Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Bills (09.07.14)

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Well, that was fun while it lasted.

The easiest projected opponent on the schedule took it to the Bears in not only the season opener but in the Bears’ home opener as well.

Even the most optimistic Bears fans — of which I consider myself to be a part — have to be searching for answers while summoning the emotional energy to watch next week’s game.

I didn’t expect the Bears defense to be world beaters this season. In fact, I predicted they would give up 20 points, and the Bills scored 23. I didn’t expect the Bears to hold the Bills to under 100 yards rushing. After all, the tandem of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller is an explosive one, and the Bills finished second in the NFL in rushing last year. But I believed the Bears had improved their run defense from last year’s debacle — only to give up 193 yards on the ground on Sunday.

The Bears offense didn’t play all that poorly, and that’s a cold hard fact. They racked up 427 total yards. Jay Cutler completed nearly 70% of his passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Forte amassed 169 all-purpose yards. And eight different Bears players caught the football.

Sadly, this game came down to turnovers — a stat that has nothing to do with talent, rather it’s all about concentration and focus. Brandon Marshall — who was having a pretty good game and finished with 8 catches for 71 yards and a touchdown — had the football stripped from him and the Bills capitalized with points off the takeaway. Cutler then threw a pass to tight end Martellus Bennett — who, likewise, had a good game with 8 catches for 70 yards and a score — but the Black Unicorn never turned his head around to see the ball coming to him, and the Bills intercepted the pass and got 7 more points from it. Then, the most discouraging turnover of all, took place in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 17. Cutler scrambled right and threw a pass across his body back to the middle of the field. Buffalo defensive tackle Kyle Williams picked it off and the Bills went down the field to put up a go-ahead field goal.

Turnovers will make or break a game, and Bears fans can understand why former head coach Lovie Smith placed such a strong emphasis on them. A team’s percentage chance of winning drastically increases depending on the turnover ratio. The Bears allowed a mediocre team to beat them because they were careless with the football.

Are the Bears a mediocre team? No. They’re a good overall team. But they still have a bad defense. The fact that the offense gave the ball away three times doesn’t make them a mediocre offense; it just made them a careless one on Sunday.

Here’s what I’m confident about moving forward: I’m confident the Bears offense will continue to put up big numbers. The yards will continue to amass and the points will increase in unison with the turnovers decreasing. I’m confident in the Bears ability to move the football and keep up on the scoreboard in most games they play.

What I’m fearful of is that the defense may not be much improved from last year. Not every football team can run the ball as well as the Bills can, so don’t expect the Bears to yield 193 rushing yards per game for the rest of the season. But opponents will continue to pound the ball on the ground until the Bears can prove to stop it — or at least moderately contain it.

The special teams were fine, and that was another source of concern heading into the regular season. But one decent performance on special teams doesn’t cure all ills. Special teams can come and bite a team in the backside at the wrong possible moment. It only takes one poorly-timed special teams breakdown to cost a team a game.

The Bears now have the unenviable task of traveling across the country next week to face the 49ers in their stadium- and home-opener. The Niners crushed the Cowboys on Sunday and look to have an offense leaps and bounds better than the Bills.

While I don’t expect the Bears to play as poorly on defense as they did yesterday, and while I don’t expect them to be as careless with the football next week, I do expect San Francisco to record an even bigger margin of victory, and set the Bears in a 0-2 hole to start the year.

Hopefully, the Bears shore things up this week and prove us wrong.

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