INDIANAPOLIS – The frustration among offensive players after the Bears 29-23 loss to the Indianapolis Colts was palpable, and why not? Quarterback Brian Hoyer had the Bears in position to win a second straight game, running his string of passes without an interception to 140 and the Bears putting up the biggest yardage total (522) since the 1989 team put 542 on the Detroit Lions on Sept. 24 that season.
The Bears have posted 2016 yardage totals, in succession, of 258-284-390-408-522 and have a 1-4 record to show for it. “I don’t know if you are ever pleased with that [yardage] fact,” said coach John Fox. “So that is something we have to work on. I think we did some good things but not quite enough good things.”
That could be said about nearly every position group – outstanding performances, individually and/or collectively, marred by one devastating gaffe.
The big negative was Hoyer failing to see an open Alshon Jeffery in the Indianapolis end zone for what could have been a game-winning throw late in the fourth quarter. That mistake clouds an otherwise solid game, one with some misses, but one that likely secures his role as Bears starting quarterback.
“When you see the picture [afterwards], they disguised the coverage and really, you’re just trying to go through the progression,” Hoyer said. “It’s obviously a play you’d like to have back. I’m sure I’ll watch it tomorrow and really look that one over and hopefully learn from it.”
Hoyer posted 397 passing yards, most of his career, while completing 33 of 43 throws, both career highs as well. He again went without an interception as well as avoiding sacks with good movement within the pocket when the Colts did bring pressure. Hoyer was efficient and sufficiently accurate throughout, giving his receivers chances to make catches even against decent coverage
Whether by design, because of coverage or whatever, Hoyer did not make major use of Jeffery but did have four receivers catch five or more passes. Jeffery was targeted on just six of Hoyer’s 43 throws.
Running back: A
Jordan Howard got his second NFL start and demonstrated his perfect fit with the Bears’ zone-blocking scheme, staying efficient and shoulders squared downfield, a repeated his play of the Lions game with repeated bursts for yards after first contact. He finished with 118 yards on 16 carries (7.4 ypc.) and added three pass receptions (out of three targets), including a 21-yard check-down from Hoyer for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Howard broke a 57-yard run in the second quarter, the longest play of the game.
Ka’Deem Carey got one carry as the Bears again made no effort to employ a “committee” approach to the backfield. Carey contributed one reception, a 15-yard pickup in the first quarter.
Howard set the offense back severely with a first-quarter facemask infraction blocking on a Cameron Meredith play down to the Indianapolis 1-yard line. The Bears eventually were forced to settle for a field goal.
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Cameron Meredith, moving in to replace injured Kevin White, caught nine of 12 passes passes for 130 yards. He provided a major boost to the offense with a touchdown, but also its death knell, fumbled away a fourth-quarter catch on what was potentially a game-winning drive.
“I put in a lot of hard work, so anytime you can get that type of outcome, I’m definitely going to be proud,” said Meredith, an undrafted free agent out of Illinois State who earned a spot on the roster last season. “I just wish I could get that one mistake back.”
Meredith, in his first NFL start, tallied on a 14-yard TD catch late in the second quarter and finished with 130 receiving yards
Jeffery brought the offense to life with third-quarter catches of 38 and eight yards. But Jeffery appeared to never be in real rhythm with Hoyer, catching five passes but only seeing six for the game.
Tight end Zach Miller had his best game of 2016, with seven catches for 73 yards and breaking tackles for a 17-yard gain late in the fourth quarter that moved the Bears to the Indianapolis 30 for a shot at the win.
Eddie Royal, who’d been unable to practice all week because of injury, caught seven of his nine passes for 43 yards.
The main smudge on the receivers’ performance: Logan Paulsen set back the opening drive with a false-start penalty. He drew a second flag on what would have been a Howard TD run, from which the Bears recovered on a TD pass to Meredith.
Offensive line: A-
Hoyer was hit only five times on 43 dropbacks, never sacked, the Colts managed just one tackle for loss, and Howard averaged 7.4 yards per carry on his way to a second straight 100-yard rushing performance.
The reasons were the offensive line, which took another significant step forward. The group made too many mistakes in the form of penalties early, but the overall play was the main reasons for the offense generating 522 yards.
The line delivered a zone-blocking clinic to pop Howard loose through the right side for his 57-yard gallop in the second quarter. Josh Sitton’s back-side seal cut of pursuit and Kyle Long and Bobby Massie dominated the Colts’ left side.
A holding call on Long deep in the Colts end in the second quarter was a big setback, nullifying a third-down conversion and forcing the offense to settle for the second field goal.
“We’ve got to finish,” Long said. “We battled – no doubt about it. Anybody who watched this game, was part of this game, knows we battled. But sometimes it’s not enough. You’ve got to finish and you’ve got to finish at an elite effort.”
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Having four penalties assessed in the span of the first eight minutes, one for too many men on the field and five on the offense in just the first half, pointed to some discipline or mental prep issues and cost the Bears dearly.
The offense executed well overall, save for specific mistakes on penalties and a couple of missed opportunities by Hoyer, and the game plan calling for Hoyer to rely on short, quick passes was key to his and the overall success.
A major play-call question came in the fourth quarter when a pass was thrown to Royal on a third-down fade route, rather than using one of the bigger receivers (Jeffery or Meredith) with a chance to win a one-on-one jump ball.
The offense operated with efficiency and balance, using high-percentage throws by Hoyer as de facto handoffs to a spectrum of receivers, getting the ball out of Hoyer’s hands and keeping him sack-free for the game.
The defense struggled to get to Andrew Luck in the first half but was consistent with effort and finished with five sacks. If there was a problem, it lay in not being able to get good coverage and a good rush at enough of the same times, which isn’t really a coaching problem usually.
Special teams did not allow any returns for scores this week but the Colts’ average starting point was their 31, vs. the Bears at the Chicago 22. With 11 possessions for the game, that’s roughly 100 yards of field position in favor of the Colts.