One of the signature positives for the otherwise-dismal 2016 Bears season has been the development of the defense, from historic lows two and three years ago, to respectability in last season’s transition year to a 3-4 base, to a top-10 unit this year.
And then there was Sunday against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
The abacus that was needed to count the dropped passes by Bears receivers in previous games against Tennessee and Detroit should have been repurposed Sunday to tally missed tackles and poor execution by members of a Bears defense that entered the game against the Packers ranked seventh in yardage allowed per game, sixth in pass defense and giving up 107 rushing yards per game.
Green Bay heaped 451 total yards on the Bears, the most by any offense this year and the highest total since the Detroit Lions piled up 546 in an overtime win in Oct. 2015. The Green Bay offense, ranked 29th averaging 98.6 rushing yards per game, trampled the Bears for 226 ground yards, including 162 and two touchdowns by Ty Montgomery, a converted wide receiver.
“Obviously when you have that many rush yards, there is an issue,” said coach John Fox. “It was one of those things we talked about was going to have to happen and our ‘must’ to win the game, and we came up short.”
The pass defense collapsed at the defining moment of the game, with wide receiver Jordy Nelson getting behind rookie cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc to haul in a 60-yard pass from Rodgers to set up the game-winning field in the final minute.
An alarming aspect of that situation was that the Bears were specifically alerted to the big-play possibility by one of their defensive leaders and still were beaten.
“Having played those [Green Bay] guys for a while and knowing the type of quarterback that Aaron Rodgers is, I kind of had a feeling that they didn’t want to go to overtime,” said cornerback Tracy Porter. “They were trying to win the game. So, they were going to try and take a shot at some point.
“I kind of told the guys to keep their antennas up. I said that even though this is a tied game and under a minute left, I felt like he wasn’t looking to go into overtime. He was looking to win the game and go home. So, we had to have our awareness up and I tried to relay that to as many guys as I could.”
Call it lost in translation, or transition, or transmission. Whatever the specific failure, whether LeBlanc’s for allowing Nelson to turn him and blast by him or a safety’s for not providing deep help against the No. 1 receiver in their offense, the damage was done.
The Packers had eight plays of 20 yards or longer (the Bears had four) and four of those eight were running plays as the Bears repeatedly took poor angles and failed to make tackles either one-on-one or, surprisingly, in group swarms.
With a chance to keep the Packers in their end in the second quarter, no fewer than three Bears missed tackles to turn a short gainer into a 61-yard ramble by receiver-turned-tailback Montgomery.
The defense had given the offense a much-needed reprieve after a lost football on a strip-sack of Matt Barkley by Julius Peppers on the first play of the third quarter. Holding the Packers to a field goal kept the game within one good drive by the offense. The offense, however, turned the ball over to the Packers twice more in the quarter on interceptions, converted into touchdowns by Rodgers.
“It was just too many big plays,” said defensive end Mitch Unrein. “Too many big plays. And that’s not like us.”
Defensive line: D-
With Goldman out, C.J. Wilson opened at nose tackle and managed a sack of Rodgers in the first quarter. Akiem Hicks managed a sack that was negated by a holding penalty on the secondary.
But the interior linemen were generally ineffective and not able to stop or even slow too many Green Bay runs before those were into the second level of the Bears’ defense. Wilson led the linemen with three solo tackles but only Hicks (an assisted tackle, two quarterback hits) was credited with any sort of impact play.
The lack of pressure on Rodgers, who was too often allowed as much as 6-7 seconds to get a throw off, was disturbing.
Pernell McPhee closed out a Green Bay possession in the fourth quarter with a sack of Rodgers. McPhee finished with two sacks and three tackles for loss and was around the football repeatedly. McPhee was credited with three tackles for loss.
Nick Kwiatkoski delivered a major solo stop of a shovel pass on the Packers’ next-to-last play to set up the desired third-and-long. But Kwiatkoski had a free run at Rodgers on a first-possession blitz but Rodgers stepped away from the sack. Kwiatkoski lost tight end Jared Cook in coverage and took a poor angle that contributed to Montgomery getting through the middle for 37 rushing yards in the second quarter.
John Timu was credited with six tackles, two for loss, but missed tackles that contributed to too much yardage after contact by Packers ballcarriers.
Leonard Floyd was a non-factor in a game where the Bears needed his speed to hurry Rodgers. Floyd failed to register a tackle, quarterback hit or any other impact play.
The pass rush too often allowed Rodgers huge blocks of time to wait on one of his receivers breaking open, which they did for 252 yards. But the secondary contributed too many missed tackles and other mistakes.
A major portion of blame falls on LeBlanc for his and the safeties’ failure to keep Nelson in front of them on the 60-yard completion to set up the game-winning field goal.
Porter failed to make the tackle or edge-seal on Montgomery’s four-yard touchdown run at the end of the first Packers possession. He then negated a third-down sack of Rodgers with a hold to give Green Bay an automatic first down.
LeBlanc lost the edge to allow a 13-yard run outside in the first quarter. He also struggled in man coverage as the Packers went often with four and five out in patterns. LeBlanc also missed the deflection and then the tackle on a 19-yard completion to Davante Adams in the third quarter. He compounded all of that with a weak tackling attempt that allowed running back Christine Michael loose for a 42-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. That score put the Packers up 27-10 going into the fourth quarter and effectively beyond the reach of a turnover-prone Bears offense.
Demontre Hurst allowed Cook loose for a 27-yard third-down conversion in the first quarter, eventually leading to Green Bay’s TD on the opening possession. Hurst, who did sack Rodgers on a corner blitz in the first half, failed completely to stop Montgomery in traffic at the line of scrimmage on a 26-yard run that led to Green Bay’s second touchdown.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
Special teams: B
Pat O’Donnell and the coverage unit gave the defense a boost with a punt downed at the Green Bay 1 in the first quarter. Josh Bellamy celebrated his second-quarter touchdown catch with a stop at the Green Bay 15 on the ensuing kickoff.
Connor Barth got the Bears their first points on a 26-yard field goal in the second quarter and converted the tying field goal from 22 yards late in the fourth quarter.
Deiondre Hall was flagged for a block in the back on a punt return that didn’t happen because the ball went out of bounds.