It’s Deja Vu All Over Again for the Chicago Bears

Injuries have played a role in the Bears recent struggles. But this version of the Bears yearly collapse has many other factors.

One way or another, the Bears always seem to find a way to fall short of their potential. Whether it be injuries, play calling, personnel, or Father Time, every aspect seems to make a yearly appearance at one point or another and derail the season.

This season has been no different. It is actually one of the most drastic “tale of two seasons” stories I’ve ever witnessed. Even though the Bears struggled mightily and finished the season 1-5 last year, the 1-4 stretch they are going through right now seems much worse.

Last year, no one expected much from the Bears when their two cornerstones on offense, Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, went down at the same time. The expectations were immediately lowered as soon as they were replaced by Caleb Hanie and Marion Barber. There was even a sort of cautious optimism that if Cutler and Forte could just come back healthy, next year would be shaping up even better if the front office made a few tweaks to the roster.

Now next year is here, and that same cautious optimism has turned to drastic pessimism in a hurry. With Cutler, Forte and Brandon Marshall only missing a combined total of a little over 2 games, the u-turn that this season has taken can’t be directly attributed to injuries.

That is not to say they don’t play a role. It seems like during this current stretch, nearly every player has made at least a brief trip to the injured list and has had to miss some crucial snaps. Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Brian Urlacher, Stephen Paea and Lance Briggs have all been taken out of games due to injury. Severity of the injury notwithstanding, the sheer man power that was lost when those guys went down would be tough for any team to overcome, no matter if they are gone for 1 play or 2 weeks.

And that’s not even all of the players on DEFENSE that have gone down recently. Don’t even get me started on the offense.

But it’s not as if the Bears are the only team subject to injuries. There was a stretch where pretty much the entire Green Bay Packers wide receiving corps was sidelined with injuries. Yet when you open your newspapers (people still read those, right?) this week you’ll notice they’re sitting atop the NFC North.

It’s because they found a way to weather the storm when it was at its worst, and capitalized during the short times that they had the majority of their guys healthy.

In the NFL, no one has sympathy for injuries. The next guy up has to execute. It’s as simple as that.

As an aside, as a Bears fan, I’m getting sick and tired of so many injuries happening on a yearly basis. Is there some special reason for this? Is the team’s training staff phoning it in after a certain point in the season? Are the players just not doing enough preventative maintenance? Why is it that any time a season gets near week 10, Bears players start dropping like flies?

We can’t blame it on old age. Outside of Brian Urlacher, everyone listed on the injured list is 30 years old or younger. And we can’t blame the shoddy offensive line for any of the injuries outside of the ones sustained by Jay Cutler.

Is it just plain old bad luck?

But I digress. It all comes back to execution, and the one word that has been coming before execution these days has been “poor”.

The first quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings is a perfect microcosm of the lack of execution. I don’t care if he is Purple Jesus, Adrian Peterson should not have 93 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns before the first quarter ends.

No disrespect to AP, but the Vikings have one of the highest rush attempt to pass attempt ratios in the NFL (about 1.5 passes for every rushing attempt). In today’s NFL, that’s about as run heavy as they come. And since the Bears 4-3 defense is based on containing the play in front of the last line of defense, it should’ve been easy (or easier) to load up the box with 7 or 8 guys and stuff the run.

I’m not convinced their quarterback Christian Ponder is NFL material, and I would’ve rather seen the defense try to force Minnesota to put the ball in his hands by stifling the run like we’ve seen the Bears do earlier this year.

On that same note, this current 1-4 stretch has seemed even worse because the Bears are simply not doing the little things that they were earlier in the year. I chalk this up to a lack of creativity in their play calling, and a possible lack of effort from some of the players.

First, the play calling. In the NFL, teams no longer wait from week to week to make adjustments to try to stop what’s working for you. They make adjustments from half to half, and more often than not, play to play. The coaches should be realizing that the same formula that worked against teams like Indianapolis and Jacksonville earlier in the season aren’t going to work again.

On defense, I’m shocked that more blitz packages aren’t being used to try to force errant throws. Over the past 5 weeks, the Bears have only managed to record 5 sacks. A paltry number compared to the 25 sacks over the previous 8 weeks.

This lack of pressure on the quarterback has allowed every offense the Bears have faced over the last 5 games to establish a rhythm early. Less pressure on the quarterback leads to a more efficient passing attack, and that leads to the ability to run play action and set up the ground game.

This chain of events has been apparent by the amount of times the Bears have allowed their opponents to eclipse 100 yards rushing on the ground. In their first 8 games, it only happened 3 times. In the following 5, all 5 teams have gotten at least 114 yards on the ground, including the win against the Vikings in week 12.

But the monotony on defense doesn’t even compare to the offensive side of the ball. I’ve hinted at this in earlier articles, but it seems like the Bears have concocted the perfect formula for making 3rd-and-longs.

Nearly every set of downs starts with a run, and if the running game isn’t working, the defenses can just key in on blitzing Cutler on 2nd and 3rd down. This is easier for defenses to do now that it has become plain to see that Brandon Marshall is pretty much the ONLY guy Cutler looks to pass to.

So, in short: play the run on first down, send blitzes and triple cover Marshall for the next two. Presto, I should be a defensive coordinator.

But honestly, if an average Joe like me (see what I did there?) can figure out the rough pattern of how the offense operates, I think it’s time for a change. It’s almost like Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli are afraid to make major changes. But their subtle changes haven’t really worked to this point, so it might be time to break out some drastic measures.

Granted, it would be easier to do that with better personnel, especially considering you can only be about as creative as your offensive line’s protection allows you to be. But why not design a few more roll outs for Cutler and get him throwing on the move? Why not set up a few more wide receiver screens for Hester and Bennett in the slots? Why not incorporate some triple option stuff like the Seahawks use or unorthodox blocking schemes like the 49ers use? My point is that any change would be better than sticking to the plan, because the plan just isn’t working.

My final reasoning behind why this fall from grace has seemed so miserable for the Bears is because the players may simply have nothing left to give. This is what I meant by “lack of effort” earlier. I didn’t mean it in a sense that the guys out there are phoning it in, I just honestly think that during the 7-1 stretch to start the season, we saw the best ball that this team is capable of playing. Everyone was hitting on all cylinders, and that level of play would be too tough for most teams to sustain for a full season. At this point, they could simply be out of gas.

I guess you could call this “peaking too early”. For comparison’s sake, the New York Giants are masters of peaking late in the season when it matters most. You want to be playing your best ball at the tail end of the season so you have momentum for the playoffs, which is exactly how the Giants won the Super Bowl with a 9-7 record last year. But the Bears seem to have their best days behind them, and their steady decent to mediocrity could very well last for the rest of the season (and into the playoffs if they manage to make it there).

In retrospect, we should’ve seen this coming. We should’ve known that Charles Tillman won’t be able to force a fumble every time he punches the ball, and we should’ve known that Brandon Marshall can’t beat double and triple teams week after week after week (even though he does do that his fair share of times).

The coming 3 weeks will be a very nerve wracking time period for the Bears and their fans alike. A playoff appearance has become an uncertainty. And depending on how this season finishes out, we may be in for a huge overhaul in coaching personnel at season’s end. For the current staff, they should be viewing these next 3 weeks as living, breathing applications for new contracts at the end of the season.

Do you think the Bears can pull off some drastic changes in the final weeks and salvage the season? Or will be continue to watch their demise and be waiving goodbye to Lovie Smith and his regime at the end of the season as a result?

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