By Dan Durkin–
(CBS) The land of the NFL’s not good is a wide expanse that includes several cities in its population. Chicago is part of its 2015 census, as are each of the Bears’ last four opponents.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Slight Chance Of Storms Overnight; A Quiet Pattern To Come
The Bears’ last four contests have been decided by the game’s final drive and ended with two wins and two losses. The winning team was simply less bad than its equally ordinary (or lesser) opponent. That’s the harsh reality of a top-heavy NFL hierarchy.
Sunday’s 23-20 loss to Minnesota dropped Chicago to 0-5 in the conference (it’s the only NFC team without a conference win) and 0-3 in the NFC North — which is part of an 1-11 stretch against divisional opponents.
While those numbers are unsightly, they shouldn’t be a surprise. They just reinforce what we already knew about this Bears team heading into the season: They simply aren’t talented enough to compete in the larger NFL landscape.
Yes, the Bears have battled for 60 minutes over their past four games, which speaks to their character and fight. That resolve portends to better days down the road but isn’t enough to overcome their talent shortcomings in the now.
I completely understand how difficult it is to numb yourself to the outcome of each week’s game, but you must keep the long-view with this Bears team.
Below is the concluding passage from the first entry of my 2015 Bears’ Impressions piece:
“As NFL fans, we consume the product in one-week bites. Each week, the lens is narrowly focused in on the outcome of a game. Bears fans must remember to widen their lens after each game during the 2015 season, as this is but the first year in a multi-year rebuild. The coaching foundation exists, but now the hard part begins — finding talented playmakers to consistently execute.”
Let that sink in if it hasn’t already after seven games.
Resist the urge to gnash your teeth at Sherrick McManis’ coverage deficiencies down the stretch this past Sunday — and all season for that matter. Don’t lament Antrel Rolle’s failure to nab a late jump ball throw — which Rolle himself termed a “lay-up” interception — that set up Blair Walsh’s game-winning field goal.
The reality is neither of those players will matter when this team is ready to compete again, which by my estimation remains the 2017 season. Their presence on the roster and field in crucial moments underscores the dearth of talent and depth on the roster.
Instead, keep that wide-view perspective. When you do choose to zoom in, focus on players who will likely remain after the personnel department reboots the roster.
That core might be around a dozen players – Pernell McPhee, Eddie Goldman, Christian Jones, Kyle Fuller, Adrian Amos, Alshon Jeffery, Jay Cutler, Jeremy Langford, Kyle Long, Hroniss Grasu, Martellus Bennett and eventually Kevin White.
The rest of this roster is comprised of a bunch of guys who can and likely will be replaced during the purging that will take place over the next two offseasons. Here’s a look at some of those players and areas in need of improvement.
Guys who can’t be trusted to hold up in protectionREAD MORE: At Least 1 Person Killed, 28 Wounded In Gun Violence In Chicago So Far This Weekend
Clearly on Sunday, offensive coordinator Adam Gase was leery of his offensive line — the Bears’ fourth different combination of the season — and its ability to handle the Vikings’ stout and aggressive defensive front.
Gase resorted to the quick screen game, as he didn’t trust the line’s ability to hold up long enough to get the ball down the field. He used Wildcat runs to try and create an extra gap to outflank the Vikings, but nothing was working early on.
However, two Bears who do matter — Cutler and Jeffery — had strong performances and have a clear connection. Jeffery’s ability to stretch the field vertically, win contested throws and be a factor in the red zone — a pain point for the Bears all season — show he’ll be well worth the No. 1 receiver money he’s about to get.
Guys who can’t make life difficult for the opposing quarterback
Outside of McPhee, the Bears can’t sustain or scheme a consistent pass rush. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio tried stunting and running games with his line, as well as bringing interior pressures and blitzes. But in the end, the Bears only sacked Teddy Bridgewater once (by McPhee) and hit him twice.
That output isn’t good enough any week, let alone against a team with a shaky offensive line and a quarterback who can’t win a game on his own.
Guys who can’t make a play on the in the secondary
Directly tied to the Bears’ inability to get home with their rush units is the lack of playmakers in the secondary. Fuller came up with a huge interception, on which he simply ran the dig route better than Stefon Diggs. Fuller stayed in his hip pocket, showing route recognition, fluid feet and hips to pattern match, then read Bridgewater’s eyes to break on the ball and make the interception, the first of the season by the Bears’ secondary.
The fact that it took almost half a season for the secondary to take a pass away speaks to the overall lack of talent at the position. It’s telling when the absence of Bryce Callahan — an undrafted rookie who took over the slot corner role in the team’s nickel package — is felt at the end of the game. The Bears had no answer for Diggs down the stretch, and the rookie made them pay.
Guys who can’t get off blocks on special teams and let foes streak down the field on momentum-changing scores
There have been 11 return touchdowns in the NFL this year. Three of them have happened against the Bears. The conclusions that can be drawn here are their schemes are vanilla and the core players simply aren’t executing.
On Marcus Sherels’ 65-yard punt return touchdown, he was untouched in his path to the end zone. The Vikings held up the left side of the Bears’ coverage unit — Langford, LaRoy Reynolds and Jonathan Anderson — and doubled the gunner to that side, Josh Bellamy. Punter Pat O’Donnell hung the punt up over the middle of the field, and the Vikings flipped their return to the right, walling off the Bears in the process.
Returner Marc Mariani muffed two punts and elected not to bring out a kickoff despite having plenty of space to run.
Seven games in, special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers and his units don’t have it figured out.
With the remaining nine games, try and watch the game with a different point of view. Yes, you wait all week for that three-hour moment with your team, but given its current state, it’s not worth agonizing over.MORE NEWS: 3 People Hospitalized After Ammonia Leak At Frozen Pizza Factory In Wheeling
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.