Head coach Marc Trestman, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer -- even the players -- constantly harp on the need for the Chicago Bears to eliminate the turnovers, and if the club doesn't start to take some steps in that direction, it faces a long day at Gillette Stadium on Sunday against the New England Patriots, who come into this contest with 10 days of prep time.
It all starts with quarterback Jay Cutler, who has spotted opponents an average of 9.25 points just off turnovers in each of the team's four losses. In each of the club's defeats, Cutler turned over the ball on multiple occasions. And while Cutler understands turnovers are the root of the problems, he's got to take corrective steps to keep his team out of the binds.
As a playcaller, Trestman can help.
Against the Miami Dolphins in the first half, Trestman -- despite the luxury of having one of the NFL's hottest backs in Matt Forte -- called just two runs, which isn't conducive to keeping opponents off balance to allow Cutler to operate off play-action. But it also places the offense in too many difficult-to-convert, third-and-long situations.
You've got a horse. Ride him, and keep the team's fate out of the hands of Cutler, who completed three of 11 passes for 52 yards and an interception on throws of 15 yards or more downfield against the Dolphins, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Bears play a West Coast offense, which emphasizes a short, controlled passing attack. Yet Cutler insists on throwing vertical despite teams working feverishly to take that away. That partially explains why he's got the NFL's fourth-worst completion percentage (32.4 percent) on deep balls and has thrown five interceptions on such attempts, which is tied for second most in the NFL.
Trestman needs to emphasize to Cutler the need to simply take what defenses give him. In turn, the quarterback needs to stop giving it away. Ten turnovers in seven games (seven interceptions and three fumbles) is enough.
3. Coverage teams: Miami rookie sensation Jarvis Landry managed to return just two kickoffs for 55 yards and two punts for 22 yards. Landry’s dynamic ability on kickoff returns worried the Bears leading up to Sunday, but the coverage teams and kicker Robbie Gould answered the challenge. Covering kicks is a collective effort between the coverage men and the kicker. Gould forces return men to move around in the end zone before catching the football -- an exercise that can disrupt a return man’s rhythm.
3. Rest of the offense: This is not the kind of offensive output Bears fans envisioned. Fans expected to see growth and improvement in the second year of the offense. After all, the Bears returned all 16 starters from a group that finished second in the NFL in points per game in 2013. Instead, the Bears offense is the main culprit behind the rocky seven-game stretch to open the season. On all levels, the Bears are failing. For whatever reason, the Bears aren’t stringing together wins (with the exception of back-to-back victories over San Francisco and the New York Jets). The offense is wildly inconsistent; it’s always something with the offense. Actually, it’s always something with this team. Rarely do the three phases come together in harmony. The Bears have nine games -- minimum -- to figure it out. The Bears have missed the playoffs six of the past seven years. It would be seven of the past eight years if they fail to reach the postseason in 2014 (a very real possibility). Time for the offense to step up and save the day.
How did this happen?
“You know, there were a couple of reasons,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said on Monday. “We only ran 18 plays. That would be one. We didn't convert on third down to roll anything over. We had two called runs, we had two runs called with options to throw and we had another two called where we pulled the ball with an option to throw, as well. Eighteen plays. If you don't roll it over you can't get in sync.
“We threw it a little bit more early, but that wasn't the plan. The plan was to kind of do it the way we did it in the third quarter. And that's what we went back to doing. We took some of the options off and we handed the football off and we got more of what we would expect of our offense -- a good, solid drive.”
Forte finished the game with 12 rushing attempts for 49 yards, the third time in 2014 opposing defenses have limited Forte to under 50 yards rushing. The Pro Bowl running back did catch six passes for 60 yards out of the backfield, and through seven weeks Forte leads the Bears with 52 receptions.
Fuller's status is unknown for the Week 8 trip to New England to face the 5-2 Patriots.
"Up to this point today, I've heard it [the broken hand] as being a non-surgical issue," Trestman said.
"He went out of the game because of his hip more than his hand, so we'll just see. He said he felt good today, but it'll be day to day. I don't know that the hand will deter him. I don't know that, I haven't talked to [the training staff] about it. But that's what I understand at this time."
The No. 14 overall selection of the 2014 NFL draft, Fuller replaced Charles Tillman (injured reserve) on the first team in Week 2, recording three interceptions and three forced fumbles in five starts.
Fuller's third-quarter exit on Sunday forced the Bears to play Sherrick McManis at cornerback opposite Tim Jennings, with Demontre Hurst lining up at nickelback.
Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman disputed the notion that receiver Brandon Marshall called out quarterback Jay Cutler during a few tense moments in the locker room on the heels of the club's 27-14 loss Sunday to the Miami Dolphins, but also said "I didn't hear all of it."
A source inside the locker room after the game said that some of Marshall's diatribe was aimed at Cutler, who turned over the ball twice in the loss, leading to 10 points by the Dolphins.
"I don't think that was the case at all yesterday," Trestman said. "I heard a lot about most of it, but what I did hear I did not hear any of that."
Cutler threw an interception and was credited with two fumbles (one came as the result of Ka'Deem Carey dropping a lateral). In all four of the team's losses this season, Cutler has turned over the ball multiple times. Yet in the team's three victories, Cutler didn't commit a turnover. Opponents have averaged 9.25 points off Cutler's turnovers in each of the team's losses.
The disappointing loss led to Marshall's impassioned postgame speech in the locker room, and a few pointed comments after the game.
"Same mistakes, same mistakes, same mistakes," Marshall said. "We've got to protect the football. We've got to protect the football. We've got to execute the game plan. We've got to adjust when things don't go as we saw on the film. We've got Alshon Jeffery
Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long criticized fans at Soldier Field for booing Sunday as the team trotted into the locker room down 14-0 to the Miami Dolphins, but on Monday admitted "it was wrong for me to point fingers at the fans."
Long, speaking during his weekly appearance on the WXRT Morning Show, said the Bears should've given the fans a reason to cheer.
"I just think [reporters] had asked everybody in the locker room how they felt about [fans booing], and a lot of the guys didn't take the bait," Long said. "Obviously emotions are running high after a game. Obviously if we were giving them something to cheer about there would be a lot more cheers coming off the field at halftime. Hopefully the score would be a little bit closer, as well.
"That falls on our shoulders. It's unfair to put it on the fans. There was a lot of frustration after the game. You work hard all week. You're trying to string some wins together. You're at home. You feel like you're riding some momentum, and to be down 14-0 going into the half, it's tough. It's tough on everybody obviously."
"I don't know if upset is the word I would use," Long said Sunday. "As somebody that is blood, that has blood, sweat and tears in this locker room like the other guys, the coaches, the trainers, the staff and the equipment guys, to be getting booed at home when you're walking off the field down two possessions is unacceptable; especially when there is not a lot of noise being made on third down [when Miami possessed the ball], period."
The loss to the Dolphins drops Chicago's record at Soldier Field to 0-3, and the club has now lost four in a row at home dating to last season.
In the first half of Sunday's game, the Dolphins outgained the Bears 209-54 and dominated in time of possession (19:10 to 10:50).
As reporters waited outside to be admitted into the locker room, heated exchanges could be heard. But Long called the exchanges a normal occurrence after a disappointing loss, saying "a lot of it is blown out of proportion."
In each of the club's four losses, quarterback Jay Cutler
1. March to 8-8 continues: This outfit seems destined to be .500. One week the Bears are on top of the world; the next week the team is face down in the gutter. Victories by Green Bay (5-2) and Detroit (5-2) on Sunday pushed the Bears two games back in the NFC North. Future road dates against New England and the Packers hardly look promising, but the NFL is full of surprises. It's possible the Bears could sneak a win next week, although the Patriots have extra time to prepare for Week 8 as a result of playing Thursday night. But in every sense the Bears are mediocre. Except for the talent level on the roster. That is above average. However, the Bears find themselves 0-3 at home and 3-4 overall. That is a problem.
3. Offense underachieves, again: Where is the offense that averaged 27.8 points in 2013 (second-highest total in the NFL)? Just when Jay Cutler makes you think the offense is ready to explode, it puts up a stinker against the Dolphins. Up and down. Up and down. That's the story of the 2014 Bears through seven games. Cutler has turned the ball over 10 times. To steal a phrase from Marshall, Cutler's frequent turnovers are "unacceptable." Games are won and lost in the NFL because of turnover ratio. The Bears certainly know this. Marc Trestman preached about it all week at Halas Hall, yet the Bears were minus-3 versus Miami (Cutler interception, Cutler fumble, Dante Rosario fumble). Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride, as usual, with the Bears starting quarterback. We all should know the script by now.
4. Tannehill shines: Ryan Tannehill resembled the quarterback worth $54 million guaranteed Sunday. The Dolphins quarterback kept the Bears defense on its heels for much of the game, completing 25 of 32 pass attempts for 277 yards and two touchdowns (123.6 quarterback rating). He spread the ball around to eight receivers. Tannehill even rushed for 48 yards, including a critical 30-yard gain on fourth down in the third quarter. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff's career day (3.5 sacks) did little to slow down Tannehill. He delivered the ball with extreme accuracy on the move. This was unexpected, especially since the good people of South Florida seem on the fence about whether Tannehill is the Dolphins' quarterback of the future.
5. Install Field Turf, please: One of the longest running jokes in the NFL is the condition of the Soldier Field playing surface. The Bears have an excellent head groundskeeper who spends most of the week at Halas Hall grooming the practice fields. He cannot be in two places at once. This is one of the many unfortunate byproducts of the Bears not owning their stadium. The players can't stand the grass field. The fans can't stand the grass field. The Bears are built for offense. If you bought a thoroughbred, would you make it run in mud? Make the switch to Field Turf. The situation is beyond embarrassing for everyone involved.