Upon confronting a sorry mess in need of cleanup, legendary cartoon character Pogo once concluded, “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”
Sorting through their own messes of the recent past, the Bears have found their problems less on the opposite sideline but in the mirror.
“Absolutely, it’s always ‘us,’” said center/guard Matt Slauson. “For sure there are things the other teams do that have caused us to not execute fully. But it’s all up to us.”
It is a familiar, and in this case accurate, refrain from a team guilty of mistakes or execution shortfalls at precisely the wrong times, with games in the balance.
So what exactly is the problem? Maybe it’s something surprisingly simple.
Because of injuries and system changes, one knee-jerk simplistic conclusion has been that the Bears are just not the talent equals of their opponents or the rest of the NFL. Possibly. But players see a different explanation.
Last year, in seven of their 11 losses, the Bears were nowhere near in position to win those games on last possessions, either with a defensive stop or offensive score. They were talent-lite, particularly on defense, and with a coaching staff that made the whole less than the sum of the parts.
Players are bought-in with coaching schemes and directives. So ...
The problem in some quarters of the locker room is not that the Bears aren’t thinking but rather that they are thinking too much at critical situations and losing their compass when it had been working perfectly fine up to that point.
“We have to learn how to play better situational football,” defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins said. “Whether it’s one person or everyone, we have to get that mentality where it’s always ‘next play.’ Never worry about what happened in the past. We’ve got to get our mindset right, and that will fix our problems.
“The way we’re playing, it looks like we’re thinking about not messing up. Playing cautious. Instead of just playing football. When we’re in the game, say, in the second quarter, we should have that same mentality when two minutes are left. Guys can get in the mindset of not taking chances. You’ve got to play exactly how it is in the first quarter and the fourth quarter.”
[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]
Case in point perhaps: Against the Minnesota Vikings, running back Jeremy Langford dropped an easy flip from quarterback Jay Cutler that would have picked up a first down and sustained a possible game-winning drive.
An easy catch. Langford, who caught 39 passes his final two years at Michigan State, was targeted four times this preseason and caught three. Small sample size, but Langford has caught footballs before.
“You know, people made something of Jeremy Langford's drop at the end of the game,” coach John Fox said. “You know, it was just one play, and he had a lot of good plays.”
Langford said afterwards that he was simply too eager to get running with the football. What the Bears needed was simply the catch.
“We have to have better situational football thinking-wise,” Jenkins reiterated. “When there’s two minutes left in the game, we can’t be thinking like ‘It’s two minutes left in the game, what’s coming?’
“When I’m in the game, first, second quarter, I’m just playing, trusting what we were taught during the week. When we get in the two-minute (situations), we have to realize that it’s the same stuff they’re doing for the whole game. I think guys think too much. And I’ve caught myself doing that. And when you do that, you’re not sure about techniques, and that hurts you.
“Trust what you’ve been taught. Trust your technique. You gotta just go play football.”