10 observations on Bears’ loss to Lions
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter September 30, 2013 2:51PM
Chicago Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs (55) is seen on the bench during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Updated: September 30, 2013 2:52PM
Marc Trestman could not have been more resolute.
‘‘Past performance is no indication of future success,’’ the Bears first-year coach said last week when asked about positive indicators during the Bears’ 3-0 start. ‘‘It can’t be.’’
That might be true in the short term — especially after the previously unbeaten Bears were outplayed in all three phases in their 40-32 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field. But in the big picture, the opposite is true: history is a great teacher. That’s why Trestman was hired in the first place.
So let the record show that after their worst performance in Trestman’s first season in Montreal in 2008, the Montreal Alouettes responded with their best game of the season and began a stretch that carried them to the Grey Cup.
The similarities are striking. The 7-3 Alouettes crapped out in a 41-30 road loss to the Calgary Stampeders in 2008 when all three phases failed them in a miserable second quarter. Calgary scored two touchdowns in a 42-second span in the final minute of the first half to turn a 10-10 game into a 24-10 advantage.
Quarterback Anthony Calvillo, on an MVP pace in a contract year, had his first dreadful game under Trestman. He threw a season-high three interceptions and completed a season-low 55 percent of his passes (22-of-40). He only finished with 309 passing yards and two touchdowns because of a fourth-quarter flurry in garbage time, when the Alouettes scored 20 points to account for a deceiving final score.
How Trestman and the Alouettes responded would define their season. In their next game, against the 7-4 Edmonton Eskimos, the Alouettes scored on their first six possessions in a 40-4 rout. Calvillo was 31-of-31 (81.6 percent) for 414 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Alouettes had six quarterback sacks and recovered five fumbles.
As it turned out, that performance indeed was an indicator of future success. The Alouettes averaged 40 points a game in winning four of their next five. Calvillo completed 77 percent of his passes and averaged 377 yards in that span, with 16 touchdowns to four interceptions.
It remains to be seen if Jay Cutler and the Bears will respond quite like that. But after the Bears’ worst game of the season, this week is all about coaching. This is their ‘‘teachable moment.’’ The Lions showed where the holes are. Now Trestman and his staff of teachers get a chance to do what they say they do best.
And now, 10 observations from the Bears’ 40-32 loss to the Lions on Sunday:
1. It’s official — the Bears have a defensive line issue. The Lions came into the game ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt (2.9). They averaged 5.3 against the Bears, mostly because the Bears’ defensive line couldn’t get a hand on Reggie Bush to slow him down and allow linebackers to make tackles. The Bears used two linemen for the first time Sunday — tackle Landon Cohen, who was signed on Friday, and rookie end Cornelius Washington. That Henry Melton was missed that much that quickly is not a good sign.
2. Julius Peppers still has it. It’s interesting to see how some players step up in tough times and others don’t. While Cutler struggled, Peppers responded to the Reggie Bush challenge from the start. Peppers had three tackles (two solo) in three games coming into the Lions game. He had six tackles — nabbing Bush four times for gains of zero, zero, four and two yards — plus a sack and forced fumble.
3. Do the Bears know that Shea McClellin is not an every down defensive lineman? At some point the incremental evidence has to add up to a conclusion. Bush gained 65 yards on 11 carries with McClellin at defensive end — whether or not those are incriminating numbers (Washington and Peppers were the ends on Bush’s 37-yard touchdown), teams seem more willing to run when McClellin is in the game. And he has yet to prove that he cannot be pushed around in the run game. McClellin had a fumble recovery against the Lions but was otherwise shut out of the stat sheet.
4. Special teams aren’t so special any more.
If there was a key play in the game, it might have been Micheal Spurlock’s 57-yard punt return. That’s the second long kick return in four games and the longest punt return against the Bears since 2010. With Sherrick McManis out with an injury, the Bears are lacking the special teams ‘‘aces’’ that have made their coverage units among the best in the NFL. Joe DeCamillis has some work to do.
5. The Bears’ first false start of the season was the beginning of the end. If there was a more subtle key play, it was Jordan Mills’ false start on third-and-10 from the Bears 42 in the second quarter. The Bears were leading 10-9 at the time, and Cutler spent too much time getting his receivers lined up, then tried to change the play with five seconds left on the play-clock. With the Ford Field crowd reaching a fever pitch, Mills jumped. The Bears failed on third-and-15 — a two-yard pass to Jeffery that typically had no chance to get a first down — which led to the punt that Spurlock returned 57 yards to the 22. It was all downhill from there.
6. What happened to all the Bears’ offensive weapons? Matt Forte (14-95) was the only running back to carry the ball against the Lions. Michael Bush has gained 24 yards on 16 carries (1.5 yards per carry) this season. Cutler threw 25 of his 27 completions to four receivers — Brandon Marshall (7-79), Alshon Jeffery (5-107), Martellus Bennett (8-90) and Forte (5-22). Anytime Cutler throws to somebody other than Marshall they’re ‘‘spreading the ball around.’’ They need to spread it around a little bit more.
7. Don’t be surprised if the Bears give Adam Podlesh a wake-up call by working out punters this week. A week after Podlesh had his net average (46.5) with the Bears, he had his worst against the Lions (28.8). It wasn’t just because of Spurlock’s 57-yard return. Podlesh averaged 40.2 gross yards per punt in a dome — that’s the fifth lowest gross average at Ford Field in the last five seasons.
8. Alshon Jeffery isn’t the Bears’ best wide receiver, but he’s getting closer every game. Jeffery had five receptions for 107 yards against the Lions — his best game in his two NFL seasons — including three catches against tough coverage for big gains. Once he starts making those tough catches in the end zone, he’ll be at a Pro Bowl level. He’s not far away.
9. The schedule is still breaking the Bears’ way. The Bears have arguably their biggest challenge of the season Sunday against Drew Brees and the currently unbeaten Saints. But the Saints will be traveling on a short week after playing on Monday Night Football. And after that the Bears’ schedule hardly appears daunting. Their remaining 11 opponents after the Saints have a composite record of 15-27. Things can change, but it’s unlikely the second-half schedule will be as challenging as the one that doomed Lovie Smith last year — the Bears faced six eventual playoff teams in a row to start the second half and went 1-5. Of their second-half opponents this season, only the Lions (3-1) currently are above .500.
10. As poorly as the Bears played against the Lions, they didn’t have the dumbest play of the game. That would be Matt Stafford’s nearly disastrous quarterback sneak in the second quarter. It was a curious play-call on first-and-goal and poorly executed against a team that takes the ball away better than any team in the NFL. As Stafford reached toward the goal line, Lance Briggs knocked the ball loose, but was able to grab it out of the air before a Bears defender could retrieve it. It was that kind of day for the Bears, but also provided some hope. The Lions are better than they’ve been — but they are still the Lions.