Bears-Saints: Five Things We Learned

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
10:29
AM ET
Matt ForteAP Photo/Gerald HerbertMatt Forte was one of the few bright spots for the Bears on Sunday.
NEW ORLEANS -- Here are five things we learned following the Chicago Bears' 30-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday:

1. Pass protection problems are abundant: I'm not smart enough to tell you who exactly was to blame when Saints' defenders repeatedly came free off the edge to crush Jay Cutler. But I'm smart enough to tell you it needs to stop or Caleb Hanie is going to be playing. Whether it's left tackle J'Marcus Webb failing to block the right guy, or the running back missing a blocking assignment, or Kellen Davis getting beat for the second straight week, or the quarterback not sensing the pressure, it just can't continue if the Bears want to consistently win games. Cutler is tough, but not that tough. Physical mistakes can be corrected. Mental mistakes get the quarterback killed. Again, I'm not pinning the blame on one or two specific players, but the offense must collectively clean up these mistakes, regardless of who is in the game. Injuries to Gabe Carimi and Lance Louis are not valid excuses. The Packers, I believe, won a Super Bowl last year with a good chunk of their roster on injured reserve.

2. Running plays must have fallen out of playbook: Matt Forte rushed seven times in the first quarter for 50 yards (one run went for 42 yards). Matt Forte finished the game with 10 rushing attempts for 49 yards. Something isn't adding up. Yes, screen passes are a supplement to the running game, but did you have to abandon the ground game entirely after the opening quarter? It was only 16-10 at halftime, and 16-13 at one point in third quarter, so it wasn't a total blowout until late. When you're behind by a large number, you have to throw. I get that, but it didn't get out of hand until the Darren Sproles touchdown. But even then, there was 12 minutes left on the clock. Twenty combined touches for Forte is OK, but push that number up to 30. Why not? He was basically the only guy on offense that was playing well on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Meriweather
AP Photo/Bill FeigBrandon Meriweather had four tackles in his first Bears start on Sunday.
3. Bears need Chris Harris back -- badly: Devery Henderson's 79-yard touchdown reception simply can't happen in a defense with two deep safeties. We can talk all day about the Bears failing to identify that Henderson -- the fastest guy on the field -- was lined up in the slot, but the bottom line is the safeties let the Saints wideout run right past them down the middle of the field. I argue that never happens if Harris is on the field and not on the sidelines with a hamstring injury. I'm not writing off Major Wright, Chris Conte, Brandon Meriweather or Craig Steltz, but Harris is the smartest guy on the defense. Whatever he lacks in speed, Harris makes up for with intelligence, and the Bears desperately need him to play against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Sunday at Solider Field. Given the Bears' issues at drafting safeties, it's puzzling why the team hasn't approached Harris about a contract extension. But that's another argument for another day. What matters in the short term is getting Harris healthy and back at safety on a full-time basis. Let the other guys rotate.

4. Defense had other problems besides safety: The Bears' defense did a poor job getting itself off the field, allowing New Orleans to convert 8 of 17 (47 percent) of their third down conversions. They also failed to win the turnover battle, forcing only one takeaway when Charles Tillman stripped Mark Ingram. But here was the kicker: Drew Brees attempted 37 passes and was barely touched. If this game was played on grass, there wouldn't have been a single stain on his jersey. The Bears sacked Brees once and had only one additional quarterback hit, according to the official NFL stats book handed out in the press box. What happened to all the pressure we saw the Bears defense throw at Matt Ryan last week? Like many things, the Bears pass rush forgot to make the trip to Louisiana.

5. Slow down the Henry Melton express: Everybody has an off-day, so to read too much into the Saints game would be unfair. Melton could still have a wonderful season, but after a dominating game against the Falcons (two sacks, six quarterback pressures), he was nowhere to be found in the Superdome. According to the NFL stat book, Melton didn't register a tackle, sack, tackle for a loss or quarterback hit. Zero. Looks like New Orleans' trio of interior offensive linemen (Olin Kreutz, Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans) won that matchup easily. However, it should be pointed out that Julius Peppers didn't do much against the Saints either, so it wasn't only Melton who disappeared on the defensive line. But for the defense to operate at a high level, the Bears need the undertackle to be disruptive. So far, Melton is 1 for 2 in 2011.

Jeff Dickerson | email

Chicago Bears beat reporter
Dickerson has been the Bears beat reporter for ESPN Chicago since 2004. He also hosts weeknight radio shows on ESPN 1000.

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