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Monday, October 21, 2013

Bears 41, R... Washington 45: Taking a Bite of the Silver Sandwich

The Bears just lost to the Washington Racists, and that makes me very sad. However, under the circumstances, I find it hard to get too beat up about. I can’t think of many teams that could lose their starting QB, two starting defensive tackles, two starting linebackers, a starting corner and a starting safety and still pull out a win.

On the offensive side of the ball, this game was proof positive to me that Marc Trestman’s philosophy works. We lost Jay Cutler, for an estimated four weeks at the very best, and still put up 41 points against an admittedly weak defense. Our receivers still came up with big plays despite Brandon Meriweather providing video evidence of the Most Illegal Hit Imaginable on multiple plays. Matt Forte exploded for 91 yards and three touchdowns, with another 20 yards in the passing game.

Josh McCown went into the game and nothing bad happened. He fell short in a couple places where Jay wouldn’t have; most notably on the final Hail Mary when he just kind of awkwardly flailed at incoming pressure where Jay would have run out of the pocket and maybe avoided the sack. They had to limit the passing game to shorter, safer routes and it cost them some time that they could probably have used later in the game. But he threw for 200 yards, a single TD and a 119 rating.
And most importantly, at least to me, the offense did not look even close to falling apart without Cutler. Sure, it wasn’t as explosive as it probably would have been with him in the game. But they moved the ball well, and they scored 31 points. In past years, the playbook they pulled out in the event of a Cutler injury was “lie down and try not to get hurt.” The best-case scenario was that Cutler gave them a lead and the defense could ride it out. Now they just throw out a few of the bootlegs and deep balls McCown can’t handle and keep working at it.

This is why we hired Marc Trestman. As much talk as there was in the offseason of him “fixing” Jay Cutler, as much as Jay’s stats have done for his reputation as a “QB guru,” the real advantage of an offense-minded coach isn’t just that he can make the QB better. He’s installed a reliable, diverse offense that may not thrive but can at least function without its starting quarterback. He’s turned Alshon Jeffery into an extremely reliable weapon, taking the pressure off Marshall and opening up new passing routes. With the addition of Martellus Bennett and a capable offensive line, this team is capable of scoring a lot of points and staying in games they would’ve lost a year ago.
To me, sad as I am about Cutler and losing and all the shit that came with it, that’s a very positive thing to take away from a football game. Aside from Roberto Garza, pretty much everyone on this offense has several good years left in them (barring an injury of course). They work very well together, and should only improve as the new additions get more time to gel and the rookies mature.
Sadly, the exact opposite is true on the other side of the ball. Pro Bowl players are missing tackles and losing their receivers. They’re generating turnovers, but they’re missing easy plays. And yes, they are dropping like flies due to injury; but many of them didn’t have a lot of good years left in them to begin with.
We were expecting to get a year of steady offensive improvement and steady defensive production. We’ve grown accustomed to saying the defense is a rock and the offense is just trying to keep up. Instead, the offense is playing full-tilt and still losing because the defense can’t even slow the other guys down.
It’s easy to point to injuries, but this defense was playing poorly when Briggs and Tillman were still in the game. They were playing poorly with Nate Collins, they were even having trouble before Melton got hurt. Whether it’s a coaching issue or age has just finally caught up with them, the defense went from top-flight to bargain bin in a single offseason.

And while the offense played well enough for me to believe they can still win at least half the games they’ll play with Cutler out, the defense is unlikely to get any better as the season drags on. Briggs is out 6 weeks or so with a shoulder injury, DJ Williams is out for the season, both starting DTs are out for the season and Tillman has yet to stay healthy for an entire game.
So despite the loss to a 1-4 team, despite the heinous struggles on defense, despite the injuries to key players, there were positives to be found in that game. I won’t tell you to keep your chin up, or to keep believing this is the year; at this point, both would just be insulting. But we’ve seen that the important change we needed to make is working. That the decision to abandon “Bear Football” was the right one. We may not do anything important this season.
But Phil Emery just fixed one of the league’s worst offenses in only two drafts. I see no reason to believe he can’t reload this defense quickly. And we don’t need them to be a “Bear defense.” We don’t even need them to be a top-10 unit. We need them to keep this offense in the game, and let Trestman take care of the rest.

I don’t believe in this season. But for the first time in a long time, I feel totally confident saying I feel good about the future.

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