After the dust had settled following the Bear’s third consecutive season opening win at Soldier Field, there was only one thing going through my mind:
“The Bears are WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!”
But this time, it wasn’t as if Denny Green and the Arizona Cardinals “let us off the hook”.
The Bears couldn’t have had their opening 3 minutes go any worse if they planned to. But the following 45 minutes showed everyone what this team has the potential to do: hang points on people in a hurry, play suffocating defense, and dominate lesser opponents.
People may be quick to point out that the Colts were the worst team in the NFL last year, and that the Bears have gotten out to fast starts before only to flame out when it counts.
But Sunday’s game provided definitive signs to why this success will stick going forward.
The Offense Adjusted: I’d like to prequel this by adding “the offense actually exists”. The Bears haven’t had a legitimate passing attack since… ever. On Sunday, we finally got a look at the chemistry between Marshall and Cutler that everyone has raved about and how that had a spillover effect to the rest of the receivers.
Marshall and Alshon Jeffery alone racked up nearly 200 yards and 2 TDs while the rest, including Matt Forte, were able to keep the chains moving on underneath routes.
But none of that could have happened if Jay Cutler and the offensive line didn’t make adjustments on the fly to stop the bleeding. A sack and a false start penalty to start the game was the definition of a nightmare situation. It seemed that the 3-4 scheme of the Colts was too much for the line to handle.
But the pass protection over the next 3+ quarters improved. Sure, Dwight Freeney was sidelined with an injury, but the line was able to adapt to the blitzes the Colts were sending and gave Cutler ample time to dissect the secondary. The tight ends and backs also contributed nicely to the pass protection.
Cutler didn’t hit the turf again until the 4th quarter, when Robert Mathis got to him for his 2nd sack. But even when the Colts did manage some penetration, the pocket usually held up long enough for Cutler to step up and deliver one of his patented lasers like on the TD throw to Jeffery.
He may not be RGIII, but when the pocket did collapse, Cutler was able to maneuver away. You didn’t forget about his athleticism, did you?
The Secondary Showed Up: Outside of the offensive line, the secondary (namely the safeties) have come under the most criticism. Both of those groups showed up and exceeded expectations.
The main concern with the secondary is their athleticism. Do they have the speed to keep up with quick receivers? Tim Jennings quieted those concerns with 2 interceptions and contributed to a third by tipping a pass to safety Chris Conte.
Jennings was able to bait Luck into throwing the deep ball twice, and both times he had the closing speed to get to the ball and come down with it.
With Charles Tillman taken out with a leg injury, Kalvin Hayden stepped in seamlessly. He tied for the team lead with 7 tackles, laid a huge hit on Donnie Avery to force an incompletion, and even recovered a fumble on special teams. Talk about playing inspired ball against your former team.
Andrew Luck did manage over 300 yards and a touchdown, but the majority of that damage was done when the game was already out of reach and the Bears defense in “prevent” mode.
And even though Luck is a rookie, he’s no slouch. The ability to read a defense doesn’t magically disappear when you make the pros. The 3 interceptions and 19 incompletions should be comforting stats to fans.
I already spoke of Kalvin Hayden’s impact. Corey Wootton made the most of his limited playing time with a sack and a forced fumble in the 3rd quarter. And even though it may have angered Matt Forte, Michael Bush got the tough yardage near the goal line and collected 2 TDs.
Even though it’s just as cliché as “beat the teams you should beat”, your role players need to execute their roles. They did that and then some on Sunday, and they have the talent to repeat that effort.
Urlacher Got Additional Rest: Lovie Smith decided to pull Urlacher with 10 minutes to go in the game and a 20 point lead. Even though Urlacher has already expressed displeasure with this move, I love it.
Need I remind anyone of Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury during what equated to “mop-up time” against the 76ers in this year’s NBA playoffs?
I understand basketball is a different animal, but the same reasoning applies. This was a move that could only help and not hurt the Bears.
Even if it was only an extra 10 minutes, every minute is crucial heading into this week’s meeting with the Packers and beyond. A slightly healthier Urlacher is a better Urlacher.
The Rest of the NFC North Looks Surprisingly Weak: I’m not jumping to conclusions, but was anyone else as under-whelmed as I was with the Packers, Lions and Vikings?
The Lions and Vikings managed to pull out wins, but neither was in convincing fashion. I was positive it was an impersonator and not the real Matt Stafford under center for the Lions after he tossed his 3rd pick of the game.
Their running game was out of sorts, which is understandable with the injuries/suspensions. But as a sleeper pick for the playoffs, you have to do better than barely squeaking by the St. Louis Rams on your home turf.
As for the Vikings, Adrian Peterson willed his team to a victory yet again, and this time on only 1 leg. The other leg that mattered was the right leg of Blair Walsh, their rookie kicker, who provided 3 field goals including the game winner in OT.
I’m happy for Peterson, who’s rehab has been nearly superhuman, but the Vikings can’t bank on a) facing a defense as soft as the Jaguars again and b) Peterson putting the team on his back every single week. The entire 53-man roster can’t lean on Peterson’s 1 good leg 15 more times.
This brings me to the basement dwellers of the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers (nothing warms my heart more than being able to say that). Granted, they were up against one of the best defenses in the NFL in the 49ers, and their offense did play more free and easy as the game went on.
But Greg Jennings and Cedric Benson were relatively silent, and their pass defense had trouble stopping any receiver wearing a 49ers jersey. Not a good mix.
Do I expect the Packers to continue like this? No, of course not. That offense will eventually find it’s rhythm, and when it does, look out.
But the timing couldn’t be better for the Bears, who will now catch the Packers on a short week of rest coming off of a tough home loss. If the Packer’s offense still needs more time to gel, I can see the Bears completely disregarding my prediction and pulling off the W in Green Bay.
The key with all of these positive trends is consistency. The Bears can only control their own fate, not the fate of the Lions, Vikings, or Packers. But I feel that this year the Bears have the talent not just to be consistent, but consistently great.