By Bryan Dietzler
The Chicago Bears slipped to 2-9 for the season following what many consider to be a heartbreaking 27-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans this past Sunday at Soldier Field. The game appeared to be lost after the Titans took a comfortable lead in the third quarter. The Bears appeared to have no answer for how to score points after their first touchdown early in the game.
But, as predicted, this game ended up being closer than many people thought and turned into one of the more exciting games of the season for the Bears. This writer had an opportunity to have a near field level view of the action on Sunday and would like to share some unique insight into the game.
The Bears started the scoring off early as quarterback Matt Barkley, subbing for the injured Jay Cutler, threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Brown to put the Bears up 7-0. It was a solid drive and one that made the Bears look, at least at first, that they came to play.
Chicago would lose their only lead of the game shortly after their opening score as the Titans marched down the field with seeming ease and tied it with an 11-yard Derrick Henry run. The end of the first quarter saw the game tied 7-7.
The Titans would roll on to another score in the second quarter as quarterback Marcus Mariotta hit tight end Delanie Walker on a four-yard touchdown pass to put the Titans up by seven. On that play, the Bear’s pass rush allowed Mariotta to have plenty of time to get the ball out to Walker for the score. It was 14-7 at that point.
Tennessee jumped ahead 21-7 after a 29-yard touchdown pass from Mariotta to Rishard Matthews. The Bears secondary blew the coverage on that one and the catch was an easy one for Matthews. The score at halftime would be 21-7.
The Titans would add to their lead following a 19-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Succop. Tennessee would take a 24-7 lead with that score. A 31 yard Succop field made it 27-7. It appeared as if the game would be out of reach for the Bears at that point.
But the Bears weren’t going to just lie down and die on this day. Fans were not suspecting what they were about to see and for the almost entire fourth quarter of this game, the Bears were in control.
Chicago would tack on 7 points to make it 27-14 when Barkley hit Marquess Wilson on an eight-yard touchdown pass. The Bears would have even better luck on their next drive as Barkley and the wide receiving corps struck again. Chicago added seven more points on a six-yard pass from Barkley to Deonte Thompson. That made it 27-21.
The Bears defense stepped up and stopped the Titans’ offense on the next possession leaving the Bears plenty of time to move down the field and score the game winning touchdown. The offense put up a good fight and tried hard to get that game winning score. But dropped passes killed their chances and caused huge a lot of problems. More on that later.
In the end, the Bears last shot at winning fell “incomplete” in the end zone. They ended the game with their ninth loss of the season and a lot of questions left to answer.
The quarterback position, manned by Barkley, was okay on Sunday. Barkley did make a couple of mistakes (two interceptions) but looked like a good game managing quarterback. He made some nice decisions and while he looked shaky at times, he did have some poise. Barkley might have more success in his second start this weekend against San Francisco thanks to the action he saw this past Sunday.
Unfortunately for Barkley, and the rest of the team, the wide receivers really let them down. All together (including the running backs) the Bears had ten dropped passes. Had the passes been caught, Barkley would have had over 400 yards and the Bears would have won the game. Being there, you get to see a lot of the action up close and the passes that were dropped were easily catchable except perhaps one. That one was a Wilson pass dropped in the red zone.
The Bear’s wide receivers need to catch those passes. If they have more games like this, let’s hope they aren’t back with the team next season.
Being at the game and sitting behind the end zone, you get a little different perspective of how the running game works. You don’t get to see the progress of the runner as well (from left to right) as you would sitting on the sideline seats but you get to see the holes open and watch as the running back picks his hole and makes his moves.
After seeing Jordan Howard run in person, he looks like a very decisive runner that makes good decisions. Jeremy Langford is not as smooth and Ka’ Deem Carey is very north and south. But Carey is a good runner but he was only used once. Disappointing. The Bears running game was just ok on Sunday but it was overshadowed by the passing game. There weren’t a lot of rushing opportunities because Chicago had to play catch up most of the game.
Getting to watch the offensive line in person was nice. I have been a critic of Bobby Massie all season but he played well. Remember he was also coming back from a concussion. Massie is also one big guy! Cody Whitehair was impressive, although he did draw a penalty. This is mostly a group of backups but they had a nice outing. They didn’t allow a single sack which was great.
The defense was impressive in many aspects. The defensive line played a nice game despite the lack of sacks. Eddie Goldman was easily the best guy out there on Sunday. He was getting up the field quickly, he handled offensive linemen well and made some nice plays. He took on some double teams and was still disruptive. In addition to that, he has a lot of character and is fun to watch after the play is over.
Akeem Hicks is another defensive lineman that impressed this Sunday. He was all over the field, talking teammates up and cheering the crowd on. He backs up his actions with solid play on the field. He was a very strong offseason acquisition for the Bears.
Sitting in the end zone allows you to see the defense line up and make their moves up the field attacking the offense. You get a much better understanding of how the defense works, how well they play and what they do watching it from that angle. The Bears defensive line did not get pushed around as often as some might think. The linebackers moved to the ball smoothly and, for the most part, the secondary reacted to plays on the ground very well.
The linebackers, despite the fact they were without Jerrell Freeman, played a good game. The rookie, Nick Kwiatksoski made a couple of tackles but it seemed like he was in a lot more plays than that. Sam Acho, another one of those “big” guys, had a good game. Danny Trevethan was the best of the group but he got injured. He is out for the season now. His replacement has big shoes to fill.
The linebackers lived up to the hype. They are easily the best group on the team.
Chicago’s secondary has gotten a lot grief this season. They have been a big part of some of the lost leads the team has suffered from this year. Injuries and growing pains have hurt and it was easy to see, on Sunday, that this group has some work to do. They did do some good things like having nice open field tackles and some good coverage, but they did have a few miscues and need to get better.
The star of this group was Tracy Porter. Like Akeem Hicks, he backs up his talk with nice play on the field. He was the cheerleader in the secondary and plays lights out on every play. You could see that he is bothered by that knee injury and it’s easier to see after plays are over. He didn’t appear to let that hold him back. He was very solid.
While Cre’Von LeBlanc did lead the team in tackles, he also led the Bears in bad plays. LeBlanc looks a little confused when in coverage and can’t keep up with receivers well. He allowed one long pass that put the Titan’s in perfect scoring positon. He has crumbled time and again this season. Hopefully he isn’t back in a Bear’s uniform next year.
Deon Bush looks like the real deal at safety. He looks like he is ready to start and could be a good addition to the secondary.
One more important thing to note is that the defense tackled very well. Even the smaller corners were tackling the bigger guys, like DeMarco Murray in space and not allowing them to break free for extra yardage. This is a well-disciplined defense and its proof that Vic Fangio is doing what he can with what he has.
Special teams were the most interesting unit to watch from the end zone seats. If you have ever watched from the end zone, you might have noticed that the kicks don’t appear to go as far and the yardage gained on kick returns appears to be very minimal. It’s all about perception. The television makes kicks look like big booming things with a ton of height. That’s not the case live and in person.
Punting for the Bears has been hot and cold all season. With no wind on Sunday (to speak of) Pat O’Donnell’s punts didn’t seem to travel too far. Connor Barth was successful on all three of his extra point attempts but, like I said, no wind.
The return teams weren’t spectacular at all and seemed to struggle. Thompson is not the answer as a kick return specialist. Eddie Royal is nice but his blockers gave him zero chances to return kicks. Coverage units did good though and are well coached.
Speaking of coaching, the coaching staff did a couple of odd things in the game. They took their best pass rusher, Pernell McPhee, out in passing situations at times. McPhee did look like he was hurting often after plays were over. Maybe he wasn’t feeling well. They rotated Harold Jones-Quartey into the game on some critical situations and while he didn’t make any mistakes I feel he put the defense at risk. Perhaps he was just giving the other guys a breather?
What I did like was the decision to do the onside kick. While it didn’t turn into points, it showed that the coaching staff was finally willing to try to do something to win. This was a game about winning and trying not to lose. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.
The crowd was not as big as usual the fans around us were having a good time. It was a great atmosphere and a much better game than anyone had anticipated. Maybe the team can ride some of the positive things from this past weekend into their next game this Sunday.
Chicago’s next game will be at home again, this time against the 1-10 San Francisco 49ers. This contest is basically a draft pick positioning game but it might turn out to be another good and close one.
A full preview of next Sunday’s game will be posted later this week.