Monday, September 12, 2011
Updated: September 13, 4:43 PM ET
Don't get carried away
By Melissa Isaacson
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Now that we all agree the NFL preseason tells us very little unless, of course, you count the revelation that is Cleveland Browns castoff Tyler Clutts, it's now time to overanalyze the Bears' season-opening victory over Atlanta.
Now by "overanalyze," this is not to imply that one day after the 30-12 win, we will deduce that the Bears actually played poorly and lost. Nor is it to suggest that Sunday was anything less than a great day for Chicago sports fans.
For one, it officially lifted the collective gloom that has hung upon our city since roughly May 15, which was, of course, the last time (and only time) the Bulls beat the Miami Heat in the playoffs. It was also coincidentally a rainout for the Cubs.
Sunday's victory also struck a decisive chord for a Bears team that embraces the underdog role the way Peanut Tillman embraces a loose ball.
"We all try to rip it out, we try and punch it, and he just does this and gets it out," said Brian Urlacher, pantomiming Tillman's takeaway technique as if burping a baby.
For the Bears under coach Lovie Smith, it was the sixth victory in eight home openers, but he cautioned against using it as a barometer for the entire season.
"We played well yesterday. I hope it's going to say an awful lot," he said. "But seriously, I don't think you can put too much into one game, and that's what we believe, whether it's good or bad. We hope that we follow suit with what we normally do, and that's make a big improvement from Game 1 to Game 2."
He's mostly right about that. Overall, Smith's teams are 4-4 in season openers and only twice played markedly worse in Game 2 than in Game 1.
"We have so much football to go, but I think what the first game does is just kind of validate a little bit of what you've done in the offseason and how your training camp went," he said. "For us, we thought we were making progress, and I think [Sunday] kind of proved that, as much as anything, we're on track. And that's just to play decent football the first game."
One thing that makes it hard to deconstruct the first game is that teams are at such different stages this early in the season and from the looks of Sunday's game, the Falcons are still in the Protozoan stage, despite the hype.
Encouraging for the Bears is that the defense can still turn it on and carry the team even when the offense doesn't require it. More encouraging is that with a persistent -- and dare we say deep -- defensive line, the linebackers can tee off and the secondary doesn't feel as much pressure.
"We were able to play a lot of zone, which is good for our team," said Urlacher, who paced the victory with one fumble recovery for a touchdown and an interception setting up another, along with 10 tackles. "We're a pretty fast team, so any time you get seven sets of eyes in the back end on the quarterback and breaking on the football, it's going to help your team."
Lance Briggs was uncharacteristically quiet with two tackles on the day but it is far too early to read anything into it.
"He didn't have the type of game that Brian Urlacher did. He didn't have those opportunities. But he was physical," Smith said. "He played a great game. There's only so many big impact plays to be made each game, but that will go back and forth. This week, Lance may have a couple of touchdowns, you never know. He's that type of player."
Offensively, the red zone at times still presents an obstacle no less foreboding than the quicksand of 'B' movie fame, though the Bears did come away with two field goals and a touchdown in three trips Sunday, which is already an improvement over last season.
Let us also not forget, however, that the Falcons got to Jay Cutler for five sacks (including one team sack) and six quarterback hurries, and also had 11 tackles for loss to offset five Bears' gains of 23 yards or more.
The line continues to be that ever-popular description of "a work in progress," perhaps more annoying than the sacks is a penchant for costly penalties -- J'Marcus Webb's holding calls wiping out a 19-yard catch and 18-yard run, both by Kahlil Bell.
|Brian Urlacher said it was good the Bears were able to play zone because of their team speed.|
But consider the ankle injury that sidelined Lance Louis in the second quarter, moving Chris Spencer to right guard, and the fact right tackle Gabe Carimi was playing his first NFL game, and you can't help but envision future improvement for the O-line.
"We did some good things but there's still a lot of room for improvement," said Roberto Garza, making the adjustment to starting center after playing a vast majority of 10 NFL seasons at guard look easy. "We left some plays out there and we can't do that. In this league, you have to make those plays."
Cutler can help by avoiding passes like the one he tried unsuccessfully across his body and across the field in the general direction of Kellen Davis on a third-and-1 from the Falcons' 8 late in the second quarter.
"There were a lot of things that came into play with that where he was rushed a little bit," Smith said. "[But we're] trying to talk about something negative he did instead of patting him on the back the entire time."
There was also the Cutler interception leading to the Falcons' only touchdown as Kroy Biermann took a pass intended for Earl Bennett and scampered 50 yards into the end zone in the fourth. By then, Cutler, who finished the day with a 107.8 QB rating, may have been losing interest. But it was one of those mistakes you expect to be cut down this season.
Aside from that, it was bring on the Saints, a team sure to look better defensively in their home opener than they did last Thursday in Green Bay, and plenty capable offensively. But that can wait until Wednesday.
In the meantime, so pleased was Smith with his team that he even praised Marion Barber, out with a calf injury, for being "really into the game from the sideline."
Now that might be tough to improve upon.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
For us, we thought we were making progress, and I think [Sunday] kind of proved that, as much as anything, we're on track. And that's just to play decent football the first game.
-- Lovie Smith