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Well Bears fans that’s it for the 2014 season. Even if the Bears somehow win their last four games, 9-7 isn’t getting the Bears into the playoffs this year. We all kind of knew it was over after the Packers and Patriots blowouts, but it stings a little more now that it’s official. The Bears jumped out to an early 14-3 lead on Thanksgiving morning making me think for a few minutes that it was gonna be a good day. Then of course the Bears coaching staff decided to just do the same things over and over and over again hoping that the Lions coaches wouldn’t figure out what the Bears plan was. By the 2nd quarter the Lions had it figured out and the Bears only scored 3 points from that point on while giving up 31 for a 34-17 final that made the game seem closer than it really was. So now that it’s over, Bears fan should be focusing on three things: developing their existing young talent, losing the rest of the their games for a better draft pick, and hoping that the coaching staff screws up enough that the Bears brass has no choice but to replace them with a more competent group.
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Despite the season ending loss, there were a few signs of hope from the Bears today along with the usual long list of mistakes. Here are my takeaways from the 34-17 loss to the the Detroit Lions:
1.) Jay Cutler’s teammates and coaches let him down today
I’m making an assumption that it’s Marc Trestman calling the cowardly screen pass, dink & dunk offense and not using their best player (Forte) on offense and not Jay Cutler audibling out of real NFL offensive plays. If an offense is going to rely on consistent short passes, then their isn’t a lot of room for error. In theory, the screen passes that should get 3-5 yards per pop can be an effective replacement for the running game if you can execute those plays. But as soon as their is a penalty or a dropped pass, then you need to generate double the yardage on the next screen to avoid 3rd & long scenarios. It seems like a pretty simple concept right? If you screw up on one of your short yardage plays, then you need to double up the yardage on one on your next plays in order to get the 10 yards you need for a 1st down. For some reason Trestman doesn’t seem to understand that.
On one specific series the Bears had a holding penalty to put them in a 2nd & 20 hole, then ran two more of the same short screen plays designed to get 3-5 yards each. If Trestman insists on running this Shoop-esque offense then the Bears need to be almost perfect in their execution. That didn’t happen on Thursday; the Bears offensive line (especially Roberto Garza) had too many holding penalties and receiving options Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett each had a couple of drops. Mistakes are inevitable, but when they happen the Bears need to adjust their play-calling accordingly and they just didn’t do that on Thursday.
Cutler wasn’t perfect. He missed Jeffrey deep twice and his passes weren’t always right on target, but they weren’t far off either. If Trestman is set on running this wimpy offense, then it wasn’t Cutler who screwed it up today. That offensive scheme can’t afford drops and penalties. The offense is a terrible fit for the Bears skill players, but if they are set on running it, they at least need to execute simple tasks like catching the ball and not holding. Today not only ended the Bears chance to make the playoffs, it should have been a clear message to Phil Emery or even better the McCaskey’s that the coaching staff isn’t using the talent on the roster correctly. On the day Cutler finished 31/48, for 289 yards, 2 TDs and two late INTs after the game was decided. My biggest problem with Cutler’s stat line is not the INTs but the fact that he only averaged 5.8 yards per completion. With a stable of tall deep threats, that is just an unacceptable number. Why pay a QB with arguably the best arm strength in the league to throw 48 screen passes? What a mess.
2.) Brandon Marshall is playing like he’s ready for the season to be over
Three of the drops I mentioned in my first takeaway were from Marshall. Not only did he have some drops but his body language was bad all game and on the last drive of the game, granted it was meaningless, but he made a point to stay in bounds by falling down to keep the cock running. It was like he wanted the game to end as soon as possible. Maybe he was in a rush to get to the Showtime set (low blow!), or maybe (and more likely) he is frustrated with the Bears screen heavy offense that isn’t taking advantage of Marshall (or Jeffrey’s) skill-set.
3.) Marc Trestman is overmatched
What the F is Marc Trestman doing? Can someone force him to watch the Vikings tape from week 11 when the Bears had almost 500 total yards with an ideal mix of Forte runs, short passes, and Cutler bombs. It’s almost like that game never happened because the next two weeks (Bucs/Lions), Trestman has simplified the Bears offense to just screen passes with no deep passes and no handoffs to one of the best running backs in football Matt Forte. There were two stretches today, one in each half, when the Bears went over 12 plays in a row without handing the ball off to Matt Forte, who again is one of the best RBs in the NFL. Does he really think that an offense based on screen passes is going to work in the NFL? Does he think that not giving Forte the ball is going to help the Bears win? I just don’t understand what his reasoning could possibly have been for his game plan on Thursday.
In the first quarter, Trestman’s screen heavy offense resulted in a TD on the Bears first drive. Then the Lions figured out what the Bears were doing and shut it down the rest of the way. The Bears 2nd TD came after Jared Allen got the Bears the ball inside the 10 yard line. The Lions had clearly figured out the Bears offense by the beginning of the 2nd quarter but Trestman just kept calling the same plays and the Bears only scored 3 points the rest of the way. I had hoped at halftime that the Bears would adjust their offense, start throwing the ball downfield, get Forte involved, and try to win this game. Instead the Bears came out with 15 consecutive short passes before a handoff to Forte. That stubborn reliance on his short pass scheme may have worked in Canada, but in the NFL coaches adjust at halftime, at least other teams coaches do.
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4.) Mel Tucker’s defensive scheme doesn’t work against good QBs.
As even the announcers kept pointing out, the Bears soft cover 3 defense was making things too easy on Matt Stafford and the Lions. The Bears 4-man rush couldn’t get to Stafford quickly enough to stop him from picking apart the Bears soft zone coverage all game. The soft zone scheme worked against rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater and journeyman Josh McCown the last two weeks, but against the Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and even Matt Stafford type QBs, it is easy pickings. Once the Lions figured out what scheme the Bears were running.,they scored TDs on 3 consecutive drives in the 2nd quarter pretty much putting the game out of reach. In the last five weeks we have seen 3 QBs do the same thing to the Bears in the first half and put the game out of reach by halftime. It is a lazy defensive scheme and just doesn’t work against QBs with the accuracy to put the ball where they want it. The Bears secondary didn’t even make an effort to jam the receivers at the line. They let the Lions WRs get wherever they wanted and Stafford found them with ease. It’s unfair to blame the Bears defensive failures just on the scheme, it has worked in the past and worked well for other teams, but the Bears don’t have enough talent in the secondary, especially at safety, to make it work but for some reason Mel Tucker just keeps running it.
Both Trestman and Mel Tucker have shown a disturbing stubbornness to stick with their scheme regardless of how badly they are failing on the field. To Tucker’s credit, he did get more creative in the second half with multiple blitzes, d-line stunts, and even some bump-and-run coverage. The frustrating thing was that most of the adjustments worked pretty well. It’s too bad Tucker waited until the game and the Bears season was over to try something new
It will be interesting to see what Mel Tucker and the Bears defense do the last four games of the season. Will Tucker stick with the vanilla scheme that he was run every year back to his days in Jacksonville even though it is clearly not a fit for the players on the Bears roster? Or will Tucker get creative like he did in the 2nd half and try to prove that he can design a scheme based on the players on the Bears roster?
If Tucker sticks with his soft cover 3 it could get ugly with Tony Romo, Drew Brees, and Matt Stafford again remaining on the roster. If Tucker gets creative and comes up with a scheme that uses the Bears talent effectively, maybe he could save his job.
5.) The Bears D-line played pretty well
Even with Mel Tucker only rushing 4 D-lineman they were able to get pressure on Stafford in the 1st half. Jared Allen had his best game of the season with 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and 3 QB hits. Willie Young was in the backfield quite a bit and had a sack taken away since he touched Stafford’s helmet. Rookie DT Will Sutton played most of the game replacing the injured Jeremiah Ratliff and Sutton had a couple of QB pressures and a pass deflection while playing strong against the run as he has all year. Stephen Paea didn’t do much after his breakout game last week, but was stout in run defense. As a unit the Bears D-line was getting to Stafford, just not fast enough to stop him from finding his wide open WRs.