Sunday afternoon was not kind to the Chicago Bears, as they gave up 261 rushing yards and turned the ball over four times in a 42-21 loss at the hands of the St. Louis Rams.
More distressing to Bears fans than the overall play of the team was certainly the complete and utter lack of discipline that the squad showed. The Bears had 10 penalties accepted by the Rams, and they had several more that weren’t, including two on an intentional grounding by Josh McCown. These penalties extended drives, gave the Rams extra yardage, and most importantly for all, erased three potential Bears touchdowns.
It was that last element of the game that was the most distressing of all. Earl Bennett’s block in the back that cost Matt Forte an easy touchdown was a horrendous decision by a player who could have easily just kept his hands down and let Forte run past him. Craig Steltz practically tackled a Rams offensive lineman on a punt that Devin Hester returned for a touchdown in the third quarter, and Jermon Bushrod rounded up the hat trick of failure when he committed a holding penalty on a touchdown catch by Alshon Jeffery in what was a bizarre sequence in the fourth quarter.
The Bears’ indiscipline wasn’t limited to touchdown-robbing penalties either. Several players committed mental errors in the game that allowed the Rams to stay well ahead on the scoreboard. There was Shea McClellin, who bit hard on several misdirection plays by the Rams and allowed some big runs by Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham. The biggest of all though was the one that Tavon Austin had on the Rams’ first drive of the game, as McClellin ran all the way across the line of scrimmage in pursuit of Austin before the Rams WR cut back to the other side of the formation and ran the ball for a long score.
Back-up tight end Dante Rosario also got in on the act in the third quarter, missing a key block that enabled the Rams to stop Michael Bush in the back field on a fourth down from the 1-yard line. Rosario didn’t even make contact with the players he was supposed to handle, and the result of the play was like a needle to the balloon of the Bears’ chances for a comeback.
Finally though, there was the superfecta of penalties that the Bears committed during their second offensive drive of the third quarter. That sequence started with the hold on Steltz that erased the touchdown from Hester, but it only got worse from there. Before the Bears’ first play of that drive, they were flagged for having 12 men in the huddle. On a third down play, the Bears coughed up five more yards by committing a delay of game penalty when they didn’t get the correct personnel on the field. Finally, they committed a holding penalty on the third down play when it was run, and even though that call was declined, it was the perfect capper on was a heinous series of miscues from Chicago.
After all of these errors then, the question facing the Bears is a simple one: who should be blamed for all of these mistakes? It would be easy to blame Marc Trestman in this situation, and to some extent, that blame is deserved. After all, he is the one making the offensive playcalls, and so a delay of game penalty or a 12-men in the huddle call are likely due to him not being able to effectively relay the calls in to McCown from the sidelines.
The blame can’t simply be placed at the feet of Trestman, however. Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis deserves a big share of the blame too, as his group made last week’s three special teams penalties look like a warm-up act. The Bears weren’t able to keep contain at all in this game, and the holding penalty on Steltz was the cake-topper on yet another bad afternoon for that group.
Finally though, the rash of injuries that the Bears have sustained at a slew of defensive positions has finally caught up to them. Not having veteran leaders like Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman on the field has ratcheted up the pressure on the defense, and they have responded by clutching and grabbing at facemasks and jerseys and horse-collars at every opportunity.
Unfortunately for the Bears, there isn’t a lot they can do other than to try to preach discipline and hope for the best for the remainder of the season. Decamillis isn’t going to be fired after his first season in charge of the special teams. Trestman is not going to be relieved of his playcalling duties considering how well the offense does work for the most part. The players themselves will only get better when they go through the growing pains associated with being on the field in the NFL on Sundays, and that means that there will be more penalties and more frustration on the part of Bears fans moving forward.
The process is going to be a painful one, but when healthy bodies are back on the field, and when GM Phil Emery is able to give the defense the overhaul it so desperately needs, then these issues should go back to being non-factors like they were earlier in the season. Until then, Bears fans are going to have to show patience, and the team and brass themselves will have to try to tighten up as best they can in a tough situation.