Regardless of their injury situation, the one thing that became quite clear in the Chicago Bears' 45-41 loss to the Washington Redskins is that they're not going to contend for a Super Bowl title this season.
The Bears have been fighting injuries all season, but on Sunday they lost one guy they absolutely could not afford to be without as quarterback Jay Cutler left the game with a groin injury. The severity of this injury has yet to be determined at the time of this writing, but regardless of how much more time Cutler misses—if any—the Bears simply aren't good enough to contend.
The biggest issue for the Bears this season is the defense. Excuses are made every week for Mel Tucker's unit, but it's become quite clear they can't get the job done.
I'll get more into their troubles in the following slides, but there were some good things for the Bears. Josh McCown did an admirable job when he came on for Cutler, Matt Forte had another long touchdown run and their return man is still capable of being ridiculous.
Here are a few quick takeaways from the Bears on this game and what needs to happen going forward.
While the Bears await word of the severity of Cutler's injury, they can take a little solace in the fact that McCown appears capable of at least managing the game.
Nobody should confuse McCown's statistics with great quarterback play. Coach Marc Trestman drastically changed the game plan when McCown came in the game, but he executed it. The supporting cast also stepped up their games as the line blocked better and their receivers made some things happen after the catch.
The Bears started using running back Matt Forte more and stuck to mostly short, simple throws. Against a bad defense, they were successful. It probably won't be enough to beat the Packers or any other decent team—as it wasn't enough to beat the Redskins either—but they should be better off than they were with Caleb Hanie two years ago.
Outside of their last play in which he allowed himself to be sacked with under 10 seconds left, McCown was better than expected. He showed enough zip on the ball and mobility to give the Bears hope of still fielding an adequate offense, or at least one that isn't Jonathan Quinn-bad.
Nobody should be too excited about McCown's performance. He won't be the second coming of Sid Luckman, but if you're looking for something to be happy about, McCown may be it.
The game plan going against a mostly bad Redskins defense should've been easy, but somehow it wasn't.
The Redskins gave up over 180 rushing yards to LeSean McCoy in their season opener. The next week, James Starks ran for 132 yards on just 20 carries. In Week 3, it was Joique Bell's turn as he had over 120 yards from scrimmage.
Washington had done a better job in their last two games, but that's because both of the starting running backs they were going against were injured early in their games after fast starts.
Quite clearly, Matt Forte should've been the key in the Bears game plan. Yet, for some reason, he wasn't.
Before Jay Cutler was injured in the second quarter, Forte had touched the ball just four times. Two of the runs came on consecutive plays after a Cutler pass bounced off Alshon Jeffery's hands and was returned for a touchdown.
Forte should've been getting the ball right away on handoffs and passes out of the backfield. When he finally did start getting the ball, he was effective. He finished with 91 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. That was despite the fact the Bears didn't have a passing game that could seriously threaten Washington anymore.
This isn't the first time Trestman has decided to handcuff Forte. He only gave him two carries in the first half after he broke free for a 53-yard touchdown run against the Lions. During that span, Detroit took control of the game. Against the Saints, the Bears went into halftime trailing 20-7 as Forte had just four carries.
Notice a trend?
Sometimes, coaches have a tendency to outthink themselves. Hopefully, that's what's happening with Trestman here because one has to believe he's smart enough to know that they need to get the ball to Forte in order to be successful.
I'm going to stop short of saying Hester is ridiculous, because that's not what we've seen for most of this season. However, it's nice to know he still has the potential to hit a home run.
The return was aided by a great block from Eric Weems as Hester got away from the first would-be tackler, ran across the field and found a convoy of blockers. Hester read the blocks perfectly as he sprinted down the sideline for the score.
It's not fair to judge Hester solely by stats because opposing teams kick away from him. The Redskins gave him a chance and he made them pay.
With the touchdown, Hester tied the record for returned touchdowns, held by his idol, Deion Sanders.
The best part of the return is that it came when the Bears really needed it. Unfortunately, their defense is so terrible it didn't make a difference.
At this point, it's a play-by-play thing with Alshon Jeffery the Bears are getting.
If you want to look for one play that completely turned the momentum in favor of Washington early, look no further than the interception returned for a touchdown by Brian Orakpo.
On 1st-and-10 after a Redskins touchdown, Jay Cutler threw what should've been a 10-yard pass to Jeffery. The ball was a bit high, but he had both hands around the ball. It should've been a catch. Instead, Jeffery dropped the ball and batted it right to Orakpo who ran down the sideline for an easy touchdown.
That play didn't lose the game for the Bears, but if Jeffery catches that pass, the Redskins have one fewer touchdown.
The second-year receiver was much better in the second half and finished with four catches for 105 yards. It was the third time in the last four games he's topped 100 yards receiving.
The good news is that he's becoming more consistent. The bad news is that his mistakes are still costly. This is the second time—the first coming against Detroit—that he's gotten both hands on a pass, but the ball has still been intercepted.
A wide receiver shouldn't be able to cost a team a game. Had Jeffery caught both of those passes, one could argue the Bears would've won both of those games.
Those arguments would be incorrect of course because of the next slide.
The Bears defense has been terrible all season long and many people have been making excuses for defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. No more excuses, he's clearly not the man for the job.
There was little evidence that he would be. His defenses ranked in the bottom eight in terms of scoring three out of four years in Jacksonville. The one year they didn't, was the year Peyton Manning didn't play and they faced the Texans with the combination of Matt Leinart and T.J. Yates at quarterback. That year, nobody in their division scored even 24 points per game. They faced three teams all year that averaged over 25 points per game and in those three games they gave up an average of 34 points. It was quite clearly a case where they weren't as good as their numbers indicated.
The excuse there was that he never had the talent to work with. That wasn't supposed to be a problem with the Bears and it shouldn't be.
Before you argue that injuries have taken their toll, take a look to the north and see what Green Bay's Dom Capers is doing without Clay Matthews. That team started their season without their two best defensive backs and have played the last two games without their two starting outside linebackers, yet they're giving up around 10 points per game fewer than the Bears.
The Cowboys went through a bunch of injuries—including playing without DeMarcus Ware for most of the game—against the Redskins, yet they held Washington to under 20 points.
Sure, some of the Bears players have aged. It certainly looks like Julius Peppers has one foot in the retirement home, but he indicated Tucker is to blame for his performance. Peppers told the Chicago Sun-Times that his ineffectiveness was due to scheme and game-planning more than anything else. If Tucker's game plan is really something that limits his most talented player, there's a big issue.
Before you doubt Peppers' story, consider that no team Tucker has coordinated has finished higher than 25th in sacks.
Tucker doesn't deserve all the blame. Injuries have hurt the team and a number of players aren't playing up to their potential. However, he's still at least partially responsible for that.
When players aren't effective, it's up to the coach to either find new players who will do a better job or run plays that will put them in better position. Tucker has made some subtle changes, but they looked lost once again against the Redskins. The Bears were regularly fooled by the read-option plays that every other team in the league seems to have figured out.
After leading the league in takeaways and finishing third in points allowed, the Bears defense is in a complete free fall.
If you're still inclined to blame age, injuries and the roster he has to work with, think about this: how is it possible that every player on the defense got worse? It simply isn't.
The Bears still have the talent to be a good defense. They may not be a top-10 unit anymore, but there's no reason they can't be at least in the top half of the league. If that's going to happen, however, they have to make a change. Tucker has given no indication that he's capable of running a Super Bowl-caliber defense.