Bears

Running game stalls as Bears lose to Packers

542854.jpg

Running game stalls as Bears lose to Packers

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011Posted: 6:35 p.m. Updated: 9:54 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
READ: Jim Miller's take on the Bears' offensive woesREAD: Bears earn unsatisfactory grades all aroundREAD: Rodgers says punt trickery was "most incredible play I've ever seen"WATCH: Moon dissects Bears' loss to PackersWATCH: The Bears PGL Crew breaks down the loss

The start of the Bears 2011 season was going to be difficult. That much was apparent when the schedule came out with three playoff opponents in the first three games.

The Bears, however, have conspired to make it even more difficult, and they have no one to blame but themselves.

Those first three games are over and the challenge for the Bears now is to rally and establish that their season isnt over after a 27-17 loss to the reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

The defeat left the Bears (1-2) looking a long way up at not only the Packers (3-0) but also the Detroit Lions, who rallied for an overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears will get another shot at the Packers, on Christmas Day in Green Bay, but the Bears will need a turnaround to make that a game of any consequence.

This was the second double-digit loss in a row, only the third time that has happened to Lovie Smith teams since his first season heading up the Bears. The situation represents an early fork in the road for a team that considered itself a playoff contender and then some going into this season.

After it happened to drop the Bears to 1-3 to open the 2005 season, the Bears rallied to reach the playoffs. When it happened in 2007, however, the Bears never recovered and finished out of the running at 7-9.

It is early on, said linebacker Lance Briggs. We have a lot of opportunities to get better. We will do that working toward Carolina.

Against a Green Bay defense that had yielded 477 and 475 yards in its first two games, both at home, the Bears finished with 291. In Soldier Field.

The win was Green Bays 15th in the last 20 games in Soldier Field. It also improved Aaron Rodgers record to 6-2 against Bears teams coached by Lovie Smith, an alarming trend considering how early Rodgers presumably is in his career.

Besides the 27 points, the second-highest total for the Packers against Smiths defenses since the 2004 season, the Packers ran up 392 yards and controlled the ball 37 minutes 29 seconds. They became the third straight team to rush for 100 or more yards on the Bears.

What should be concerning for the Bears, who think they are far from playing their best, is that the Packers think the same thing. The Bears did little against this Green Bay defense, for example, and thats a unit still struggling.

Were still not clicking on both sides of the ball and on special teams, Rodgers said. Defensively I think theyre still trying to figure things out. I know we an play better football. And the standard we have set around Green Bay is excellence.

Self-destructing

The pass-heavy offense that failed in New Orleans was virtually repeated against Green Bay, with predictable results.

Coordinator Mike Martz called run plays to Matt Forte only nine times, netting a dismal two yards total. He called 43 pass plays (37 attempts, three sacks, three Jay Cutler scrambles). At this point not even a passer like Cutler wants to stay a failed course.

Were 0-2 doing this, said Cutler, so its not looking very good.

The Bears had their chances, if not many of them or very good ones. And they effectively self-destructed on several they had:

Of the 10 penalties assessed on them, five came on first-down plays, setting the offense back unnecessarily. Three calls, all on offensive linemen, came on successive trips to the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter with the Bears in possession starting near midfield.

One of the remaining penalties, a dead-ball personal foul against Devin Hester, came 20 yards away from the play and after the play was over.

A perfectly executed deception on a punt return touchdown by Knox was nullified by a holding penalty on Corey Graham 35 yards from the play. The call was roundly denounced in the locker room afterward but Graham acknowledged he should never have put his hands on the Packer in the first place.

On 12 of the Bears 14 possessions, they had zero or one first down.

Were never happy when we have penalties called on us to hurt our football team, Smith said. Youre never happy with that, especially post-play penalties. Thats all part of us not playing our type of football. Well clean those things up.

The Packers had the ball more than 37 minutes to 22 for the Bears, in part because of those drives that the Bears could not sustain. Besides the totally ineffectual run game and the penalties, virtually every Bear receiver had at least one dropped pass.

Unacceptable, plain and simple, like I told Cutler, said Johnny Knox, who had a 40-yard reception among his four catches but a costly fourth-quarter drop. Im a receiver. Ive got to catch that ball, simple as that.

No balance, no matter

Rodgers built a 27-10 lead with three touchdown passes to tight end Jermichael Finley before the Bears recovered a fourth-quarter fumble and scored a play later on a 32-yard pass from Cutler to tight end Kellen Davis. That kept the Bears within two scores with 11 minutes remaining in the game
Brian Urlacher made his second spectacular diving interception of the season, picking off a throw intended for Finley. But three different offensive linemen were flagged for penalties on successive trips to the line and Hester killed the possession with a dead-ball personal foul downfield and the Bears lost a critical opportunity with the ball at the Green Bay 40.

Woeful wanderings

It was not a game of any Bears offensive dominance. With the game well within reach, the Bears opened the third quarter with three straight three-and-outs as Cutler threw a string of eight straight incompletions, including the three in the red zone at the end of the first half, and was sacked twice in the three possessions.

Those three possessions generated a combined minus-20 yards. Nine kneel-downs by Cutler would have produced more offense.

Missed opportunity

Predictable pass-only playcalling marked a significant missed opportunity late in the second quarter. A 40-yard completion to Knox, one for five yards to Dane Sanzenbacher and a 28-yard check-down to Forte put the Bears at the Green Bay 7-yard line with a first-and-goal.

Cutler then threw behind Sanzenbacher at the goal line on first down. A second-down throw to Sanzenbacher in the end zone was broken up and Cutler was forced to throw away a third-down attempt to Knox.

The Bears got something for their troubles when Robbie Gould converted from 25 yards and a 17-10 halftime deficit.

There were signs of trouble. Forte managed just two yards on six carries in a first half in which the offense called 17 pass plays to just those six runs.

Fast offense, fast start

The Packers started as they did in the NFC Championship game, with a touchdown and first score on the Bears. With Rodgers playing basically a drill game with Jennings (four completions, 61 yards), the Packers went a seemingly effortless 80 yards for a touchdown on a seven-yard flip from Rodgers to Finley.

The defense was able to turn the Green Bay offense back on the next couple of possessions but then helped the Packers out with key mistakes. Julius Peppers was guilty of a neutral-zone infraction on a third-and-3 to give Green Bay a first down. That was followed on a third-and-2 pass to Finley, who completely lost safety Craig Steltz on another conversion.

That drive pushed the lead to 14-0 when Rodgers found Finley open at the goal line for a six-yard TD pass

This one time the Bears had an answer.

Cutler hooked up for a 37-yard catch-and-run with Hester for a first down at the Green Bay 43. Three plays later Cutler threw a back-shoulder strike to Knox for 24 yards and a first-and-goal at the Green Bay 3-yard line.

The offense shook off a drop by Roy Williams at the goal line on first down and Cutler got a throw in to Sanzenbacher for a four-yard touchdown at a time when the game was in danger of spiraling completely beyond the Bears reach.

The only damage done by the two teams for the remainder of the half was a pair of field goals.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com'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.

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

brianurlacher.png
USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

9-29johnfox.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

Mark Potash (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Kevin Fishbain (The Athletic) join Kap on the panel. It’s another losing season for the Bears. So who deserves the most blame: Ryan Pace, John Fox or the players? Plus Mark Schanowski drops by to talk about the Bulls future and if the Celtics will win the East.