Friday, September 14, 2012
Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears
By Kevin Seifert
After the Chicago Bears' 23-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers, here are three issues that merit further examination:
And here is one issue I still don't get:
- You've already heard about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler screaming at left tackle J'Marcus Webb and kicking Packers cornerback Charles Woodson. You know he was the first NFL quarterback in 10 years to get sacked at least seven times and throw at least four interceptions in one game. And we noted that Cutler produced the second-lowest passer rating of his career Thursday night. But here's what really struck me about his performance: At 29 and in his seventh NFL season, Cutler can still lose his mind in adverse situations. For much of the second half, it looked like Cutler was so frustrated he was playing what you might call "screw it" football. Receiver is covered? Screw it, I'll throw it. Offensive line is having a tough time? Screw it. I'm holding the ball and bouncing wildly around the pocket to buy time. A great quarterback should minimize adversity around him, not elevate it. It was a scary reaction for a franchise that has built its short-term prospects around the idea that Cutler would excel when surrounded with the kind of skill players and scheme he wants. Woodson said he saw the "same old Jay," a devastating indictment from a respected elder of Cutler's purported development and maturity.
- With that said, Cutler had a right to a short fuse when it became clear the Bears couldn't block the Packers' pass rush. There was plenty of blame to go around, and it wasn't just an offensive line issue. For one, the Bears appeared a step behind the Packers' blitz packages. On the Bears' first play of the game, linebacker D.J. Smith bounced off a block attempt by tailback Matt Forte for a sack. Overall, the Packers got four sacks and intercepted two passes on the 13 blitzes they ran, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of course, we can't gloss over the struggles of Webb, who had an eye-popping night in the national spotlight. Pro Football Focus (PFF) credited him with allowing two sacks and two other quarterback hurries. He also committed a false start penalty and was fortunate not to be penalized for two blatant takedowns. Remember, Cutler has been questioning the Bears' decision to stand pat at offensive line for months. His skepticism appeared justified Thursday night and helps explain his emotional outbursts.
- Cutler's issues overshadowed what was another good performance against the Packers by the Bears' defense. The Packers didn't score an offensive touchdown until early in the fourth quarter, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't complete a pass longer than 26 yards. Rookie Shea McClellin again made an impact in limited playing time, recording 1.5 sacks in 31 snaps (via PFF). And I hope everyone recognizes how well cornerback Tim Jennings has played in the first two games. Thursday night, Jennings had tight coverage along with an interception, two defensed passes and a tackle for loss. In two games, Jennings has three interceptions and six defensed passes.
I understand this now, but didn't at the time. Apparently replacement officials were correct in ruling that the Bears had 12 men on the field early in the second quarter on a third-down incompletion by Rodgers. The replay showed that linebacker Nick Roach appeared to have run off the field in time before the snap. But Roach's second foot had not hit the ground, a necessary completion of the act that former NFL officiating executive Mike Pereira, now a FOX analyst, said is a new and accurate interpretation of the rule. Pereira tweeted: "His foot has to be down. That is right. If his foot is in the air he is not out. That is a new interpretation." The call extended a Packers drive that would have ended in a punt, and ultimately led to the first score of the game: Mason Crosby's 48-yard field goal. You learn a new thing every day.