By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “We didn’t execute in the manner that we’re capable of.”
That was a quote from Chicago coach Marc Trestman after the Bears’ 27-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, their fourth overall and third against a team with seemingly less available talent.
It’s not Week 1. This isn’t a new regime. The 2014 edition of the Chicago Bears has been working collectively as a team for nearly six months. There has been five sets of organized team activities, a mandatory minicamp, a voluntary minicamp, a full training camp, four preseason games and seven regular-season games.
If that period of time isn’t sufficient enough to get the league’s third-oldest team prepared to play on a consistent basis, then there’s something fundamentally wrong from the top down.
Is this team short on talent at certain positions? Absolutely. But show me a team in the NFL that isn’t. Every team in the league operates under the same financial constraints to fill a roster. In a league in which the middle class has been squeezed out, it’s up to the front office to determine which players deserve the largest allocation of funds. With those allocations come expectations.
When you follow the money on this team, it points back to the offense. More than half of the team’s cap is allocated to an offense that is scoring below the league average. Before Sunday, the last time the Dolphins shut out an opponent in the first half of a game was Oct. 28, 2012. Yet, there the Bears were — at home — averaging three yards per play in the first half, putting up a zero.
The Bears ran a mere three plays in Dolphins’ territory in the first half, with their deepest penetration being snuffed out again by an interception.
Stop me again if you’ve heard this one before: “We’ve got to protect the ball.”
That was quarterback Jay Cutler’s reaction after he committed his 10th turnover (seven interceptions, three fumbles) in seven games.
The interception against the Dolphins sailed over a double-covered Martellus Bennett as Santonio Holmes streaked up the sidelines uncovered. Clarification on what exactly went wrong is needed, but Cutler insisted after the game that the ball was supposed to go to Bennett. In that case, it was an inexcusably bad throw by Cutler, giving away an opportunity to score points and stop the bleeding late in the first half.
Instead of scoring points, the Bears ended up giving up a touchdown off of that interception. Opponents have now scored 37 points directly off of Cutler miscues. That’s unacceptable.
Brandon Marshall showed a lot of emotion in the locker room afterward, and rightly so. Despite insisting football is his platform and not his purpose, he takes his job seriously. Marshall made headlines for his reaction to the game, but he offered the most honest assessment of the team, specifically the offense.
“We make the same mistakes,” Marshall said. “Same mistakes. We’ve got to protect the football. We’ve got to execute the game plan. We’ve got to adjust when things don’t go as we saw on film.”
The money suggests that the offense runs through the right arm of Cutler, but it clearly functions best when Matt Forte is the centerpiece. Of the Bears’ 18 first-half plays — the fact they only ran 18 plays is telling in itself — only five involved Forte. Both Trestman and Cutler confirmed that only four designed runs were called in the first half, and two were checked into passes. Why the game plan was so imbalanced against a team that was allowing 110 yards per game on the ground is confounding.
The book is out on the Bears’ offense. With few exceptions (see: Falcons, Atlanta), teams are choking out the vertical passing game by playing zone coverages to keep a top on the defense. They’re challenging the Bears to patiently work the ball down the field without making a mistake, which they’re consistently failing to do.
What’s so confusing about why the Bears aren’t successful in doing that is that’s the very essence of the West Coast offense — a controlled, short passing attack that takes what the defense gives to you.
Yet Cutler seems to get antsy and resort to his default setting, which is to stare down his primary receiver. It seems like every week an opponent points out the obvious about Cutler. This week it was Reshad Jones, who intercepted Cutler.
“After watching film all week, we saw he was looking where he threw the ball,” Jones said. “He was always looking at his receivers and never looking off. I tried to take advantage of that, and it paid off.”
There’s enough data out there to show that regardless of the coaching, these plays can’t be eliminated from Cutler’s repertoire.
The offense wasn’t the only guilty party. Despite already playing four zone-read teams, the Bears had no answer for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who beat them with his feet and arm.
Just two weeks ago, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wouldn’t endorse Tannehill as his starter. Against the Bears, Tannehill became the first quarterback in the NFL this season to complete his first 13 passes and consistently exploited their blown assignments against the zone-read for big gashes in the run game. In the end, Tannehill logged the highest passer rating of his career (123.6) and the second-highest completion percentage of his career (78.1).
Bottom line, the Dolphins had a better game plan than the Bears did. They moved the pocket to affect the Bears’ rush angles and used misdirection to exploit the discipline of the back seven.
Losing to Aaron Rodgers at home is understandable, and frankly par for the course with recent Bears teams, but letting the Bills’ EJ Manuel and Tannehill have their best performances of the season on your home turf is embarrassing.
With back-to-back road games against Tom Brady and Rodgers coming up, Sunday’s game against Miami was a must-win for Chicago. Yet again, the Bears — Forte, Jeremiah Ratliff and Pat O’Donnell excluded — came up short when the stakes were high.
“As I told our team, today was an unacceptable performance by our football team,” Trestman said. “The guys worked very hard this week. We came to work today, and we didn’t get it done. I think we were ready to play.”
Not so sure about that last part, coach.
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.