NFC North: Red Bull
October, 4, 2009
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
|Jerry Lai/US Presswire|
|The Bears are going into their bye week at 3-1 and with a growing confidence.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
CHICAGO -- You had to be on your toes Sunday in Chicago's postgame locker room. In one corner, Charles Tillman was freaking people out with red-tinted contacts that lent a certain devilish appearance. Asked how the Bears turned around a close game at halftime, Tillman bugged his eyes out and said:
“We all came in and drank Red Bull and were jumping off the walls like crazy people. So next time we play, I'm going to buy a bunch of Red Bull and give it to everyone to start off the game.”
Down the line a bit, Tommie Harris was explaining the meaning behind a new Bears sack dance. “We call it ‘Shooting Kreutz,'” Harris said, swiveling his arms and imitating the strut of center Olin Kreutz.
Next door, Alex Brown acted miffed that teammate Adewale Ogunleye had a larger gathering of reporters around him.
Turning serious for a moment, Brown said: “At the end of the day, it's about winning. That's what we did today.”
Indeed, the Bears won Sunday for the third consecutive week, blowing open a close game in the second half to defeat Detroit 48-24. The Bears haven't played a good first half this season, but they enter their bye week with a 3-1 record and a growing swagger that suggests they are the type of team that can figure a way to make things happen.
“As a team, we scored 48 points today and I think we can be a lot better,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. “If we score 48 points and say we can be a lot better, that's a good thing to me.”
There are some teams with strong building blocks that somehow have a knack for making a mistake or missing an assignment at a crucial time. I put the Lions in that category, especially after quarterback Matthew Stafford committed two turnovers inside his own 20-yard line Sunday.
|Jerry Lai/US Presswire|
|Adewale Ogunleye notched 2.5 of the Bears' 5 sacks.|
(Don't take it from me. Lions coach Jim Schwartz called Sunday's second half “one of the worst halves of football I've ever been associated with.”)
Other teams compensate for a deficiency, temporary or permanent, by calling on other quadrants of the team for help. That's what the Bears did Sunday during the first stop of our Week 4 FourFecta.
The Lions came out throwing and amassed 273 offensive yards in the first half. Stafford found receiver Calvin Johnson five times for 119 yards, and the Bears' offense was struggling to keep up.
Three Bears-forced events turned the game in the second half:
- Coach Lovie Smith assigned Tillman to cover Johnson, swapping out fellow cornerback Zack Bowman. With some safety help, Tillman limited Johnson to three catches for 14 yards in the second half.
- The Bears' defensive line stepped up in a way that I haven't seen since the Super Bowl season in 2006. Ogunleye exploded for two sacks. Israel Idonije also had a sack, and overall Stafford had little time to find Johnson or anyone else before leaving with a right knee injury.
- The Bears' special teams produced their best showing of the year. Rookie Johnny Knox's 102-yard kickoff return immediately changed the momentum in the third quarter, and Robbie Gould's career-long 52-yard field goal gave the Bears a 10-point lead. Both plays came in the first five minutes of the second half.
“We started making plays,” Brown said. “I don't know what the heck is wrong with us. Every game, we've started out like this. Pretty slow. We understand how to finish. We just have to figure out how to start.”
(Red Bull, anyone?)
As they head toward their bye, I view the Bears as a flawed team with enough tools to compensate for imperfection. Most teams perform a self-study at the bye and create a “to-do” list for in-season improvement. So let's give them a head start based on what we saw Sunday:
Middle linebacker Nick Roach, filling in for the injured Hunter Hillenmeyer and Brian Urlacher, might be a good run-stuffer and a nifty blitzer. But it was obvious -- and I mean OBVIOUS -- that the Lions planned to target him in the first half. For the most part, tight ends and receivers were running wild down the deep middle of the field, which is the middle linebacker's territory in the Cover 2 defense.
When a blocking tight end like Will Heller is breaking free for receptions of 14 and 23 yards, I think you get the message. Unofficially, I had the Lions with five big pass plays over the deep middle in the first half, and Stafford misfired when he had open receivers on three other occasions.
Roach was either in shock or denial when I asked him about it afterward.
“I don't really recall them going down the middle too much in the first half,” Roach said. “I don't know.”
The bye week should allow Hillenmeyer sufficient time to recover, giving Smith an interesting lineup decision to make.
Injuries to receivers Devin Hester (shoulder) and Knox (shin) are a reminder of how thin the Bears' receiving corps is. Knox's injury is not considered serious, but the Bears were quiet on Hester's status. I know the receiver issue has been discussed extensively in Chicago, but do you like the prospects of Knox, Bennett and Rashied Davis as your top receivers should Hester miss some time?
You can't take away Matt Forte's 121-yard game, even if 98 of those yards came on two plays. After all, one 61-yard run is just as good as six 10-yard runs. But I still think it will be worth the Bears' time to figure out why they haven't gotten more consistency from their running game in the first part of the season. In the 15 other carries by running backs Sunday, they managed 45 yards.
After watching Sunday's game, I think it's fair to direct some scrutiny toward the left side of the offensive line. Tackle Orlando Pace and guard Frank Omiyale both appear to be a work in progress.
I don't consider any of those issues potentially fatal flaws, however. Nothing a little Red Bull couldn't cure.