COMMENTARY | The feel-good story of the advent of the Marc Trestman era took a turn for the worse last Sunday in Detroit and then started heading downhill with this week’s home loss to New Orleans. At 3-2, the Chicago Bears still lead the NFC North, there’s a little rust showing on Trestman’s shiny new car.
The Lions were able to spread the field, giving Reggie Bush plenty of room to gash the Bears’ defense to the tune of 173 total yards. The Saints were also able to turn the middle of the field into their playground, surgically manipulating the game.
While the Bears won nearly every offensive category, they fell short in the only one that matters, losing the game 26-18. Here are five things to take away from Sunday’s game:
Alshon Jeffery is legit
Jeffery had shown glimpses of his potential in the first quarter of the season. He had caught at least five balls in three games, going for five catches, 107 yards, and a TD in Detroit. He has also racked up nearly 60 yards rushing on end-around plays.
But Sunday’s game saw Alshon get more targets (13) and receptions (10) than any two other Bears combined. All he did with the increased opportunity was set an all-time franchise mark of 218 yards, with a touchdown to boot.
While the final score wasn’t in their favor, the Bears have to feel good about the development of their offensive weapons.
Coaches make a big difference
This Saints team is ostensibly the same as the one that started the 2012 season 0-4 en route to a 7-9 campaign. Burdened by suspensions, most notably that of head coach Sean Payton, the most memorable aspect of the season was the creation of the word “Bountygate.”
The last time Payton and Ryan were together at Soldier Field, they controlled the offense and defense with both power and finesse. Unfortunately for the Bears, that was Walter and Buddy and this was Sean and Rob.
With Sean Payton orchestrating the offense and Rob Ryan pulling the strings on the other side of the ball, the Saints are sitting at 5-0 and are looking down at the rest of the NFC.
The Bears pass rush has officially been declared dead
After managing only 2 sacks on Sunday, Chicago now has a whopping total of 8 and is tied for 29th in the NFL in that category. This conspicuous absence of pressure has allowed opposing signal-callers to average just over 278 yards per game, which puts the Bears pass D at 23rd in the league.
Coming into the game, Drew Brees had average nearly 360 yards per game through the air. While he fell over 70 yards shy of that mark, the diminutive director of Sean Payton’s offense was able to carve up the Bears D with surgical precision. Brees completed 82.9% of his throws, tossing 2 TDs with no picks.
Brees was rarely pressured and even the 2 sacks cost the Saints only 7 lost yards. The Bears’ remaining schedule features another matchup with Matthew Stafford, two with Aaron Rodgers, and tilts with RGIII, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning’s little brother, and Brandon Weeden.
Okay, so that last one’s really just in there to make sure you’re still reading. But even a lower-tier QB can look good if he’s allowed to keep his uniform clean.
Jay Cutler is looking more like the man
While games like the one in Detroit are maddening for Bears fans, everyone got a good, long look at the kind of QB Jay Cutler can be when he plays under control. It’s easy to let the final score cloud the numbers, but Cutler actually outplayed Brees in this game.
Cutler threw for more yards (358) and had a better QB rating (128.1 vs. 120) than his opponent on Sunday. Other than the strip-sack fumble that came on a safety blitz by Malcolm Jenkins, Cutler avoided the ugly turnovers that have dogged him throughout his career.
If Cutler can continue to make throws like the 58-yard strike to Jeffery, and can continue to use his legs effectively (27 yards on 4 carries), he might just earn that contract extension after all. But he’ll need to keep Bad Jay at bay to do it.
The Bears need to find a way to skip the 3rd quarter
It’s doubtful that the NFL’s Competition Committee would be willing to consider a special exemption, but the Bears have got to find a way to cut out 15 minutes of each game. While they start and finish games at full throttle, they’re on cruise control in the 2nd and leave the emergency brake engaged in the 3rd.
Through 5 games, the Bears are 2nd in the NFL in 1st-quarter scoring, averaging 8.2 points. They are 2nd in the 4th, where they put up a robust 10.2 points. Things start to slow in the 2nd quarter, when they average only 7.4 points. But the 3rd quarter has been an abject disaster for the Bears, as they have managed only 3.2 points per, 25th in the league.
Maybe Coach Trestman’s halftime speeches have focused more on bond trading than motivation. Maybe Bad Jay gets antsy during the break and has to announce his presence with authority. Whatever the reason, the Bears will need to solve the riddle of the 3rd quarter if they expect to make the playoffs.
While being handed consecutive losses derailed the hot start, the Bears still sit atop the division. However, barring a mid-season realignment and move to the NFC East, the Chicago will have to do much better than 1 game over .500. They only have to wait 4 days for the chance at a get-right game, as the 0-5 New York Giants come to Chicago. While this has all the makings of a trap game, the home field and the frustration will both play in the Bears’ favor.
Prediction: Bears 35, Giants 17.