By Dan Durkin
(CBS) The Bears weathered the storm, literally and figuratively, in a 23-20 marathon win over the Baltimore Ravens.
The Bears overcame sloppy field conditions and sloppy play – 13 penalties, 111 yards, miscommunications, miscues – on the field to even their record with the division-leading Detroit Lions.
The offense only mustered one touchdown, but most importantly in inclement conditions, they protected the football. Josh McCown (13/21, 216 yards, 92.2 passer efficiency rating) was efficient with his throws and took what the defense gave him.
A staple of the Bears offense since McCown has taken over has been their use of “packaged” plays. Packaged plays combine both runs and passes on the same play, empowering the quarterback to make a decision during the play based on how the defense is aligned. On the same play, the Bears offensive line blocks as if it’s a run, and with their eligible players, they run a zone read, a tight end seam, slants and quick screens with their wide receivers.
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Today, the Bears showed variations on this scheme. They executed a play-action pass to Brandon Marshall (4 receptions, 42 yards), but the biggest variation came on the touchdown pass to Matt Forte. The Bears ran the play-action variant, but then set up a screen pass to Forte in the right flat. Catching the Ravens in man coverage, the Bears were able to set up their blockers and the rest was on Forte’s balance and effort to keep his feet and get into the end-zone.
Alshon Jeffery’s emergence continues. Jefferey (7 receptions, 83 yards, 3 rushes, 17 yards) was targeted a team high 11 times, led the team in receiving yards, and made a crucial third-down catch in overtime. In a bunched set, Jeffery was aligned as the No. 1 receiver (closest to the sideline), but delayed his release as the shallow crosser underneath, snagging a 14-yard catch on 3rd-and-9 to keep the eventual game-winning drive alive.
However, the biggest catch of the game belonged to McCown and tight end Martellus Bennett (2 receptions, 48 yards) on the very next play. At their own 35-yard line, the Bears caught the Ravens in a safety blitz (Matt Elam), which left Bennett singled up on cornerback Lardarius Webb. Marshall was McCown’s first read in the progression, but the throw wasn’t there, so McCown came back to Bennett and delivered a dart up the vertical seam for 43 yards, putting the Bears in field goal range.
So much focus was on how the Bears offensive line would hold up against a Ravens front that entered the game with the third most sacks in the league. They met the challenge, particularly on the edges. The Bears were able to hold Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil to one combined tackle. Additionally, the Bears rushed for over 100 yards, averaging 4 yards-per-carry.
Coming into the game, the Ravens were the league’s 30th ranked rushing offense. You wouldn’t have guessed that during the game.
Over his past two games, running back Ray Rice had 19 carries for 47 yards. Rice tied that total on his first carry of the game. In total, Rice ended up with 131 rushing yards (45% of his season total to that point) and a touchdown.
As expected, the Bears defense sat in their two-deep safety look, both to keep a top on the defense and try and stop the run with seven. But without the extra run defender in the box, the Ravens offensive line was able to turn the interior of the Bears defensive line out and get to the second-level linebackers.
Given all the injuries the Bears have suffered in their defensive front, this is the way it will be all season long. The Bears simply don’t have the talent to take two phases of a team’s offense away, so they will have to game plan with built-in concessions.
Filling in for Charles Tillman, cornerback Zach Bowman had a rough first outing. Bowman was frequently targeted by Flacco and committed five total penalties (3 defensive, 2 special teams). Bowman’s horse collar tackle on a 3rd-and-10 in the fourth quarter kept a drive alive, on which the Ravens kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime.
There were, however, a few bright spots on defense. Julius Peppers played his best game of the season, flashing the quickness and burst that’s made him a household name. Peppers ended up with 11 total tackles, eight solo tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, and two quarterback hits.
Opposite Peppers, rookie David Bass had the highlight moment of his young career on a pick-six. Rice attempted to cut Bass at the line of scrimmage, but committed too early, Bass kept his feet, stayed in the passing lane and took Flacco’s pass 24 yards to the end zone.
Another rookie, Jon Bostic, had a big interception. On a 3rd-and-16, Bostic took a Tampa-2 drop up the vertical seam, covering tight end Dallas Clark. Joe Flacco made a poor decision and compounded it with a slightly underthrown ball that Bostic was able to intercept at midfield.
Brought up just yesterday from the practice squad, defensive end Cheta Ozougwu had a sack on a fourth-down play, snuffing out a Ravens drive in Bears territory.
For a team that’s struggled to put pressure on the quarterback all season, this is a game to build on.
Robbie Gould was perfect on three field goals, none larger than the 38-yarder he squeaked just inside the upright.
Discipline on special teams was an issue, costing the Bears field position in multiple situations. The Bears were offside on opening overtime kickoff – second time they’ve been offside on a kickoff this year – which ended up costing the Bears 16 yards in field position.
Virtually every week, special teams cost the Bears in some way. Adding insult to injury, one of their aces – Craig Steltz – look to be concussed in overtime.
Once again, the Bears showed resiliency, keeping the game close to give themselves a chance to win in the end. Most importantly, they played a clean game under McCown, who is now 2-0 as a starter and has yet to turn the ball over.
With the Lions losing to the Steelers, the Bears have now pulled even – record wise – in the NFC North.
The Bears head to St. Louis to play the 4-6 Rams, who were on a bye this week. My Know Your Opponent column will be up this Wednesday.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin