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Offense sputters as Saints slam Bears

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Offense sputters as Saints slam Bears

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

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Box score Photo gallery
Lovie: They played better than us
READ: Four units earn failing marks
READ: Bears get banged up

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 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.

Matt Nagy named Head Coach of the Year by Pro Football Writers of America

Matt Nagy named Head Coach of the Year by Pro Football Writers of America

The awards have started pouring in for Matt Nagy. 

This afternoon, Pro Football Writers of America named Nagy their Head Coach of the Year:

It's a fitting award for Nagy, who led the Bears to a 12-4 record and their first NFC North division title since 2010. 

He wasn't the only coach on the 2018 Bears staff that won an award, though. Ex-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was also named the Assistant Coach of the Year:

Fangio is of course now with the Denver Broncos, but it never hurts to leave town with a few extra awards in hand. 

Hyperbole aside, did Bears really get needed progress in Mitch Trubisky? They think so, but…

Hyperbole aside, did Bears really get needed progress in Mitch Trubisky? They think so, but…

The 2018 season ended with a predictable tsunami of feel-good about the play and prospects for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky:
 
From GM Ryan Pace: “I think it was just good to see the natural growth in the offensive scheme as [Trubisky] gained more comfort and then also more comfort with the players that are around him, that chemistry that developed. And I was just talking to Mitch today about that, just the excitement of going into an offseason with the pieces in place around him and then Year 2 in the same offensive scheme and how much growth can take place. So I just felt like you saw him playing more with his instincts because he was more comfortable in the system.”
 
Coach Matt Nagy, for whom total buy-in on Trubisky as the franchise quarterback was an understandable condition of employment, was even more lavish with his praise in the immediate aftermath of the playoff loss to Philadelphia: “We're lucky to have him. I'm looking forward to the future. I really am, with him, because the city of Chicago is lucky to have that kid at quarterback.”
 
But gushy talk is easy, particularly when the immediate objective is positivity. Exactly how “lucky” is Chicago to have a civic treasure like Trubisky? Did the organization get from Trubisky the improvements that it needs to move into the echelon of New England, Kansas City, New Orleans and the rest of the NFL’s Final Four?

Some indicators say “yes.” Others, maybe not so much. Still others, wait ‘til next year.
 
The Bears reached the 12-4 NFC North level they did in largest part because of the defense, which improved from No. 14 to No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, picking one apples-to-apples measure. The offense with 14 Trubisky starts vs. the 12 of 2017 improved from No. 28 last season to No. 20. Not good enough to get past Philadelphia, Cody Parkey notwithstanding.
 
The top five offenses (Chiefs, Rams, Chargers, Saints, Patriots) all reached the divisional round, and all but the Chargers are in the conference championships. Notably, all were top-10 and in the playoffs in 2017 as well, saying something about their quarterbacks’ consistency (and the relevance of the DVOA measure).
 
Better, but how much?
 
Wins are the only truly meaningful NFL measuring standard. But subheads under the general heading of “quarterback performance” warrant evaluation in the case of a work in progress like Trubisky. To that end:
 
Back before the start of training camp, before the on-field installation of Matt Nagy’s offense with Mitchell Trubisky and installing the revised Trubisky into the offense, this source identified three critical areas in which Trubisky needed to improve in if he was to take the uber-critical next step that the organization needed from him:
 
•      “Rediscover accuracy” - move from the 59.4 completion percentage of his 12-game rookie season, toward the 68 percent of his passing at North Carolina.
 
Analysis:  Trubisky had obvious accuracy problems early and at various points during the season, badly missing open receivers. But besides his overall completion bump to 66.6 percent, Trubisky had two sub-60 games in the first seven games of his season, only one in the second seven. And that one was vs. the Rams coming off two games missed with a shoulder injury and with an admittedly over-amped mindset.
 
•      “Stay the ball-security course” – improve on an INT rate of 2.1 percent, again toward his UNC ratio of 4:1, TD’s to INT’s.
 
Analysis:  From a very respectable ball-security rookie year, Trubisky slipped to a pick rate of 2.8 percent. He did throw for 24 TD’s vs. 12 INT’s, better than his 7-and-7 rookie totals but far short of the 4:1 rate sought by Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfich. Nagy recalled situations where Trubisky threw into ill-advised places and acknowledged, “I can’t do that” as late as the Philadelphia game.
 
But Nagy and staff established in training camp that they were comfortable with Trubisky pushing envelopes, even to the point of incurring training-camp interceptions normally unacceptable. That was part of their learning curve, and the assumption is that Trubisky was indeed learning and would not be repeating throws that too often weren’t interceptions only owing to DB’s poor hands.
 
•      “Get the ball off on time” – Trubisky was sacked at a rate approaching 9 percent of the Bears’ pass plays; only one team reached the 2017 playoffs at a rate higher than 6.6 percent. All of the fault did not lie with the offensive line.
 
Analysis:  Trubisky was sacked on 5.24 percent of his pass plays (excluding scrambles and vs. 10.6 percent for Chase Daniel in the latter’s two starts). That would rank No. 6, just behind Kansas City and just ahead of the Rams. Not coincidentally, his release time, per calculations by NextGen stats, improved from 22nd (below Trevor Simian) to 11th (2.65 sec.) and quicker than Mahomes, Rodgers, Watson and others of note.
 
 
Qualitative vs. quantitative – and the “It” factor
 
But there are only lies, damn lies and statistics, in ascending degrees of misinformation. Myriad other elements beyond simple numbers comprise a championship quarterback in the fashion the Bears say they have in Trubisky.
 
The future of the Bears and their offense runs through Trubisky the leader. His performance levels can improve simply by eliminating errors rather than pressing for more dramatic plays. Trubisky faced eight teams in 2018 that he hadn’t seen in 2017, and the teams he had seen before (Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Francisco) he was confronting with an offense different than the ’17 one.
 
Very significantly, in the tradition of greats, he got his team into winning range on a final drive in a playoff game, a range (43 yards) from which kickers were 76.7 percent successful in 2018. Cody Parkey had been significantly less successful (69.2 percent) in his career, but that personnel issue is on management, not Trubisky.
 
Trubisky earned the trust of the team, offense and defense and special teams, and took major qualitative and quantitative steps both as an NFL quarterback and, more important, as Matt Nagy’s quarterback:
 
“For him, he conquered the next-play mentality,” Nagy said by way of summary. “He conquered that. He conquered the steps of ‘101’ progressions. By the end of the year, he was reading it, ‘1-2-3 [progressions] -run.’ That, he conquered.
 
“Now, I think level two next year is going to be him really recognizing pre-snap what he's about to see from these defenses. So, last year he was so focused in on, 'What we do we do on offense? Hell, I've never run this offense before. What does that mean?'
 
“Now, he knows it all and can take that next step of figuring out, 'OK, here they come. They got a blitz, cover-0. Now, I know what to do, what to check to, I know the protections, all of that.' That's going to be the big one for him.”