By Dan Durkin
(CBS) Nobody said it had to be pretty.
In what could’ve been considered a ‘lose-lose’ game for the Bears, they protected the ball, kept Jay Cutler clean, capitalized on the Giants mistakes, and snapped their two game losing streak.
Here’s my rapid reaction to the Bears 27-21 win over the New York Giants.
Jay Cutler (24/36, 262 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a 106 passer rating) turned in one of his most efficient performances as a Bear. The Bears are now 16-2 in games where Cutler has a 100+ quarterback rating. Cutler was efficient, spread the ball around, took what the defense gave him, lived to play another down on plays that weren’t there, and judiciously used his feet to move the chains.
Cutler wisely got Brandon Marshall (9 receptions, 87 yards, 2 touchdowns) involved early, feeding him the ball to get him focused and shake off any lingering frustration from last week. Marshall worked well in between the numbers, finding voids in the single-high looks they were getting from the Giants.
Playing together for five years forges chemistry, trust, and an understanding between a quarterback and wide receiver. This chemistry was on display on Marshall’s second touchdown of the game.
Tied 14-14 with 5:24 left in the second quarter, the Bears had the ball first-and-goal at the Giants three yard-line. Marshall was singled up at the top of the formation with a cornerback in press-man coverage. Marshall was more physical with his release to beat the jam, ran a stop-fade route, and Cutler threaded a perfect, indefensible back shoulder touchdown throw. This play capped off a 9 play, 81-yard drive and gave the Bears a 21-14 lead.
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The second half was a different story. The Bears offense sputtered and stalled, leaving several yards and points on the field, turning five possessions into only three points, allowing the Giants to hang around until the very end.
As the game progressed, the Giants started to dial up their pressure packages. As a counter, head coach Marc Trestman turned to the screen game and some deep throws.
The Bears timing on screen plays – be it with lineman releasing too early, or receivers not reading the setups of their blockers – has been off all season long. Matt Forte (111 total yards), misread a downfield block cutting outside instead of inside on what could’ve been a huge gain for the Bears. Later in the fourth quarter Cutler lofted a perfect pass to Alshon Jeffery (1 reception, 27 yards) on a vertical route, but as Jeffery located the ball, his footwork got sloppy, preventing him from making what could’ve been a back-breaking touchdown reception.
Martellus Bennett quietly had a strong game against his former team. Working the underneath zones, Bennett (6 receptions, 68 yards) converted five of his seven receptions into first downs, keeping the chains and clock moving.
There’s plenty of room for improvement – particularly in the run game – but on a short week, the Bears played a clean game on offense.
Surely, it was a “here we go again” feeling on the Giants sideline after Eli Manning threw an interception on the first drive of the game. Coming into tonight’s game, the Giants were only the second team in NFL history to turn the ball over at least three times in their first five games, and tonight was no exception.
Eli Manning threw three costly interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Tim Jennings. Two of the interceptions were on miscommunications between manning and Rueben Randle, and the third an overthrow with two minutes left which effectively ended the game.
The interior of the Bears defensive line has been decimated by injuries, but the NFL is a no mercy league. The Giants – who entered the game averaging a league-low 56 rushing yards – battered the Bears front. Brandon Jacobs (22 carries, 106 yards, 2 touchdowns) was out of the league just a few weeks ago, yet blasted holes in the Bears defense.
The Giants offensive line was able to routinely turn out Landon Cohen and Corey Wootton to create running lanes, and the tackling at the second and third-level of the Bears defense was poor.
Isiah Frey and Tim Jennings both whiffed on a third down play in the second quarter to keep a drive alive, that the Giants eventually scored a touchdown on. This play may have seemed innocuous at the time, but it wasn’t. Poor technique directly led to points.
Safety Major Wright is in a contract year and with each passing week, the dollars of his next deal are shrinking. Wright was not only sloppy with his tackling technique – lunging at players with his head down and no wrap – he also was slow to get back to his landmark on pre-snap blitz looks. One of those plays, Wright completely turned himself around and Manning connected with Randle on a touchdown.
Granted, preparing on a short week after losing another defensive tackle (Nate Collins) and not knowing the status of another (Stephen Paea), was a tall task for defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and defensive line coach Mike Phair, but the Bears defensive line once again failed to register a sack.
In order to generate pressure, Tucker was forced to use his back seven as blitzers, which took players out of coverage, and created opportunities for Manning to make plays down the field and convert third downs to keep drives alive.
The Bears defense was without Charles Tillman, Paea, and lost DJ Williams (chest) during the game. Thursday night games are difficult to prepare for, but once they’re over, the added rest is just what the defense needs.
Save for an odd squib kickoff that led to a 46-yard kickoff return, it was a record-setting night for the Bears special teams. Devin Hester became the team’s all-time leader in kickoff return yardage, and Robbie Gould tied an NFL record booting his 12th straight field goal from 50+ yards.
Coordinator Joe DeCamillis needs to straighten some things out, as the coverage units have had a breakdown in almost every game this season.
On the first drive of the game, Trestman made a curious decision to forgo the field goal and instead try for a touchdown, which the Bears failed to convert. The Bears did have a pick-six on the next series, but you can’t pass up points. Kick the field goal and reward your defense for the early interception.
Clock management was also an issue – which it’s been in a few games – at the end of the first half. Operating with only one timeout, the Bears lazily got in and out of the huddle and to the line of scrimmage wasting :32 seconds and settled for a field goal. The Bears must display more urgency in these situations.
With nine days to prepare for the Redskins, and only one game to play in the next 24 days, the Bears have time to clean things up and more importantly get healthy.
It wasn’t pretty, but a win’s a win, and the Bears are 4-2 and in first place.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin