well, but Tim Jennings sure had a nice game.
Despite the offensive explosion in the Bears’ 41-21 opening day victory over the Colts on Sunday, not everyone will have you believe the offense is as shiny as most new toys are. At least not if you’re a toady footstool of one Dan Bernstein, he of WSCR 670 The Score, who wrote after the game:
“The early performance of the vaunted offense had Bears fans contemplating suicide by immolation, drowning, multiple cobra bites, bridge-plunge, underwear bomb, antifreeze cocktail, acid bath, or prolonged exposure to the Dave Matthews Band.
After an initial drive that featured a sack, a false start and a bounced shotgun snap, Jay Cutler threw a perfect pass to an onrushing defender to put his team in a 7-0 hole and caused an entire city to experience searing chest pain and hair loss.”
I understand that it’s the job of those in the media to sensationalize and often overdramatize things for effect, but as the hosts of ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown would say: “C’mon man!”
Yes, the Bears had a poor start to the game with a bad kickoff return by Devin Hester, a sack, a false start, and a bounced shotgun snap, followed shortly thereafter by a Jay Cutler interception near the goal line returned for a touchdown. But, seriously, if any Bears fans were seriously panicking — let alone the “entire city,” as Bernstein wrote — then those folks have some deeper psychological issues they need to explore with a shrink instead of watching football on Sundays.
If anything, Bears fans were angry and frustrated by the early performance because they knew the kind of talent the Bears now featured on offense and believed they should have been playing better.
After that pick six by the Colts defense, the poor field position was reversed and things started to slow down for the Bears. Cutler led the offense on an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped off by a Michael Bush 1-yard touchdown run, his first of two scores on the day. The defense amped up the pressure on Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and he began to get antsy in the pocket leading to errant throws off the mark.
Although the defense gave up 14 points, they still were generating a pass rush on Luck. Was it as good as it should be? No, particularly if they take the same effort into Green Bay on Thursday against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. But sometimes making a quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket is enough to disrupt the passing game. And the hits and knockdowns that Luck was taking after getting rid of the ball were taking their toll on the young quarterback’s body and mind.
Of the utmost concern is the health of the defense. Charles Tillman left the game with a lower right leg injury — reportedly while on special teams — early in the first half and did not return. Veteran free agent pickup Kelvin Hayden took his place in the lineup and struggled a bit against Colts receiver Reggie Wayne. Fortunately for the Bears, Jennings had a great day on the opposite side of the field with two interceptions while tipping a third pass in the end zone that was picked off by safety Chris Conte.
Additionally, Brian Urlacher played into the third quarter before Lovie Smith wisely pulled him from the game with a big lead. Urlacher was upset about having to come out of the game and said he could have kept playing. That’s just a football player who wants to play. The fact is that Smith made the correct decision. Even if Urlacher wasn’t experiencing pain during the game, the real test will be how he feels Monday morning.
The defense will progressively get better throughout the season assuming they remain intact and healthy. Giving up 14 points — the other Colts touchdown coming against the Bears offense — is not terrible in today’s NFL. Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers led the NFL with 14.2 points allowed per game. Not to mention, the Lions, Saints, Giants, Patriots and Packers all finished in the lower third of the league defensively last season and all had successful seasons. A team can win in the NFL with a mediocre defense — although having the Giants’ pass rush certainly helps — as long as they have an offense that can put up big points.
And that appears to be what the Bears are on their way to having.
It’s early, and it was against the Colts, but in their first real work together as Bears, Cutler and Brandon Marshall showed exactly what it means to have a passing offense in the modern NFL.
Marshall caught 9 passes for 119 yards and one touchdown, although he could have had a couple more as he drew two pass interference penalties in the end zone. Defensive backs simply cannot match up with him one-on-one, which is why he’s such a valuable and dangerous red zone target.
Cutler also spread the ball around to his other receivers, completing three passes each to Matt Forte, Earl Benentt, and rookie Alshon Jeffery, who caught a 42-yard touchdown late in the game to put it away. Devin Hester added two receptions for 27 yards — and a lot of shifty maneuvering that got him nowhere. Cutler finished with 333 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 21 of 35 passing.
When a team has an explosive passing attack, that opens up things for the run game. With their first true 1-2 punch since 2006 — despite efforts the past two years to assemble one — Forte and Bush combined for 122 yards on 28 carries (4.3-yard average). Each also broke off a big run, Forte a 32-yarder and Bush a 20-yarder. And on top of it all, despite the Bears’ commitment to the passing game and the sruggles with short-yardage situations in recent memory, Forte and Bush combined for an impressive three rushing touchdowns.
The Bears did catch a break early in the game when outside linebacker and pass rush specialist Dwight Freeney left the game with an ankle injury. That prevented us from getting a true look at how the offensive line could handle a good pass rush. That test could come this week, though.
The Bears will have a short turnaround as they prepare to face division rival Green Bay in a Thursday night showdown this week. The Packers lost to the 49ers, 30-22, on Sunday, but aren’t going to need any extra motivation to be prepared to play their best against the Bears. The last time the Bears started 2-0 and the Packers began the season 0-2 was in 2006 when the Bears shut out the Packers, 26-0, at Lambeau Field in Week 1 en route to the Super Bowl that season.