Okay – I’m taking a break from putting together a heady, well-structured game recap to respond to this week’s game and the state of the Bears in general simply from the point of view of a fan, which I am first and foremost. The Bears are 3-2, and still tied atop the NFC North. They’ve lost two straight games by single digits to good teams. Jay Cutler is still en route to his best season statistically as a Bear. But in each of the last two games, the Bears have looked 2 steps behind their opponents. They play like garbage for the bulk of the game and then finally make their adjustments and get in the endzone when it is way, way too late.
A few things are being made clear to me – teams are figuring out and learning how to expose the Bears’ defense. There is no secret that the Bears have been embarrassingly weak on their defensive line, and the Lions and the Saints have played to those weaknesses. Stafford and Brees have had as much time as they’ve wanted in the pocket. And the worst part of it is that once teams start attacking the Bears like this, they have not been able to make adjustments. The same goes for the offense. The Bears want to get the ball out quickly. But teams know that the key to breaking the Bears offensive schemes is by pressuring Cutler. And when Cutler doesn’t have time to throw, his receivers don’t have time to get open and he is more prone to mistakes which lead to turnovers. And by the time the Bears adjust their offensive scheme, its late in the 4th quarter when they’re already down by two or more scores and its too little too late. The defense needs to get off the field, the time of possession this week was WAY out of whack. You cannot let Drew Brees have the ball for 36 of 60 minutes and expect to win. The Bears have depended on forcing turnovers, but in a game when they don’t force any and they’re always back on their heels, they have no shot. And when teams can run the ball effectively on their defense and have time to throw, it is much easier to take care of the ball. And thats just what the Saints did.
The biggest adjustment needs to happen on the sidelines. I know we all want to give Marc Trestman the benefit of the doubt – but when teams can so easily expose you on both ends and can so easily adjust to your game plans so early in games, it is up to your coaching staff to counter those moves – or better yet – be a step ahead of them. But in these last two losses, the Bears have been a step or two behind their opponents. They’ve been put in survival mode. Luckily the Bears have enough skilled individual players to keep them in these games at the end, but by that late point in the game, it doesn’t matter. By this point, the Bears should know exactly how defenses are going to attack them. Its clear to the rest of us. Pressure the line, stop the run, force Cutler into mistakes. Now its up to Trestman and his staff to make changes to the game plan. He has the talent to do it on offense, the question for me is if the defense is ever going to get up to speed. I have not seen enough signs that this defense can stop a good team consistently.
Bottom line is, the 3-0 start means nothing. Last year they started 7-1 and missed the playoffs. And it especially means nothing when the wins come against bad teams. They’re playing on a short week against an 0-5 Giants team who is no doubt STARVING for a win. After struggling against Drew Brees, Eli Manning will be no cake walk. Another smart, skilled quarterback who knows how to expose defenses. Given the other Giants’ weaknesses, the Bears should be able to win this game, but even if they do, the combined record of the teams they’ve beaten will be 4-14. Not exactly quality wins. If you want to be a great team you have to beat great teams. They have the Giants and the Redskins coming up and could actually enter the Bye week 5-2. And they should. They need to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. But none of it will matter if they can’t make these fundamental changes on the sidelines and improve that defensive line.
And if the Bears lose to the Giants on Thursday night, that optimism we all came into the season with is going to start to feel really, really stupid…again.