Monday, January 16, 2006

The Bears flail in the Bizzaro World

The 2005 Bears defense: supposedly best in the league.

The Bizzaro World defense: surrenders 29 points with a beat-up secondary that plays at the level of a preseason game.

The 2005 Bears offense: slow, plodding, ineffectual. Can only score when the defense delivers the ball to them at the opponents' 5 yard line.

The Bizzaro World offense: picks up the slack for the defense and answers back three times and scores touchdowns on long, sustained drives. The run is used sparingly and most of the damage is done through the air. Each time the defense gives up another score, the offense takes the field and narrows the margin.

Quick points:

- Steve Smith's touchdown on the second play of the game was crap. He ran through Charles Tillman - who has a right to his spot on the field - causing Tillman to fall down and leave Mike Brown alone to make a difficult tackle. Tillman was even called for pass interference. They got it wrong. That's offensive pass interference.

- That being said, Charles Tillman has been a weak spot in the Bears' defense all season. Excellent play by safeties Brown and Chris Harris have covered for him. Excellent pressure by the defensive line and blitzing linebackers have protected him. But when asked to do his job without the supporting cast's contributions, he failed miserably and could easily be labeled the scapegoat for this disappointing game lost in uncharacteristic fashion.

- The Bears defense keeps Vasher on the defensive right side with Tillman on the defensive left regardless of which receiver lines up where. This is obviously a mistake when there is a superior corner (Vasher) that could be matched up against a superior receiver (Steve Smith).

- The problem with this role-first approach was further emphasized by the foolhardy pairing of no-name corner Thompson against Steve Smith as Vasher slid into nickel/slot coverage. The Bears like to think their players are interchangeable in their defense schemes, but they are not. They would never rotate Brian Urlacher out for Leon Joe (yeah, how many of you can even name Urlacher's backup?!), so why can't they recognize that Thompson is no Nate Vasher (he's not even on par with Tillman). That mistake led to the Smith's second embarrasingly easy touchdown.

- That touchdown broke the game. The defense had clamped down and was only allowing field goals or forcing punts. The offense showed signs of life and scored a long touchdown drive. At the end of the first half it was a manageable 16-7 game. Chicago opened the third quarter with an impressive scoring drive that made it 16-14. Then Smith easily escaped Thompson's non-existent grasp for another touchdown.

Yes, the Bears' offense was able to answer back (absolutely shocking and impressive for this team) and yes the Panthers scored yet again, but Smith's second TD really was the backbreaker. It didn't have to happen. It was a single, terrible lapse that cost them the game.

- The same could be said of the Panther's next and final touchdown - Charles Tillman runs in at the last moment, looks confused, and then Jake Delhomme passes to a wide open tight end in the back left corner of the end zone. Very likely Tillman should have been covering either that man or that part of the field (no one was there). But this TD was not the game-breaker - the offense had already made it to the Bears' 1 yard line so a TD was more likely than not.

Other, more minor points:

- The offense is driving for an attempt to tie the game. On 4th-and-2 Grossman tries to hit Muhsin Muhammad on a slant. The play goes awry and the game is over. All game the Bears had gotten away from the run. This was the time to get back to it. The Panthers were in a pass-defense look. The Bears have a run-first offensive line and Thomas Jones averaging over 4 yards per carry. Indy can pass on 4th-and-2. The Bears are a running team and should have relied on the run to extend their potential game-tying drive.

- Rex Grossman started off poorly but hit his stride and led three long touchdown drives. And he did it with progressively fewer and fewer healthy players. The final drive stalled on that 4th-and-2 play, but had been showing promise. Next season when he's got Muhammad, speedy Bernard Berrian going deep, and the athletic, sure-handed Mark Bradley (out with an injury) he'll actually have a strong compliment of weapons at wide receiver. Mix in tight end Desmond Clark over the middle and Thomas Jones out in the flat and Grossman should be able to tear up the decimated NFC North division. Next season, the Bears will have offense!!

- The defensive line obviously did not generate much pressure against Delhomme and left the secondary exposed. But it's still the secondary's fault. Yes, they were supposed to have help, but they still performed terribly. Losing safety Mike Brown on that second play absolutely decimated the secondary. One player does make that much of a difference.


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