Chicago Bears Week 11: Takeaways

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Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

It felt strange not being angry on a Sunday. It seems like so long since the Chicago Bears haven’t been embarrassing that I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. There was no need to try and hide my Bears gear as I walked home from the bar, no need to be mean to random strangers who made a comment about my Bears jersey, and no need to dread watching Sportscenter because of Bears low-lights. It was strange, but I could get used to it. There really isn’t anything to celebrate about since the Bears squeaked by a bad Vikings teams 21-13 at home despite gaining almost double the total yards (468-243), but it had been over a month since the Bears won a game so I don’t feel bad about enjoying it. The Bears didn’t play that well overall, but there were enough glimpses of competence that after a few drinks I didn’t feel ridiculous thinking about what the Bears needed to do to make the playoffs.

Sobriety, analyzing the tape, and a few days to think about the game rationally dampened my enthusiasm a bit. The cynic in me also thinks the Bears might have been better off losing that game to hasten the departure of an inept coaching staff while improving the Bears draft pick in the process, but at the end of the day I can’t root for the Bears to lose until they are mathematically eliminated. At that point, no problem; I’ve been there many times before, raging while bad Bears teams won their last 2 or 3 games to finish 8-8 and ruin their chance to draft a difference maker in the top ten.

So I’m capable of seeing the big picture and rooting accordingly, but I can’t help thinking that this Bears team still has enough talent to do something this season. I know it is highly unlikely and that the Bears still have a number of glaring holes which I’ll get to later, but finally the coaching staff showed the willingness to change up their scheme a little. Whether it’s fear of losing their jobs, desperation, or they are just sloooow learners, it seemed they finally realized that some significant changes need to be made in their scheme on both sides of the ball. It’s only one game and probably a fluke, but it was a win at least and it felt damn good to wake up Monday with a W. It felt even better to not be laughingstocks in the national media for a change.

1.) Despite a few bad decisions, Jay Cutler played very well

Cutler had one really bad interception in the 2nd half and almost another one in the red zone, but his first INT was on an end-of-the-half heave that had no consequence. The 2nd half INT was a classic Cutler blunder, but on a day that the O-line pretty much sucked and the WRs barely got any separation… Cutler managed to consistently avoid the pass rush, throw accurate 3rd down darts (10-17 on 3rd down) where only his receiver could catch them, and had better accuracy on his deep balls than he has since the first few weeks of the season. He was 31-43 passing on the day (72%!) for 3 TDs and 330 yards. Cutler wasn’t perfect, but he came through when it mattered, made very few mistakes, and significantly outplayed rookie Teddy Bridgewater which I’ll discuss in more detail later.

2.) The offense eventually had balance, but what took so long?

The Bears ran 15 plays in the first quarter and only two of them were runs. It’s no coincidence that the Bears were down 10-0 after the 1st quarter. What had Trestman seen from the tape this year to suggest that passing the ball 87% of the time was a good idea? Was he trying to surprise the Vikings? Maybe Trestman figured that Vikings HC Mike Zimmer thought there was no way the Bears would keep passing with all the F-ups they have had the last few weeks. That kind of makes sense in a perverse way, but it didn’t work. Matt Forte is awesome and should be touching the ball 2 of every 3 plays. Anything else is foolish.

3.) The Special Teams unit is awful and showing no signs of improvement

I couldn’t find anywhere that kept track of this, but I would bet that the Bears have one of the 3 youngest special teams unit in the NFL. Phil Emery made a conscious decision to stock the Bears special teams unit with 1st & 2nd year players. I thought it was the right idea at the time as the Bears had the 3rd oldest roster in the NFL and needed to get younger and develop young talent somehow. The Bears have had a bunch of rookies and 2nd year players on their special teams coverage/return unit this season including rookies Senorise Perry, Christian Jones, Brock Vereen, Al Louis-Jean, Ahmad Dixon, DeDe Lattimore and second year players Demontre Hurst, Rashad Ross, Josh Bellamy and Chris Williams. There have been a couple random off-the-street free agents added to the unit (Terrell Manning, Teddy Williams) but they both had more penalties than tackles and were sent back to the street.

It made sense to me that a group of rookies, most of whom dominated as defensive starters at their respective colleges, would be able to transition to special teams and at worst would be competent. I thought the Bears “rookie” special teams unit had the potential to grow into one of the more athletic units in the league while the rookies and 2nd year guys gained valuable on-field experience. I don’t know if they are developing at all as players, but they definitely suck as special teams guys. I was way off on this one and so was Emery. There isn’t much the Bears can do about  it going into week 12, that window closed a long time ago, so the Bears are stuck with this incompetent group of coverage guys, blockers, and some of the worst kick returners in the league.

How is it possible that the Bears always seem to start inside of their own 20-yard line on every kick-off? There was one return last week where Chris Williams caught a kick-off at the 10 and somehow only made it to the 15! Williams has 4.3 speed! Are the Bears special teams blockers just completely inept? Does Minnesota and every other Bears opponent this year have kickers with miraculous hang-time? I know when a Robbie Gould kick-off only makes it to the 10, it is coming back to at least the 30. Speaking of Robbie Gould…

What the heck happened to “Good as Gould”? Robbie Gould making everything inside 50-yards was one of the only things Bears fans could count on some years, but on Sunday Gould missed what was almost a crucial 47-yarder. That is his second miss of the season giving him an 80% success percentage on FG attempts, the lowest of his career since his rookie season. Gould is also tied for last in the NFL with only 8 FGs made this year.

I wish I was done, but there are a few other points that need to be brought up in regards to the special teams unit. On the 47-yard fake punt that set up the Vikings only touchdown both Demontre Hurst and Senorise Perry were so fooled by the misdirection play that they took themselves out of the play completely and left Danny McCray to deal with two blockers and the ball carrier by himself. It was just really poor play recognition and awareness by the two youngsters. Another rookie, Christian Jones, also had a dumb holding penalty negating a long punt return by Chris Williams which would have given the Bears the ball near the 50 yard line. As bad as the Bears offense and defense has been this year, the special teams unit has somehow been consistently worse.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

4.) Mel Tucker finally made some adjustments

My biggest problem with Mel Tucker (of many) is that he’s running the same boring defense that he ran with the Jaguars. In his 4 years as the Jags DC (only 2 calling plays) he ran a vanilla 4-3 defense with the fewest blitzes in the league, no alignment changes and a transparent set-up that let offenses know exactly what scheme his defense was running. Tucker’s scheme counted on his front 7 winning their individual battles and making plays. When Tucker had success running this scheme with the Jags in 2011 (4th ranked D), the Jags had one of the best LB groups in the league with two Pro Bowl caliber players in Paul Posluszny and Daryl Smith and a D-line manned by a talented mix of experienced vets and former 1st round picks. ProFootballFocus ranked Smith as the 2nd best OLB in the game that year and Posluszny as the 6th best MLB. Tucker had the right players for his scheme and it worked in his first year calling plays for the Jags.

*It should be noted that in Tucker’s 2nd season calling the plays (2012) Jacksonville’s defense finished 30th in points allowed, but they did lose their best LB (Smith) early in the season.

So in 2013 Mel Tucker took over a Bears team with an undermanned D-line and a LB core consisting of an aging Lance Briggs and a bunch of unknowns and then decides to run the same defense he ran in Jacksonville that counts on the front 7 to win their individual battles and the LBs to be able to shed blocks? Does that plan make sense to anyone? I guess I could see trying it for 1 year (2013) and seeing how it worked out. Well we all know now that it worked out historically bad for the Bears. Somehow Tucker miraculously kept his job in 2014 and then came out this season running basically the same exact scheme that was a disaster last year! Few blitzes, no alignment changes, and no attempts to disguise his defensive scheme pre-play. It is such a bold “here is what we are running, do your worst” strategy that it almost makes me respect Tucker, except that it hasn’t worked at all and he keeps doing it which makes me think there is something wrong with him.

Over Tucker’s first year and half his strategy clearly hasn’t worked, but on Sunday he at least changed it up a little. The Bears still kept there basic alignment in place but at least they blitzed with different players and from different angles multiple times. Did someone tell Tucker that his job was in jeopardy? The defense played one of it’s best games of the season only giving up 196 total yards (not counting the fake punt since that was on the special teams unit) with multiple blitzes from both LBs and DBs. Lance Briggs and nickle corner Demontre Hurst both had big plays on blitzes. I’m not going to get too excited about the Bears stopping a rookie QB and a moderately talented Vikings squad, but I am excited that at least Tucker showed a willingness to change and finally ran an aggressive defensive scheme.  Tucker has 6 weeks left to prove it wasn’t a fluke and that he is capable of running more than the most basic scheme in the league, stop anything besides a rookie QB, and maybe even make a halftime adjustment or two. I don’t like his chances, but at least he’s making an effort.

5.) Matt Forte is one of the three best RBs in the NFL

The national media continues to rave about DeMarco Murray and Le’Veon Bell and they deserve it, but Matt Forte is just as good if not better than both of those backs. Bell is averaging the most yards per touch in the league and Murray is 3rd, but guess who is 2nd? That’s right, Matt Forte and he was in the top three last season as well. Forte continues to prove that he’s one of the best running backs in the NFL and is the only consistent player on this Bears team now that Robbie Gould has the yips. I hate to even consider it, but if the Bears are going to rebuild in the off-season, Forte is the only player on the team worth a first round pick and the only Bear who is a sure thing Pro Bowler this year.