It was all going according to plan just 20 short days ago. The Bears held a 7-1 record, tops in the NFC North by a long shot, and were coming off of an astounding display of dominance over the Tennessee Titans. The defense was being praised by the national media as one of the elite units in the league, and the offense was slowly but surly rounding into form.
Or so we thought. Fast forward about 3 weeks.
If you didn’t know any better and you saw the way most Bears fans have been hanging their heads lately, you’d assume the Bears would have a record worthy of a basement dwelling position in their division.
That’s obviously not the case, as the Bears stand at 7-3 and still hold a share of the NFC North lead with the Green Bay Packers. But with the injury bug biting harder than usual, and with the offense in complete disarray, the fate of the Bears season may very well rest in the outcome of their matchup with the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday.
It’s bad enough that the Bears have struggled mightily over the past two weeks, only managing to score a combined 13 points while allowing a whopping 45 to their opponents. But given that the games against the 49ers and the Texans were both on national TV in prime time, it has burned a pretty lasting imagine into the nation’s combined eye: the Bears aren’t who we thought they were.
The main culprit for this, as it usually is, has been untimely injuries to key players. Both quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive end Shea McClellin have been dealing with concussion symptoms for the past few weeks, and rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will be sidelined for another 2 to 4 weeks thanks to a knee operation. For Jeffery, this comes after missing 5 games due to a broken hand.
McClellin has fully participated in practice this entire week and is expected to return on Sunday. His return is obviously a welcome addition, as the defense hasn’t exactly looked the same in his absence. Whether it’s Shea’s absence or just a byproduct of playing two teams that have combined for a 17-3 record in back to back weeks, the Bears have let up an average of 124 rushing yards over the past 2 weeks and only managed to force 2 turnovers in that same time span.
But the defense faltering isn’t the main issue here. Over the years, the defense has built up an “equity” with their level of play. I have much more confidence in the defense’s ability to bounce back from a sub-par performance or two than any other unit on the Bears simply because they’ve done it before.
The offense, on the other hand, has 0 equity built up from years past, and they’re doing nothing to change that. I know that injuries come with the territory, but we all know that this entire team revolves around Jay Cutler. And since offensive coordinator Mike Tice has done absolutely nothing to improve the offensive line like he was brought in to do, we are now left with an offense that looks like a shade of its former self (and sadly, that former self wasn’t all that great).
The set of 5 revolving doors… uh, I mean… the offensive line struggling so mightily has a spillover effect on the entire team. Their ineptness to pass block, even on plays with 3 step drops from the quarterback or when the defense for the other team only rushed 3 men, is the main culprit why the Bears sport the league’s 3rd worst offense. Even the New York Jets have a more productive offense.
Let that sink in for a second.
Allowing the other team’s pass rush to be effective with so few players allows the team to load up in pass coverage. It also keeps the quarterback in the line of fire if the rush is getting to him as soon as he snaps the ball. That’s not exactly how Cutler suffered his latest injury because he got hit outside of the pocket. But any quarterback not named Michael Vick of Robert Griffin III will see their production suffer when they are forced to escape the rush on almost every down. And I’m honestly surprised that Cutler doesn’t have more concussions to worry about given all the hits the line has allowed him to take (who knows, maybe he does?).
Tice deserves a lot of the blame here too. The definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome, so by definition, Tice’s offensive strategy is pure insanity. There are few, if any, adaptations he makes on offense throughout the game.
Just look back at how intricate the 49er’s were on Monday night’s game: 3 tight end sets, rotating 3 players in one pre-play motion, and lining up a lineman in the slot, just to name a few things that baffled the Bears.
I’m not asking for Tice to turn the offense into a science experiment, I’m just asking that he try a few new wrinkles with his pass protection and play calling to confuse the defense. I’m sure this would be easier to do with a capable offensive line, but this is the exact reason why he’s paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to do his job.
The sad thing is that his play book has seemingly become more limited with Jason Campbell at the helm. There’s a 90% chance the first play will be a run, followed by a very hurried and often arrant pass thanks to the line allowing immediate pressure. One thing’s for sure, Tice has really nailed the recipe for creating 3rd and longs.
The cherry on top for this past week’s proceedings was the abrupt decision by offensive guard Chilo Rachal to leave the team. Numerous sources have claimed that once Rachal heard that he was going to be benched in favor of Chris Spencer for this weekend’s game against the Vikings, he got so mad that he quit. It’s great to know that THAT is the type of character players we have along the line who are assigned to safeguard our franchise player.
When the going gets tough, quit. How childish.
Multiple injuries, a quitter, an incapable offensive line and offensive coordinator, and an overly taxed defense have created a tipping point for the Bears. Cutler should be ready to go this Sunday, which leaves a glimmer of hope for Bears fans that their team might actually be able to turn it around amidst all the turmoil.
But this Sunday’s game is absolutely crucial to the Bears playoff hopes, and we will find out if they are contenders or pretenders based on their performance.
Winning cures everything, and a win against a division opponent will go a long way in quieting the storm of issues that face the Bears. But a loss will drop their record to 7-4, leave them in 3rd place in their division, and all but end any discussion of the Bears being serious contenders for the division, much less a championship.
Do you think the Bears can make the necessary adjustments before Sunday’s game and end up 8-3? Or do you think that there are too many hurdles to overcome, and that this season will be derailed by the Vikings?Powered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks