By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) For the second straight week, the Bears came out flat, except this time there was no comeback.
The run defense was flattened by the Rams, surrendering 258 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in a 42-21 loss, dropping the Bears to 6-5 on the season.
By the numbers, the Bears offense did enough to keep them in this game. But they also dug an early hole for a defense that has zero fault tolerance.
Running back Matt Forte’s early fumble was a costly mistake. On the first offensive snap of the game, Forte swept right, but was stripped of the ball, giving the Rams the ball at the seven-yard line.
Three plays later, it was 14-0.
To the Bears credit, the offense did respond.
Even though the box score shows only one sack, Josh McCown (36/47, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, 102.4 passer efficiency rating) was under constant duress. The Bears knew they were facing a fearsome front four and it affected their personnel groupings. As a countermeasure, they sacrificed an eligible receiver by using reserve lineman Eben Britton as an extra blocker.
Teams that have had success against the Rams this season ran off-tackle plays and runs out of the shotgun to take advantage of their up-the-field penetrating defensive line. The Bears had some early success with the running game, but the deficit on the scoreboard forced them to lean heavily on the pass.
McCown spread the ball around to seven different receivers and had great success on inside-breaking routes to Brandon Marshall (10 receptions, 117 yards, 1 touchdown) and Martellus Bennett (4 receptions, 62 yard) in between the numbers.
Michael Bush’s contributions to the team remain a mystery. He’s been relegated – and paid handsomely – to the team’s short-yardage back, yet he averaged negative yardage on seven carries. Bush’s biggest mishap, however, came as a pass receiver.
Trailing 24-14, the Bears marched to the Rams four yard-line on their first drive of the second half. On first-and-goal, McCown slighly underthrew a ball to Bush in the flat. Bush was uncovered on the play, but instead of coming back to the ball to make the catch, he kept running and dropped the ball.
This was crucial, as on fourth down the Bears elected to go for it and Bush was dropped for a loss. This was a questionable decision by Trestman to not kick the field goal and cut it to a one-possession game, but Bush needs to show better effort in the limited snaps he plays.
The Bears defense has hit rock bottom.
Coming in to today’s game, the Rams high-water mark for offensive touchdowns in a game was three. They tied that total in the first quarter on Sunday.
Granted, injuries to key defenders has decimated roster depth along the defensive front. In turn, younger players have been forced into critical roles, but youth isn’t the only factor behind the Bears giving up 1,108 rushing yards over their past six games, and three games of 199+ yards.
Numbers that egregious speak to a systemic, all-encompassing breakdown of fundamentals, assignments, and techniques.
The Rams rejuvenated run game was well chronicled prior to this matchup and it took another step forward against the Bears.
The Rams deployed misdirection – Tavon Austin’s 65-yard touchdown on the first drive of the game – and designed cutbacks to exploit the Bears undisciplined front, racking up nine runs of 11 or more yards, and averaged nearly 9 yards per carry.
Even after rookie running back Zac Stacy (12 carries, 87 yards, 1 touchdown) went out with a head injury, fellow rookie Bennie Cunningham racked up 109 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries (8.4 yards per carry).
When replacement-level players – let alone rookies – can come in and have their way against your defense, it’s hard to be taken seriously as a playoff contender.
The Rams had 14 points before quarterback Kellen Clemens (10/22, 167 yards, 1 touchdown, 86.7 passer efficiency rating) completed a pass. This game should’ve been one in which the Bears loaded the box with eight, selling out to stop the run to force Clemens to beat them. Instead they gave him a cushion to work with and the Rams ended up doubling up on the Bears on a day where their quarterback completed only 10 passes.
In his fourth NFL start, middle linebacker Jon Bostic looked and played every bit like a rookie. Bostic was late in reading his keys and slow with his play recognition. He frequently over ran plays, was unable to protect his pads from blockers and left big voids in his underneath hook zone and up the seam.
Fellow rookie linebacker Khaseem Greene saw his most extensive action of the season and was no better.
It’s nice to know the Bears may have a solid foundation at the linebacker position for the future, but currently, this group is a liability.
Defensive end Shea McClellin’s performance against the Packers is a distant memory. The Rams schemed to exploit McClellin’s tendency to overpursue plays, getting him out of position and breaking contain. Ideally, McClellin would be nothing more than a situational pass rusher, but as it stands, the Bears are forced to use him as an every down end, which he’s proven to be incapable of.
The safety play continues to be miserable.
Major Wright was walked into the box as an extra run defender but didn’t make an impact. Counterpart Chris Conte continues to take poor pursuit angles and his pass coverage leaves something to be desired.
Ever since the Redskins game, teams have gone to the 3×1 formation in the red zone to single their tight ends up on Conte. Matched up against tight end Jared Cook, Conte was called for pass interference in the end zone on third down, giving the Rams a fresh set of downs on which they converted.
Like clockwork, the Bears special teams committed crucial errors. None bigger than the holding penalty by Craig Steltz at the beginning of the fourth-quarter that wiped out a Devin Hester’s 62-yard punt return touchdown. The Bears did score a touchdown on that drive, but it took seven minutes off the clock and was a momentum killer in a Bears-heavy crowd.
For the second straight week, the Bears were undisciplined. They’ve now committed double-digit penalties in back-to-back weeks.
Jerome Boger’s officiating crew wasn’t on their game, but the Bears have to get this cleaned up down the stretch. Negative plays wiped out big gains, scoring plays, and kept drives alive.
Additionally, head coach Marc Trestman’s play-calling and clock management was questionable at the end of the first half. On their final drive, the Bears inexplicably chose to throw the ball on third down. Not only was the pass nearly a lateral and batted for a pick-six, it didn’t force the Rams to burn their last timeout.
Trestman is a rookie head coach, but mistakes like these are becoming too commonplace.
Luckily, the Lions dropped their second straight game, keeping the Bears tied for first in the NFC North.
However, the reality is with a defense this porous, the Bears look to be more pretender than contender.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin