By Robert Zeglinski
It takes a special kind of futility to lead in the turnover battle, time of possession, and total yards gained, but fall in a football game. Following another embarrassing 17-16 loss to the previously one-win Jacksonville Jaguars – where the Bears blew a 13-point lead in the 4th quarter – the bar is set lower by the day for Chicago.
A friend, let’s call him Gary Jules, once said, “When people run in circles, it’s a very very mad world, mad world.” At this point, that’s more than appropriate to explain the Bears digging their own grave. This is an organization that’s spinning the wheel, going through the motions, and ultimately acting in defiance – at least from some “leadership” – when questioned even to the slightest.
What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results. Let’s see where this applies to the fabled Bears.
Backup quarterback, Brian Hoyer (yes, backup, this debate is over), continually throws the ball short of the first down marker on third and long situations. One day, maybe the Bears will actually consistently convert when throwing several yards behind the marker, but that’s not an ideal plan for any team. While Sunday showcased another 300-yard game for the veteran, Hoyer only averaged just around six yards a passing attempt across 49 throws. You almost have to try to be that inept and fearful of testing a defense vertically down the field.
There’s even historical significance here.
Hoyer’s 78.8 passer rating on Sunday was the lowest in NFL history for a quarterback that had thrown for at least 300 yards, had no interceptions, and completed a minimum of 60 percent of his passes. All those yards don’t mean a thing if you can’t finish plays in the red areas. If translated over an entire season, Hoyer would be on pace for 4,000-plus yards passing and a paltry 15 touchdowns.
The irony of a quarterback who drastically knows his own limitations almost to a fault should not be lost on anyone.
In turn, Jacksonville adjusted and began to allow Hoyer to pick them apart underneath, sitting on routes with confidence he wouldn’t consistently test them with anything intermediate or deep down the field. If you’re Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, there’s no reason to fear a quarterback that’s afraid to make a play. The Bears offense shut off in tight areas in the red zone, settled for three field goals with a 25 percent red zone success and insanity reigned.
Star receiver Alshon Jeffery summed up his team’s offensive woes best, “We gotta score f***ing touchdowns. That’s it. Touchdowns win games. Shit. You see what three points gets us.” When you have the NFL’s sixth best offense yardage wise but are second to last in scoring at 16.8 points per game, Jeffery’s anger is more than appropriate.
Furthermore, Jeffery’s frustration can only grow when he recognizes the Bears had just 27 total carries in the ground game across mostly two running backs, a staple of a recently balanced offense that disappeared altogether.
Yes, Jacksonville did a much better job of rallying to the ball carrier and playing contained defense than previous opponents in Detroit or Indianapolis, but that doesn’t excuse taking the ball out of the hands of one of your young electric players in rookie tailback Jordan Howard. There’s no reasonable explanation as to why Ka’Deem Carey – an inferior talent – gets to carry the rock 15 times to Howard’s nine. Surely head coach John Fox could explain Howard’s lack of involvement.
On Carey playing over Howard, “It was just how it went.” Ah, insightful as usual. So basically, your head coach didn’t have an answer either. Why expect a different kind of clarification from Fox, at this point. Insanity continues to hold power.
Remember again that Chicago blew a large lead in the fourth quarter and could have benefited from feeding the ball to Howard or even in general running the ball more and eating time off the clock. These are the kinds of finer details that go into every win or loss. Paying attention to every development seems to elude Chicago’s bubble of focus though.
On the other side, a Bears defense that for the most part shut down quarterback Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville attack for three quarters, collapsed when it was time to close.
The Jaguars were just two for 10 on third downs Sunday afternoon. They could not maintain any sustained drives. On the rare first half occasion they manifested something, Bears cornerback Tracy Porter made a terrific interception in the end zone. Otherwise, Jacksonville receivers couldn’t get separation, Bortles was antsy in the pocket, and the ground game of 54 total yards was even more invisible than Chicago’s. When defensive end Willie Young sacked Bortles and forced a fumble late in the fourth quarter, you thought the game was all but over.
Yet as bad teams tend to do, they stack mistakes together when everything seems like it’s locked down. Do the same thing over and over, you don’t get different results. Two specific instances stand out the most.
The first nail in the coffin was a roughing the passer penalty on Bortles from Young on third down, where Young grabbed his helmet while being held late in the third quarter. You could’ve argued a case for Young in that he was being bear hugged and deserved a flag of his own, but he undoubtedly turned Bortles’ helmet around and that will be called every time. If you leave officiating to decide your fate, you’re not going to succeed more often than not.
Jacksonville would, of course, go on to score a touchdown and cut into the Bears 13-0 lead.
The other fatal mistake came on the Jaguars’ final meaningful drive, after Chicago couldn’t punch the ball in following Young’s sack-fumble. Who could’ve foreseen Porter – who saved the Bears’ bacon earlier – being the one to fall down and let Arrelious Benn stand up and score a 57-yard eventual game-winning touchdown for the 17-16 lead.
Blame it on the Soldier Field turf, blame it on Porter, or both, it doesn’t matter. The Bears would not recover, and falter. An undoubtedly unfortunate turn of events, but somehow the consistent quality teams don’t have this same late game issue.
On a team-wide level, Kyle Long will have everybody understand the 1-5 Bears’ identity. “There are spurts where we play well enough to win, and there are spurts where it doesn’t look like we don’t know what the hell we’re doing.”
Moments of realization like Long’s of Chicago’s inconsistency, takes you to the middle of nowhere and a high pick in next year’s draft, not the top of the mountain. With tough division rivals Green Bay and Minnesota on the docket over the next two weeks, the Bears are on the precipice of a 1-7 start. That’s a familiar ring.
At this rate, expecting otherwise is indeed the greatest of all insanities. Nobody should be surprised.
To quote Jules again, “When people run in circles, it’s a very very mad world, mad world.”
Week 7 at Green Bay Packers, Thursday Night Football
Has there ever been a less anticipated primetime game in the NFL’s longest-running rivalry than Bears-Packers on Thursday night? With the city of Chicago in full Cubs fever, it’s hard to imagine this game garnering any sort of quality ratings against the NLCS.
Even if the Bears were a good enough team to draw attention away from a 108-year drought, it would be hard to watch a battle between two teams that currently have 24 players on the injury report. Thursday night could be played in a hospital and it would be difficult to tell the difference.
When the Bears are on defense: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has struggled this season. Among qualified passers through five games, Rodgers has one of the lowest completion percentages at 60.2, is 26th in overall passing yards at 1,170, and has just an 88.4 passer rating – all well below the electric previous standards he’s set. You just don’t see Rodgers sailing throws or so uncomfortable in the pocket as you saw him in the Packers’ 30-16 loss to the Cowboys this past Sunday.
It’s a harrowing thought.
Something’s off in Green Bay, whether it be the offensive scheme, the talent at receiver, or Rodgers actually beginning to decline. Either way, it’s a sensitive subject in Wisconsin.
Whatever the case may be, all it takes is a game or two to get back into a groove and you can be sure the Bears don’t want to be Rodgers’ cure-all elixir. The only problem is how they’re going to generate any pass rush or keep him hemmed in the pocket the way other teams have done.
Dynamic edge rusher, Pernell McPhee, has been activated off of the physically unable to perform list and has begun practicing, but it would be drastic to consider his availability except in limited fashion on a short week. If rookie Leonard Floyd can’t go again, that leaves just Willie Young to try and reel in the Packers quarterback.
That’s not the recipe for success in adding to Rodgers’ and the Green Bay offense’s struggles. Last year, the Bears were able to upset the Packers in Lambeau on Thanksgiving night, because they afforded Rodgers no space when working through his progressions. Unless Chicago has a complimentary pass rusher for Young, you won’t see the same results.
When the Bears are on offense: You might as well just put an asterisk on Chicago’s plan for attack here. Green Bay has the NFL’s best rushing defense even after the Cowboys gashed them for 170-plus yards and the 11th best passing defense. Overall, this is the NFL’s fifth best.
With Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton likely out due to ankle injury suffered against the Jaguars, Chicago will struggle to maintain a consistent running game with Jordan Howard or anyone against the Packers’ front seven.
In addition to balance, the way to beat Green Bay’s defense is a vertical threat in the passing game. Brian Hoyer won’t offer that capability and Packers corners, whether injured or not, will be sitting on routes and letting Hoyer pad his stats all he wants.
The only way Chicago wins this game is if Jay Cutler plays, which at the moment, is not likely, especially for a Thursday game. He’s capable of stretching the Packers defense and keeping them honest. Dinking and dunking against one of the NFL’s best units otherwise won’t get the Bears anywhere.
Until further notice, it would be naïve to pick against any Bears opponent.
Early pick: Packers 24 Bears 14