Chicago Bears linebacker Larry Grant, right, sacks Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
One of the hallmarks of Marc Trestman’s regime with the Chicago Bears has been the discipline that the team has shown. Yes, there are still penalties like pass interference and holding that are a part of the game, but specifically, the team has dramatically cut down on presnap penalties on both sides of the ball, and it has really helped them to not give free opportunities to opponents.
Unfortunately for the Bears, they took a big step back in that regard in their 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. In the game, the Bears committed 13 penalties for 111 yards, and their defense extended several Baltimore drives in situations that a stop would have forced the Ravens into punting the ball.
For instance, there was the pass interference penalty that safety Chris Conte picked up in the end zone when he grabbed Ed Dickson’s jersey. Dickson would likely not have been able to make the catch in bounds anyway since the ball was overthrown, but Conte lost position on him and committed the penalty anyway.
Corey Wootton also committed a neutral zone infraction late in the first quarter that gave the Ravens a much more manageable 3rd-and-1 instead of a 3rd-and-6. Ultimately, that drive did stall out thanks to some strong defensive play, but not before the Ravens got the ball into Bears territory.
The Bears’ offense also got in on the fun late in the second quarter, as two different drives were hampered by penalties. Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett picked up penalties on back to back snaps to pin the Bears deep in their own territory with less than five minutes left, and then on their next possession, Roberto Garza committed a holding penalty that stopped the momentum on a late push towards the end zone.
Finally, the Ravens’ final drive in the fourth quarter of the game was the most egregious example of bad Bears discipline. On a third down play, the Ravens were going to be stopped four yards short of a first down at their own 22-yard line, but Zack Bowman pulled down Torrey Smith with a horse-collar tackle, and the Ravens took the additional 15 yards and the free first down and used it to push down the field for a late game-tying field goal.
No, these penalties did not cost the Bears the game, but they certainly didn’t help matters at all. If Chicago continues to show this kind of lack of discipline both on defense and in their offensive cadences, then they are going to have a tough time winning against the teams remaining on their schedule.
Whether it’s being goaded into false starts in the loud confines of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, or trying to corral dynamic offensive weapons like DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy in a few weeks in Philadelphia, the Bears are going to have plenty of challenges to face, and they’ve got to be able to stay on the straight and narrow in order to succeed. If they don’t, then all of the soothing talk from Trestman about “gap discipline” isn’t going to matter much.