By Dan Durkin
(CBS) After three efficient performances, quarterback Jay Cutler took a step back in the Bears first loss of the 2013 season.
Here's my rapid reaction to the Bears 40-32 meltdown in Motown.
In the Bears three wins, Cutler (27/47, 317 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 65.6 quarterback rating) limited his negative plays to 3 interceptions and 1 fumble. Those totals were matched in today's game alone. Cutler's early interceptions completely derailed the Bears offensive game plan.
From the outset, Cutler's mechanics and decision-making were off. His footwork was sloppy, frequently throwing off his back foot which led to passes sailing on him, and his delayed decision-making led to forced throws into coverage. Cutler's turnovers directly led to 17 Lions points.
Cutler's first interception came on an excellent play by Lions safety Louis Delmas. Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis left the game the play before and was replaced by rookie Darius Slay. Anticipating Cutler to target Slay, Delmas read Cutler's eyes, jumping a dig route to Alshon Jeffery (5 receptions, 107 yards, 1 touchdown).
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The Bears took some pressure off of Cutler on their ensuing drive going 80 yards on two running plays, highlighted by Matt Forte's (117 total yards, 1 rushing touchdown) 53-yard touchdown run. However, Cutler never fully rebounded. His second interception came on an underthrown ball to Brandon Marshall (7 receptions, 79 yards), and his third was on an overthrown ball to Jeffery. It just wasn't Jay's day.
Heading into today's game the Bears ranked ninth in third down efficiency, a statistic that's certain to change after today's performance. They didn't convert a third down (1-13 on the day) until there were :47 seconds left in the game. It's impossible to score points when your offense can't sustain drives.
Highlight Reel Bears vs Lions
So much focus heading into today's game was on how the Bears offensive line would hold up against a tough Lions defensive line. For the most part, they held up well. Two of the three sacks came in the first half and the third came late in the game when the Bears were in pass-only mode. The Lions didn't bring a lot of extra blitz pressure, instead they sat back in zone coverage and forced the Bears to try and work the ball down the field.
Early on the Bears defense was bending but not breaking, and kept the team in the game by holding the Lions to field goals and generating turnovers for the offense.
After three games of being a pressure defense, they wisely reverted back to their tried-and-true Cover-2 shell to defend against wide receiver Calvin Johnson (4 receptions, 44 yards, 1 touchdown). This strategy worked to neutralize Johnson. however, running back Reggie Bush (173 total yards, 1 rushing touchdown) exploited the voids in the underneath zones created in Johnson's wake.
Bush is a gifted open-field runner, but the Bears missed far too many tackles at the second and third-level. In some instances the Bears were late to fill, or sloppy in their run fits - two players in one gap - which led to cutback lanes. Nearing the end of the first half, safety Major Wright dove at Bush's feet, getting hurdled in the process as Bush took it 37 yards for the touchdown. This was a momentum-shifting play, as the Lions extended their lead to 30-10, with 24 unanswered points.
Trailing 30-16, the Bears ever opportunistic defense gave the offense a chance to cut it to a one possession game, when the ball caromed off of Johnson into Wright's hands. Alas, just two plays later Ndamukong Suh's strip sack of Cutler was returned for a touchdown, swelling the Lions lead back to 21 points.
The Bears played their first game without defensive tackle Henry Melton, which affected their defensive line rotation. Stephen Paea has primarily been playing the nose-shade tackle, but he's been their most disruptive interior player this year, as such, he saw a lot of time at three-technique.
Defensive end Corey Wootton was also kicked inside, but there's a cause-and-effect to this approach, specifically Shea McClellin being on the field in early down situations. There's enough observable data out there to show that McClellin is unable to set a hard edge against the run and other team's are scheming for it. It showed up multiple times in today's game, when the Lions were able to down block McClellin with a single tight end, freeing up an offensive tackle to combo block on the Bears interior lineman. Setting a soft edge against the run gives opponents a numerical advantage in the box. The Lions averaged 5.3 yards on 30 rushing attempts.
Devin Hester was largely ineffective. The Lions lone punt return went for 57 yards, setting them up with great ideal field position at Bears 22-yard line on a go-ahead touchdown drive. Rookie Michael Ford was active - replacing Joe Anderson - for the first time and figured in on a few plays, one positive, one negative. Ford recovered Hester's fumbled kickoff, but also overshot Spurlock as the gunner on the punt coverage unit. Chances are Ford was activated to give the Bears more speed if the Lions chose to kick short on kickoffs, but the Lions didn't go this route, instead they opted to drive the ball deep into the endzone.
Despite the box score, this game wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicates. It was admirable for the Bears - and Cutler - to battle back late, but Cutler's negative plays were simply too much for the Bears to overcome. Obviously, 4-0 and a and 2-0 in the division was the goal, but the Bears have another game against the Lions at home in November. Clearly, this Lions team is much more potent with a healthy Reggie Bush.
With Drew Brees and the Saints on the docket, the Bears need to quickly put this game in the rear view mirror. The Saints present a unique challenge for the Bears defense, and Rob Ryan has revitalized their defense.
My Know Your Opponent column on the Saints will be up on Wednesday.
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