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10 observations on the Bears

There’s only one way Bears could be as productive as they were so many areas yet still lose 2-8-1

COACHING (D) There’s only one way the Bears could be as productive as they were in so many areas and yet still lose to a 2-8-1 team. Marc Trestman’s decision to kick from 47 on second down was an indefensible case of playing scared.

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Updated: December 2, 2013 8:18PM

What about the analytics now, Marc Trestman?

The Bears’ head coach is fond of using statistical analysis to help determine key coaching decisions, but the only analytical evidence to support his decision to have Robbie Gould kick a 47-yard field goal on second down in overtime against the Vikings on Sunday — the fact that Gould was 5-for-5 from 47-58 yards this season — is overwhelmed by analytical evidence that the Bears would have been better off running at least one more play.

‘‘I didn’t want to risk a possible penalty that would set us back,’’ Trestman said after the game. But the Bears have had nine penalties on 272 running plays this season prior to Sunday’s game — that’s like a 3.3 percent chance.

‘‘There’s no guarantee that we would get any yards on second down or third down,’’ Trestman added when pressed on why he didn’t consider getting Gould closer or — heaven forbid — getting a possible first down or touchdown.

There’s no guarantee Gould is going to make a game-winning kick from 47 yards, either. The Bears have gained at least one yard on 78 percent of their running plays this season.

Monday morning, Trestman told WBBM-AM: “Could we have done something different? I felt at the time it was in the best interests of the team considering the circumstances, being on the road and the noise and being in Robbie’s range.”

There are always possibilities of negative consequences on any play in any football game. Out of 290 rushing attempts this season, the Bears have lost two fumbles. They’ve had 10 penalties. They’ve lost yardage 37 times. But they’ve lost three yards or more only seven times. What does it all mean? It means the Bears had a 93 percent chance of Robbie Gould kicking from 49 yards or closer if they ran another play. The only way you can not like those odds is if you fear the worst-case scenario, which is no way to coach a football team.

And now, 10 observations from the eventful Bears-Vikings games:

1. For what it’s worth, prior to Sunday, no NFL kicker had even attempted a FG longer than 46 yards in overtime this season. Blair Walsh missed from 57 yards after his apparent game-winning 39-yard field goal was nullified by a facemask penalty.

Of the 19 made field goals in overtime last season, only two were from 47 yards or longer — from 48 and 54 yards. In fact, over the last four seasons, only 5-of-46 made field goals were 47 yards or longer. And none of them on second or third down.

2. Trestman is taking a lot of heat and deservedly so, but it could always be worse. Would Bears fans trade coaches with the Lions? It’s doubtful.

In fact, Jim Schwartz is the last guy to be burned on the third-down field goal attempt. Against the Texans last season, Schwartz had Jason Hanson — one of the best long-distance field-goal kickers in NFL history — attempt a 47-yarder on third-and-11. Hanson hit the right upright and the Lions eventually lost.

The third-down attempt didn’t cause a big stir in Detroit. For one thing, it was third down. And Joique Bell jad lost three yards on the previous play, so the danger of the Lions running themselves out of field-goal range was apparent. (Matt Forte on the other hand, had just gained seven, four, nine, one and three yards on the first five plays of the Bears’ fateful drive).

But the third-down field-goal miss against the Texans also was trumped by Schwartz’ challenge-flag gaffe, when he threw the red flag on a play that was automatically challenged — drawing a penalty that negated the challenge and allowed an 81-yard touchdown by the Texans’ Justin Forsett to stand even though it clearly would have been overturned by the automatic challenge (the rule that burned Schwartz since has been abolished).

3. Even though Josh McCown put up his biggest numbers yet as the Bears’ starting quarterback, Jay Cutler still should start if he’s ready to go for next Monday night’s game against the Cowboys at Soldier Field.

McCown was 23-of-36 for 355 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 114.9 passer rating. His season completion percentage, yards per pass and passer rating are better than Cutler’s. But his failure to produce more than 20 points out of 480 total yards against the 30th ranked defense in the NFL is a problem.

Since he replaced Cutler, McCown has been producing more yards, but fewer points. The Bears were 2-of-11 on third-down conversions. McCown was 4-of-9 for 117 yards and a 117.4 passer rating on third down against the Vikings. But much of that came from his 46-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery.

McCown also caught a couple of breaks that can’t be ignored. He had an interception by Chad Greenway nullified by an offside penalty. And his ill-advised shovel pass that resulted in a turnover became moot when Khaseem Greene intercepted Matt Cassel on the Vikings’ ensuing possession.

McCown is an excellent backup in Trestman’s system. But if the Bears are going anywhere, it’s Cutler who will get them there.

4. Speaking of plays that were lost in the shuffle

, Forte’s back-to-back carries for no gain after Greene’s interception that forced a punt with the Bears leading 23-20 with 3:30 left in the game had bigger long-term implications than anything Robbie Gould did on Sunday.

The Bears are 24-of-43 (56 percent) on plays with one yard to go for a first down or touchdown — that’s 20th in the NFL. On rushing plays they’re even worse — 15-for-29 (52 percent), which is 30th in the NFL. If you include Forte’s ill-fated two-point conversion rush against the Lions, the Bears are down to a 50 percent success rate on rushes with one yard to go.

That made Michael Bush’s 15-yard gain on his lone carry the most ironic run of the day. Bush, who was hired as a short-yardage and goal-line back, has 13 carries with one yard to go for a net of minus-one yard. He’s gained positive yards on only four of those plays.

5. The Bears allowed 246 rushing yards after giving up 258 to the Rams last week, but except for a 33-yard touchdown by Cordarrelle Patterson, the run defense believe it or not, was improved with Craig Steltz playing for Major Wright and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff getting about 25 snaps in his first game action in more than a year.

Adrian Peterson made them look bad, with 211 yards on 35 carries. But had the Bears been playing a lesser back Sunday, they’d have fared much better.

Even Peterson was not lethal on Sunday. His longest run was 23 yards and he did not score a touchdown. At one point in the fourth quarter, Peterson had rushed for 160 yards on 26 carries — and the Bears were inches from salting the game away when Forte was stopped for no gain on second-and-one and third-and-one with 3:30 to go. With this defense, that’s acceptable.

6. Jeremiah Ratliff isn’t likely to become the Pro Bowl defensive tackle he was with the Cowboys. But based on early returns of a limited performance, he’ll still be an upgrade for the Bears’ run defense. Bears defensive players were genuinely encouraged and enthused by what they saw from Ratliff in his Bears’ debut.

7. The Bears will never do it, but at 33, Julius Peppers looks like he should play every other game. Peppers has been sporadic this season, but when he’s good he’s still a difference-maker.

After a big game against the Packers off the Bears’ bye week (sack, interception, two pass breakups), Peppers had one tackle against the Lions, then 12 tackles and two sacks against the Ravens, then one tackle against the Rams. On Sunday he was a force, with 2.5 sacks, eight tackles, three quarterback hurries and a pass deflection.

Maybe the extra day off will keep him rejuvenated for the Cowboys game on Monday Night Football. But right now he looks like he needs his rest.

8. The worst break the Bears might have gotten was when Christian Ponder left the game at halftime with concussion symptons. Ponder was 3-of-8 for 40 yards, with three sacks and a 54.2 passer rating in the first half. Backup Matt Cassel was 20-of-33 for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception for an 80.7 rating. He wasn’t that great, but played just well enough to make the difference.

9. The Bears opened the season with two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to beat the Bengals and Vikings. But one of the big disappointments of Trestman’s first season has been the Bears’ inability to come through in crunch time. The Bears did not score in the final 33:32 of the game.

But it’s the defense more than anything that has failed to step up when it counts. Last week, they allowed the Rams to drive 80 yards in seven plays after Bush scored to get the Bears within 27-21 with 7:15 to go.

On Sunday, after the offense failed to get a critical third down with 3:30 to go, the Bears punted and pushed the Vikings to their 11-yard line with 2:40 to go — effectively taking Peterson out of the game as a run threat.

After Cassel fumbled a shotgun snap for a three-yard loss, the Vikings faced a fourth-and-11 from their 8. But Cassel completed five consecutive passes for 80 yards — including gains of 20, 24, 17 and 21 yards, to put the Vikes in position for a tying field goal.

10. That Cassel was able to recover his own fumbled snap is another symptom of a Bears defense that isn’t what it used to be. That was the ninth consecutive fumble the Bears have failed to recover. They have yet to recover a fumble since cornerback Charles Tillman suffered a torn triceps against the Lions on Nov. 11.

The last time the Bears recovered a fumble was against the Lions at Ford Field on Sept. 29. The Bears forced four fumbles that day (by Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton and Tillman) and recovered two (Wootton, Shea McClellin). That was a long time ago, indeed.

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