By Adam Hoge-
ST. LOUIS (CBS) — The honeymoon might be over for Marc Trestman.
While there’s still little doubt the former CFL head coach has proven his worth in the NFL this season, Trestman faced some questions about key coaching decisions Sunday for the second straight week.
Caught in what was clearly turning into a shootout inside the Edward Jones Dome, the Bears’ defense held the Rams to a field goal with 1:15 left in the first half, limiting the deficit to 24-14.
The Bears had no timeouts left, but considering they had put together two impressive first half scoring drives, it seemed like there was enough to time to at least try for a field goal. Because they were to receive the second half kickoff, a 2-for-1 could have made up for the free possession the Bears gave the Rams early in the first quarter when Matt Forte fumbled at his own 7 yard line and St. Louis scored a touchdown four plays later.
Instead, Trestman went with a conservative approach, trying to run out the clock.
“They had two timeouts left. We are trying to run the ball and get the clock down and prevent the punt,” Trestman said. “We were trying to avoid the punt as much as anything, to give them an extra opportunity to make a play.”
But the Bears didn’t prevent the punt. Forte lost a total of seven yards on the first two downs of the sequence and the Bears stopped the clock on their own with an incomplete pass on third down that was batted down and nearly picked off by the Rams.
The pass on third down was especially surprising, given the risk involved at the Bears’ own 13 yard line and the possibility of the clock stopping. By running, the Bears would have forced the Rams to either burn their final timeout or just let the clock run down to halftime.
Instead, Adam Podlesh had to punt and the Rams had a chance to get into field goal range, but Kellen Clemens threw two incomplete passes.
“If we would have been coming out on defense at the break, I would have thought about it a little differently,” Trestman said.
Instead, the Bears got the ball after halftime and the other key questionable decision by Trestman came at the end of that drive. Having marched down to the Rams’ 1 yard line on a 14-play, 79-yard drive, Trestman elected to go for it on 4th-and-goal. With the score still 24-14, a field goal would have made it a one possession game.
Despite the fact that Michael Bush came into Sunday’s game with just four total yards on six carries in situations of 3rd or 4th down and either 1 or 2 yards to go, Trestman called on him over Forte to punch it it in the end zone. Instead, he was stuffed for a loss of four yards on the play, as left tackle Jermon Bushrod was bulldozed backwards into right guard Kyle Long, who was pulling to make the key block on linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. As a result, Dunbar shot the gap to make the stop.
“We were going to go for it on fourth down,” Trestman said after the game. “This was a bit of a track meet out there today and I know that those three points seem like a lot, but I am very confident that it was the right thing to do. In the long run we were hoping that if the offense didn’t make it that the defense would make the stop and we would be in three-point range again. We had to play for the points today because the nature of the game and the pace of the game was frantic out there.”
The sequence was especially tough to swallow for the Bears because McCown and Bush couldn’t connect on an easy dump off pass on first down that easily would have gone for a touchdown.
“I just saw that the throw was a little under thrown,” Trestman said about the play. “I think we had a clear area there to score but we didn’t execute the play.”
Penalties Sting Again
One week after committing 13 penalties for 111 yards against the Ravens, the Bears were guilty of 10 more for 84 yards Sunday against the Rams.
“You can go to them and every one of them strongly affected the football game,” Trestman said.
After committing just 40 penalties in the first nine games of the season, the Bears have now been guilty of 23 in the last two weeks.
No Answers On D
If you throw out the Rams’ three kneel-downs at the end of the game, the Bears’ 31st-ranked run defense allowed 261 rushing yards on 26 carries, which is an astounding average of 10 yards per carry.
The run defense has been an issue all season long and no one seemed to have any answers after the game.
“Right now haven’t done a good job of consistently stopping the run. We have to try and find a way to do a better job,” Trestman said. “I know that you may not see that happening in practice. I think the guys are in the right place but we didn’t get it done. I am not going to go into the technical aspect of it, but I do know this: I think we are putting in the time and the effort and we just have to continue to work at it. I know we will. We have to do a better job next week.”
As their 6-5 record would indicate, the Bears have been maddeningly inconsistent this season and have yet to put together a complete performance. Their 40-23 win at Pittsburgh in Week 3 was probably the Bears’ best game, but even that one wasn’t clean.
“It’s like we’re right there,” wide receiver Brandon Marshall said. “It just seems like we are knocking on the door and the door is a little cracked and we just haven’t put our foot in it. It’s encouraging and we’ll see if we will be able to get through that door next week. I mean, it’s really close. It’s just a matter of time before we’re able to make that jump.”
Had the Bears won Sunday, they would have taken over sole possession of first place in the NFC North as the Lions lost to the Buccaneers.
“Obviously it would have been a tremendous opportunity to take the lead by wins, that didn’t happen,” Trestman said.
The head coach said he addressed their position in the division with his team after the game.
“It is an opportunity to learn from and tomorrow when they show up to work, there will be a lot of teams in our division, two primary teams, us and Detroit, that are going to have to deal with adversity. Our guys are ready to handle it, embrace it, and go back to work. We have to put it behind us and move forward. It is a fluid season, there is so much that could happen, not just with Detroit, but within our division and this league.”
Amazingly, all four teams failed to get a win Sunday, even though two of those teams played each other. The Packers and the Vikings tied at Lambeau Field.
– Matt Forte suffered a right knee injury in the second half, but returned to the game. Trestman provided no update afterward, shrugging off any concern about the injury by simply saying that Forte was healthy enough to return to the game.
– The Bears held a 36:09-23:51 edge in time of possession, but that margin was not necessarily a good thing because they wasted nearly three minutes in the fourth quarter when it took them eight plays to get into the end zone from the Rams’ 1-yard-line.
– The crowd at the Edward Jones Dome consisted of at least 50 percent Bears fans, which resulted in a great line from Rams defensive end Chris Long after the game:
“We usually play well on the road and today we kind of played well at a neutral site. Nothing against our fans, their fans travel well. I hope they have a good trip home.”
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.