Bears

Running game stalls as Bears lose to Packers

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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.

Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

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Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

Every team will try to scheme against what its opponent does best. Not every team does it as well as Bill Belichick consistently has in his Hall of Fame tenure as the coach of the New England Patriots. 
 
This is what Belichick is famous for, beyond the five Super Bowl trophies and historic partnership with Tom Brady. That thing your team’s offense does best? He’s going to take it away. 
 
That can create a mental challenge for an opposing coach during the week. Do you focus on doing something other than what your offense does best because Belichick is going to identify and scheme against it, or do you try to accentuate what you do best so it can’t be taken away? 
 
“That’s that whole chasing the cat’s tail thing,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “All of the sudden you start out-thinking to yourself, ‘What the heck?’ That’s the mystique, and that’s what they do. They’ve earned that over time because of the success they’ve had. 
 
“When you don’t go too crazy with that and balance it and control what you can control. Then in the end, win, lose or draw, no matter what, you at least feel good you approached it the right way, and you weren’t, ‘Oh shoot, I should have done this. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.’”
 
When Taylor Gabriel and the Atlanta Falcons faced the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, everybody on that team knew Belichick would do what he could to take Julio Jones out of the game. But that didn’t make preparations any easier. 
 
“We knew he was going to take away Julio, but we didn’t know how he was going to do it,” Gabriel said. “So it’s just just something you kind of have to adjust to when you get in the game.”
 
Jones only had four catches in that game, and the Falcons were able to quickly adjust to how he was taken away — though it wasn’t enough to keep them from a historic collapse and ultimate overtime loss. 
 
Tight end Dion Sims played New England eight times during his four years with the Miami Dolphins, and came away with a healthy respect for the scheme and the players on that defense. 
 
“They’re fundamentally sound, they got good coaching over there, a good staff,” Sims said. “You gotta be prepared because they come out and they play their ass off.” 
 
But what should give the Bears confidence they can mentally and physically beat New England’s defense?
 
1. The Patriots’ defense isn’t what it once was
 
The way Bears coaches and players have talked about New England’s defense this week has been with reverence and respect. But lately, the Patriots’ defense production hasn’t quite equalled its reputation. 
 
Maybe it started with Nagy’s Kansas City Chiefs launching 42 points and over 500 yards of offense against New England in 2017’s nationally-televised season opener. Maybe Super Bowl LII, in which the Philadelphia Eagles ripped off 41 points with a backup quarterback, was another turning point. Or maybe the Patriots’ 43-40 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night, which looked more like a Big 12 game than an NFL game, further chipped away at that mystique. 
 
New England’s defense heads to Chicago ranked 18th in points allowed (24.7) and has allowed 400 or more yards of offense in four of six games this year. They’re 19th in defensive DVOA, though Pro Football Focus’ grades do peg this group fourth, behind only the Bears, Rams and Eagles. 
 
What this defense does well is take the ball away, with eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries critical in propping up a defense that isn’t good on third down (44 percent conversion rate, 25th) or in the red zone (68 percent, 26th). But as long as the Bears' ball security is better than its two-turnovers-inside-the-five-yard-line showing in Miami on Sunday, an offense that scored 48 and 28 points in its last two games should be in good shape. 
 
2. Multiple weapons
 
How Belichick schemes against a Bears offense that’s been explosive and productive in its last two weeks will be fascinating to see on Sunday. Maybe it’ll be Tarik Cohen, who Belichick said is “a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.” Maybe it’ll be making sure Taylor Gabriel doesn’t beat them deep (“The execution on that was like 99 out of 100,” Belichick said of Mitch Trubisky’s 54-yard deep ball to Gabriel against Miami). Or maybe it’ll be dropping seven or eight guys into coverage, spying Trubisky and forcing the second-year Bears quarterback to make good decisions and fit passes into tight windows. Or maybe it’ll be something else entirely. 
 
This goes back to the guessing game, though, and it’s one the Bears can’t allow themselves to play. 
 
“I think you can spend too much time on that,” Nagy said. “I look at that and I think I've said it before, it can be kind of like chasing the cat's tail. You've got to be careful of that and when you just start worrying about what you do — and of course here or there you might so something a little bit different — but if you just start doing things different because of one coach, now you've stopped worrying about just controlling what you can control and I haven't found too much success with that.”
 
The good news for the Bears, though, is they seem to have the multitude of weapons necessary to have success against a Belichick defense. Kansas City showed it on Sunday — when the Patriots took away Kelce, Kareem Hunt racked up 185 yards from scrimmage, while Tyreek Hill gouged New England for 142 yards on seven catches with three touchdowns.
 
So if the plan is to take away Cohen, that could lead to opportunities for Gabriel, or vice versa. Or if the plan is to drop seven or eight into coverage, that would give Jordan Howard an opportunity to carve out yards on the ground.  
 
“They utilize all their players, the backs, the tight ends, the receivers, the quarterback, they all have production, so if you take one away, they just go to the next guy, and that’s hard to defend,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of options on some of those plays, which guy is going to end up with the ball based on a quarterback’s decision, if it’s a check-with me type of play, bubbles and look passes and RPOs and things like that, it’s up to the quarterback to make the right decision and Trubisky’s done a good job of that. I think all those things, they keep getting better and they’re hard to defend.”
 
3. History repeating itself
 
In Nagy’s only meeting with New England as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, his offense scored 42 points — and that’s a number that has resonated in the Bears’ locker room and practice fields this week.  
 
“You have to go into this game with confidence and know that we’re playing against a great group of guys who’ve been there, been to the Super Bowl and then they also have Tom Brady on the other side,” Sims said. “It’s important that we capitalize on everything and try to be mistake-free.” 
 
“What the defense is giving you is what the offense will take — what good offenses will do,” Gabriel said. “I feel like we have those type of minds up there in the booth and on the field with us to figure out what those guys are doing and how we want to attack it.”
 
The Bears’ offense is young, from the coach to offensive coordinator to most of the players that populate it. Beating New England, even if its defense isn’t what it used to be, would send a message around the league that the Bears are for real. Until the Patriots are dethroned in consecutive years, or even finish a season with fewer than, say, 12 wins, they’re still the Patriots.  
 
But while this team is young, it does have a handful of guys who’ve competed against New England on some of the NFL’s biggest stages. So expect guys like Gabriel, Burton and even Nagy to not allow this team to let facing the Patriots become daunting on Sunday. 
 
“It’s not difficult at all,” Gabriel said of avoiding thinking about that mystique. “Just like this team, we have the weapons to take advantage of those one-on-one matchups. I don’t care what defense you are, you’re going to have a one-on-one matchup somewhere unless you’re dropping everybody. So as long as you’re staying the pace and being confident in what you’re doing, I feel like we’ll be okay.” 

Bears return to Soldier Field as home underdogs against the Patriots

Bears return to Soldier Field as home underdogs against the Patriots

The Bears were getting used to life in the big chair. Chicago was favored in each of their last four games, but it all came crashing down at the hands of Brock Osweiler in overtime last week.

The Miami Dolphins pulled off the upset, and now the Bears return home to take on one of the best teams in the league.

Even if they had won in Miami, Chicago likely still would have been underdogs to the New England Patriots on Sunday, but as it stands, Bill Belichick and company are favored by three on most major sportsbooks, according to Vegas Insider.

The line initially opened at Patriots by 2.5, but it would seem that money placed on New England pushed the spread a little more in the Bears’ favor.

Vegas is expecting another higher-scoring game for both teams, with the over/under sitting at 49. Given that the Patriots have scored at least 38 points in each of their last three games, the Bears’ defense may have some trouble keeping this game low on the scoreboard.

In Week 6, home underdogs went 4-1 against the spread and 3-2 straight up. According to Bet America, home underdogs have covered in 20 of their 30 games this season, which bodes well for a Bears team facing a tough task at Soldier Field.