The Bears Week 10 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have been the fairest barometer all season of exactly where the team stacks up in the NFL hierarchy and where Ryan Pace’s and John Fox’s rebuilding effort truly stands in year two of this administration. Early season games were potentially marred by a preseason in which the Bears seemingly never got out of first gear. Those early games the Bears were still warming up, feeling their way through games with a roster which had experienced siginificant turnover in the offseason. Including an offensive line which was changing less than one week before Week 1. Additionally, it could be argued the offense was still learning Dowell Loggains’ scheme. While similar to the one employed last season by Adam Gase, there are bound to be differences and thereby some growing pains. The Bears weren’t expected to be very good and they were beginning the 2016 season at a bit of a disadvantage. That they didn’t win any games and didn’t look particularly competitive in those games may have been forgiven.
Especially when the injuries starting piling up. The Bears have little to no quality depth. What little depth they may have is young and developing. When forced to play significant snaps before they were ready the team looked exactly like a team in rebuilding mode, seeing what they had in their young players with little significance to losses sustained. Which in hindsight may have been the proper direction for this year’s team in the first place, but with some high-profile offseason additions the Bears were supposed to be competitive. However, with the losses of the starting quarterback, the starting running back, the starting nose tackle, a starting cornerback, the inability of Leonard Floyd to play due to injury, Pernell McPhee beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list and a roster which in general seemed perpetually nicked up and down depth players, the losses could once again be forgiven. Perhaps the Bears still should have looked better than they did, but the injuries were a legitimate excuse. Next man up only goes so far on a team where the next man is almost assuredly bad.
Then Pernell McPhee was activated from the PUP list and made a noticeable difference in the team’s ability to get to the quarterback as well as simply bringing an attitude to the defense. A defense which had begun to look pretty good in the preceding weeks. Jay Cutler returned from his thumb injury. Say what you will about Cutler but he’s a better quarterback than Brian Hoyer and brings a different dimension to the Bears offense. Plus, he seems to just bring more confidence to the offense. With an offensive line which had solidified, becoming one of the strengths of the team, a running back in Jordan Howard who had breathed life into a moribund running game, and the promise of more production from Alshon Jeffrey simply due to the presence of Jay Cutler, the offense simply had to improve from the unit which was one of the worst in the NFL.
And they did for one week. Against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football the Bears looked like the team they promised to be before the season actually started. The defense held the Vikings offense in check for the entire game. Running backs were stuffed. Sam Bradford was under pressure all night. The secondary covered on the back end. The Bears offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and opened big holes for Jordan Howard, who had over 200 yards of total offense on the night. Jay Cutler was not spectacular in his return, but he was efficient and avoided his usual mistakes. He looked like the Jay Cutler from last season instead of the Jay Cutler prior to his injury, or the Jay Cutler prior to last season. The Bears put in a complete performance for the first time all season. They won. They looked like they could compete against just about anybody in the NFL. It provided confidence for the team and for fans heading into their bye week. There was cautious optimism.
After their bye week the Bears were heading to Tampa Bay, a team which could not be described as very good. The Buccaneers had more wins than the Bears, but if the Bears simply played as they did against the Vikings they should be able to pull out a victory. For their parts, both the Bears and Bears fans seemed confident of a victory. Then the game was played and all of that confidence, all of that optimism faded away. Or perhaps more appropriately, it suffered a swift death, 36-10.
Below the Bears preseason performance is broken down into 3 categories: The Good, The Bad and the What the @&#!? I think these categories are fairly self-explanatory.
- The Bears pass rush did an excellent job, combining for 5 sacks and 5 hits on Bucs QB Jameis Winston. While Bears players failed to get home on a number of occasions where Winston was able to escape pressure and complete passes, to ask more of the Bears seems unfair.
- The defensive line and linebackers also put forth a tremendous effort keeping the Bucs running game in check. Doug Martin returned from injury after missing 6 weeks and was probably not 100 percent, but he’s still a threat. The Bears only gave up 80 total rushing yards.
- The offensive line was excellent run blocking, providing holes for Jordan Howard who gained 100 yards on the ground on only 15 carries before leaving with an injury.
- As good of a job the Bears did blocking the run, they were as poor blocking for Jay Cutler. Cutler was sacked 4 times, hit 7, and had no time to pass all game.
- After showing a commitment to the running game in the games preceding the bye week the Bears once again abandoned their rushing attack against the Bucs. The Bears only had 20 rushing attempts for the whole game. As they were falling behind in the second half this lack of attempts could be understood, but it was prior to that point that Dowell Loggains ceased calling running plays. In a game where Jay Cutler and the passing game was struggling and Jordan Howard was having success, why the Bears didn’t run more must be in question.
- Kyle Long was carted off the field with an ankle injury and is now reportedly out for the season.
- Jordan Howard had to leave the game with what may be an Achilles injury and will most likely have to miss some games.
What the @&#!?:
- Jay Cutler had 3 turnovers, 2 interceptions and a fumble. He had another fumble which was recovered by the Bears. Worse than the turnovers, however, is that they were quinessential Jay Cutler turnovers. Interceptions on passes which should never have been thrown. A lost fumble in the red zone. They were bad turnovers that cost the Bears points. Those turnovers turned the game and gave a tired Bears defense no chance of stopping the Bucs.
- Jordan Howard also lost a fumble.
- At some point this season the Bears have to begin looking like they have a game plan and will stick with that game plan. Outside of the game against the Vikings the Bears always seem to either have no real plan for the game, or if they do, abandon it as soon as they experience failure.
- John Fox has never been known as a good in-game coach, but he was supposed one of the best in the NFL Monday-Saturday. If that’s still true, how did the Bears look unprepared to play after a bye week? It’s inexcusable.
It’s Week 10 of the NFL season. The Bears have played nine games. At this point of the season the Bears are most likely who they are, who everyone thought them to be before the Vikings game. A healthy roster coming off a bye week against a mediocre Bucs team should not look like they did yesterday. Not after what the team showed was possible if both sides of the ball play as they are able for an entire game, as they did in beating the Vikings. But that was one game. One out of nine. Maybe the Bears are capable of playing like they did in that one game, but capability and execution are two very different things. And in execution the Bears fail almost every time.
The defense is the only aspect of this Bears team which has shown any sustained improvement over the course of the season. Everything else has been up and down, if not down outright. The rebuild of Ryan Pace and John Fox must be questioned at this point. Although Pace has seemingly done a nice job in adding young talent to this team and signing some significant free agents, more improvement from Year 1 should be expected. Unless the blame falls squarely on John Fox. He has tremendous power over personnel decisions. No player which Fox does not want will remain on the team. This is John Fox’s team. And they’re failing, despite improvements in talent. No more optimism.
But is it the talent which is failing or coaching which is failing the talent?
Some other takes from the game:
- Chicagho Tribune
- Chicago Sun-Times
- Chicago Daily Herald
- Pro Football Weekly
- ESPN Chicago
- CSN Chicago
- CBS Chicago
- Windy City Gridiron
- Bears Wire