Quick Game Comments – Bears at Lions 9/23/13

Defense
1. The Bears came out just a little flat on both sides of the ball. Generally speaking the defense in particular wasn’t playing fast and certainly wasn’t playing down hill.
2. The Bears seemed to prefer the cover two on first down, laving the run open for Reggie Bush. The Lions took advantage and Bush gashed the Bears with the run throughout the game. Bush also hurt the Bears as a receiver and they moved him around well. Other than the turnovers, the failure to stop Bush was pretty much the story of the game.
3. Matthew Stafford came out very inaccurate, missing several open receivers. He didn’t really have a very good game. But it was good enough.
4. The Lions offensive line totally handled the Bears. No one could get off of blocks. The Bears aren’t going to stop anyone with no pressure on the quarterback.
5. This was a really bad game for Lance Briggs. He looked like he was having a tough time with Lions tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. I got the impression that this might be partly because he was wary of the damage Bush was doing with the run. It didn’t matter. They still managed to block him out of the play on the Reggie Bush touchdown in the second quarter.
6. I hate the way Lions center Dominic Raiola moves around once he goes down on the ball. I guess it’s just subtle enough not to be called but its enough to be bothersome.
7. It was nice to see Alshon Jeffery beat some single coverage today. He’s showing his potential and Cutler is looking for him more and more often opposite Marshall.

Offense1. The Lions came out playing single coverage underneath with two high safeties on first down. This should have opened up the run but the Bears couldn’t take advantage as the Lions severely limited Matt Forte’s production throughout the first quarter.
2. The Bears had a tough time against the Lions single coverage underneath early as well. Receivers had a tough time shaking the much maligned Lions defensive backs. Other than Brandon Marshall this is a problem the Bears have had dating back for some years.
3. The combination one and two led to some serious trouble on third down as they were frequently left with a lot of yardage to make up.
4. The Bears offensive line had a tough time against the Lions defensive front and they had their hands full with a very powerful group who managed to push up the middle and get into Jay Cutler’s face. It looked like they were intent on keeping a disciplined pass rush which kept Cutler in the pocket. Its safe to say that Cutler hates that. He wasn’t able to escape the pocket with any regularity until the third quarter when the Lions know he had to pass and went with the all out rush.
5. Cutler was sacked twice in the first half, once when Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh flat out overpowered Bears guard Kyle Long. Long really had a tough time with Suh all game. The pressure along with the good coverage by the Lions defensive backs probably contributed as much as anything to Cutler’s poor day.
6. As outlined above the Lions had a good game plan to attack the Bears weaknesses. The Bears responded in the second quarter by attacking the edges on the ground, away from the strength of the Lions defense up the middle. Alshon Jeffery had a long run to the left on an end around. This was followed by a long run by Matt Forte to the right for a touchdown. This was a wonderful adjustment by Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer. I’m not entirely sure why they didn’t stick with it.
7. The whole league knows that Jay Cutler is going to go to Brandon Marshall at the slightest hint that he might be in single coverage. This led directly to an interception by Glover Quinn in the second quarter as he broke towards Marshall as the single high safety almost right after the snap knowing full well that’s where Cutler was going. Cutler never looked at anyone else. To make it worse, he repeated the mistake in the third quarter for another near interception.
8. Matt Forte wasn’t just stopped on the run. He had a tough time shaking the Lions linebackers in coverage as well.
9. The Bears came out playing Ebon Britton as a tight end/extra tackle in the second half, presumably to help block the run. Interesting thought but it didn’t help much.
10. It looked like Cutler was having a hard time gripping the ball. He threw a couple wobbly, wounded ducks, something he never does.

Miscellaneous
1. Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick and Laura Okmin all did a reasonable but not spectacular job. Brennaman is one of the best. He, for instance, pointed out (hen Billick didn’t) what Riley Reiff was left on Julius Peppers with little help and that, despite that, Peppers wasn’t doing that much damage. Certainly not as much as expected. Billick does a good job of pointing out most of what’s going on that’s relevant on the field. For instance, he pointed out the differences in the Bears punt formation compared to the rest of the league right away, having done his preparation ahead of time. But he doesn’t concentrate on Xs and Os and he doesn’t ordinarily teach me much in that respect. He always does a decent job otherwise.
2. Special teams play was uneven. The Lions committed a horse collar tackle and the Bears allowed a big return by Michael Spurlock in the second quarter. The Bears had some poor punts that left the Lions in good field position.
3. Reggie Bush and Tony Scheffler both had drops in the first half. Brandon Marshall had a big drop in the third quarter and Forte missed a catchable ball on the next play. Alshon Jeffery dropped a touchdown in the fourth quarter with the game well out of hand. Neither team really did terribly poorly in that area for one game but the Bears, in particular, can’t afford to make a habit out of having this many.
4. The game wasn’t marred by an inordinate number of penalties but the Bears had their first false start of the year in the second quarter. Kyle long had a damaging illegal hands to the face penalty that brought back a long Earl Bennett reception.
5. Glover Quinn had an interception on a poor Cutler decision to throw the ball to Brandon Marshall. Louis Delmas had two, the second on a horrible Cutler throw. Julius Peppers caused Matthew Stafford to fumble late in the second half, likely preventing yet another Lions score and allowing the offense to get the ball back and end the half with a field goal. Cutler also fumbled as Suh got him on a line stunt. That turned into six points on the recovery. Major Wright got an interception to stop a drive in the third quarter. Joique Bell fumbled in the fourth quarter and turned it over to the Bears. Too little, too late.
6. The Lions outplayed the Bears just about every way you can today. The turnovers were, of course, damaging. They always are and they are what allowed the game to get out of hand. But what stuck out to me the most was the way that the Lions dominated the Bears in the trenches, especially when the Bears were on defense. On the offensive side, the Bears got nowhere running the ball. Reggie Bush flat out ran through the defensive line like a hot knife through butter and he was into the defensive backfield in an eye blink. They got little penetration and little pressure on Stafford with rare exceptions. It didn’t help that the linebackers in general and Lance Briggs in particular had a poor game. Nevertheless, the Bears defensive line, supposedly a team strength, looks like the team’s Achilles heel.
7. Cutler had a bad game but here’s what was good about it – he carried himself well under duress. Yes, he turned the ball over and yes, he was probably rattled. That’s natural given the pressure he saw. But throughout the game all the way to the end, he carried himself like a leader. I didn’t see the constant, obvious frustration written all over his face that I think I would have seen in the past under these circumstances. There was only a little bad body language. I’m starting to think that marriage and fatherhood might be agreeing with Cutler while under the leadership of a good, even tempered coach. Certainly he showed some maturity today that was most welcome. Even though things were grim today, I think that’s going to stand this team in good stead in the future.

Collins a Competent Replacement for Melton

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times gives the Bears statistics at defensive tackle:

Through three games, Melton’s grade of -6.4 was the lowest of any defensive tackle in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins pressured the quarterback twice as often as Melton. PFF said Collins played the run better, too.

I’m not surprised. Collins has looked noticeably better through the first three games with Melton, to put it generously, knocking off some rust after missing the offseason. In fact, the first play after Melton left the game last Sunday, Collins came in fresh and penetrated into the backfield to cause some disruption. It mad eke wonder at the time if the Bears shouldn’t be rotating more frequently along the line to keep everyone fresh.

Regardless, with more opportunities to play, I’m going to go ahead and stick my neck out by saying the Bears might be better with Collins in the game over Melton. I’m not sure that holds up long term but based upon what I saw the first three games, I’m reasonably confident that Collins is going to be an improvement.

Quick Note – Bears Offensive Line Grading Out Nicely

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune does a nice job of summarizing the performances on film from Sunday nights game:

“Offensive line

“Grade: 6

“There was a premium placed on getting the ball out quickly and rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills held strong against an exotic scheme in a hostile environment. Cutler was sacked only twice in a game in which six wouldn’t have been a surprise in the past. There wasn’t an adequate push in the running game with the exception of Matt Forte‘s 55-yard run, when Mills delivered a nice block on Lawrence Timmons. Power O was a popular call by [Bears head coach Marc] Trestman.”

It’s true that the Bears line has been getting a lot of help the first three games. Its rare when tight end Martellus Bennet isn’t in the game along with one of the two running backs, Matt Forte or Michael Bush. Nevertheless, Biggs nails it when he says that this was a type of defense where a lot of sacks would have been racked up in the past. Help or not, the offensive line, along with the coaching staff, deserves a great deal of credit. They did a wonderful job picking up the blitz, something they’ll need to continue to do with other 3-4 teams, not the least of which is the Packers, ahead on the schedule.

Bears Blitz Not on the Right Frequency

Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times on the frequency with which the Beas resorted to the blitz Sunday night to get pressure on the quarterback:

“[Bears head coach Marc] Trestman acknowledged the Bears increased their number of blitzes against the Steelers, going from roughly 25 percent of their plays in Weeks 1 and 2 to around 33 percent. It resulted in two sacks by D.J. Williams and one by Lance Briggs.

“‘It was just two or three more blitzes than we probably normally run in a game,’ Trestman said.”

It seemed like a lot more than that. In any case the frequency was too high. The lack of pressure from the front four is a major concern. The Bears gave up huge chunks of yardage in the second half as the Steelers burned then repeatedly when they blitzed to make up for the deficit.

Game Comments – Bears at Steelers

Offense

1. The Bears came out executing well. They came out with a good mix of the run and the pass with lots of short passes.
2. The Steelers came out blitzing a lot. The Bears offensive line handled it surprisingly well early.
3. Jay Cutler looked really calm in the pocket under pressure in the face of the blitz. Much better than in previous years under these circumstances.
4. Cutler seemed more willing to throw the ball away this game than he has been in the past.
5. Alshon Jeffery was getting a lot of balls early. That’s good. He’ll need to be a major part of the offense when it’s a finished product.
6. Brandon Marshall looked like maybe he was having a tough time catching some passes. Admittedly most looked like tough catches. I thought he had a tough time getting started this game. He finally made a huge catch in the fourth quarter.
7. In contrast to the first half, it was a different story in the second half. They had a much tougher time with the blitz as the receivers apparently failed to get open. It looked like maybe the Steelers started taking away Cutler’s dump off option. The game started to look more like some of the others we’ve seen from the offense against similar defenses.
8. I loved what Martellus Bennett did with a little shuffle pass in the third quarter. Cutler was under pressure and found him. He should have been tackled for no gain but used some quick feet to dodge some tacklers and make about 6 yards. Nice work for a big man.
9. Jermond Bushrod had a bit of a rough game allowing some pressure on Cutler.
10. It was nice to see earl Bennett make a big catch in the fourth quarter.

Defense
1. Like the Steelers, the Bears came out blitzing a lot. It was reasonably effective but risky for both sides as they dared the other team to make big plays. The Steelers touchdown in the second quarter was on a blitz that was picked up. So was the touchdown at the end of the third quarter. There were a number of other big plays.
2. The Bears continue to have trouble getting pressure with a four man rush.
3. I thought the Bears did reasonably we’ll defending the run.
4. The linebackers did their usual mice job.
5. Man Ben Roethlisberger is tough to bring down. It’s like tackling a linebacker.
6. Once again the defense did a reasonably nice job in the red zone. They generally held the Steelers to field boas once they got down there.
7. However, once again the defense had trouble stopping yet another team on third down.

Miscellaneous
1. I thought that the Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michelle Tafoya did their usual good job. For my money this is the best announcing team in the game right now.
2. The Bears didn’t get burned *too* bad by penalties though the roughing the kicker penalty on Anthony Walters in the second quarter certainly hurt. The Steelers had too many that hurt too much.
3. The Bears receivers did their usual good job in terms of dropping passes. You could argue that Marshall should have caught one or two that he didn’t come up with but they were tough catches to make. The Steelers had more drops but not an unusual number.
4. Special teams were unremarkable on both sides.
5. Turnovers were the story of this game as they so often are. The Steelers gave the ball away far too often and the Bears took advantage.
6. The Bears picked up a nice win on the road largely because of their penchant for getting turnovers. They generally played clean, too, not beating themselves. That’s as important as anything and often makes the difference as it arguably did tonight. That said, I can’t let this summary pass without noting the lack of a pass rush from the front four. They’ve simply got to get more pressure on the quarterback without blitzing. They’re giving up too many big plays for too much yardage. As for the offense it was a story of two halves. Good the first half, not so good the second as Cutler apparently had trouble finding receivers under blitz pressure. Cutler is going to have to start getting rid of the ball quicker in those situations to hot receivers. He’s dropping back and holding the ball too long with too many defenders coming at him.

Expect a Different Offensive Style Against the Steelers

Bears head coach Marc Trestman talks about the Steelers 3-4 defense, contrasting it with the type of 4-3 defense the Bengals and Vikings prefer. Via Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“’They’re not playing their front to rush the passer and defend the run on the way to the quarterback,’ Trestman said. ‘They’re rushing the passer to stop the run — and they’re doing it with internal blitzes and people coming from different levels, which makes it harder to one-on-one block.’”

“It also makes a draw play less dangerous because defensive linemen aren’t always selling out to sack the quarterback.

“Expect to see more power running from the Bears than when they faced the cover-2 defenses of the Bengals and Vikings the first two weeks.”

Noted. We’ll see if they can execute it on Sunday night.

Quick Point – Isaiah Frey Yet to Be Tested

Mike Mulligan at the Chicago Tribune echoes my thoughts on this point:

“[Charles] Tillman isn’t the best cornerback in the NFL, but he’s the best system fit in the league. And he’s an essential playmaker at a position where the Bears are dangerously thin. One longtime NFL scout said Tuesday that the Bears are very thin at cornerback and predicted teams would start to go after Isaiah Frey at nickel back.”

Frey has performed well but he hasn’t been asked to do much. I’ve been wondering why teams haven’t picked on Frey more. I think this might be something to keep an eye on.

Quick Point – The Question of Calm

Jay Cutler gets it. From the Chicago Tribune:

“They’re going to be as calm as I am and I try to stay relatively calm out there, especially in the fourth quarter.”

I wouldn’t necessarily say that “calm” is necessary in these situations. I believe what made the difference here might be better described as “confidence”.

Cutler isn’t necessarily using the right words but there’s a recognition in his statement that the team goes as he goes in these situations. No matter what he’s feeling inside, outwardly the one thing that you can’t show is that you lack faith in your teammates or the team’s ability to perform as needed. This is what’s known as “bad body language” and Cutler hasn’t shown it yet this year. It’s going to be fascinating to see if it rears up at any point. But the one thing that we can plainly see is that he understands the problem. That’s a great start.

Game Comments – Vikings at Bears 9/15/13

Defense

  1. The Vikings game plan was pretty similar to the Bears – take what the defense gives you. They alternated between runs with Adrian Peterson and going to the air. They were particularly effective passing the ball in the second quarter. Stopping Peterson first was obviously the right thing to do but whenever they went seven in the box, Peterson almost always made yardage.
  2. The Vikings obviously liked Greg Jennings matched up with Tim Jennings in the first quarter. The Bears made an adjustment in the second quarter because Christian Ponder looked for him but didn’t throw it. I’m not sure what the adjustment was but it was effective.
  3. Ponder has been under siege in Minnesota and was more good than bad for most of the day. He was effect running outside the pocket and made some accurate (if not very strong) throws.
  4. Another quiet day for Julius Peppers and Henry Melton. In fairness to Peppers, I think he got some pressure on Ponder to force a turnover.
  5. The Bears looked to me like they were blitzing more today, often out of the eight man fronts they were using to stop Peterson.
  6. Nice to see Cory Wooton get a sack.
  7. Matt Kalil has been under scrutiny in Minnesota after a bad pre-season and a rough game last week. He looked solid today.
  8. I thought the Bears needed to do a better job of keeping Ponder in the pocket. A more disciplined pass rush was needed.
  9. Give some credit to the Vikings for coming out and executing some long, time consuming drives that ended in field goals in the third and fourth quarters. The Bears had a lot of guys at the the line but The Vikings didn’t completely abandon the run. They sustained each drive with good blocking up front and few mistakes. The Bears defense spent a lot of time on the field in the second half.

Offense

  1. The Bears came out running. The Vikings responded by bringing an extra guy in the box, the Bears responded by passing, for example to Brandon Marshall. That’s pretty much how it went all day with both teams mixing it up.
  2. Marshall, of course, had a great game.
  3. The Bears still were running a lot of double tight end and max protect.
  4. I loved the way the Bears took advantage of the Vikings aggressiveness on defense. The Alshon Jeffery end around in the first half was a brilliant call. As pointed out by color man Brian Billick, the Beas were also using a lot of counter plays and inside traps.
  5. Passes just don’t come any better than the one from Jay Cutler to Marshall for the touchdown at the end of the first quarter. Cutler hit Marshall in stride on a pass that couldn’t have been more accurate.
  6. Cutler’s tendency to hold the ball still worries me. His day was up and down and he frequently looked jittery. He was finding himself trapped in the pocket more often than last week, I thought.
  7. Martellus Bennett was once again catching everything he could (not to mention the game winning touchdown). I thought he had as good of a game as can be reasonably expected.
  8. I loved the way the Bears used Matt Forte. Catching passes, running the ball, he was all over with shifty running and good vision.
  9. Kevin Williams, who sat out last week with an injury, didn’t do much in his first game back beyond a fluke interception in the end zone. Earl Bennet was quiet again. I was surprised we didn’t see more Dante Rosario. I wanted to see what he could do.
  10. The play where Jared Allen cause Cutler to fumble the ball (which resulted in a Vikings touchdown) was a strange one. The Bears lineman and Matt Forte looked to me like they were running a screen play to the left. Cutler, instead of throwing the ball to Forte, rolled right and was caught by Allen, who both Bushrod and Forte let go. Weird play. It wasn’t the only play this game where the Bears offense didn’t look like they are on the same page with Cutler.
  11. The Minnesota defense needs to limit big plays like a couple of the throws to Marshall and the last one to Martellus Bennett. They killed them this game.

Miscellaneous

  1. Brian Billick and Laura Oakmin did their usual professional job. Billick pointed out that the Bears were taking advantage of the Vikings single high safety look and that the Bears were running a lot of inside traps and counters to take advantage of the Vikings defensive aggressiveness. I wasn’t as happy with the way that Thom Brennaman responded to adversity. He apologized repeatedly for the technical difficulties but did point out what, exactly they were. When it eventually became apparent that it was graphics and replays (mostly), he didn’t adjust by giving, for instance, the time on the clock or the down and distance more often.
  2. Special teams were big this game with the opening Vikings kickoff return by Cordarrelle Patterson. Devin Hester had some good returns as well which gave the Bears some excellent field position. Though Eric Weems was getting pats on the back for it, unless I’m misunderstanding something the way he batted the ball out of the back of the end zone on one punt almost resulted in a Minnesota touchdown.
  3. Not too many dropped balls today. Jeffery had one.
  4. Turnovers played a big role here as the Vikings got 6 points on a Cutler fumble and the Bears got six on a pick six fro Tim Jennings. Letroy Guion took the ball away from Matt Forte on an important fourth quarter drive. And, of course, John Carlson’s loss of the ball to Blake Costanzo on the last kickoff was a killer. There were a number of others that had varying impact but all of them hurt. Not good.
  5. Way too many penalties on both sides today. Twelve men on the field is always inexcusable.
  6. There was a lot of slipping and sliding around the field this game. Let the pissing and moaning about the Soldier field tug commence.
  7. One word describes this game. Sloppy. Sloppy field. Sloppy teams. It’s little comfort that the rest of the NFL currently generally doesn’t look a lot better. A win is a win but everyone has to take a long look at themselves and clean this mess up.