Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Lions (09.29.13)

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If you hadn’t watched Sunday’s Bears-Lions game and you were told that the Bears scored 32 points, Jay Cutler completed 57% of his passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns, and the Bears’ defense recorded three takeaways, you probably would have thought the Bears had won.

But four turnovers by the Bears offense — specifically, four turnovers from Cutler — completely changed that script, and the Bears fell, 40-32, to their division rival.

And now you know why former head coach Lovie Smith preached takeaways so much.

Would the Bears have won if Cutler hadn’t thrown three interceptions and fumbled the ball away once? It’s hard to say, considering the defense didn’t look too impressive in yielding 139 rushing yards to Lions running back Reggie Bush. It’s as if this normally stout run defense forgot how to tackle. Bush proved to be too shifty and elusive for the Bears tacklers as he juked too many Bears defenders with spin moves and change of direction. There were far too many arm tackles as well as players who couldn’t chop down and stay in front of Bush to make the tackle.

There were some positives in the Bears’ defensive play. Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton and Charles Tillman all scored forced fumbles. Only two of those were recovered, though. Major Wright picked up yet another interception, his second of the season and in as many weeks. But the pressure from the pass rush still wasn’t there and Peppers recorded the lone sack of the day.

Offensively, the Bears picked up chunks of yardage when Cutler wasn’t turning the ball over. What killed their momentum, though, was that they struggled to convert on third down. They converted on just one of 13 third-down attempts. Turnovers and poor third-down efficiency are difficult to overcome.

There wasn’t much to like about this game. It stings to lose to a team beneath you — yes, the Bears are still the better team — but it also hurts to lose to a division rival. But there are some positives to take from the game. For starters, Alshon Jeffery made further strides to becoming that solid No. 2 receiver opposite Brandon Marshall. As the Lions attempted to take Marshall out of the game — it didn’t work; he still caught 7 passes for 79 yards — Jeffery stepped up his performance for the second straight week, catching 5 passes for 107 yards and a late touchdown. He also dropped a potential touchdown where he was wide open in the end zone. That can’t happen in games that matter.

Another positive on offense was the play of Matt Forte, who rushed 14 times for 95 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for 22 yards. He now has 23 catches on the season. He’s tied with Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles for league lead among running backs. Some critics will say: “If you take away his 53-yard touchdown run against the Lions, he would have had only 42 yards on the day.” First of all, that’s not how it works. Because if you “took away” the biggest run from all running backs, Adrian Peterson’s statistics would be very average. But secondly, even without Forte’s big touchdown run, who’s to say he wouldn’t have tallied most of that yardage on other carries during that drive?

Sadly, though, the Bears probably didn’t utilize Forte enough throughout the game. We don’t want to see Forte break down this season from overuse, but against the Lions he was underused. Had the Bears run the ball more in the second quarter instead of slinging the ball through the air, Cutler would not have been picked off at critical moments and the Bears could have controlled the clock more. Hindsight is always 20-20, of course, but I don’t see how running the ball on the road — especially after Forte’s touchdown run — could have hurt their game plan. Instead, Cutler threw a costly interception that was returned to the 2-yard-line, and on the following play, the Lions took a commanding 23-10 lead which pretty much buried the Bears from that point.

There’s not much else to analyze in this game. The Bears were outscored 27-7 in the second quarter alone, a costly quarter which put them in a hole too deep to emerge from. Cutler looked erratic on his throws all game and his decision making regressed to pre-Trestman levels. We, as Bears fans, have to learn to live with his mistakes because there are no better options out there. The minute that the Bears look elsewhere outside the organization for a quarterback, that’s when we’re looking at a long, arduous rebuilding process, possibly not landing a better quarterback for the remainder of this decade. One never knows how it works. Take a look around the league at teams that have franchise-type quarterbacks and check to see the last time they had a franchise quarterback before that one. Aside from a couple teams, you can see the vast majority of franchises go a long time without getting a talented quarterback.

Where do the Bears go from here? They have yet another tough matchup next week against the currently undefeated New Orleans Saints. The Saints will play the Dolphins Monday night, so the Bears will get them off a short week. The outdoor elements of Soldier Field might slow down the indoor Saints, but this isn’t exactly December weather in Chicago. It will be a stiff challenge for the Bears and they don’t want to bury themselves in a hole in the division with a second consecutive loss.

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