I know it’s the preseason. I know these games don’t matter. I know that the offense is trying to learn a very complicated scheme. But I also know that the Bears are just two weeks from the regular season opener. I also know that the Bears coaching staff has their jobs on the line this season. And I also know that a team that has missed the playoffs three straight years can’t afford to fall behind in a tough NFC North division. That’s what makes Saturday’s disappointing performance against the Cardinals so disheartening.
Let’s revisit Friday’s preview and see what went wrong:
Keep running the ball: It was an average night for the ground game. A slick cutback by backup Chester Taylor led to a 24-yard run, the highlight of the night for the rushing attack. The Bears amassed 82 yards on 19 attempts, good for a 4.3 average. There’s room for improvement, of course, but if the Bears can maintain an average of at least four yards per carry in the regular season, that will take a lot of focus away from Jay Cutler and the passing game.
Cutler’s accuracy: My sincerest apologies, Bears fans, because I think I jinxed Cutler. He hadn’t been a Pro Bowler in the preseason, but at least he hadn’t thrown any interceptions. That changed Saturday night, when Cutler found Cardinal defenders twice. The first appeared to be a late release on a deep comeback by Johnny Knox, causing the ball to hang in the air and allowing an Arizona DB to step in front. The second, with Devin Aromashodu running a wheel route from the slot, was a deadly duo: a bad throw and a bad idea. Aromashodu had a corner trailing him up the sidelines and safety help over the top. Cutler tried to force the ball in, with bad results.
Cutler did make a few nice throws in the contest, using his strong arm to fit the ball into tight windows. But all those were forgotten by the interceptions, a problem that plagued Cutler in 2009. He can’t do that again, if the Bears plan to win in 2010.
Consistency, please? Early on, it seemed like the offensive line had corrected their problems with pass protection. Chris Williams got some help from chipping RBs and TEs, and the rest of the line appeared willing and able to pick up Arizona’s blitzes. The first two sacks could be attributed to strong coverage by the Cardinal secondary, too. But in the second quarter, that protection started to unravel. Pressure started getting to Cutler, and blitzers were coming through unscathed. Bottom line: The offensive line’s performance was not good enough.
Prepare for the aerial assault: One second … I think some guy named Steven Williams just caught another deep dig route. Derek Anderson had one impressive drive against the Bears, converting three third downs en route to a touchdown. Even without All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals receivers frequently found open areas in the Chicago secondary. If this is what a Anderson/Williams combo can do, what will the Bears do against the likes of Rodgers/Jennings, Romo/Austin, Brady/Moss and Welker and other quality passing attacks?
Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush: I thought the pass rush fared well in this one. Julius Peppers, Mark Anderson and Jarron Gilbert earned sacks. Tommie Harris also had a few hurries on the quarterback, forcing early throws. I’d like to see more pressure in the regular season. But at least, this group showed that they have the ability to force quarterbacks to move in the pocket—something that’s been lacking since 2006.
Step up to the challenge: They didn’t.
A few other things worth mentioning:
Red zone struggles: Good teams score touchdowns in the red zone, bad teams settle for field goals. Guess which kind of team the Bears were? And of those two field goals, one was blocked and the other clanked off the upright. Cutler and the offense needs to find a way to cross the goalline once they get inside the 20.
Turnover at the right time: Danny Manning’s forced fumble deep in Chicago territory in the second quarter was a great thing to see. If teams are going to drive on the Bears’ defense, they have to able to end drives abruptly by forcing turnovers.
Do you have the LeFevour? Dan LeFevour led the best drive of the night, resulting in Chicago’s only touchdown. His 10-for-12, 100 yard, one touchdown performance is exactly what you look for in your backup quarterbacks.
And finally, I know I’m not the first one to say this, but Johnny Knox is going to be a big-time playmaker for the offense this season. He just makes plays.