FINAL SCORE: BEARS 20, PACKERS 17
The 2010 Chicago Bears are currently in first place in the NFC North and remain the only unbeaten team in the NFC. Wow, I didn't think I'd be writing that sentence after their first three games. It is a good day to be a Bears fan. Beating the Packers is a sweet treat whenever it happens, but it becomes a decadent dessert when it occurs on Monday Night Football during a season in which everybody and their sister predicted the Packers to win the Super Bowl. Who knows, that may still happen. But, the Bears showed at the very least that they'll be more than a speed bump in the NFC North.
Their offense got off to a pretty good start moving the ball, but deficiencies with offensive line (again) and a crazy, blitz happy Packer defense kept the Bears off the scoreboard for much of the first half. I was waiting for Martz to use some screens or dump offs early in the game to slow down the pass rush, but that part of the Bears game was oddly absent last night. Instead, Martz insisted on seven-step drops and long developing pass routes. I like the confidence, but he did the same thing early against the Cowboys last week and nearly got Cutler killed. I thought I was seeing a repeat in this game. Hey, Mike, why not start with some easy throws from short drops? Or, why not try to run the ball on consecutive plays? There is no doubt Martz brings some unique game planning to the Bears, and an offense that will have its fair share of explosive plays, but I'm starting to see why some people call the offense pass-whacky. If this team will go anywhere this year, Martz is going to have realize he doesn't have an offensive line that can consistently block pass rushers during seven-step drops. They've dodged many bullets these first three games, but it won't keep happening if Cutler continues to get hit as often as he did last night.
Cutler regressed last night. Whether it was the pressure of the Packers blitzes or their tight man coverage or playing in primetime (which Jay hasn't done well in his career), he reminded me way too much of last year's Jay. The interception was not only a bad pass, it was a bad decision. He was trying to hit Greg Olsen on a seam route between the linebacker and the safety. Olsen was covered so well, he basically stopped running his route. It would've taken a perfect throw and unbelievable catch to make that completion, assuming Olsen could've gotten to his spot. Cutler cannot continue to take that chance, especially inside opponent's territory. Inexcusable. Then, late in the game, he got bailed out by penalty after penalty. I won't say too much about the interception that got called back when he was crushed as the let it go. It clearly impacted the flight of the ball. But, that last interception that was called off due to the pass interference was HORRIBLE. You are driving late in the game to kick a field goal to win it, and you just heave the ball up towards your receiver who was pretty well-covered by a defensive back who also had safety help over the top? Seriously, Jay, what is wrong with you? That is pick-up game material. You're an NFL quarterback. STOP THROWING "HOPE" PASSES! On the other hand, he made two great throws to Knox early in the game and a great throw to Olsen late in the game. I guess I'm going to have to live with 2-3 mistakes a game.
Julius Peppers looks like he's going to be a force all year. That blocked field goal was HUGE. He's not getting sacks, but he's drawing penalties and forcing teams to account for him. I started to see some of the other lineman breakthrough in the second half. If they start to take advantage of their opportunities, their pass rush should improve. I'm still confident in the run defense, but their pass coverage is just horrendous. I understand the concept of their "Cover 2". Keep all of the passes in front of you, force long drives, and hopefully they'll make a mistake and turn the ball over. It happened exactly that way last night. But, at some point, defensive backs have to make a play on the ball. Most of Rodgers' completions last night were so easy because the Bears play such a soft zone coverage. I hate the Cover 2, which will be a recurring theme in this blog. It is effective for 3rd and long situations, but it is so frustrating when teams can complete six and seven yard passes at will. The Packers had a few really long drives basically paying pitch and catch between QB and receiver. Mix it up a little. Play some man under. Zone blitz. Corner blitz. Hell, even throw a 3-4 out there just to confuse the offense on occasion. Look at what Dom Capers does with the Packers defense. They never had the same look on consecutive plays and it held the Bears to 13 offensive points.
Is Devin Hester back? It sure looked like it last night. He almost broke loose on his first punt return, and his touchdown was a reminder of how electric he can be with the football. If he can continue to get upfield quickly after fielding punts, he may take a few more to the house this year. The blocking was tremendous, and it helped that the punter outkicked his coverage unit by about 15 yards. Amazing play by Hester and their special teams!
There is no doubt that this Bears team is flawed. They can't run the ball at all, and their offensive line continues to struggle with consistent pass blocking. Their red zone offense has been atrocious. Cutler is still prone to mistakes, and the Martz offense will be high-risk, high-reward all season long. The defense needs to make more plays against the pass, and the special teams needs to continue to make big plays, especially against good opponents. But, they've shown they can win tough games against talented teams by taking advantage of mistakes. That is a good formula for success, especially early in the season. As I've said previously, if this offensive line improves at all, they could be a dominant team. It hasn't happened yet.
The next five games are winnable (Giants, Panthers, Seahawks, Redskins, Bills). They could be 7-1 or 6-2 after they crush the Bills. Of course, anything could happen between now and then, but this is turning out to be a very interesting season!