By Dan Durkin
(CBS) Just six days ago, Bears head coach Marc Trestman was the toast of the town after a gutsy 4th-and-1 conversion that helped seal a victory against the Green Bay Packers. Today, Trestman’s decisions will be second-guessed, as the Bears suffered a 21-19 loss to the Detroit Lions, dropping them to second place in the NFC North.
Exactly three weeks ago, quarterback Jay Cutler (21-40, 253 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 69.8 passer efficiency rating) suffered a torn groin muscle, and a four week timetable was established for his return.
Cutler’s dedication to his rehabilitation program and pain tolerance put him in a position to come back one week early, but as the game progressed, it became quite evident that the fatigue factor hadn’t been fully considered.
Cutler started out strong, taking the Bears on a 65 yard touchdown drive – 61 directly from his right arm to Brandon Marshall (7 receptions, 139 yards, 2 touchdowns) – to start the game. Cutler capped the drive off by throwing Marshall open to the post on a 32-yard touchdown dart. The Bears switched Marshall’s release off the line and suckered the Lions secondary with a fake screen to Earl Bennett, leaving the middle of the field wide open.
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In an effort to minimize Cutler’s steps in the pocket, the Bears operated primarily out of the shotgun. In the first half, Cutler was 12-17 for 148 yards with a touchdown and interception, but with limited mobility and no threat of a running game, the Bears were forced to throw the ball, subjecting Cutler to repeated shots in the pocket.
Knowing how aggressive and quick the Lions defensive front is, the Bears attempted to slow down their penetration with misdirection plays in the run game, but the execution was poor. The offensive line was dominated at the line of scrimmage, netting only 38 yards on 20 carries.
On their third drive of the game, with the score tied 7-7, the Bears passed on a 44-yard field goal attempt and went for it on 4th-and-1. The line didn’t get a strong push, but Michael Bush was impatient and pressed the line too quick. The players failed to execute on the field, but this was also the first of several questionable decisions by Trestman.
On their following drive, with the score still 7-7, the Bears marched 65 yards to the Lions four-yard line, but a tipped pass by Ndamukong Suh was intercepted by DeAndre Levy in the end zone.
In a tight game, failing to come up with points on both of these drives were crucial missed opportunities.
Unfortunately, missed opportunities weren’t limited to the just the first half. Half way through the third quarter, trailing 14-7, Alshon Jeffery (9 receptions, 114 yards) dropped a sure touchdown pass from Cutler. The Bears left four points on the field and settled for a field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10.
Chris Conte’s fourth-quarter interception set the Bears up with first-and-goal from the Lions nine-yard line. On first down, the Bears got Matt Forte to the edge for an apparent touchdown, but a holding call on Matt Slauson negated the run. On third down, Cutler lofted a pass to Jeffery in the corner of the end zone, who made an acrobatic attempt to high point the ball, but bobbled it and didn’t complete the process of the catch.
Again, the Bears squandered a golden opportunity to take the lead, settling for another field goal to make it 14-13.
Cutler’s performance took a noticeable drop in the second half. On plays he would typically tuck the ball and run, he was forced to pull up and ground the ball. His lower body framework started to get loose and he wasn’t driving through his throws, which affected his accuracy and limited the Bears playbook. Prior to being replaced by Josh McCown on the final drive of the game, Cutler was 9-20 for 102 yards in the second half.
Josh McCown, who didn’t get any reps in practice, came off the bench cold to lead the Bears on a 74-yard touchdown drive. Needing a two-point conversion, the Bears went to their heavy personnel on the first attempt – Eben Britton, Dante Rosario, and Martellus Bennett – and tried to run a pick play for Forte. This attempt was unsuccessful, but a roughing the passer call gave the Bears another chance. The Bears then spread the Lions out and attempted to run a quick-hitting inside zone play to Forte, but Roberto Garza was blown up by Nick Fairley, erasing the play and effectively ending the game.
Missed opportunities weren’t limited to just the offensive side of the ball. While the defense showed improvement from their Monday night performance, there were still players out of their gaps – James Anderson – and missed tackles – Chris Conte on Reggie Bush – and no pass rush. Weekly themes for the Bears defense.
Conte did deliver an interception and a pass break up that held the Lions to a field goal attempt, which David Akers missed, but there were other lapses in the secondary.
Major Wright dropped a sure interception in the first half that would’ve flipped field position. Charles Tillman was strong in the first half against Calvin Johnson, but was beat for two second half touchdowns.
One bright spot was Corey Wootton. Wootton was dominant at the point of attack against the run, disruptive in his pass rushes, and was effective at getting in passing lanes.
However, the rest of the Bears defensive line was a non-factor and failed to register a sack.
Devin Hester needed to be a bigger factor in the game than he was. He chose to take kickoffs out from eight and nine yards deep, but didn’t get the ball out to the 20-yard line, and called a fair catch on a punt when he had room to run.
Robbie Gould again failed on an onside kick attempt, with his latest not even going ten yards. Granted, these are low percentage plays, but Joe DeCamillis has to choose one approach on how these will be handled moving forward.
You have to admire the fight in this team, but the Bears have only themselves to blame for this loss.
Yes, there were curious play calls and Cutler’s injury cut the playbook in half, but the execution wasn’t there on the field. From the stalled run game, to dropped passes, to missed blocks, to missed tackles, there were plays for the Bears to make, but didn’t.
The Bears were swept by the Lions for the first time since 2007. They trail the Lions by a game in the division and have lost the tiebreaker.
Looking ahead at both team’s schedules, the Bears have a crucial stretch and must decide which direction they’re going at quarterback. Cutler was unable to bootleg, rollout, tuck the ball and run, or effectively climb the pocket. Opponents will scheme to take advantage of this.
The notion that Cutler at less-than-100% is better than McCown at 100% is up for debate.
The Bears host another fierce defensive front next week in the Baltimore Ravens. My Know Your Opponent column will be up on Wednesday.
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