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Bears' Inability to Make in-Game Adjustments, Move Ball Downfield Growing Old

Bear Heiser@@BearHeiserFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2014

Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (94) sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler during the second half of an NFL football game in Detroit, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

The Chicago Bears’ 2014 season has been marred by inconsistency, and that’s exactly what plagued the Marc Trestman-coached team in Thursday’s 34-17 loss to the Detroit Lions.

A good quarter here, a good quarter there. Next thing you know, bad quarters everywhere. That’s how suddenly it changes. Trestman said it best after the game: “We didn’t have enough ammunition to stop them or continue drives.”

Much of the talk surrounding the Bears’ game plan coming in centered around the success New England had against Detroit in last week’s blowout win. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady thrived in short-throw situations and kept the chains moving chunk by chunk without making costly mistakes, keeping the Lions defense on its heels.

And that’s exactly what quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears offense did to start the game. It worked too. Cutler moved the offense using screens, short crossing routes and checkdowns into the flat. The Lions’ defensive pressure was thwarted by a pocket that moved left, moved right and eventually moved down the field into the end zone.

The Bears scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game for the first time since Week 5, a loss to the Carolina Panthers. After an empty possession by Cutler and Co., the Mel Tucker-led defense stepped up with a big strip-sack by defensive end Jared Allen, putting the offense in the red zone.

Two plays later, boom: Cutler found wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the end zone for Chicago's second touchdown of the day.

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The Bears led 14-3 when the first quarter ended, and it was all downhill from there. Both sides of the ball started to sputter, and before they knew it the game was over.

What went wrong?

The Lions adjusted, but the Bears didn’t adjust with them. Short pass after short pass, the Lions began to predict what the Bears were going to do before they even did it, eventually locking down the middle of the field, making it nearly impossible to gain yards after the catch.

When the offense started sputtering, changes weren't made. The Patriots ran the ball 20 times against the Lions. The Bears ran it only eight times for 13 yards, tying for the third-fewest single-game rushing yard total in franchise history. ChicagoFootball's Kevin Fishbain gets credit for that stat:

Kevin Fishbain @kfishbain

The 13 rushing yards for the Bears ties 9/25/2011 (vs. GB) for the third-fewest rushing yards in a game in franchise history.

What Trestman referred to as “ammunition,” in real talk, means the Bears weren’t able to make the necessary in-game adjustments to win.

Trestman talked after the game about how the short passes were intended to get the Lions defense “running sideline to sideline.” The Bears offense “just couldn’t sustain it,” he said. Yep, it’s hard to sustain a passing game that moves in chunks of five yards, as it did Thursday. NFL Network host Rich Eisen, who likely hasn't sent out a Bears-related tweet all season, even commented on the Bears' offensive ineptitude: 

Rich Eisen @richeisen

Trestman says he has to be balanced to start 2nd half and then calls 13 pass plays before settling for a FG.

Cutler did throw the ball deep on a few occasions with little success, mostly in jump-ball situations. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall lost nearly every 50-50 ball Cutler threw his way, and the same can be said for Jeffery.

While Marshall and Jeffery are great receivers, they aren’t exactly the kinds of players who can burn past their coverage for a 65-yard touchdown. Yet the duo received exactly half of Cutler’s 48 passing attempts. Running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett combined for 20, leaving four to guys who aren’t in the Bears' “Big Four.”

Why is that important? Well, wide receiver Marquess Wilson has been back in the lineup for three weeks now. Why did he only receive two targets when the Lions defense was busy paying the majority of its attention to Marshall and Jeffery?

Bears pass-catchers had only three receptions of 20-plus yards. Only three receptions of 20-plus yards is not a winning formula when Cutler is your quarterback. It takes too many plays to march the offense downfield for the Bears to be able to sustain any sort of success.

Cutler’s interception in the third quarter extended his league lead in the turnover category (20). The turnover also led to a Lions field goal, which counted as the 83rd, 84th and 85th points allowed this season after turning the ball over, via ESPN Chicago’s Michael C. Wright:

Michael C. Wright @mikecwright

That FG makes it 85 points Bears opponents have scored off their turnovers. Cutler now has a league-high 19 turnovers.

It’s no secret that Cutler presses when the Bears trail in games. He forces throws that wouldn’t normally need to be thrown if the Bears offense moved the ball with any sort of volume. 

Down two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter, Cutler dropped back and threw an interception downfield to Marshall, who was in double coverage. Marshall didn’t get a good position for the jump ball, allowing the ball to be deflected by one defender and picked off by another. The ball didn’t need to be thrown in that spot.

Another strong title for any future Jay Cutler memoir: Jay Cutler: The Ball That Didn’t Need to be Thrown. Can you see it?

What you saw Thursday was the same thing you’ve been seeing all season long from the Bears. You saw a Bears offense that started playing sideline-to-sideline football and finished the game playing sideline-to-sideline football. Here's another fun stat describing the staleness of Trestman's play-calling, via ESPN NFL Nation writer Kevin Seifert: 

Kevin Seifert @SeifertESPN

#Bears: 1 rush in 2nd half. Fewest by a team in a half in 4 years, per @ESPNStatsInfo. #Lions have good run D, but yikes, Marc Trestman.

Offensive inconsistency starts at the top with this Bears team. From Trestman to Cutler to everyone else involved, the Bears offense should be better than the current product that continues to trot out onto the field.

“We didn’t do enough,” Trestman said. “It starts with me.” While it’s great that he holds himself accountable, these Bears have been speaking accountability all season long. It’s one thing to acknowledge your failures, but any and all acknowledgement loses its luster once it continues to happen over and over again.

While it certainly shouldn’t be a surprise at this point, it still has to be disappointing for those involved. The answers to the questions that have been outstanding for nearly 12 weeks now still remain unanswered.

When asked how the Bears move forward from here, Trestman said, “We’re going to work every day to be the best football team we can be, and that’s the only way to approach it at this point.”

Yeah, because that approach has been working, right?

All quotes pulled from the ChicagoBears.com postgame live stream unless otherwise noted.

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