I'll admit I was a bit groggy by the time I posted Monday night's Observation deck on the Chicago Bears' 41-13 loss to the New York Giants. My general impression of the Bears' defense was pretty neutral, especially on a night when the opponent rang up 41 points, and I wrote as much. I saw what I thought was some really sharp play in the first couple of series and thought the Bears' performance dipped at about the same time that coach Lovie Smith began removing his starters.
So I was surprised Tuesday morning to see the teeth-gnashing and general concern about the way the Bears' defense played and, especially, tackled. And I agree with Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune on this much: Smith's postgame criticism is as rare as it gets.
(While talking about the health of his team, Smith interjected: "You've got to tackle a little bit better before you start talking about injuries and things like that." Smith almost never criticizes his players, assistants or team in public.)
Maybe my expectations for preseason games are too low, but I go into them thinking they will be sloppy and light on fundamentals. You can get a sense for individual skills and competence in some instances, but once coaches begin sitting their starters, you're riding a slippery slope on any subsequent judgment from a team perspective.
But just for fun, I went back and re-watched the Bears' first four defensive series, after which middle linebacker Brian Urlacher departed. Remember, linebacker Lance Briggs was already sidelined for the game. What I saw confirmed my original thoughts: The Bears' starters missed maybe three tackles, one of them glaring, but also made more than a few secure stops to minimize or break up plays in the early going.
Here's what I saw:
Nobody missed a tackle on Jacobs' 18-yard run on third-and-1. The Giants caught the Bears in a man defense, and linebacker Brian Iwuh followed the receiver in motion away from the point of attack.
Peppers rushed Manning on two other plays, contributing to incompletions.
Jennings tackled Bradshaw 4 yards short of a first down on third-and-10.
The Giants caught the Bears in another favorable matchup on fourth-and-4. Manning lofted a nifty 21-yard pass over Moore to receiver Victor Cruz.
Urlacher tackled Jacobs after a 4-yard gain in the red zone.
Iwuh knocked away Manning's pass for Manningham on third-and-goal, forcing a field goal.
The Giants took over at the Bears' 31-yard line following Devin Thomas' 73-yard kickoff return.
Linebacker Nick Roach stuffed a Jacobs run for a 1-yard loss.
Harris stopped a reverse to Manningham after a 1-yard gain.
Bradshaw gained 13 yards on a screen play largely because center David Baas drilled Iwuh to the turf.
On the next play, Wright whiffed on Jacobs at about the 10-yard line and Jacobs dragged Harris about 4 yards into the end zone for an 18-yard scoring jaunt.
To be sure, the night didn't end well for the Bears' defense. Maybe you can excuse a safety getting dragged a few yards by a 275-pound back, but never do you want to see a safety juked by the same guy. Considered as a whole, however, I didn't see nearly enough to panic during those four possessions.
You could make the argument that backups should play better than the way the Bears' did Monday night. You can question whether they have the depth to withstand any significant injuries. Specifically, you could argue that Wright shouldn't have continued to miss tackles later in the second quarter just because he was playing with some non-starters.
But you're on your own there. In my experience, you're much better off under-analyzing preseason games than overanalyzing them. I understand why Smith was upset. He is a stickler for physical football, and he can't excuse the play of backups and mishmash lineups. But we can. So let's everyone calm down and move on.