Biggs: 10 thoughts after Bears' loss to Seahawks
By Brad Biggs, Tribune reporter
9:35 a.m. CST, December 3, 2012
Ten thoughts after the Chicago Bears fell apart Sunday at Soldier Field in the closing minutes and overtime to lose to the Seattle Seahawks 23-17 and fall into a tie for first place in the NFC North with the Green Bay Packers.
1. How is it possible that despite the addition of playmaking wide receiver Brandon Marshall, the Bears are no better off on offense this season?
It’s true. This isn’t to beat up an offense that did enough to win this game. The offense turned things over to the defense with a 14-10 lead and the Seahawks backed up on their own 3-yard line with 3:40 remaining in regulation. It was enough to produce a victory.
Marshall is on pace to stamp his name throughout the team’s record book, yet the offense is no more potent than it was a year ago when everyone was clamoring for a big-time target, a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Sure, the Bears entered Week 13 ranked 11th in the NFL in scoring, but remove seven defensive touchdowns and one special teams touchdown from the equation, and the team ranking plummets.
Marshall made 10 receptions for 165 yards in the loss, the most yards for a Bears wide receiver since Marty Booker had 198 in a 2002 game against the Minnesota Vikings. It was the sixth 100-yard game of the season for Marshall, leaving him just one shy of the club record of seven shared by Jeff Graham (1995) and Harlon Hill (1964). Marshall now has 91 receptions for 1,182 yards and eight touchdowns. That puts him on pace for rare totals with four games remaining – 121 catches for 1,576 yards and 10 touchdowns.
But the Bears entered Week 13 ranked 30th in total yards, 32nd in passing yards per game, 10th in rushing yards per game, 32nd in sacks per pass play, 32nd in yards per play on first down and 12th in third-down efficiency. The offense is all over the board and maybe nothing encapsulates that better than the recent slide in which the team has lost three of four games.
What is going wrong? If it was one area, it would be easy to pinpoint. It’s not. Here are six explanations:
a) What Ted said. Team president Ted Phillips said former general manager Jerry Angelo was fired because the Bears needed to close the talent gap with the Packers and Detroit Lions in the division. Work remains to be done. At 8-4, the Bears are still living large off a soft schedule. They can dispute it all they want but they count just one victory over a team that currently has a winning record – the Indianapolis Colts in the season opener. First-year general manager Phil Emery needs another foray in free agency and the draft to build the team.
b) When you talk about needing to add help for the offense, it starts with the line. Emery didn’t draft a lineman this past year and he’s going to have to do it this April, a proposition made more difficult because the Bears are without their third-round draft pick. Lineman picks are rarely sexy, but would fans rejoice if the first two picks were used on offensive linemen?
c) While the running game has produced and the Bears have been in the top-third of the NFL, nothing has been consistent about the production. Matt Forte doesn’t look like the same explosive player he was a year ago and a pair of ankle injuries this season probably has been part of the issue.
d) Alshon Jeffery was close to supplanting Devin Hester in the starting lineup when he suffered a broken right hand in his fifth game at Jacksonville. He returned for just one game before injuring his knee, leading to arthroscopic knee surgery. Jeffery was producing opposite Marshall and his loss hurt. With any luck, he will be back this coming week. Jeffery did some work on the field prior to the game in warmups.
e) The other targets have not produced, either. A year removed from a lucrative contract extension, Earl Bennett has been banged up and invisible. Now, he’s sidelined with a concussion. Tight end Kellen Davis, ridiculously praised by Lovie Smith at the NFL scouting combine, has been the same Kellen Davis we’ve seen previously. He’s not a tight end that can do what the best in the league do in a regular basis.
f) Quarterback Jay Cutler has played good football at times – he posted a 119.6 passer rating in the loss – but he’s been uneven, too. It’s a big puzzle and while far from the biggest issue, everyone plays a part in the struggles.
2. It’s widely believed that Bruce Irvin, the Seahawks’ defensive end, is the player the Bears coveted in the first round with Phil Emery’s first pick as general manager. I asked Irvin about it after what was a mostly quiet game for him (he was credited with two hits on quarterback Jay Cutler), and he seemed to confirm it.
Irvin said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli flew to visit him in Morgantown, W.Va., the night before the draft – not a move the Bears would make if they were not going to pull the trigger on a guy.
“I thought they were going to get me,” Irvin said. “I thought they were going to take me at 19. In fact, they were going to take me. I know they were going to take me. I just know. I talked to Marinelli. They flew in the night before the draft.
“We went to dinner. We chopped it up. I don’t know if the dinner was the final interview but they were going to take me if I was there.”
Lovie Smith met with Irvin before his pro day in Morgantown and the club had done extensive work on Irvin, whom the Seahawks took No. 15 overall, to the surprise of most. He has produced for the Seahawks with seven sacks and looks to be a pass rusher the team can build with on defense. The Bears shifted players but not positions, taking Shea McClellin. He’s got three sacks and is a regular part of the rotation.
“I think I am in the perfect situation,” Irvin said. “I am a situational player this year and they are using me right. I can’t ask for much else. I am fortunate.”
3. One start is not going to tell us a whole lot about Gabe Carimi at right guard, but the line was satisfactory even though there were some limitations with how many receivers were sent into the pattern at times. It would not be surprising if Carimi stayed at right guard even after Chris Spencer returns from a bruised left knee.
Frank Omiyale, the object of much criticism before he departed after last season, was in uniform as a reserve for the Seahawks.
“Really, I don’t know if the Bears’ offensive line will ever not be under fire,” Omiyale said. “But Roberto (Garza) has done a great job of leading those guys. I feel like they did a decent job today. You just have to keep coming back, keep fighting.”
One player who knows all about the transition from playing tackle as a first-round draft pick to playing guard is ex-Bears lineman Chris Williams, who was released Oct. 16 and signed almost a week later with the St. Louis Rams. He said last week he has kept in touch with some former teammates including Lance Louis, to whom Williams was texting messages of encouragement after Louis’ season-ending knee injury. The 14th overall pick out of Vanderbilt in 2008, Williams was drafted to play left tackle, but wound up as a guard after an injury marred career with the Bears.
“I wish those guys the best and they have a great football team,” Williams said of the Bears. “I think I was given an opportunity to succeed. We all have our responsibilities as players to perform at a certain level. In the end the decision was out of my hands. I am happy to be with the Rams and look forward to the future here.”
Williams hasn’t made an impact on his new team. He was a healthy inactive for the Rams’ upset of San Francisco on Sunday in overtime and for the win the previous week over Arizona. He wasn’t a terrible player but he had a propensity to miss zone stretch plays. He was more athletic than overpowering but would likely be a better option than Edwin Williams at this point. He’ll certainly make more money this season than the $650,000 Edwin is paid in base salary.
Chris Williams can collect all of the $1 million base salary he was scheduled to earn with the Bears if he files for termination pay, but declined to say whether he would do so. He laughed when asked why he wouldn’t.
Williams didn’t want to comment specifically on Carimi’s move from right tackle to right guard, but said the transition wasn’t that difficult for him. Williams moved from left tackle to left guard, which meant he could keep the same stance, something Carimi will benefit from in moving from right tackle to right guard.
“They are both challenging positions, tackle and guard, but at the end of the day offensive line is offensive line,” Williams said. “There will be transition time, but you can do it.”
4. It’s premature to speculate on Brian Urlacher’s hamstring injury. He left the game before the final play and was replaced by Geno Hayes. With four regular-season games remaining, it’s impossible to tell how an injury like that could affect the 34-year-old middle linebacker. Urlacher is in the final year of his contract, earning a base salary of $7.5 million with a $500,000 workout bonus also included. He was credited with eight tackles and one forced fumble in the game but there were plays in the running game where he just didn’t look like the same explosive, athletic performer you are accustomed to seeing. Urlacher entered the game with 79 tackles in statistics tracked by coaches’ review of game film, just one behind team leader Lance Briggs.
The Bears have said all along they will address Urlacher’s situation when the season is over. If he has an injury that forces him to miss some period of time, you wonder if that will impact the final result. The Bears promoted linebacker Patrick Trahan from the practice squad last week. If they need another linebacker, don’t rule out the possibility they contact Dom DeCicco, who received an injury settlement before the regular season. No one expects to see Urlacher’s Bears’ career end with an injury, though.
5. What will the Bears do at the quickly diminishing wide receiver position?
The hope has to be Alshon Jeffery can return this week after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery and being held out of the previous two games. He’s needed in a big way after Earl Bennett was lost to a concussion, likely suffered on his touchdown reception when he landed on his head after being catapulted into the air by Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner.
Devin Hester missed the game and all practices last week with a concussion and that forced Eric Weems (one catch, 18 yards) and Dane Sanzenbacher into action.
Where does the offense go from here? Again, Jeffery is the first option and it is possible Hester could return this week as well. The key, though, is finding someone – anyone – to step up opposite Brandon Marshall, who was targeted on 14 of Jay Cutler’s 26 passes.
“That’s fair to say,” Sanzenbacher said. “The guys that are here are here for a reason. It’s next guy up. Gotta be. Especially when you’ve got so many targets at Brandon, defenses are going to try to take that away. It’s got to be on the tight ends and us other guys to step up and make some plays.”
Marshall admitted the situation is difficult and he pointed out that one option – if needed – could be Joe Anderson, an undrafted rookie free agent that is on the practice squad. The Bears are known to be high on him since preseason.
“It’s tough,” Marshall said. “There are guys that are hungry. You have Joe, a guy on our practice squad, works really hard and he’s really hungry right now. Can’t wait to see him. You have guys that aren’t here. Free agents that are hungry. Guys like Mike Sims-Walker, my best friend, my brother. So maybe he gets a shot. There are guys that are hungry. It doesn’t matter if it’s Mike Sims-Walker that’s on the street right now that’s hungry or Joe Anderson who’s hungry right now. We definitely will make the right decisions and move forward.”
Marshall introduced the idea of Sims-Walker but unless the Bears figure to be without players for a stretch of multiple weeks, I would be surprised if they made a play for a veteran. There are reasons guys like Sims-Walker are on the street right now.”
With any luck, Jeffery is back this week and Hester and Bennett are not far off.
6. Lovie Smith often is criticized for his in-game coaching moves. Choosing to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Seahawks’ 15-yard line in the second quarter was the right move. Waffling about the decision in his news conference after the game was the wrong move.
The Bears led 7-0 at the time and easily could have chosen a 33-yard field goal by Robbie Gould, who likely would have delivered. But they needed a half-yard at most. Michael Bush scored twice on runs from the 1-yard line last week in the victory over the Minnesota Vikings. More importantly, he was 3-for-3 converting on fourth-and-1 runs this season. That is what he is paid to do.
When you watch what happened on the play, left guard Edwin Williams appeared to miss a block on Seahawks rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. He tried to hook Wagner with his right arm and instead Wagner filled the hole and made the play. On the previous play, though, Matt Forte likely could have moved the chains. He hesitated on a third-and-2 run and his failure to be decisive was the main reason he didn’t pick up the distance needed on a run to the right side of the line.
Not getting at least three points out of the drive was costly in the game. But you have to count on your offense to move the ball a little more than the length of a football. There was nothing flawed with Smith’s decision here even behind a makeshift line.
You wonder why a sneak with Jay Cutler was not called, something he’s been good at before. But you don’t wonder too long. With Cutler coming back from a concussion, the Bears may want to avoid sneaks. It’s one thing for Cutler to take off and run in the open field. It’s another thing for him to drop his head and look for space in that tight proximity.
Former Bears quarterback Chris Chandler was injured on a quarterback sneak in a 2002 game at Champaign, a loss to the New England Patriots. Chandler was knocked woozy by an elbow from safety Lawyer Milloy and an unidentified helmet and I went back through the files to find the story.
“Nothing really, other than no more sneaking for a while,” Chandler said when asked if he would have any restrictions after returning to practice.
“We actually got a lot of movement on that sneak, and I didn't quite get down. As I was falling, it felt like my head just got jammed back into me and backward. It was a real burn in my neck, and my left shoulder felt really weak. It was scary for a second lying there. I don't know what the exact diagnosis is, but it's going to be all right.”
Perhaps the Bears have Cutler on “no more sneaking for a while.”
7. Why have the Seahawks been going with Russell Wilson this season and not the quarterback they paid big money to, Matt Flynn? Well, we saw why with Wilson’s electric performance. The rookie did credit Flynn, one of the few backups in the NFL to be earning more than Bears’ No. 2 Jason Campbell, for helping win the coin flip to begin overtime. No joke.
Wilson is one of the great bargains in last April’s draft. A third-round pick (No. 75 overall) out of Wisconsin, he was a three-year starter at N.C. State before his decision to play minor league baseball with the Colorado Rockies organization led recently fired coach Wolfpack Tom O’Brien to grant the player an unconditional release from his scholarship. That allowed Wilson to immediately transfer to Wisconsin where he led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl.
Seattle drafted him as a developmental player who would learn behind Flynn, a fourth-year player who spent his first three seasons as a backup to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Flynn was signed to a three-year, $19.5 million deal that included $10 million in guaranteed money and joined the organization more than a month before the draft. He reportedly suffered a right elbow injury and was struggling to throw the ball leaving Wilson pressed into action. The rookie’s outstanding work ethic -- he reportedly arrives before the coaches at 5 a.m. and is the last player to leave the facility every night -- helped convince the coaches he was the man for the job.
No doubt Wilson’s experience playing professional baseball helped him to adapt to the NFL, but he also brought a ton of experience as a starter in college. Wilson started 50 college games in his years at N.C. State and Wisconsin as opposed to Flynn’s limited college playing career at LSU. Flynn quarterbacked a national championship team at LSU as a fifth-year senior, but he played behind Marcus Randall and former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell for the majority of his career. He left LSU with just 13 career starts and started just two games in place of Rodgers with Green Bay. Flynn is older, has been in the NFL longer, but has nowhere near the experience of Wilson at either the college or professional level.
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman put Wilson in the same class as Andrew Luck of Indianapolis and Robert Griffin III, the top two picks in the draft.
“He is one of the best quarterbacks out there and I think people try to short-change him because of his height or because of the measurable or whatever it was,” Sherman said. “Show me a rookie against the No. 1 defense out there, arguably, drive the ball 97 yards and score and how about him going into overtime against the same defense and scoring again? They’ve got great players out there, (Charles) Tillman, seven forced fumbles, a couple picks. (Tim) Jennings, leading the league in picks. Any time you have Peppers out there, you have problems. You have got (Brian) Urlacher, who is probably a Hall of Famer. And this kid just went out there and played out of his mind. I am so proud of him.
“They’re going to hype who they are going to hype. You are in the Seattle market, it doesn’t matter what you do. He’s beat the Bears, the Packers, the Patriots. You show me another quarterback with his resume and I’ll show you a great quarterback. But he doesn’t get the credit because they don’t want to give him the credit. They don’t want to make him a big name. They make the guys a big name that they want to make a big name. He’s a great quarterback and he’s probably as good or better than (Luck and Griffin).”
8. Undrafted rookie free-agent offensive lineman James Brown made his NFL debut as an extra lineman in short-yardage situations. He benefitted greatly -- or maybe the term should be relatively -- from the Bears problems on the offensive line. When Chilo Rachal was put on the reserve/non-football injury list last week, Brown was promoted from the eight-man practice squad. Maybe the pro-rated portion of the league’s minimum salary of $390,000 doesn’t sound like much in professional sports terms ($22,941 per week), but it’s a huge windfall for a practice squad player.
Brown received a $5,000 signing bonus to join the Bears after being bypassed in the draft, made $155 per diem in spring practice and was paid $850 a week during camp. Practice squad players make $5,700 a week in the NFL, which comes out to $96,900 if you spend a full 17 weeks with that designation.
Brown picked the Bears over offers from Cleveland, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Houston because he was born on the South Side before moving to Mississippi when he was “5 or 6.” Cleveland was the first team to contact him and the Bears were second, but he said it was more than just a good opportunity that brought him to the Bears.
“I really felt it was a blessing in disguise because I really wanted to come to the Bears,” he said. “This was my favorite team since I was a little boy.”
9. More problematic than the fourth-and-1 play failing was Earl Bennett dropping what would have been a 62-yard touchdown after he was all alone behind cornerback Brandon Browner. Bennett got twisted but the ball still went clearly off his hands. What is not known is if Bennett was concussed at the time of the play midway through the second quarter.
“It happens,” Jay Cutler said. “I spun him around a little bit, and it was a tough catch. He is going to say that he should have had it. I don’t know if he was feeling the effects of that hit down by the goal line or not – it’s hard to tell. I won’t shy away from him, I know that. I’ll keep coming back to him.”
10. Brace yourself for the inevitable questions this week – how does an NFL team improve its tackling ability when it does not tackle during practice? There is a reason, a very compelling one why teams do not tackle practice and that is because of injuries. No coach is going to expose his players to injury. Tackling is about angles and finishing and the Bears did neither one well, missing plays at all three levels. They didn’t look interested at all in contact with running back Marshawn Lynch but there was wide receiver Golden Tate breaking tackles in the open field repeatedly. Tate did that on his 14-yard touchdown and on a 49-yard grab.
“Any time I get the ball, I think I have a chance to make a big play, and do something that people usually don’t do,” Tate said. “That is my type of game. I didn’t think I was going to get in but I thought I was going to get a first down. I wasn’t expecting to score.
“That is also what we expect from Marshawn. That is what he does. He breaks tackles, makes plays. That’s kind of how I play. I hate being tackled by one person so I am always competing for extra yards. One of my big attributes if yards after first touch, after the catch. The coaches put me in a position to make a play and I did my best.”
10 a. The Seahawks have won seven road games under Peter Carroll in three years. Three have come over the Bears at Soldier Field.
10 b. The Bears were concerned about Seattle return man Leon Washington but he was made a nonfactor. Robbie Gould hit four touchbacks and Washington gained one yard on two punt returns.
10 c. Cornerback Tim Jennings will have his shoulder examined beginning Monday and Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson was concerned after knocking him out of the game.
“If you watch it, I turned right to him afterward,” Robinson said. “I knew. You just know when you know (hurt someone). I don’t want to put too much else out there. You hate to see that. It is a collision sport, though. Good friend of mine. I just hope he is all right. We train together in Orlando.”
10 d. Lovie Smith now is 8-3 in overtime as Bears coach.
10 e. The NFL has assigned referee Walt Coleman to handle Sunday’s Bears-Vikings game at the Metrodome.
10 f. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has 1,428 receiving yards through 12 games. He is 420 yards shy of Jerry Rice's 1995 record of 1,848 and there is talk of Johnson gunning for 2,000. Detroit hosts the Bears Dec. 30 in a regular-season finale.