What's Wrong with the Bears and How Chicago Can Get It Fixed
A home game against the scatterbrained and mistake-prone Giants, who haven't won in five tries this season, might be the remedy to everything that currently ails the Bears. But this is still a Bears team dealing with some demons and those issues need to be addressed sooner rather than later if Chicago is going to pick itself up off the canvas.
In losing back-to-back games to the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints, the Bears have started slow on offense, struggled to find an identity on defense and committed head-scratching mistakes in big moments. The cumulative effect of these afflictions have been too much to overcome against two teams with a combined record of 8-2 in 2013.
Let's take a closer look at the problems hurting the Bears right now and how Chicago can address them heading into Thursday night's tilt against the winless Giants.
Slow Starts Equal Big Holes
Thursday night should present little excuse for a slow start from the Bears, who will be playing at home against one of the NFL's poorest teams in 2013. The Giants are 30th in scoring and 32nd in points allowed—two rankings that pretty much sum up why New York has started 0-5.
However, the Giants have actually outscored their opponents in the first quarter this season, 13-10, and the Bears have started sloppy in each of the last two weeks.
Source: Pro Football Reference
Chicago jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Detroit, only to see the Lions score 30 of the game's next 37 points. Quarterback Jay Cutler threw two picks and his offense went three-and-out three times during that fatal stretch.
Last week, the Bears came out flat and again put themselves in a first-half hole. Chicago punted on four of its first five possessions and lost a fumble. The Saints used the Bears' stagnation to build an early 13-0 lead.
Many factors are to blame for Chicago's slow starts. In Detroit, Cutler set up two easy scores with interceptions. Against the Saints, Chicago allowed three early sacks that forced two punts and a lost fumble.
Finding a fix for the problem might come down to nothing more than improved preparation.
Offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod said after Sunday's loss that the Bears weren't ready for a few early blitzes from the Saints.
"When you're not familiar with something, you kind of get—not rattled, but it kind of catches you off guard," Bushrod said, via Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune.
The Bears scored 38 first-quarter points during the three-game winning streak, so head coach Marc Trestman obviously has the ability to put together a strong early game plan. But his team has been sloppy and somewhat overwhelmed in back-to-back games.
To get back on track Thursday night, the Bears need to punch a lifeless Giants team in the mouth from the opening whistle. A short week will test Trestman's ability to ready his club.
A Defense Without Takeaways
Five games have provided a clear enough picture of the Bears defense in 2013. While known for annually fielding one of the better units in football, Chicago's defense now looks somewhat dilapidated and completely dependent on getting turnovers.
The numbers back up that thesis. The Bears, who start five players on defense over age 29, are currently allowing an average of 28 points (26th in NFL) and 376.6 yards (20th) per game. All five of their opponents have scored at least 20 points and tallied 340 or more yards against Chicago this season.
The one silver lining for the Bears defense has been the ability to secure turnovers. Chicago's 14 takeaways are the fourth most in the NFL, but a goose egg against the Saints last Sunday was another reason why the Bears fell for a second consecutive week.
When Chicago doesn't record takeaways, the defense simply isn't talented enough to consistently stop good offenses such as those of the Lions and Bears.
Thursday night should provide an opportunity for Chicago to get back into the turnover column. The Giants have a league-leading 20 giveaways this season, including 13 interceptions and seven lost fumbles. New York hasn't gotten through a game in 2013 without three or more turnovers.
But even a sudden surge of takeaways against the Giants shouldn't mask the deficiencies that have plagued the Bears.
Chicago's eight sacks are the third fewest in the NFL and four have come from the defensive line. Season-ending injuries to Henry Melton and Nate Collins have contributed to the lack of pressure, but this is still a defensive line featuring Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin, a former first-round pick.
The results simply haven't matched the talent.
Source: Pro Football Focus
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Peppers, Wootton and McClellin have combined for only 28 pressures over nearly 800 offensive snaps. In comparison, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has 29 pressures over 296 offensive snaps this season.
Chicago needs more from its front four, and fast.
The Bears probably aren't good enough at either linebacker or safety to sit back in a Cover-2 shell without consistent pressure from the defensive line. Until that pressure starts coming, Chicago will continue to give up higher-than-normal points and yards while relying on the occasionally inconsistent nature of turnovers.
What is the biggest problem with the Chicago Bears right now?
The gap in talent between most NFL teams is so minimal that the difference in many games is just one or two mistakes. In reality, most games in the NFL are lost due to mistakes or won because of the absence of mistakes.
The Bears know that all too well.
Against the Saints, Chicago gave up early sacks that set up two 3rd-and-17 situations, allowed a free blitzer with a six-man line, committed a neutral zone infraction on 4th-and-1 and dropped a fourth-down pass that killed a rally.
Individually, not one of those mistakes qualifies as the play that doomed the Bears. But add them all up, and they likely equaled the difference between a Chicago team still finding its way and a Saints club that is 5-0 and the toast of the NFC.
A similar script played out against the Lions, as Cutler held the football too long on an eventual strip-sack for a touchdown, airmailed a pass to an open receiver for an interception and threw off his back foot for another pick. The Bears defense was also horrific kin trying to tackle Reggie Bush, who sliced up the aging unit for nearly 175 yards.
Every team is going to make mistakes in games. That's a given regardless of who is playing, but in losing efforts, the Bears seem to let mistakes stockpile.
Eliminating those instances might just take time, as Trestman has only had his hands on this team for roughly eight months or so. Fixing the fundamentals and instilling a more-disciplined team across the board doesn't happen overnight.
There was rather clear evidence early in the season that the Bears were on the right track in terms of cleaning up the many mistakes that haunted the Lovie Smith era. The last two games have been a slight detour.
Even on a short week, playing a clean game against the Giants should be a priority for Trestman and the Bears.
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