Amongst the less than stellar performances for the Bears on Sunday against the Falcons, that of right tackle Jordan Mills stood out. Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune elaborates:
“The starting right tackle committed a false start before the game’s first play from scrimmage, a harbinger of his struggles throughout the game. He was beaten for a sack and was penalized three times for 15 yards — twice for false starts and once for an illegal formation. Jonathan Massaquoi beat Mills around the edge for a sack of Cutler on the Bears’ second series. Two plays later, linebacker Paul Worrilow beat Mills to set the edge against a [Alshon] Jeffery end-around. Defensive end Kroy Biermann beat Mills late in the first half, forcing Cutler to step into a sack by cornerback Robert McClain.”
In fairness to Mills, I’m wondering if some of his struggles are due to the fact that left tackle Michael Ola, who was subbing in for the injured Jermon Bushrod, was getting the majority of the help. Though I haven’t gone back to look, the guess here is that Ola got the most help from a chipping Martellus Bennett or Matt Forte, something that may have been more prone to happen on Mills’s side with Bushrod healthy.
One of the things that stood out Sunday was the nice play of the “backups” who were on the field due to injuries to the starters. I thought this quote from linebacker Darryl Sharpton was to the point. Via Kevin Fishbain at chicagofootball.com:
“‘[The coaches] do such a great job giving everybody the confidence – they don’t treat anybody like a ‘backup’ or a secondary-kind of player – everybody gets treated with a great level of respect. That’s one thing I love about this organization.'”
No doubt the coaches are concentrating hard on training the non-starters this year after last year’s disaster when injured starters went down and the replacements couldn’t handle the load. Its apparently working.
Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune quotes cornerback Tim Jennings on the play of nickel back Demontre Hurst:
“‘That was a great job by Hurst,’ Jennings said. ‘He prepared great all week and he was where he needed to be. He had an opportunity to make a play and with hard work that is what happens.
“‘It’s definitely him. It’s his job. As long as he continues to prepare each and every week and make the plays he is supposed to make, it is his to take.'”
It’s hard to watch defensive backs on television but to my eye Hurst did a pretty good job. It’s obvious that Jennings wasn’t comfortable with the move to nickel before the injury to Charles Tillman forced him outside. Unless his play falls off for some reason its very possible that Hurst might be a permanent fixture at the position from here on out.
Biggs also had this nugget:
“Demontre Hurst wasn’t the only inexperienced defensive back pressed into action. Al Louis-Jean, the undrafted rookie from Boston College who was promoted from the practice squad this past week, got four snaps when Tim Jennings was briefly shaken up.”
This isn’t quite the minor point that it might seem to be. Louis-Jean is a tall, athletic cornerback who is exactly the type that the Bears are looking for. He couldn’t possibly have made less of an impression on the Bears coaching staff during the preseason than he did on me. I think he, too, might have a future with the team.
One of Biggs’s 10 thoughts after the Bears victory Sunday:
“The best quote I got that I didn’t find a place to use after the game came from left guard Matt Slauson. ‘To have second-half swagger back was really great.’ The Bears can call it swagger when they responded with two touchdown drives after the Falcons had tied things up.”
The key part of this was, “after the Falcons had tied things up”. The Bears defense has been a sieve at the beginning of the second half. I’m not sure what’s going on but they need to work harder to keep the ground that they are being handed in the first half. I thought the Bears offense had to work way to hard to rebuild the game from the rubble that was left midway through the third quarter. The defense has to tighten things up coming out of half time.
Here’s an encouraging statistic that flew under the radar. Via Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times:
“According to Pro Football Focus, they had three missed tackles against the Falcons. That’s the fewest they’ve had this season. They had 14 against the New York Jets.”
Biggs quotes an anonymous scout on suspended Georgia linebacker Todd Gurley:
“First round and I don’t give a crap about the kid signing autographs.”
One Final Thought
Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times assesses the state of the Bears:
“The Bears are in that murky who-knows category. I see a 3-3 team that will be up and down the rest of the year. Many of you see a defensive line finally coming together, an offense that can amass a lot of yards and maybe, just maybe, a playoff team. Let’s agree to disagree.
“I see a Cutler who no doubt will revert back to his maddening form. You see a Cutler who is evolving into the precise quarterback he was against the Falcons. Let’s agree you’re wrong.
“The best thing the Bears have going for them is that there are a lot of teams that look like them. They’re somewhere in the middle, not bad but not great, either. The league has given them reason to believe.”
There’s a lot to be said in favor of the above. But let me start by disagreeing about Cutler. I think we’re going to see the version that you saw last Sunday for the rest of the year. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see some turnovers late in games where the Bears are behind and with Cutler trying to make a play. But other than that, I think we’re going to see what we saw a great deal of last year and last week. I think Cutler is much smarter than that and I think he has bought in on head coach Marc Trestman. He’s going to take care of the ball.
Having said that, I generally agree (and have repeatedly said since the preseason) that what we’re looking at is an 8-8 team. I have two very simple things to watch that will cover everyone who doesn’t agree:
For those who are more pessimistic, keep an eye on the turnovers. If Cutler does revert to previous versions of himself and the interceptions and/or fumbles lost increase, the Bears are doomed to a losing record. Even if the defense starts to create more turnovers, themselves, I don’t think it can make up for the offense handing it back over nor do I think the defense is the type that’s going to be able to hold a decent offense consistently on a short field. I don’t see this happening and I don’t think the offensive turnovers are going to be intolerably high from here on out but, hey, you never know.
For those who are hoping for better, watch the penalties. The Bears are committing them at a rate that they simply can’t afford. Teams have their number and you can expect everyone from here on out to try to force them to take the underneath stuff, to execute and to work their way down the field. You can’t do that if you are committing penalties. The guess here is that they’re going to continue to do it simply because it’s been a problem for weeks now and if they could have solved it, they would have by now. This lack of discipline seems to be a part of the character of the team that isn’t likely to be coached out of them at this point. But, again, perhaps I’m wrong and I’m underestimating them.
We shall see. It’s going to be very interesting to see. If that’s not why you are watching, you shouldn’t be watching.