The Chicago Bears have lost yet another game in this young season that they should have won. Today’s loss makes two in a row, where the Bears have enjoyed statistical dominance, only to be trounced by late and furious comebacks by teams that are arguably average teams from the NFC South, in a weak National Football Conference. Why are the Bears losing games to average teams that they should have closed out and put away? There are 5 main reasons to explain the malaise this Bears team is facing after a very solid opening performance against the Indianapolis Colts to start the season:
1. Bears team unable to close out games – two weeks in a row, the Bears have lead games going into the second half. Two weeks in a row, the Bears offense has chances to extend drives to put games away and don’t execute. Two weeks in a row, the Bears defense has let teams come back to score the points that cost the Bears victories. The 4th and 1 play against the Carolina Panthers last week, the 3rd and 2 play in today’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both situations and lack of execution on those plays highlight the Bears inability to close out games. Then the tired Bears defense gets steamrolled by comebacks two weeks in a row.
The Bears need to develop some killer instinct and execution to put teams away, especially at the end of games. The Bears should be 3-0 after this week, but instead they are 1-2 and play a very tough Philadelphia Eagles team this coming Sunday night.
2. Too many mistakes and execution errors/lack of discipline – 22 penalties for 166 yards (average of 7 penalties for 55 yards per game), 4 key turnovers in the last two games. Missed blocks, missed tackles, untimely penalties wiping out big offensive gains. CB Charles Tillman’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the OT was a gamebreaker today. In today’s game, LB Hunter Hillenmeyer makes a key mistake on the TD by Bucs TE Jerramy Stevens by not taking away the inside route. The same mistake was made on the TD pass to WR Ike Hilliard earlier in the game. TE Greg Olsen fumbling the only 2 balls he touches in the Carolina game, both because he failed to tuck the ball properly after making the reception. These mistakes were minimized or hardly apparent in the opener against the Colts, but have been glaring the last two games, costing the Bears two victories against key NFC opponents.
3. Questionable play calling and coaching – when Special Teams coordinator Dave Toub is calling more effective plays than your offensive coordinator, that could be a sign that your team could be in trouble. When Toub bailed out Ron Turner on yet another failed 3rd and 1 call this afternoon with the fake punt, 38 yard run by RB Garrett Wolfe, he did two things that Turner has yet to master this season: he called a play to pick up the yard, and he figured out a way to get Garrett Wolfe into the game. RB Matt Forte is quickly emerging as a star. Forte touched the ball on 46% of the offensive plays in the Buccaneers game, but on a crucial 3rd down and 2, he was nowhere to be found. San Diego puts the ball in RB LaDanian Tomlinson’s hands in that position. Minnesota gives it to RB Adrian Peterson when they absolutely need 1 yard to extend an offensive series. Ten times out of ten, Turner needs to put the ball in Forte’s hands in that position. Two weeks in a row, he has failed to make the correct call.
Lovie Smith failed to challenge the Darrell McClover strip in the Tampa Bay game. Smith has had difficulties managing the challenge process and today was a glaring example of that difficulty. Defensive coordinator Bob Babich made virtually no adjustments at halftime, particularly in stopping the Tampa Bay slant plays. Buccaneers QB Brian Griese threw that slant for at least 15 completions today, mostly on 3rd and long situations. The Bears have yet to stop that play. The high marks the Bears staff received in preparation for the Colts game has been virtually wiped out by the Bears performance the last two weeks. Of course, it is way easier to be prepared with you have six weeks to prepare for that first game.
4. Inability to get key playmakers more touches – The Bears have 3 playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, WR Devin Hester, Forte and now WR Brandon Lloyd. QB Kyle Orton may or may not be a playmaker, but that can’t be determined because the play calling has yet to establish Orton as a playmaker. Until the second half of today’s game against the Buccaneers, the Bears have done a poor job of getting Lloyd more touches. The Bears have also neglected to get Forte into more touches in key moments of the games, moments that would put games away. Hester has yet to be a significant part of the weekly offensive gameplan and now he is injured. Again, Turner has weapons that can be devastating with a little applied creativity. Hester should get about 15-20 touches a game, and not just as an outside receiver. The Bears need to use Hester like they use Forte – lineup in the backfield, receiver screen, slot receiver, on the end of the line at TE. They need to make defenses have to game plan to stop the perception that Hester might be used. This is a HUGE missed opportunity that needs to be exploited more going forward for the Bears offense to have any chance of winning. Turner needs to unleash Orton more often. The interception that Orton threw in the end zone of today’s game was actually not bad; it was nice to see Orton actually throw the ball down field. Turner needs to move Orton around, roll him out a bit more, get the moving pocket working. Orton took three sacks today, standing up as a statue in the pocket. His best moments were in the 3 and 5 step drops where he can move the ball quickly. The Green Bay Packers move QB Aaron Rodgers around all the time, with great success so far. Give Orton a chance to make some plays. I hate that the Bears set him up to “manage” football games. That has to change if the Bears are going to move the offense to the next level.
5. Lack of a NFL caliber offense – this is perhaps the biggest reason of all reasons that the Chicago Bears lose football games. The offense is too bland, too conservative when it needs to be more dynamic. The lack of playmakers is evident in the skill positions. The most dynamic WR on the team is Hester, who also is the WR with the least amount of touches. The most dynamic playmaker on the offense is Forte, but the Turner fails to get Forte the ball in key short yardage situations and on the goal line in consecutive weeks. The defense put the offense in great position on the first two series of the game, only for the offense to crawl into it’s conservative shell of bland, uninspiring playcalling, settling for two field goals when we really needed touchdowns, particularly on that first possession. Comcast Sports Chicago pulled an interesting statistic today regarding the TD reception by Forte. It was the first receiving touchdown the Bears have intentionally thrown to a RB in the last 116 games! Turner has proven to be conservative to a fault precisely at the times where more dynamic touch is necessary. The Bears offense seems very predictable, with virtually no deep game to keep defenses honest. This allows defenses to pick up tendencies before they happen, and with no deep game, defenses stack the line and box, forcing the Bears offense to work much harder for lesser output. This explains how the Bears are so challenged at times to gain a yard on 4th and 1 situations.
The Bears have lots of work to do to reverse the disturbing trends of the last two weeks. The big fear the Bears faced was losing the hard earned respect by the league that was garnered by the Colts win. The Bears could either prove they were for real with a 3-0 record, but with every loss, the Colts victory becomes more of a fluke rather than the decisive victory that signaled that the Monsters of the Midway are back.