Monday, November 8, 2010

Bears Find Way Not to Lose

If the Chicago Bears travel to Canada and beat a winless Bills team and no one cares, does it still count? Thankfully, for Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo, yes. The game will officially be counted by the NFL as a "win". But, for the rest of us, this game did nothing to allay the fears about the Bears. They are currently not a very good football team. After eight games, you'd think we'd know more about them. But, due to the constant offensive line changes, Jay Cutler's schizophrenia, and Mike Martz's bi-polar disorder, it is actually possible that this team could improve over the second half of the season. But, I don't see it happening. They couldn't run the ball very well against the worse rushing defense in the league (2.6 yards per carry), and they've had to eliminate the deep throw due to the offensive line's inability to pass protect. That is not a formula for success against good teams.

Mike Martz must've gotten a stern talking to over the bye week by Lovie. How else can you explain the playcalling? The Bears ran the ball often, threw short, and kept mistakes to a minimum. That sounds like the formula for success from five years ago. Wasn't that supposed to change with the acquisition of Jay Cutler? The Bears have succeeded in taking a Pro Bowl quarterback and turning him into a game manager...for one game at least. After all the draft picks, big contract, and loads of unmet expectations (so far), we've found that the Bears can win when Cutler does his best Kyle Orton impression. This isn't Cutler's fault. This is the organization's fault. They haven't equipped the offense with the players or coaches needed to take advantage of Cutler's ability. He's not Kurt Warner. He is not the kind of quarterback who has ever needed to learn the intricacies of timing, footwork, or looking safeties off. When a guy's open, he can get it there. When a play breaks down, he can use his feet to escape pressure and make a play. But, he will never reach his potential running the Mike Martz offense. He's a freelancer trying to be successful within a rigid system with a bad offensive line. Martz and Smith may have finally realized this, which is why they've scaled back the playbook in hopes the Bears can win a bunch of 20-17 games the rest of the year.

So, if they stick to a similar plan like they ran against the Bills, can the Bears reach the playoffs? Possibly, but I don't think so. Their offense has looked its best this year when Cutler has gotten protection and he can find guys open down field. Their line will not allow that to happen with any regularity. They will need to run it well, be efficient on third downs and in the red zone, and eliminate turnovers. Sure, that happened against the Bills, but I don't think they can do that against any other team on their schedule.

Plus, their defense showed that is it vulnerable against the pass. Their pass rush still isn't very good, and their secondary is below average. If not for a badly underthrown interception, we'd probably be talking about a Bears loss. Marinelli was forced to blitz often against the Bills, and while it worked at the end of the game, it also allowed for numerous easy completions to wide open receivers. Peppers needs to do more, but, again, I think the system is limiting his ability. The cover 2 allows easy completions underneath the coverage, so quarterbacks don't need to hold the ball very long, which makes it near impossible for Peppers to get to the quarterback. That being said, he needs to do more. Two sacks after eight games is pretty pathetic.

I still think the Bears will struggle to reach eight wins. I hope I'm wrong. But, at least they'll be playing some meaningful games the rest of this month and maybe even into December. If they manage to beat the Vikings next week, I'll allow the gray cloud of pessimism to lift...a little.

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