Friday, September 14, 2012

New Bears Offense Collapses in Loss to Packers

Well, that was ugly. The "new look" Bears offense returned to Earth last night against the Packers, with the lack of protection, bunches of interceptions, and Jay Cutler temper tantrums illustrating that maybe, just maybe, this Bears team has not yet turned the corner into a modern NFL offense orchestrated by a true franchise quarterback. Last night's game was more reminiscent of Bears performances in recent years, with the defense playing a great game considering the circumstances, while the offense shot themselves in the foot with turnovers and a record amount of pouting and finger pointing from Cutler. It was, above all, an embarrassing performance for a franchise that was looking to establish itself as one of the elite teams in the NFL.

Where to begin? I guess we can start with the positives on defense. I thought the defensive line played an outstanding game, with multiple sacks from Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin. I said before the season began that the key to this Bears defense is the pass rush. With the style of defense the Bears utilize, the pass rush is key to giving support to the cornerbacks. Without a pass rush, a quarterback, especially one of the caliber of Aaron Rodgers, will dissect a defense that gives plenty of cushion to the receivers. With a good pass rush, however, the Bears can force an offense to play short or risk turning the football over. The primary goal of nearly every play on the defensive side for the Bears is to create turnovers, something they do exceedingly well.

Peppers and the rest of the pass rush were excellent
The pass rush has been solid all season, and it looks like the investment in McClellin as a first round pick has paid off. The kid from Boise State looks athletic and comfortable with his hand down coming around as an edge rusher. He beat the Green Bay left tackle a couple times, getting to Rodgers for 1.5 sacks and forcing pressure to the other side of the defense a couple more times. If McClellin can play like this all season, it will only make Peppers' job easier and the defense that much more lethal. I was also happy with the play of the interior line, especially Henry Melton. The Bears defense, as I said, relies on a successful pass rush more than anything else. In particular, the defense functions much more effectively when that pass rush comes from the interior defensive line as well as the outside. It was no coincidence that Tommie Harris' best year as a Bear was the year the team went to the Super Bowl. Melton appears to have that Tommie Harris type play to him; aggressive, athletic, strong, and the ability to balance the pass rush with solid run defense. Right now, it looks like the defensive line is a major strength of the defense - something we couldn't say last season.

The back end of the defense had another excellent game. They held arguably the best quarterback in the world (sorry Drew Brees) to 219 yards and only 1 touchdown, while picking him off once as well. Considering the year Rodgers had last year was one of the greatest seasons ever for his position, I'd say the back end of the defense had a great game last night. Tim Jennings continued his torrid start to the season with several outstanding open field tackles and the interception of Rodgers. I said it after last week's game, and I'll say it again - Jennings is the team MVP right now. There's no question of that. On the other side, Charles Tillman had one of his patented punch outs of the ball to turn the ball over at a key time. I'll never get sick of watching Tillman create turnovers in that way multiple times per year, and how that mentality permeates through the defense. It's hard to even blame the defense for the way Green Bay appeared to move the ball towards the end of the game when you consider the amount of time they spent on the field after each stupid Cutler interception.

When you think about how well the defense really played last night, it makes you even more upset at how the offense performed. I spoke at length prior to the season and after the first game about how the new look Bears offense was now the strength of the team, while the defense was the half of the team with question marks. Well, that was before they played a real game last night against a great team. The offense came out last night and showed the football world that at MOST, they're a work in progress, and it's entirely likely that this offense led by Cutler could struggle in big games all year. 

"Old Jay" was back in full force
I can't say enough how disappointed I was in Jay last night. Sure, the offensive line was bad, and J'Marcus Webb doesn't deserve to be a starting offensive tackle in this league whatsoever. But for Jay to point fingers, call out, and whine to his teammates in such an animated fashion throughout the game is childish and unacceptable. Cutler has been elected a captain for the Bears in every season he's been here, but his tantrums have gotten old. Spiking the ball when the play clock runs out, pouting on the sidelines, yelling at his offensive line, calling out his teammates, and altogether appearing like that one kid everyone knew on their youth sports teams that was a joke to everyone else is not only the antithesis of what a leader is or should be, but not reminiscent of an elite NFL quarterback. 

Jay needs to be a better leader
Even worse were his antics towards his coaches, in particular Lovie Smith. I understand that Jay was frustrated, and to be sure, he has reason to be with his line. But there's nothing more damaging to a leader's credibility when he goes out and does more to hurt the team on the field and then turns around and blames others for his problems. Jay, a little piece of advice to you. You aren't going to be Mr. Popular on your own team if you continue to throw wobbly balls off your back foot into triple coverage while you attempt to force the ball to Brandon Marshall. Your awful decision making doesn't give you exemption status to turn around and complain to your coaches, teammates, and then sit around and pout on the sidelines. I've seen Tom Brady and Peyton Manning do the same thing as Jay did last night several times, but Cutler is a far cry from being in those two's company. Brady and Manning have earned the right to act like that with their perennial success and Super Bowl championships, not to mention the fact that they don't throw wobbly balls into triple coverage like some wannabe Brett Favre in every big game. And more importantly, if Cutler isn't careful, he's going to lose this team, and then everything that the Bears have prepped for this season will be lost. He's walking a fine line now and needs to recognize that he must change his ways. Bottom line - the Bears have told us since they traded for him that Cutler is an elite quarterback with the skills to bring titles to Chicago. But here's the problem: Cutler may have all the tools in the world, and now holds the keys to all the shiny new toys the Bears got for him in the offseason, but the Bears will only go as far as Jay takes them. He needs to get it together, actually earn some leadership credibility from his teammates, and show that he can perform up to his standards in big games such as the one last night. Until then, the shiny new toys won't be able to even get out of the garage. 

And don't get me wrong - that in no way shape or form exonerates the stink performance from the offensive line last night. J'Marcus Webb showed why all the Chicago pundits were calling for the Bears to make a move in the offseason to find a legitimate left tackle to anchor the Bears offensive line. You have to wonder what the move is going forward, but in this division, with elite pass rushers like Jared Allen on Minnesota, Clint Avril on Detroit, and Clay Matthews on Green Bay, having a weak left tackle isn't good for business. Allowing Matthews to rack up 3.5 sacks against you is unacceptable, and it should go without saying that it's difficult to get any momentum going on offense when the quarterback is constantly getting sacked or is under pressure. It's one area that the Bears should have upgraded this offseason but didn't. The team drafted Gabe Carimi last year and just signed former Steelers and Lions lineman Jonathan Scott, but who knows. The Bears might have to endure yet another year of terrible offensive line play, and it could undermine the potential success of this season.

Bears were dysfunctional last night
It's hard to imagine a worse coming out party for the Bears offense last night. To me, it appears that they try to force their new offense right away when they come out onto the field and it only goes to undermine any momentum they even begin to create. Think about the first half for a minute. The first play of the first possession was a play action fake designed to go deep to Marshall, but instead ended up leading to a Cutler sack that wrecked the whole drive. Everyone and their mother knew that the Bears were going to take a shot on the first play, and the Packers D only had to pin their ears back and come running. It wasn't until the second half, after Matt Forte was hurt, that the Bears started to balance their offense with Michael Bush and move the ball down the field. I couldn't believe that Forte only got 4 carries in the first half. You'd think that you would try to get the ball to one of your best playmakers more often than that. Of course, it doesn't really matter how well you move the ball when Cutler throws multiple interceptions. 

The glass half full approach would be a reminder that this is only the second game against a team that went 15-1 last season, and that the Bears have time to figure out how to get all the moving parts working together. The opposite approach would be almost the same thing - there are new moving parts to figure out as the Bears try to learn on the fly, all with an offensive line that leaves just a little bit to be desired. This is the NFL - you face premier talent every week. Now, the Bears have an extended time off until they start to get ready for the next game against St. Louis, so let's hope that some of the issues get wrinkled out in practice next week. Hopefully Forte gets healthy, the offensive line makes some adjustments, and Cutler finds a way to make better decisions, not turn the ball over, and show that he can be a real leader for this team without calling out his teammates, pouting on the sidelines, and throwing temper tantrums on the field. If that sounds easier said than done, it is. But this is a veteran team with too much talent to waste it on awful showings like the one last night in Green Bay. Hopefully, this stinker of a performance wakes up the players on this team and the Bears use it as motivation to string together a great rest of the season. With all the hype coming into this season, they certainly better.