By Greg Gabriel–
(CBS) When a football team is losing and has significant injury troubles, the coaching staff can’t stay with the same philosophy it was using before the key players were injured. The coaches have to game plan to the strength of the players available. That’s exactly what the Chicago Bears coaching staff did Sunday in a 17-14 victory against the Lions at Soldier Field.
The game was marked by quality play at quarterback for the Bears. In no way do Brian Hoyer’s traits compare to those of Jay Cutler, who has more mobility and a far stronger arm. With Cutler at quarterback in the season’s first two games before he suffered a thumb injury, the Bears’ playing-calling was totally different than what we saw Sunday. They were using slower-developing plays and trying to attack downfield.
Hoyer lacks the arm strength, ball velocity and mobility that Cutler has, and so coaching staff had to play to what Hoyer does best — a short passing and a strong running game. And while I won’t say the offense worked to perfection, it was a vast improvement over what we saw in the first three games.
The Bears offense registered 408 yards, 23 first downs and 114 rushing yards over 33 minutes in time of possession — all with no turnovers. That’s winning offensive football.
Why did the passing game look so much better? In the first three games, the Bears were using slow-developing passes, causing the offense line to struggle with protection. If you want to improve protection, an offense needs quick-developing plays, and the quarterback has to get the ball out of his hand quickly. That’s just what we saw Sunday.
The Bears used a combination of quick passes and a much stronger running game to “stay on schedule.” When an offense can get four or more yards on first down, it controls the play-calling game and can be more flexible.
Rookie running back Jordan Howard had a superb game, with 23 carries for 111 yards. He consistently got good yardage on first-down plays, and Hoyer was exceptional with the short passing game.
Hoyer was 28-of-36 for 302 yards two touchdowns. He consistently got the ball out of his hand quickly and was accurate. His ball placement was excellent allowing the receivers to get yardage after the catch. That in turn kept the chains moving and the clock running.
While offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains received plenty of criticism for his play-calling through the first three weeks, he and his staff deserve the credit for Sunday’s game plan. It was excellent.
On defense, the Bears had struggled to get off the field and get pressure on the quarterback. Playing with many reserves in the starting lineup, the defense attacked more and kept Matthew Stafford off-balance.
Going into Sunday, Stafford was having a great season. He had a 105 quarterback rating and was putting points on the board with consistency. The Bears defense forced two Stafford interceptions and consistently pressured him, causing Stafford to finish the game with a poor 56.8 quarterback rating. Stafford finished 23-of-36 for 213 yards and a 5.9-yard average per passing attempt. Do that with your defense every week, and your team will win a lot of games.
The Lions rushing attack was almost non-existent, with just 66 yards and a 3.7-yard-per-carry average. While the Bears only were credited with two sacks, they did consistently get pressure.
Part of the success of the run defense was the play of backup nose tackle Will Sutton. While Sutton was credited with only three total tackles, he consistently made his presence felt. He got off blocks, got penetration and was disruptive.
The Bears secondary played much tighter in coverage and for the most part didn’t give up the big play. What was even better was the defense as a whole was playing with enthusiasm, with the best pursuit we’ve seen all season.
With the Indianapolis Colts up next, the Bears need to produce more of the same. As hopeless as this season looked a week ago, there just might be a a light at the end of the tunnel.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.