Chicago Bears: 10 Things We Learned in Loss Versus New York Giants
Last night, the Chicago Bears were handily defeated by the New York Giants, 41-13. The only Chicago touchdown came with 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter; kicker Robbie Gould was 2 of 3, netting Chicago's only other points.
While the Bears made it to the NFC Championship Game in 2010, the team did not look like a playoff contender last night. It is clear that Chicago has a litany of problems they need to address if they are going to be a threat within their difficult division—let alone the NFC.
The following slides illustrate the 10 things the game taught us about the Bears.
The Bears Offensive Line Is Still Struggling
In the Week 1 preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, the Bears offensive line gave up nine sacks; last night, head coach Lovie Smith kept the starting O-linemen on the field through the third quarter.
This did not serve to improve the sad state of affairs plaguing the line against the New York Giants.
While the Giants managed only one sack (which is an improvement for the Bears), quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie were pressured play after play.
Offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb continued to struggle at his position, repeatedly beaten by Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
The Bears continue to have work to do on their offensive line, as they have in past seasons. Last night's performance didn't do much to increase confidence that they can.
Roy Williams Is Who We Thought He Was
Of all of the moves teams made in free agency this year, one of the more perplexing ones was the Chicago Bears' signing of wide receiver Roy Williams.
Williams' career has been rife with dropped passes; last night was no different. On his first targeted attempt, a 3rd-and-10 pass that could have gained him at least 16 yards was ruled incomplete when he lost the ball going to the ground.
He ended his first preseason showing by dropping two of the three passes thrown to him and having zero receptions.
While Williams has had a shorter time to mesh with his quarterbacks and fellow receivers on the Bears offense, he is a nine-season veteran and should have more than adequate catching mechanics based on experience alone.
It is unclear if Williams will ever get over his pass-dropping reputation, but if he continues on the path he forged last night, it won't happen this season with the Bears.
The Chicago Bears Defense Can't Make Up for Offensive Shortcomings
In the past 10 years, the Chicago Bears defense has often been counted on to pick up the slack for their offensive counterparts.
On the most part, this has been successful, leading the Bears to the Super Bowl in the 2006-2007 season and the NFC Championship Game last season.
Last night, however, the Bears defense looked exposed, giving up 41 points to the New York Giants' first- and second-team offenses.
The biggest issue they had was stopping the running game, allowing the Giants an average rush of 8.1 yards per attempt; but their pass rush looked flat as well, with zero sacks on quarterbacks Eli Manning and David Carr.
While the Bears offense continues to work out their problems, the defense needs a return to form of seasons past.
Allowing 41 points is not a good indicator that the Bears defense can easily repeat past successes.
The Chicago Bears Sorely Miss Greg Olsen
With the Chicago Bears receiver corps clearly still a work in progress, the loss of tight end Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers is a major blow to the Chicago offense.
Olsen had been quarterback Jay Cutler's favorite target, with the tight end spending years as a Bears receiving leader.
Now that he's gone, Cutler's success rate has dropped significantly. His replacement, former Pittsburgh Steeler Matt Spaeth, has neither the speed nor the hands of Olsen, and new offensive coordinator Mike Martz does not prioritize the tight end position as a passing option.
This means it is going to be a lot more difficult for Cutler this season, and it will take a lot of work for him to develop the same type of relationship he had with Olsen with another receiver.
Matt Forte Must Carry the Chicago Bears Offense
One bright spot in the Chicago Bears offense is running back Matt Forte. A stellar running back, he is also reliable in the screen game and has impressive speed.
Forte will have to continue exhibiting his considerable skills throughout this regular season if the Bears are going to have any success on offense.
In last night's game, Forte was mainly contained, having just four rushes for seven yards, but he was able to make a major play on one reception good for 42 yards.
Even when he is not the offensive target, he is garnering defensive attention, allowing the Bears offense to open up both their passing game and their ground game with other running backs.
Forte will have to continue being the most important offensive weapon on the Bears roster, after quarterback Jay Cutler, if the Bears want to win this season; performances like last night's, therefore, need to be more of an anomaly than a regular occurrence.
The Chicago Bears Need a Wide Receiver to Emerge from the Pack
With wide receiver Roy Williams' problems holding on to the ball, kick returner/receiver Devin Hester still on the path to learning his newer position, and Greg Olsen traded to the Carolina Panthers, the Bears need another receiver to emerge as a primary threat.
Johnny Knox seems to be the one most poised to take up that mantle, but he comes with the caveat of falling out of favor with the coaching staff, as the addition of Williams deposed him from the No. 1 position.
Knox had the most catches for the Bears last season, with 51, and had two receptions for 20 yards in his game against the New York Giants, playing only the second half.
Another option is Earl Bennett, who had three receptions for 58 yards in that game.
Either way, it will soon become clear to the Bears that Roy Williams is not consistent enough to be quarterback Jay Cutler's primary receiving option, and another will need to step up if the team is going to have a successful passing game this season.
Jay Cutler Needs Better Options Than the Screen
One of the biggest problems related to the Chicago Bears' troubled offensive line, is that it requires quarterback Jay Cutler to make quick snap-decisions.
Cutler often relies on the short screen game to get him out of defensive pressure, and last night's game was no different.
However, fans and opponents alike have become accustomed to the Bears' screen-game strategy, and with each game it becomes the predictable result of Cutler rolling out under pressure.
As this season continues, if Cutler keeps throwing screen after screen, it will be that much easier for opposing defenses to counter, resulting in more interceptions.
The obvious way to alleviate using the screen game as a crutch is to improve the offensive line, but this, as we well know, sounds much easier than it actually is.
Instead, the Bears need to explore other options for Cutler when he is facing pressure, because throwing such a high percentage of screens is not going to remain a viable option for very long.
Wide Receiver Dane Sanzenbacher Is a Rookie
Chicago Bears undrafted free agent rookie wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher has received a lot of attention this offseason due to an impressive showing at training camp that resulted in him working almost exclusively with the first-team offense.
Practice, however, is an altogether different thing than an NFL game—even a preseason game—and that was very clear in watching Sanzenbacher on the field last night.
Sanzenbacher had four receptions for 34 yards against the Giants and played in the first and second half, primarily as a reliever for Earl Bennett.
While he did not do much to either under- or overwhelm in the game, the odds are against him to be a regular starter in the season. He may make the Bears roster only if they choose to have six receivers in their rotation.
An impressive camp is a good way for a rookie to make an impression—especially an undrafted one—but if Bears fans are looking to him to improve their offense this season, they should lower their expectations.
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same for the Bears
The Chicago Bears went into this season fully knowing what had been working and what had not, but have done little to affect any real change on these problems.
The offensive line is dreadful, as it has been for many seasons, but they have made very few attempts to improve it. In fact, they only made a step to weaken it, relieving long-time center Olin Kreutz of his duties (who has since moved on to the New Orleans Saints).
With O-line problems come offensive inconsistencies, which can be partially alleviated by adding more playmakers to the offensive roster.
Instead, the Bears added a wide receiver who defines inconsistency, Roy Williams, and one that defines irrelevance in Sam Hurd. Then they went even further, parting ways with one of the most productive members of their offense, Greg Olsen.
On defense, they chose to add defensive end Vernon Gholston, despite his never having a single sack in his career with the New York Jets.
How these moves add up to a recipe for success is anybody's guess.
It's Going to Be a Very Long Season
The Chicago Bears have managed to succeed in spite of themselves.
Year after year, they make questionable personnel decisions, change things that aren't broken and break things that work well, and manage to not only win games, but make it to the playoffs.
At some point, however, the Bears' luck is going to run out. Mismanagement will eventually catch up with the team, and it is not going to be a pretty season when it does.
In fact, it looks like the Bears are poised to have an extremely difficult time throughout 2011. With no emerging offensive weapons, a weak pass rush and run defense, and a porous offensive line, wins are going to be hard to come by.
At some point, the Bears will reach their tipping point, and when they do, it is not going to be a bright outlook for general manager Jerry Angelo or head coach Lovie Smith.
Those may be the only two that hope this coming season lasts forever, because when it ends, their time with the Bears' organization may as well.