24 Hours Later: Laurence Holmes On Bears-Bills
By Laurence W. Holmes-
(CBS) Time offers the opportunity for perspective, so I thought it would be a good idea to wait each week to give my thoughts on the Bears game. The idea being that 24 hours allows me to the watch the game over and to talk a few more people. Hence, "The 24 Hours Later" blog.
What I saw
After forcing a three-and-out, the Bears marched 66 yards in four plays and went up 7-0. It was a perfect drive, with all of the Bears' top playmakers being part of it. Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett all touched the ball, and everything looked great. Then we saw the Bears revert back to problems that they had last year. Defensively, they continue to struggle against teams that run the zone-read.
Buffalo came back with a nine-play, 71-yard drive, using misdirection to their advantage. The drive was capped off with EJ Manuel faking a hand-off right, reading the tackle properly and then running it easily to the left for the score. He wasn't touched.
The Bears never want to give up run gains of more than 10 yards. Marc Trestman calls them "explosive plays." They gave up three to the Bills (47, 38 and 13 yards). The Bills ran for 193 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Bears defenders didn't stay disciplined, and they paid for it. You can bet that the team will see more zone-read in the next couple of games, and honestly I wouldn't be surprised if Aaron Rodgers and the Packers put something in for Week 4 either.
The run game wasn't the only problem for the Bears. Manuel came into this game with a career passer rating of 64 in road games. He was efficient on Sunday: 16-of-22, 173 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He walked out of Soldier Field with a 91.7 rating.
In the second half, down 17-7, the Bears rallied to tie the game. The defense played better, even forcing a three-and-out to start the fourth quarter. Then disaster struck.
With the Bears in field goal range and facing third-and-1, a bootleg was called and Jay Cutler threw an interception that could be described as the worst of his career (the end zone interception against San Francisco might be the only one that compares). He threw across his body into the middle of the field. Defensive lineman Kyle Williams sniffed it out, went underneath Bennett and got the pick.
If Cutler throws the ball away, the team can decide to go for it on fourth down or kick a long field goal. If he runs, he might make it too. The one thing that can't happen is an interception. It did, and Buffalo got three points out of it. You wonder what Cutler was thinking because he flippantly said after the game that he wasn't thinking about running.
After the Bears couldn't produce points on their first possession of overtime, the Bills started on their own 22 and ran their way to the Bears' 4. Fred Jackson is one of the oldest running backs in the league, but that didn't stop him from stiff-arming Chris Conte for 20 yards down the sidelines. That run set up the game-winning field goal, and now the Bears are 0-1 with a hard slate of games coming up.
What I heard
"He was going to throw the ball even if we had our guys on them…" -- Bills coach Doug Marrone
The Bills defensive backs played well. Former Bear Corey Graham had an unreal day. He was a late start after an injury to Stephon Gilmore and made the most of it. Graham broke up three of Cutler's passes and intercepted one. The Bills scored 13 of their 20 points off turnovers. They broke up five passes. To put that in perspective, according to the final box score, the Bears were credited with only one pass defended, and that was Chris Conte's interception.
"It's a play where it's the end of the game and I've got to get the ball out or something. So if I hit him, it's a field goal no matter what." -- Bears safety Chris Conte on Fred Jackson's 38-yard run that set up the winning field goal
Here's my issue with this: When I went back to watch the play, Conte's first contact with Jackson came at about the 27-year line. If he makes the tackle or pushes Jackson out of bounds, the Bills aren't going to line up and try a 42- to 45-yard field goal on first down. The Bears could force a turnover. The Bills could commit a penalty that pushes them back (they had nine of them for 108 yards). If you look at it again, Conte never even gets near the ball. He went high on Jackson, who clowned him down the sidelines. And let's be honest, there's only one player on the Bears defense going after the ball in that situation, and his name isn't Chris Conte.
Conte was the only Bears player to miss multiple tackles in the game, according to Pro Football Focus.
"We didn't play disciplined football for four quarters and it hurt us…" -- Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston
Houston is never going to be a guy who has great stats. Yesterday, he was one of the better defenders. He posted a +2.1 pass rushing grade, according to PFF. Willie Young had a lot of good moments. He had six tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. The problem is that the entire position group couldn't pull it together consistently. Jared Allen had one tackle and was credited for one pressure. He has to be a factor.
What I was told
"I thought I was going back in the game." -- Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery
Jeffery left the game with a hamstring injury. It took the Bears forever to let us know why he wasn't on the field. When they did let us know, they reported him "probable to return." He never did. Once Brandon Marshall got hurt, it completely changed what the Bears could do offensively. The Bears replaced two receivers that are about 6-foot-4 with Micheal Spurlock and Santonio Holmes, both of whom are 5-foot-11. Their catching radius alone suffers tremendously. The Bears have said that Jeffery was out for precautionary reasons, but it's troubling that with the game on the line, he couldn't get on the field.
It should also be pointed out that last year the Bears' offense, outside of Cutler, stayed pretty healthy. The offensive line had all five guys start all 16 games. With injuries to Jeffery, Marshall, Matt Slauson and Roberto Garza, the Bears' luck may have run out.
"We saw they play a pretty predictable front. We knew where they were gonna be at, and they'd let us double team them and rely on linebackers to make plays." -- Bills guard Chris Williams on Bears defense
That's the former Bears draft pick who now plays guard for Buffalo. That quote is pretty telling. If you have linebackers who can make plays, then it works, but the Bears keep guessing wrong and aren't getting to where they're supposed to be.
While I was on the air last night, I got a phone call during a break from a former NFL player who explained exactly what Williams was talking about. According to him, the Bears were playing a Read 2-gap defense. They're playing the game at the line of scrimmage and allowing the offensive line to dictate the flow. Without gap penetration, the linebackers have to really be aware and then be quick to the ball. The Bears weren't. I'm told you should watch out for "traps" and "wham" plays next week against the 49ers, the idea being to leave a defensive lineman unblocked, then hit him from the opposite side as he crashes up field. It should open up big holes.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh is old school in his run designs. They're simple concepts that have worked throughout the history of the game. His run game should be put on coaching reels because it's as beautiful as any Peyton Manning or Drew Brees passing attack. The Bears could be in for an even rougher game next week than this loss to the Bills.
In fact, if they don't get this defense fixed, it's not crazy to think they could start 0-4.
Laurence Holmes hosts the Laurence Holmes Show on 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @LaurenceWHolmes.
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