A losing equation
For the Bears, the math is simple: Zero sacks plus zero takeaways equals zero wins
CHICAGO -- It is evident that Mike Martz's offensive laboratory is full of busted beakers, fizzing test tubes and charred game plans.
I'm sure the offense will get its act together once or twice by January, but I doubt we'll be meeting up at Daley Field in 2035 to celebrate the anniversary of the Martzters of the Midway.
In related news, general manager Jerry Angelo's grand experiment of surrounding his high-priced quarterback with a low-talent offensive line is going swimmingly.
Next up for Angelo, taking Cutler on a unicycle trip across the Himalayas.
There's simply no mistaking the struggles of this offense for growing pains. A lack of protection for Cutler, a dearth of physical receivers and a here-today, ignored-tomorrow focus on the run game has resulted in a discombobulated unit.
If the Chicago Bears (4-2) hope to maintain their playoff-caliber record down the stretch -- and in the execrable NFC it might not be that difficult -- it's going to be on the backs of the defense and the special teams.
The more things change, right?
It's easy to pin the Bears' worse-than-it-looks 23-20 loss to Seattle at Soldier Field on the offense, but the truth is, the defense's failures played a major role in the defeat.
It's simple Chicago math: Zero sacks plus zero takeaways equals zero wins.
"You have to take the ball away, simple as that," coach Lovie Smith said.
The Seahawks aren't an offensive juggernaut, but the addition of Marshawn Lynch and the ascendance of receiver Mike Williams makes them formidable. There's no question the Bears' defense, filthy with veteran swagger, thought it could get to Matt Hasselbeck, shut down the running game and most of all force turnovers.
As the offense struggled the past two weeks, the defense worked overtime, destroying Carolina and hanging with New York. The Bears rank highly in a number of defensive categories, and it's not by reputation.
"This was a great opportunity for us to get to 5-1," safety Chris "Call Me Hitman" Harris said. "We kind of blew that opportunity."
The Bears' defense came into the game tied with the Lions with an NFL-high 14 turnovers, but they forced only one fumble Sunday and didn't recover it. They tipped some of Hasselbeck's passes but couldn't get a clean pick. Julius Peppers didn't make any $20 million plays and Lance Briggs' absence was an obvious disadvantage.
Maybe he should suit up as nickelback. Can you say Troy Brown?
The Bears let Hasselbeck run his offense with impunity, and even when the pressure got to him, the wily veteran managed to get off a shovel pass to escape a sack.
Someone should send a tape of Hasselbeck playing under pressure to Cutler, who took six sacks today to run his season total to 175 (numbers are not official).
Tell him it's an episode of "The Hills" or something.
Hasselbeck didn't put up stellar numbers -- 25-for-40 for 242 yards and one touchdown -- but he moved the ball down the field. Hasselbeck completed 14 passes for first downs. His main target was Williams -- 10 catches (on 14 throws his way) for 123 yards.
"That's the nature of a veteran quarterback," Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said. "They know where the receivers were going to be, know what routes they're running, and the holes on the defense. He made the plays, we didn't."
Justin Forsett and Lynch combined to carry the ball 31 times for 111 yards, each scoring in the red zone.
Lynch and Forsett had their shimmy going, shaking would-be tacklers, while Seattle's physical receivers constantly got inside position. That added up to 20 first downs and a 39 percent third-down conversion rate. In the first half, Seattle went 5-for-9 on third down. Conversely, the Bears were 0-for-12 on third down.
"This wasn't our best tackling game," Harris said. "We had guys out of position too much this game. Happens every game, but you can cover it up. This week we weren't able to and it cost us."
Deon Butler, who capped off a six-play, 80-yard drive with a 22-yard touchdown catch on the Seahawks' prescient first possession, said film study paid off. The Bears' mastery of the Cover 2 can be used against them, as we've seen in the past.
"We knew their techniques and practiced against their technique all week," Butler said. "That really showed up today. They stayed true to form, pretty much being a Cover 2 team; playing some outside leverage. It was something we really worked on, kind of widening the holes in the zone, even if we didn't go outside wide, make them respect that. The corners would jump wide and that would open up the holes inside."
Basically, he's saying the Bears' secondary can be read like a pamphlet.
Smith and Rod Marinelli's defense has punched the clock all season long, so maybe this was an anomaly. But then I think about the Green Bay game and how Aaron Rodgers stayed within the game plan to attack the Bears, dinking and dunking his way to a 75.6 completion percentage.
Brian Urlacher forced a fumble late in the game against the Packers, which led to the game-winning field goal. Without that turnover, it's a different story. And that's always been the gambit with this defense. There are holes to be found given enough time.
In wins over Green Bay and Dallas, the defense failed to record a sack, gave up a deplorable 43.4 percent third-down ratio (10 for 23) and let opposing offenses score three touchdowns in five red zone possessions. But the defense forced five turnovers -- three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Few are better than cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman at stripping the ball, but he got worked by the big, physical Williams, who has reinvented himself under his old college coach, Pete Carroll. With no pressure, Tillman was hung out to dry.
"It's hard to put it on just a cornerback," Smith said. "You look at how much pressure did the quarterback have, you have to take that into consideration, too. I'm going to say the pressure wasn't good enough."
Tillman was less circumspect.
"They just played better than us," Tillman said. "We just got our butts kicked. No excuses, we just got outplayed."
The Bears' early success hasn't been luck, but rather executing at opportune times. And that magnifies Smith's ability to teach turnovers like no other coach in the league.
It's his legacy and it's the backbone of his defense, and it's the only way this team is going to play past the first week of January. On Sunday, we saw what happened when the defense comes up empty.
"We're just waiting for that play," defensive tackle Henry Melton said. "It felt like it was going to come at any time. It felt like someone was going to do it, it felt like I was going to do it one time. It just never did for us."
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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