Offense sputters as Saints slam Bears


Offense sputters as Saints slam Bears

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011Posted: 3:45 p.m. Updated: 6:06 p.m.

By John Mullin Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
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Lovie: They played better than us
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NEW ORLEANS Since Super Bowl XX the Louisiana Superdome has rarely been a friendly venue for the Bears. Theyve only won here once in five trips since that day in 1986.

It may be awhile before they win here again, if Sundays 30-13 loss to the Saints was any indication. The Bears will need a regrouping after failing to pick up even one first down on seven of 13 possessions on offense and allowing the Saints to score on four straight first-half possessions at one point.

They just out-played us, said safety Brandon Meriweather. Sometimes its just that simple.

Perspective was all defensive end Julius Peppers asked: Hey, last week we won, this week we lost. Remember, its very early in the regular season. We have to learn what went wrong today, study the film and get ready for next week.

That would be for the Green Bay Packers, arguably a big step up in class and the NFC North leaders at 2-0 along with the Detroit Lions, 48-3 winners over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers weathered another 400-yard passing day by rookie Cam Newton and won at Carolina 30-23.

This was just a team loss, Lovie Smith said. It only counts one game. Were 1-1 right now with another big one coming up next week.

Close, and then.

Before the standard Superdome shrill-fest crowd of 73,019, the Bears stayed close to the explosive Saints into the early third quarter, trailing just 16-13 less than four minutes after halftime. They had gone up 7-0 in the first quarter, then were battered 30-6 over the games final 52 minutes, briefly coming to life and then being shut down.

The game slid away from them with increasing speed as the Saints shut down the Chicago offense and refused to let the Chicago defense off the field.

We were on a real high last week after winning against Atlanta, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. We dont have that same feeling now.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees completed 26 of 37 passes for 270 yards, threw three touchdowns, zero interceptions, was sacked just once early and posted a rating of 118.1, the highest against the Bears in the past two seasons.

The Bears game plan was not a problem for him.

Typically when its two high safeties, Cover-2, thats typically a more conservative approach, Brees said. But our two big pass plays came against Cover-2. Today we knew the formula for winning the game ourselves.

Mauling on offense

Quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked six times in the second half, five in the fourth quarter alone, and was raspy voiced after being inadvertently kicked in the throat. Pass protection collapsed with two starters out of the offensive line and New Orleans throwing blitzes from all angles mixed in with drops of as many as eight into coverage. Bears receivers could not adjust to the situations and dropped several key passes that would have resulted in third-down conversions.

It was a long day out there, Cutler said. I dont know how many sacks I took but I had to throw a lot of balls away before I wanted to.

A lot of them went to Matt Forte.

Indeed, Forte provided virtually the only offense of note. The running back had a 42-yard carry in the first quarter, then was held to seven yards on his other nine carries, but caught 10 of 14 passes thrown to him by a harried Cutler needing to check-down from primary receivers blanketed.

Fortes 166 total yards (49 rushing, 117 receiving) follow his 158 last week against Atlanta.

On a lot of the passes I caught I wasnt the primary receiver on most of them, Forte said. I did make the best of what was in front of me after catching the ball and I was able to pick up some yards throughout the game.

Most of the times the Saints were blitzing.

String broken

It was the first time a Lovie Smith Bears team has lost to the Saints, but also the first time the Bears have played New Orleans outside of Soldier Field. The Bears now get the next two games in the comfort of their own house, although the immediate concern is the Green Bay Packers arriving for a 3:15 p.m. event next Sunday.

Egregious reversals were the story of the game, committed by both offense and defense and resulting in 14 New Orleans points within the first 32 minutes of the game.

The defense had Brees and the Saints offense in a third-and-long from their 21-yard line and allowed a 79-yard TD pass.

The offense, after driving for a field goal to open the third quarter and the defense delivering a three-and-out, turned the ball over on a sack of Cutler that forced a fumble deep in the Chicago end. The result: touchdown.

The defense was consistently unable to get off the field, allowing the Saints conversions on six of their first 12 third downs and giving up 320 yards through three quarters.

The offense had flashes but had little to offer with any consistency beyond Forte, who had a combined 144 yards (49 rushing, 95 receiving) through three quarters out of the Bears 228 total.

The Bears were unable to protect Cutler adequately against an amped-up pass rush and a myriad of blitz looks, a Saints trademark under coordinator Gregg Williams. He was sacked just once officially through the third quarter but was too often flushed and forced to throw on the run, too often check-downs to Forte.

You know, they just played better than we did, they got a lot of pressure on the quarterback, Smith said. It was a 16-13 game in the third quarter.

Disaster O

The Bears appeared poised to take back some control of a game that had slipped away from them for much of the first half. On their first possession of the third quarter, they drove to the New Orleans 20 with the big play a 30-yard completion to Johnny Knox. The drive stalled at that point as Cutler missed on three straight throws and Gould gave the Bears the first points of the second half with a 38-yard field goal to make the score 16-13.

But after the defense delivered a stop and the offense had the ball back at the Chicago 36, Cutler was sacked from the blind side by defensive end Turk McBride, who easily got around tight end Kellen Davis. McBride blasted the ball loose and it was recovered by linebacker Jonathan Vilma at the Chicago 29.

Two plays later Brees found Robert Meacham for a four-yard touchdown and a 23-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

It worsened to 30-13 when Darren Sproles finished a 14-play, 87-yard drive with a 12-yard TD catch-and-run with 12 minutes to play.
Disaster D

After a deep punt by Adam Podlesh and sack of Brees by Israel Idonije, the Saints faced a third-and-12 from their 21 early in the second quarter. But Brees stepped up in the pocket and saw speedster Devery Henderson bearing down on safety Major Wright, and if Henderson, one of the fastest receivers in the NFL, is even, hes leavin.

Brees hit Henderson in stride and Henderson eluded tackle attempts by Wright and Chris Conte, taking the ball 79 yards for a devastating reversal at a time when the Bears appeared poised to take an upper hand and dial down the effects of mounting crowd noise.

On the third-and-12 its a defense that almost always gets a certain coverage look, said Saints coach Sean Payton. Its one of those third-and-longs that kind of sit in your pocket as a call for it if it comes up, and it came up early.

The score put the Saints up 10-7 and the lead bumped to 13-7 when John Kasay added a 29-yard field goal at the end of another long New Orleans drive. Kasay, looking like anything but a 41-year-old in his 21st NFL season, edged a 53-yarder over the crossbar with just over two minutes to play in the half to give the Saints a 16-7 advantage.

The problem with the steady New Orleans points production was its forcing the Bears into a must-throw deficit in a place where the offensive line struggles for coordination amid the din of the Superdome. It also allowed Brees and the Saints to use all elements of their offense, not simply throw.

A 42-yard field goal by Robbie Gould as time expired in the first half brought the Bears back to 16-10, within one score and still able to utilize both running and passing in the offense.

Without the 79-yard pass, the Bears actually out-gained the Saints in the first half, 165-150. Forte, with 49 rushing yards and 69 receiving, accounted for the bulk of the Chicago offense.
Feeling heat

The Saints brought pressure, as expected, throwing an eight-man front on the first third-and-long and rushed six. The heat got close to Cutler, who was moving outside the pocket frequently on early snaps.

But Forte popped a run around the right end behind solid blocking on the edge and carried 42 yards to set the Bears up with a first down at the New Orleans 45 on the Bears second possession. Cutler avoided the rush long enough to find Forte for 18 yards two plays later.

The Bears finished a dicey, penalty speckled possession with an eight-yard TD pass from Cutler to Dane Sanzenbacher, all alone at the back of the end zone on a well-designed, well-executed pass that exploited the defenses clear plan to get into backfield after Cutler.

The drive consumed 5:29 and gave the Bears a brief, early crowd-quieter.

The Saints answered with a 13-play drive of their own, methodically driving to the Chicago 14 before a third-and-1 pass into the end zone fell incomplete. Kasay, signed after kicker Garrett Hartley was injured in Week 1, converted from 31 yards for a 7-3 mark at the end of the first quarter.

John "Moon" Mullin is's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

As the Bears begin to fill out their draft board in earnest, they’ll do so by evaluating the players they like and the players they think will be available when they pick eighth in April. And what players check both those boxes and go into their draft “clouds,” as Ryan Pace calls them, will depend largely on how many quarterbacks are taken ahead of the Bears’ pick. 

With about a month until the draft, it seems clear two teams will take a quarterback with a top-seven pick: the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. The Browns own the Nos. 1 and 4 picks; the Jets traded up from No. 6 to No. 3, and teams rarely invest that kind of draft capital to not draft a quarterback. 

That leaves a few hinge points in how many quarterbacks are picked by the time the Bears are on the clock:

New York Giants (No. 2 overall)

The Giants still have an aging Eli Manning but could move to use the second pick to draft his long-term replacement. Or, alternatively, they could use this deep class of top-end quarterbacks as an avenue to trade down, add some picks and build out a young core that way. Either of these scenarios would be good news for the Bears, as we’ve seen Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson connected to the Giants at No. 2 as well, if they were to stay there. The Buffalo Bills could be motivated to trade up to No. 2 to make sure they get the guy they want with quarterbacks almost assuredly going off the board at Nos. 1 and 3. 

Cleveland Browns (No. 4 overall)

If the Browns get their quarterback with the first pick — Sam Darnold? — they could be sitting in an ideal spot at No. 4. If the Giants draft a quarterback, Cleveland could play hardball and tell teams they’re fine keeping the fourth pick and drafting Barkley with it. That could create a bidding war between the Buffalo Bills (No. 12) and Denver Broncos (No. 5) to trade up and draft the last of the four clear-cut top quarterbacks in this class. In this scenario, Cleveland adds a bunch of picks to an already-sizable stash and accelerates their growth through the draft. 

If the Giants were to trade out of the No. 2 pick, let’s say to the Bills, it may lessen Cleveland’s desire to trade down from No. 4 unless a team in need of a quarterback like the Arizona Cardinals (No. 15) or Miami Dolphins (No. 11) starts lurking around. But as we saw last year with the Bears trading up one spot to draft Mitch Trubisky, teams don’t want to leave things to chance if they have conviction on the quarterback they want. So that brings us to the…

Denver Broncos (No. 5 overall)

The Broncos signed Case Keenum to a two-year deal and still have 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch on their roster, though he hasn’t shown much in only five games as a pro. Does Denver absolutely, positively have to draft a quarterback? No. They’re probably in the same boat as the Giants in that regard. But what if they really like Josh Allen and/or Baker Mayfield, both of whom their coaching staff worked with at the Senior Bowl, and one of them is still on the board when the Browns’ pick comes up at No. 4? Or what if Josh Rosen has been their guy all along? 

In that case, John Elway may make an aggressive move to guarantee he gets the quarterback he wants, and not risk losing that guy if a team were to cut the line by trading with the Browns. 

The other scenario is less positive for the Bears: Maybe the Broncos only have one or two quarterbacks out of this group they want, and they either can’t find a trade partner to move out of No. 5 or don’t want to. If three quarterbacks are drafted in the first seven picks, the Bears may not have the opportunity to draft one of Nelson, Chubb or Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, for example, is a super-talented prospect — but we seem to be moving toward a consensus that Nelson, Fitzpatrick, Chubb and Barkley are the four best non-quarterback prospects in this draft. And in all likelihood, the Bears will only be able to draft one of them four quarterbacks are taken before they pick. 

The wild card here is Nelson, given his position (guard) is rarely seen as worthy of being a top-10 pick. But those who saw him up close in college believe he’s a future perennial Pro Bowler, possibly beginning as soon as his rookie year. The Bears’ fit is obvious, with Harry Hiestand coming to coach the offensive line from Notre Dame and the team — as of right now — still having a fairly clear need for another interior offensive lineman. Perhaps Nelson falls to the Bears even if there are only three quarterbacks off the board before they pick, but having four go off the board would make things a little less stressful at Halas Hall in late April. 

Indianapolis Colts (No. 6 overall) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7 overall)

The Colts already traded down once, and likely did so with the confidence that Chubb would still be on the board at No. 6 to help their limp pass rush. Fitzpatrick seems to be a good fit with Tampa Bay, though a player of his caliber would be a good fit anywhere. Either of these teams still could be persuaded to trade down, especially if the Giants and/or Broncos pass on a quarterback.

Chicago Bears (No. 8 overall)

If four quarterbacks are off the board by the time the Bears pick, that’s ideal for Pace. If three are, he still could get someone from his No. 8 pick “cloud” and be content staying there. If only two are — and this doesn’t appear to be a likely scenario — that means the Bills haven’t found a trade partner and may want to leapfrog the Dolphins at No. 11 to get their guy. More likely, if the Bears are able to trade down from No. 8, it would be because a team like Arizona wants to make sure the quarterback they want isn’t snagged by an opportunistic team ahead of them. 

But Pace's draft history has seen him trade up far more frequently than trade down. If someone who's in his draft cloud is available when the Bears go on the clock, chances are he'll pick that guy and not trade down. 

Plenty can and will change between now and when the draft begins on April 26. But for right now, the landscape ahead of the Bears suggests only positive things setting up for their first-round pick. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?

Hub Arkush (Pro Football Weekly/670 The Score), Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel. Quenton Nelson works out at Notre Dame’s pro day. If he’s still on the board at 8, should the Bears take him? Plus the panel talks about the Cubs outfield heading into 2018 and if it’s time to shut down both Jonathan Toews and Lauri Markkanen.