By Greg Gabriel-
(CBS) Winning on the road in the NFL is never an easy thing. Winning on the road two weeks in a row on opposite coasts is even tougher. That’s just what the Chicago Bears have done with consecutive wins over San Francisco and the New York Jets.READ MORE: Milixen Ardon And Wilfredo Cruz Charged With Murder Of 2-Year-Old Alisson Zelayz, Who Suffered Burns And Bruises In Chicago Lawn
Chicago’s 27-19 win at New York last night was as tough and physical as you will find. The Bears went into the game beat up and came out of it with even more injuries. Brandon Marshall re-injured his ankle, and Chris Conte re-injured his shoulder. Ryan Mundy also suffered a shoulder injury. Safety Danny McCray also got banged up, and at one point in the fourth quarter the Bears were playing with two rookie safeties, which isn’t exactly what you want in a close ball game.
The Jets’ defensive game plan was obvious — keep the ball away from Marshall. With that thought in mind, the usually aggressive Jet defense dropped back into more coverage than it blitzed in the first half. After Marshall hurt his ankle, the Jets went back to being aggressive with their pressure.
When Marshall was able to play to start the second half, the Jets stopped the pressure and went back to coverage. Still, the Bears found a way to drive down the field to score on their opening second-half possession.
When Jets coach Rex Ryan saw that Marshall wasn’t going to be his usual self, the Jets went back to continued pressure on the Bears. I thought this kept the Chicago offense off-balance for most of the second half.
Another key component of the Bears’ win was the Jets’ inability to finish drives. New York had 414 yards of total offense but consistently stalled once it got to the red zone, scoring just one touchdown in five trips inside the Chicago 20-yard line.
Now, onto who and what stood out…
The Bears’ first-round pick in May, Fuller came up with another big performance. He had seven total tackles, an interception and two forced fumbles. He also nearly had another interception on the Jets’ final drive.
Fuller has come a long way in a short period of time. Don’t forget that he missed a significant part of training camp with an injury. Fuller has been consistent in both coverage and run support. With the last two games being on national television, Fuller has jumped to the lead in the race for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
TD drive to open 2nd half
The Bears went into halftime with a 17-13 lead, but the Jets were coming on strong. The Bears then took the second-half kickoff and went 80 yards in only seven plays to jump ahead 24-13. The key play in the drive was a Jay Cutler-to-Alshon Jeffery fly route for 42 yards.
What was doubly nice about the drive was that the Bears’ response and poise after they had a touchdown pass to Marshall called back because of a holding call. The penalty gave the Bears a first-and-20 at the 22-yard line. Getting a touchdown under those circumstances was huge.
Key third-down plays
On the Bears’ final scoring drive in the fourth quarter, there were two key third-down plays. The first was on a third-and-9 from the Bears’ 42-yard line. Cutler hit Jeffery on a crossing route. The play was good for 13 yards, but it was Jeffery’s height, reach and jumping ability that made the play a success as the Jets brought the house on a blitz. That played showed the advantage of having tall receivers.
On a third-and-2 three plays later from the Jets’ 37-yard line, Cutler quick-counted on the pitch to Matt Forte. That caught the Jets off-guard, and Forte picked up eight yards and a first down.
Ahmad DixonREAD MORE: Officer Shoots Suspect In Kenosha County, Sources Say Police K-9 Also Wounded
In his first real game action for the Bears, Dixon did an excellent job as a gunner on the punt team. He beat the jam and got downfield to recover a muffed punt by Jalen Saunders. He then continued his quality gunner play by continuing to get downfield and allow virtually no punt return yardage for the Jets.
On the opening series of the game, Mundy did an excellent job reading a screen pass and got the interception. He then returned the pick 45 yards for a touchdown to give the Bears a 7-0 lead just 32 seconds into the game.
Until he in injured his shoulder later in the game, Mundy was playing consistent, physical football. Let’s hope the injury isn’t too serious and that Mundy is back next week versus Green Bay.
Interior pass rush
While the pass rush the Bears were getting form the outside was inconsistent at best, the inside pass rush by the defensive tackles was fairly good. For most of the game, the Bears got a good push up the middle, forcing Geno Smith to scramble.
Rookies Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton played their best games, and fourth-year pro Stephen Paea also played well. With Jerimiah Ratliff probably coming back for the Green Bay game next Sunday, this bodes well for Chicago for the rest of the season.
While there was some good play on the coverage units, especially by the aforementioned Dixon, there were still some costly blunders on special teams.
An illegal block in the back nullified a 28-yard punt return by Santonio Holmes. On a Bears punt, Terrell Manning, who was just brought up off the practice squad, ran into a Jets punt returner after a fair catch signal. That blunder gave the Jets a first down at the Bears’ 28-yard line and led to a field goal in the third quarter.
The kickoff return game was once again rather non-existent — four kicks were returned for an average of 18.3 yards — and the problem has to be rectified.
Defense seldom used pressure
The Bears had three sacks in this game, and they did by using just a four-man pass rush a good part of the game. Rather than bring pressure from the linebackers, Chicago chose to sit back in coverage. While that philosophy did result in two interceptions, it’s my feeling that more pressure would have resulted in more mistakes by Geno Smith
The lone exception to the no-pressure philosophy was on the final defensive snap of the game for the Bears. With the Jets facing a fourth-and-5 from the Bears’ 9-yard line, Chicago defensive coordinator Mel Tucker called an all-out blitz. The pressure forced Smith to throw high, and the Jets receiver caught the ball out of the end zone, sealing the Bears victory.
Earlier in that final Jets drive, Bears linebacker Jon Bostic had an opportunity to close out the game. While Bostic was credited with a pass breakup on the play, the reality is he dropped an easy interception. Missed opportunities like that can cost a team a ball game. Why? Your opponent still has the ball and every play is an opportunity to score. It’s a good thing the Bears held on to win.
Now, it’s on to face Green Bay next Sunday at noon at Solider Field. The Bears have a short week and are really banged up, so that makes for a bigger challenge in a key divisional game. A win would give the Bears a two-game advantage in the standings over their archrival. Being that we will be just a quarter of the way through the season, that would be huge.MORE NEWS: Two Chicago Police Officers Wounded By Accidental Friendly Fire While Confronting Suspect In Lyons, Police Say
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who has been an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.