By Dan Durkin
(CBS) Despite a new regime and refreshed philosophy, the Bears season opener had several elements of years past. Here’s my rapid reaction to a gutsy performance by the Bears to get to 1-0 and win the first game of the Marc Trestman-era.
Certainly, the Bears first drive of the season didn’t go as scripted. A dropped pass by a tight end, a timeout :51 seconds into the game, and a three-and-out conjured memories of an uncoordinated offense fans were anxious to forget. However, football is a 60-minute affair.
There’s a positive and a negative to Trestman being out of the league since 2004. The positive is there isn’t much game tape for opponents to view, the negative is the Bears need to use real games to determine what plays they’re most successful at running.
Throughout the game, Trestman spread the Bengals out with a variety of personnel groupings and formations, and lined Jay Cutler (21/33, 242 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, 93.2 quarterback rating) up in the shotgun to give him more time to survey the field. The Bengals responded by playing a lot of Cover-2, forcing the Bears to work the ball underneath. Cutler’s 4.1 yards per attempt at halftime proved this was a successful defensive strategy early on.
Brandon Marshall (8 catches, 102 yards, 1 touchdown) frequently operated out of the slot to get advantageous matchups against linebackers and safeties. On an early a 3rd-and-17, the Bears were able to scheme and exploit Marshall against Vontaze Burfict to keep the drive alive. On the very next play, Cutler found tight end Martellus Bennett (3 catches, 49 yards, 1 touchdown) in the back of the endzone for a touchdown. In the past, 3rd-and-long situations seemed impossible, so it’s encouraging to see the film study paying off.
Football is a game of one-on-one matchups, and wise coaches find ways to put their best weapons in position to succeed.
The Bears offense hit a bit of a lull, with three of their next four drives ending in a three-and-out. During this stretch, the Bears offensive line was unable to control the line of scrimmage and create running lanes. There was an overall lack of explosive plays, netting only three plays of 10+ yards in the first half.
The Bears responded to the Bengals 80-yard touchdown drive to start the second half with an 80-yard touchdown drive of their own. Cutler spread the ball around, but it was his feet that made the biggest difference on this drive. Cutler took advantage of a Bengals blitz, broke the pocket and baited Adam Jones only to dump the ball off to Bennett for a 30-yard gain on 3rd-and-7.
Cutler doesn’t get enough credit for his athleticism and judging by his ability to improv on a few plays that broke down in the pocket today, look for the coaching staff to incorporate more rollouts and get Cutler on the move.
Cutler’s one blemish came early in the fourth quarter. Cutler was under a bit of blindside pressure from Michael Johnson, who got his hand on Cutler’s left shoulder as he was releasing the ball. This appeared to be enough to disrupt Cutler’s delivery, as he was both short and off target, putting the ball right in the hands of Burfict in Bears territory. Fortunately, the Bears defense bailed Cutler out by forcing a fumble and he responded in a big way.
On the ensuing drive, Cutler marched the Bears 81 yards, accounting for 71 of the yards on his own. This drive also presented Trestman with the first major coaching decision of his young career. Down 21-17, Trestman opted to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Bengals 26-yard line. The Bengals put 10 men in the box and the Bears ran Forte to the outside, who picked up eight huge yards for the first down. On the very next play, Cutler threw a laser-beam to Marshall on a corner route, which ended up being the game-winner.
All eyes were focused on the rookies on the right side of the offensive line and with only a few exceptions, they held up well. Jordan Mills was strong, not requiring much help. Kyle Long had a few assignment busts, which need to get corrected. But the bottom line shows that against a stout defensive front, Cutler wasn’t sacked, was only hit four times, and Geno Atkins was largely a non-factor (0 tackles, 1 quarterback hit).
The Bears must get more production out of the run game. Cutler’s 18-yard scramble was the longest run of the day, which can’t become a trend. If the Bears are unable to keep defenses honest with the run, they’ll continue to face Cover-2, which limits big plays down-the-field.
Where is the pass rush?
The saying always goes that a strong pass rush will make up for an average secondary and not the other way around. All game, the Bears were unable to generate any pressure on Andy Dalton, who had plenty of time to survey the field from a clean pocket and find AJ Green (9 catches, 162 yards, 2 touchdowns) streaking down the field.
Even with cornerbacks as good as Charles Tillman (two interceptions) and Tim Jennings (1 forced fumble), no defender can cover receivers for 3/4/5 seconds. Green is one of the best receivers in the league and he played like it, showing uncanny body control and positioning.
Julius Peppers didn’t scratch on the stat sheet, which is a troubling sign for their highest paid player. The Bengals were without their top offensive lineman – left tackle Andrew Whitworth – and Peppers was still invisible.
Apparently the ball-hawking philosophy carried over from Lovie Smith to Mel Tucker, as the Bears defense was as opportunistic as ever. Tillman set the Bears up with a short field on their first touchdown and made another interception on a deflection. Jennings forced two fumbles, recovering one of them to set up the Bears for their game-winning drive.
The Bears special teams were stellar. Adam Podlesh had a net average of 46.4 yards on five punts, pinning the Bengals inside their own 20 three times. Robbie Gould set a franchise record with a 58-yard field goal before the half that would’ve been good from 63 if not more.
Despite some strong individual performances by quarterback Dalton and wide receiver Green, the Bengals turned in a very sloppy team performance, with several crucial mental errors that the Bears capitalized on.
Dre Kirkpatrick’s personal foul just before the half gave the Bears a free 15 yards to set up Gould’s field goal, the defense burned two timeouts on back-to-back plays, and Rey Maualuga’s personal foul with just over a minute left put the game away. The timeouts were the most egregious errors. The Bengals had to burn their second timeout because they only had 10 men on the field for the 4th-and-1 play, then they couldn’t get aligned in time to burn their last. There’s a fine line between winning an losing in the NFL, and with two evenly-matched teams, you simply can’t make plays like this and expect to win.
The Minnesota Vikings (0-1) come to Soldier Field next week. My Know Your Opponent feature will be up on Wednesday.
- Cutler, Marshall Lead Bears Over Bengals 24-21
- Hoge: Armed With Protection And A Smart Game Plan, Cutler Delivers
- Bernstein: Put To Test, Trestman Responds
- Photo Gallery: Bears V Bengals
- Hoge’s Notes: Briggs Gives Trestman Game Ball
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