In Monday's edition of Grizzly Details, we take a deeper look at the Chicago Bears' 40-32 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon at Ford Field.
Cutler Experiences a Setback, But It's Not All Bad
It isn't a stretch to say that Jay Cutler had his worst game of the season in Sunday's loss, but there both positive and negative elements of the game that have to be looked at critically.
We'll start with the negatives first, since they were obviously the more notable events of the day. Cutler threw three interceptions in the game, and each of them were callbacks to a time with the Bears when he was making some bad decisions that didn't exactly endear him to fans of the team.
His first pick came on a ball where he had RB Michael Bush wide open in the flat, right near the first down marker on a third down play. Instead of going for the open receiver, Cutler decided to force the ball up the field to Alshon Jeffrey in double coverage, and even though it took a fantastic play for Louis Delmas to come down with the pick, it was still a ball that should not have been thrown.
The second interception was even worse, with Cutler throwing a ball off his back foot down the sideline that was intended for Brandon Marshall. The throw was eerily reminiscent of the ball that Rex Grossman had intercepted during the Bears' Super Bowl loss to the Indianapolis Colts in 2007.
Finally, Cutler's final two turnovers saw more poor decision making. He overthrew Jeffrey by a wide margin over the middle of the field for yet another interception, and then held onto the ball for way too long before it was knocked out of his hands by Ndamukong Suh and returned for a touchdown by Nick Fairley.
Overall, it was a bad afternoon for Cutler, but he did redeem himself somewhat in several ways. His performance on the team's last drives of the game was quite good, making several good throws to Marshall and Martellus Bennett before he found Earl Bennett for a touchdown to bring the Bears to within six points. It was too little too late, but it was still good to see him shake off the doubt that could have hampered him had he let it get to him.
Also, his postgame comments about the interceptions being his fault (an obvious admission, but a critical one) were good to see, as was his backing of his offensive line on a day that they allowed him to be sacked three times.
Cutler has been known (unfairly) as a prima donna, and also has been chastised for not caring what his critics say about him (correctly), but if nothing else, he showed Sunday that he is still capable of taking a punch, and even though he will make some mistakes, he won't let them eat at him for very long.
Peppers Continues His Comeback From a Rough Start
The Bears haven't been getting much in the way of results from their defensive line during the season's first quarter, and even though Sunday saw more of the same (more on that in a moment), it did see some good results from one of the line's most important players.
Julius Peppers wasn't himself through the season's first two weeks, shaking off the rush after missing most of training camp and dealing with an illness that hampered him in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings. In Week 3 against the Steelers, he did show some promise in terms of getting around the edge and getting pressure on the quarterback, but he made a big step forward in that area on Sunday.
At several times during the game, Peppers was able to beat the pressure around the edge and get to QB Matthew Stafford, and on one particular play, Peppers was able to force a fumble after an excellent counter-move at the line, and Shea McClellin picked up the ball to give the Bears an opportunity to get back into the game when they were down 30-10 in the second quarter.
Unfortunately for the Bears, Peppers' play didn't translate to the rest of the line. Nate Collins and Stephen Paea had difficulty in staying in running lanes against Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, and to make matters worse, McClellin was completely outmatched on the line on rushing downs, and was even picked up by tight ends on occasion in one-on-one matchups.
That kind of play simply won't do the trick for a Bears team that is becoming increasingly reliant on the blitz to get any pressure on the quarterback (not to mention getting the penetration necessary to keep the run game halted), and even though Peppers may be rounding into midseason form, the rest of the line doesn't seem to be following suit.
Special Teams Issues Cause Problems for Bears
One of the biggest parts of the Bears' game over the years has been the skill with which they have played special teams. Whether it's been their punt return game with guys like Devin Hester, or the excellent work they have gotten over the years from kicker Robbie Gould, the Bears historically have been very strong in this phase of the game.
On Sunday, however, they ran into a bit of a snag. After Lions punt returner Micheal Spurlock broke out with an excellent 57 yard punt return that put the Lions' offense in prime scoring position, Bears punter Adam Podlesh got a bit of stage fright. On the day, he only managed to get one punt inside of the 20 yard line, and his average punt on the afternoon was only 40.2 yards.
The reasons for this were myriad, from how deep in his own territory he had to punt to getting a couple of iffy snaps, but the main thing on display was a patent fear that the blown coverages and failure to keep contain on the first punt of the game by the Bears that Spurlock instilled in Podlesh and the rest of the punt return team, and it ended up costing the Bears' defense in the form of giving the Lions great field position.
The Bears simply cannot afford to get a little gun-shy on punts just because of one return by one runner with decent speed. Their kickoff coverage is evidence enough that they have some skilled guys in their special teams unit that are capable of managing risk and keeping quality returns to a minimum, and on Sunday, they ignored that fact and let fear poison their thinking. That cannot keep happening if the Bears want to continue to be regarded as one of the best clubs in the league in the special teams department.