Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears
November, 20, 2012
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
After the Chicago Bears' 32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, here are three issues that merit further examination:
- The Bears' intent on offense was pretty clear. They opened the game with an extra tackle, Jonathan Scott, and rookie Evan Rodriguez lined up at fullback, and desperately wanted to establish the run with quarterback Jay Cutler sidelined. I get that. But that approach provided no alternative when the 49ers took the early lead, and I remain stunned at how poorly the Bears adjusted. Forced into passing situations, they put tackles J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi in matchups they had already proved they couldn't win. It was absolutely criminal to stand by and let 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith beat them for 5.5 sacks. There is no doubt Smith is an elite pass-rusher, but the Bears needed to suck it up at some point and double-team him. Each sack came when the 49ers sent four or fewer rushers, meaning there was always someone available to help out if assigned. Instead, the Bears let Smith have a better game against them than any opponent in their history. In fact, Smith's sack total has been bested in a single game only four times in NFL history. Reggie White never had 5.5 sacks in a game. Neither did Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor, nor Mark Gastineau. Why? Because even on their best days, they faced more opposition than Smith did Monday night. I'm not sure any adjustment on Smith would have changed the outcome of the game, given how well the 49ers' offense played, but yikes. That was an eye-opening red flag from offensive coordinator Mike Tice, who was promoted in part because his background as an offensive line coach figured to minimize such jailbreaks. The Bears' scheme was as much, or more, to blame for Smith's night as was the poor play of Webb and Carimi.
- Jason Campbell's performance gets something of a curve given the pressure he faced. All told, he was sacked six times and hit on five other occasions. But in the bigger picture, I wouldn't say the Bears got their $3.5 million out of him Monday night. The point of making such a commitment on a backup quarterback was to give themselves a chance to win a tough game under adverse circumstances when the starter isn't available. Based on their initial game plan, the Bears didn't appear interested in putting the game in Campbell's hands. And when they had no choice, Campbell fell far short. He threw two interceptions, fumbled twice, and per his career history, rarely pushed the ball upfield. Of his 22 attempts, only six traveled more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. He completed two of them for a total of 24 yards. Again, Campbell was in a tough spot Monday night. But the bottom line is the Bears are now 1-7 in the past eight games that starter Cutler has either missed or has left early. It appears Cutler is on track to return for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. He is scheduled to host his radio show on ESPN 1000 at 1 p.m. ET.
- Cutler has alluded on several occasions to his role in keeping receiver Brandon Marshall mentally engaged and emotionally in check, and it was instructive to see how quickly Marshall got chippy and eventually combative without Cutler on the sideline with him. Television cameras caught center Roberto Garza putting him in a bear hug to settle down an altercation with an unnamed Bears player late in the game. "I have to a do a better job when I am frustrated of not letting it show," Marshall said. In the end, Marshall only saw four passes thrown his way. He caught two of them, including a 13-yard touchdown. Six of Marshall's eight touchdowns this season have come when the score differential was at least 17 points.
What happened to the Bears' defense? Part of me wants to tip my cap to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. It was fair to expect a conservative game plan and a few mistakes when facing a quarterback making his first start. We all thought Kaepernick would give the Bears a chance to add to their long list of takeaways this season. But Kaepernick was poised and stunningly accurate downfield against a Bears team that only blitzed on nine of his 23 attempts. Kaepernick gashed the Bears' standard pressure by completing 10 of 14 passes against it, including two that gained at least 30 yards. The 49ers also burned the Bears' defense by rushing for 94 yards between the tackles. Time will tell, but the Bears' defense -- like most -- was not nearly as good when it couldn't cause turnovers.