Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Redskins (10.20.13)

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It certainly is strange how quickly fortunes can change for an NFL team in a matter of 60 game minutes. With their 45-41 loss to the Redskins on Sunday, the Bears went from being a team that looked as though it could compete for a playoff spot and make a run with its improved offense to one that could lose more games than it wins en route to a sub-.500 season.

When a team loses its starting quarterback — a Top 10 quarterback this season and a Top 5 talent overall — it’s bound to take a nosedive. And when the Bears’ training staff rushed onto the field to help Jay Cutler after he was sacked and lying on the ground in the second quarter, all hope and aspirations for a big season faded.

The Bears struggled in the first half against the Redskins, but it’s not the first time they took awhile to figure things out to start the game. Backup Josh McCown stepped in and played really well, but who’s to say Cutler and the offense wouldn’t have rebounded if he had remained in the game? They’ve been doing it all season.

Fans and critics will likely get on Cutler for the pick-six he threw in the first half, but it wasn’t his fault. The cardinal rule of receiving is that if a ball hits your hands, you have to catch it. Head coach Marc Trestman inferred that in his post game comments when asked about that play. The ball hit Alshon Jeffery in the hands and he had to catch that ball. Instead, it deflected into Brian Orakpo’s hands and he took it in for six.

I don’t have a problem with the way Jay played in the first half as much as I have a problem with the entire offense and with the play selection. I trust Trestman — yeah, that could be a T-shirt slogan. But I would have liked to see Matt Forte be involved more in the offense in the first half. The Redskins entered the game ranked 27th against the run. And as they proved in the second half, they could not stop Forte in the run game. Forte got only 16 carries in the game, but he rushed for 91 yards and three touchdowns. One can only imagine what would have happened if the Bears had used him more in the first half, controlled the clock, and took the crowd out of it. The Redskins offense out-gained the Bears in total yardage in the first half but that could have been stymied with a steady dose of Forte.

The biggest problem of the game was not the Bears’ offense, though. When you score 41 points — the most points the Bears have ever scored in a loss — you should win the game.

No, the problem was the defense. A defense that gave up 499 yards to a bad Redskins team. A defense that managed just one sack and allowed Robert Griffin III — a marginal pocket passer — to throw for 298 yards. Chris Conte was awful, Major Wright was out of place, Charles Tillman left with another injury and Zack Bowman couldn’t replace him, Julius Peppers was irrelevant, and the linebacking corps was decimated by injuries. Lance Briggs — having one of his best seasons as a pro — left the game and was replaced by Blake Costanzo — a special teamer — and rookie Khaseem Greene.

It’s just not natural for a defense to be able to play well with that many new faces in new places. Sure, the Bears defense was struggling at the beginning of the season when healthy. But they played competently at the very least in order to give the offense a chance. But now, with a completely patchwork defense … they just couldn’t stop anybody.

You have to give credit to the defensive line for its early game performance. They struggled late in the game, but early on they were penetrating gaps and causing disruption in the backfield. Early on, they were stopping the run, something they couldn’t do for the past three weeks.

Lastly, there were four things I wanted to address on special teams. The first was punter Adam Podlesh. He continues to struggle to get distance on his punts and it is really affecting the Bears’ ability to flip field position. Give credit to him early when he pinned the Redskins at their own 1-yard-line, but that was about it.

Secondly, congrats go to Devin Hester who, with a punt return touchdown, tied his mentor Deion Sanders for most combined return touchdowns in NFL history. Normally when Hester tries to reverse field, it’s bad news. He usually winds up running laterally and backwards about 40 yards for a 2-yard loss. This time, he got around the corner and had a wall of blockers waiting for him.

Third, I don’t know how many times I need to preach this, but Robbie Gould’s missed field goal in the third quarter was not the reason the Bears lost the game. Furthermore, his missed field goal had no effect on the final outcome. The Bears defense allowed not one, not two, but three touchdowns after Gould’s missed kick. Each and every one of those touchdowns played a bigger role in the Bears’ loss than Gould’s missed field goal. I don’t buy the excuse that “if Gould had made a field goal in the third quarter, the score would have been 45-44 on the Bears’ last drive, and all they would have had to do is kick a field goal for the win.” It doesn’t work like that. A lot can happen — and did happen — between a missed field goal in the third quarter and the final play of the game.

And finally, I’m not fond of the NFL’s rule that the line of scrimmage on kickoffs works like the plane of the goal line, in the sense that if any part of a player’s body crosses the plane — rather than just his feet — then it’s offsides. Eric Weems apparently “crossed the plane” of the 35-yard-line on Robbie Gould’s onside kick in the fourth quarter — an onside kick that the Bears recovered — and the play was nullified by the offsides.

So where do the Bears go from here? Unfortunately, they have two weeks to lick their wounds and examine how they lost to a bad Redskins team. What could be worse is if Cutler’s injury is significant — which, at the time of this post, is not yet certain. If Cutler is out for a significant period of time — say, a minimum of 6 weeks — then this season could be lost for the Bears. But if he only misses minimum time, for as bad as the Bears’ defense is, their offense has shown that they can put up points, especially with some soft defenses in the second half of the schedule. Shootouts, shootouts, shootouts.

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