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Bears’ defense is more problematic than the offense

Robbie Gould RoberGarza

Robbie Gould, Roberto Garza

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Updated: January 23, 2012 2:55AM

A text from a friend read: “I want to crawl into a hole.” If this was how a lifelong Bears fan felt after his team’s first offensive series during Monday night’s debacle against the Detroit Lions imagine how Jay Cutler, Mike Martz and other offensive players and coaches feel while watching the public flogging on tape?

That’s just the offense. The state of the Bears defense is more embarrassing because in the past that unit has risen above mediocrity.

What became apparent to a national television audience during the Bears’ 24-13 loss has long been suspected. The Bears have an offense going nowhere and a defense in obvious decline. The offense relies on timing. Jay Cutler has no time. Defensive success requires pressure from the front four. That pressure has been virtually non-existent since Week 1.

General manager Jerry Angelo has always believed that teams should be built from the inside out. It has long been his opinion that offensive and defensive lines create an identity and standard of play. Never have truer words been spoken, by the way. Monday night’s game was proof positive. For the moment, forget about the lack of receiving talent and the inability to acquire adequate safeties. That Angelo has always believed in an inside-out philosophy only makes his team being destroyed on both fronts the latest indictment of his stewardship.

This is going to get worse before it gets better, folks. It’s not as if the offensive and defensive lines have been neglected because Angelo has been loading up on quality players at other positions. There are deficiencies at safety, cornerback, linebacker, offensive line and receiver. The Lions and Packers are younger, deeper and have more high-end talent. The Bears went 5-1 against NFC North opponents last season. One year later, 1-5 is a more reasonable expectation.

There’s no denying the disconnect between what Angelo and Smith thought this team could be and what it actually is. They studied the roster after last year’s run to the NFC Championship game and concluded that swapping Olin Kreutz for Chris Spencer and drafting a right tackle was the remedy for the league’s worst offensive line. They watched film of Cutler trying to complete passes to tiny receivers and decided demoting Johnny Knox and acquiring an out-of-shape Roy Williams and diminutive rookie free-agent Dane Sanzenbacher was the cure-all.

They have two offensive playmakers, one they refuse to pay (Matt Forte) and the other they refuse to protect (Cutler).

The Bears have three future Hall of Famers on defense, a solid cornerback in Charles Tillman and a few other complimentary pieces. If those four mainstays perform at an elite level, the Bears can be effective defensively. When they begin to slip for whatever reason, or when complimentary players aren’t performing, the unit collapses like it did Monday night.

We’ve seen this before. Defensively, this team resembles the 2009 unit that couldn’t consistently stop big plays.

The coaching staff demanded defenders play with more urgency and be more physical against the Lions and the result was what has been one of the worst defenses in the NFL playing like one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Are players tuning out Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli or is it a simple matter of lacking talent?

Meanwhile, we keep hearing how the problems are fixable and yet they never get fixed.

The Bears were 4-3 last season before winning seven of their next eight. If they can defeat the Vikings and Buccaneers in their next two games they could be 4-3 heading into the bye week for the second straight season. It’s not unreasonable. Who knows? Maybe they can play themselves back into the playoff race.

The bigger question is why did all the lessons presumably learned last year have to be relearned the hard way, especially when they had ample room under the salary camp to address obvious concerns? Angelo and the coaching staff should have understood what they had and what they would be up against. That they have to win back-to-back games to find themselves in the same tenuous position they were in last year proves they are no better sizing up their own talent then they have been evaluating rookies and free agents.

Not only did Bears players probably want to crawl into a hole early in Monday night’s game, they did, at least metaphorically. Whether they can crawl out remains to be seen.

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