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Sunday, November 11, 2012
Updated: November 12, 6:11 PM ET
These Bears just aren't ready

By Michael Wilbon
ESPNChicago.com

Turns out the experts and Las Vegas oddsmakers were right about the Chicago Bears, at least for now. They can't handle an opponent of consequence. The defense can't count on scoring every single game and the offense still operates like something out of the 1950s.

The Bears have the chance to prove otherwise in eight days, again on a national stage, but their starting quarterback has a concussion, so who knows about Jay Cutler's status and therefore whether it's even reasonable to think the Bears can score a touchdown in San Francisco on Monday night.

Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler almost ran for more yards (37) than he passed for (40) during his two quarters of play on Sunday.

OK, Jason Campbell wasn't Caleb Hanie bad; he didn't toss a pick-six or even commit a turnover. Cutler was the king of that department Sunday night with a pair of interceptions. And perhaps with a full week and extra day to coach up Campbell he'll be able to do more than swing the ball from side to side for minus-2-yard passes.

In fact, Brandon Marshall was rather convincing when he said it was the rest of the players on offense, him included, who let down Campbell and the team, not the other way around. Anyway you cut it, the offense was vintage Bears, which is another way of saying there were too many fumbles and passes dropped. Shockingly, the best thing about the Bears when they had the ball was the pass protection. Stat of the night: Neither Bears quarterback was sacked.

And the offense still stunk the joint out.

If Jimmy Buss owned the team, Mike Tice would be out of a job. And we'll revisit that topic of Tice and his issues in a minute.

We could blame the entire disappointing night and event on Mother Nature. When the wind started blowing and the water began pouring from the sky at about 4:30 in the afternoon it was even money the evening was going to be an artistic flop.

But the Bears were a bigger dud. Where exactly should we begin the Bears critique, with the utterly incompetent offense or the bullied defense that for one critical series seemed to not want any part of Arian Foster?

It might appear unusually cruel to take to task the defense after allowing 215 net yards and one touchdown to perhaps the league's best running back, no less. But the fact is this is a team whose defense has to keep its ERA below 2 because it can't count on any consistent run production.

Because we've seen the defense score and stifle opponents and dominate games at a championship level, it's probably fair to demand that the NFL's No. 1-ranked scoring defense not allow 13 points in a home game to the Texans. Problem was, Foster ran for 102 yards, 85 in the first half, 28 in about the only drive that mattered to either team the entire game.

Foster, in that sequence, got to the edge, broke tackles, juked defenders, chumped the Bears by going left repeatedly and either getting outside the tackle to turn the corner or cutting back inside for big gains. He made the Bears' run defense look amateurish. Matt Schaub passed for a grand total of 95 yards, yet it didn't matter because Foster led the one necessary drive and because the Bears couldn't counter with a drive of their own.

The usually effective Matt Forte (39 yards, long run of 8 yards, 2.8 yards a carry) had no game to speak of, but he certainly wasn't the No. 1 issue with the Bears' offense. Turnovers were, what with four by halftime, two really unsightly Cutler interceptions on throws into obviously tight double coverage, and fumbles by Kellen Davis and Michael Bush that killed drives on short fields. Ten of Houston's 13 points came directly off the Bears' turnovers.

It's hard to believe the Bears spent the whole week insisting they could actually field a professionally styled offense and produced this stink. Cutler, whether you're using passer rating (16.7) or the old-fashioned eye test, played his worst game since the NFC Championship Game debacle nearly two years ago. And this entire body of work was turned in before he suffered a concussion late in the first half, most likely on that shot to the head by Tim Dobbins as he threw down the middle of the field to Devin Hester while crossing the line of scrimmage.

Houston's defense was so unconcerned with the Bears running game the Texans took a defensive back off the field and replaced him with a linebacker to crowd the line and stone Forte. Those who expected Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to crush Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice were right on the money. Tice has never seemed more in over his head. Those waiting for Tice's adjustment to the adjustment were, well, waiting.

It's a lot of weapons on offense -- Forte, Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester, Michael Bush, Earl Bennett -- to come up this empty again. Yes, the defense can get the Bears to the playoffs; even on a slightly off night the Bears allowed one touchdown and emerged as still the stingiest team, in terms of points allowed, in the league.

But the season is likely to be an enormous disappointment unless the offense can start to consistently score. And it's not asking all that much in today's NFL given how often the Bears' defense gives the offense a short field to work with. A great deal of this falls on Tice, who hasn't at all been an upgrade from Mike Martz. Hell, Tice hasn't been as good.

Conversations with coaches and quarterbacks (past and present) all week kept coming back to a specific area of concern. Tice is a novice at play calling. While calling plays might be the single most difficult and demanding task asked of any coach on the staff, Tice doesn't seem to have the feel, the imagination or even the relationship with his quarterback to be any good at it. … Not yet anyway.
Jason Campbell
If Jay Cutler can't play against the 49ers, the Bears have to hope a full week of practice as the starter will make a big difference for Jason Campbell.

As of right now, one game into the second half of the season, it looks like a giant mistake to have made Tice the play-caller. The Bears have nothing they can really go to, which is what Phillips said midweek, except for Cutler-to-Marshall, and if you think a really good defense is going to let itself be done in by one receiver, you're mad.

Now, if Tice can't get it into gear with Cutler what's he going to do without him? Don't get me wrong, Campbell will be a lot better with a week of practice snaps. But the Bears really and truly need Cutler healthy and on going into San Francisco, where they've been road kill for 27 years. Since the 1985 championship season here's what happens to the Bears when they go to Candlestick: They get trampled. They're going to the place where in 1984 the 49ers told a very talented group of Bears defenders, "Next time, bring an offense."

It's fair to wonder if the Niners will be singing the same tune after next week's game as well. Of course, Joe Montana and Steve Young aren't walking through that door next week either. The Niners have their own concussed starter, Alex Smith. San Francisco could be starting a kid who's as much sprinter as quarterback if Smith isn't cleared.

Still, this is about so much more than next week. Even if the Bears lose to the 49ers they'll be at the top of the NFC North standings. So, this wasn't a must-win game and neither is Monday's. But at some point, facing four straight teams that now have won at least six games, the Bears need to incrementally improve the offense enough to put up, say, 24-26 points per game. That's basic stuff in the NFL and the Bears, even with a leaky line, have the human resources to do that, minimum.

Through six straight victories this season, ever since a rather embarrassing loss at Green Bay on a Thursday night in September, skeptics have looked at the Bears schedule and pointed to back-to-back games with the Texans and 49ers as the tests that will give us some indication of how good the Bears are or aren't.

Well, the Texans, a franchise that's never really had games on a big stage, went on the road and gave a fairly good accounting of themselves while the Bears were pretty inadequate all the way around.

OK, it's only one game. But next week in San Francisco will make two games, both against contenders, and if the Bears are to be taken seriously as the NFL season enters the stretch run, it's up to them give a similar accounting of themselves, which we dare say certainly includes bringing an offense.