If the Chicago Bears proved anything in their 23-14 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday, it was that they are as unpredictable as they are inconsistent.
After a lackluster 1-3 preseason in which the Bears failed to provide any kind of significant hype or buzz for their upcoming regular season, the Chicago sports media JV team, in their typically cynical, over-analytical analysis of the team, saw this Bears bunch as a bottom-of-the-barrel league doormat.
Following Sunday’s contest with the Texans, I’d be surprised if that were the case.
It’s difficult to put a label on a team after one game, and it’s still certainly possible that the Bears finish at or near the bottom of the league following an 0-1 start to the season. But I just don’t see it.
The Bears defense is going to be fun to watch this year. The front seven, as we’ve expected following significant upgrades this offseason, looks like an attacking group of playmakers that will help carry this team throughout the season. Is there room for improvement? Of course. I think we need to see more out of Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and rookie Leonard Floyd. But after one week you are looking for encouraging signs and I think there were plenty of bright flashing lights.
From the get-go, we were all able to see why the Bears went hard after free agent inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and his running mate Jerrell Freeman. The two of them were all over the field making plays and led the Bears with a combined 28 tackles. My confidence in the Bears run defense received a boost following the way they played.
Cynicism alert: Yes, Texans running back Lamar Miller rushed for 106 yards, but nearly half of those yards (52) came in the first quarter. Translation: The Bears settled into their run defense after some early Miller success.
As for the Bears’ secondary — the position group possibly most under scrutiny this year — they exceeded my expectations, personally.
Tracy Porter had an early interception, making a great read on a ball thrown by Brock Osweiler. Porter did a fine job defending the Texans’ top receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, for most of the game, but Hopkins eventually got his due as most great receivers will. Safeties Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey helped out in run support and kept the lid on in terms of preventing the deep pass. Where the Bears secondary struggled most was defending the yards after the catch.
The Bears offense was a bit of an unknown heading into the season. In the past two offseasons, the Bears rid themselves of three of their biggest playmakers in Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte. Additionally, the offensive line has been banged up this preseason and the Bears have been shuffling pieces around, trying to find the best combination of five guys.
Hence, it came as no surprise that the line had its issues on Sunday while allowing Jay Cutler to get sacked five times and hit after the throw on several other attempts.
The Texans defense is one of the best in the league and they have a pass rush the likes of which the Bears won’t see much the rest of the season. They bring intense pressure off the edges from linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Illinois’ own Whitney Mercilus. Not to mention, there’s that J.J. Watt guy who has a knack for finding his way into the backfield on a consistent basis, and who generates pressure even if he doesn’t pick up sacks. Watt was relatively quiet and the Bears did a good job containing him, but his presence was felt nonetheless.
However, despite the Texans’ pressure — which noticeably picked up in the second half — the Bears came out firing in the first half and played good football early on. Cutler connected with a healthy Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal several times as the two receivers showed what they can bring to the table when they’re actually on the field and not nursing injuries on the sideline. “Pseudo rookie” Kevin White, in his first action of his career, caught 3 passes for 34 yards and showed what he can do when he settles in to the pro game. He also made some mistakes — which young players will do — including cutting off a route that led to a Cutler interception in the second half.
It was that interception that looked like the turning point in the game as the Bears fell apart after it.
I think what I was most discouraged by from the Bears was how ineffective their run game was. Obviously, when a team is losing they will tend to throw the ball more, and the Bears had to play catchup in the fourth quarter. But second-year pro Jeremy Langford, who took the reigns this season from Forte, looked pedestrian at best. He finished with just 57 yards on 17 carries. The Bears also did not use the committee approach at running back as many expected they would. Backup Ka’Deem Carey had just one rushing attempt for four yards. The Bears will need to commit to the ground game more if they wish to play John Fox football and if they have any intention of controlling the tempo of upcoming games.
Speaking of Langford, the guy needs to learn to tie his proverbial shoe laces, because I think he tripped on them one too many times Sunday.
Maybe we were spoiled for so long by Forte’s uncanny ability to avoid hits and maintain his balance after contact, but Langford certainly does not possess that same characteristic. There were several instances on Sunday of Langford falling down easily after being tripped up, or failing to break through arm tackles and errant body contact in the middle of traffic. If the Bears want to have a successful ground game, Langford is going to have to keep his feet and pick up yards after contact.
For Bears fans who have higher expectations than a mediocre football team — which should be everyone — there were things to be discouraged about in Sunday’s loss. As of right now, this doesn’t look like a playoff team. But for the optimistic out there, there was plenty to be encouraged about.
For starters, losing to a playoff team on the road to open a season is nothing to be ashamed about. I can pinpoint at least a half dozen other teams in the league whose fan base has to be feeling worse about their Week 1 losses this Monday morning (Saints, Chargers, Cardinals, Falcons, Panthers, Colts and Jets). All of those teams were either expected to win, or had the games in their hands and let them slip away. For the Bears, they just got beat by a better team.
Rest assured, the offensive line will play better as the season progresses. Rookie center Cody Whitehair will improve with time. New guard Josh Sitton will settle in to his new team soon. Charles Leno and Bobby Massie won’t continue to look like turnstiles because they won’t be facing such pass rushers as Clowney and Mercilus every week. Kevin White will fix his “rookie” mistakes. The run game will find more room to gallop. And the pass rush will improve over time.
Keep in mind, Bears fans: the Texans are a playoff team. But the Bears’ next five opponents are the Eagles, Cowboys, Lions, Colts, and Jaguars. None of those teams are pushovers, but none are dominant, either.
I think better days still lie ahead.