By Greg Gabriel–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Every year with the opening of a new football season, fans carry optimism and hope. With all the positive personnel changes the Bears have had since the end of the 2015 season, many fans had that optimistic feeling. It stayed through the better part of the first half in Chicago’s season opener at Houston on Sunday, then crashed.
In every football game, there are a few key plays that can alter the outcome. That was certainly the case Sunday, when there were a number of key plays that were the difference.
One of the goals Bears coach John Fox had for the defense was to force more turnovers this season. The defense did just that on the opening drive when cornerback Tracey Porter closed quickly on a short pass intended for DeAndre Hopkins and came up with an interception.
Nine plays later, the Bears had a 7-0 lead. On the second drive, the Bears had great field position after a 31-yard punt return by Eddie Royal. On fourth-and-inches from Houston’s 31-yard line, rookie center Cody Whitehair had a poor snap, and quarterback Jay Cutler struggled to get the ball and came up short. That was the first huge play the Bears didn’t make.
On second play of the second half with the Bears leading 14-10, receiver Kevin White didn’t finish a comeback route, leading to a Cutler interception. It led to a Texans field goal.
In the fourth quarter while facing third-and-1 at the Bears’ 22-yard line, Brock Osweiler tried a quarterback sneak and was clearly stopped short. He may have even lost some ground, but the officials spotted the ball poorly and gave Houston a first down. On every replay I saw, it was clear that Osweiler came nowhere near getting a first down, yet Bears coach John Fox didn’t challenge the spot of the ball. It was the third key play, as the Texans scored the go-ahead touchdown shortly after with their new set of downs.
Later, Fox puzzlingly did challenge a play that didn’t need to be questioned. In the fourth quarter with Houston leading 20-14, Will Fuller made a great catch along the sideline for a 35-yard gain. All replays showed that Fuller easily made the catch, yet for some reason Fox challenged the play. It didn’t take the officials long to overrule the challenge, and the Bears lost a timeout.
Those were only four plays, but they proved to be big ones. Different results on those could’ve led to a different game outcome.
The Texans also outplayed the Bears in several key areas. During the offseason, the Bears wanted to shore up the middle of their defense. They signed inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as well as defensive tackle Akiem Hicks in free agency. The signings gave the Bears more size, power and speed in the middle of their defense. Despite that, the Texans’ offensive line clearly outplayed and controlled the Bear’s defensive front. Houston had a strong running game and controlled the clock for a good part of the game, with Lamar Miller rushing for 106 yards on 28 carries.
The Bears were aggressive with the play-calling in the first half. Receiver Alshon Jeffery had four receptions for 105 yards in the opening half but didn’t have a catch in the second half. I felt Chicago’s play-calling was conservative in the second half, as they never challenged the Houston defense. Pass plays were slow developing, and we didn’t see the quick passes we saw last year under Adam Gase.
The Bears’ kickoff return team was atrocious. Returns can change the outcome of the game by giving a team good field position. Chicago never had good field position following Houston’s kickoffs. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are changes made in the unit for next week’s game.
Next week is the home opener with a Monday night game against the Philadelphia Eagles and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. If the Bears don’t play with a more consistent effort and get a win, they could be in for a long season.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.