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How little errors added up to big Bears loss in Seattle

BLOG | How little miscues became big trouble for Bears in blowout loss to Seahawks.
A full menu of miscues from Bears loss. Briggs' late hit. O'Donnell's low punt. Cutler's bad choices.

In all, 120 plays were run during the Chicago Bears’ 34-6 loss in Seattle on Friday night. And without doing a hard snap-by-snap review, it’s safe to say the Bears came out on the wrong end of most.

Call that an educated guess after a game in which Marc Trestman’s team was dominated across all three phases. The errors were many – mental and physical, big and small. And they led to a sobering film review for a team with playoff hopes that suddenly faces a barrage of outside questioning as to whether their aspirations for 2014 are in any way realistic.

Sure, it was only an exhibition game at the end of August, hardly a fail-proof barometer of what’s ahead in the coming four months. But if a team suffers that many breakdowns in a road environment against a strong opponent this late in the preseason, just how ready for the regular season can they really be?

On Monday at Halas Hall, with the Bears returning to a short practice week before Thursday’s preseason finale in Cleveland, the in-house consensus was that the mistakes in Seattle can all be fixed quickly. Easy to diagnose, coaches and players said. Easy to correct.

But to highlight how a game like Friday’s goes so haywire so quickly, we decided to key in on just one mistake from all three phases as evidence of the types of blunders that contribute to such a dispiriting defeat.

DEFENSE

The error: Unnecessary roughness penalty.

The culprit: Twelve-year linebacker Lance Briggs.

What happened: At the tail end of a four-yard Russell Wilson run, Briggs couldn’t pull up in time as Wilson went into his feet-first slide. A second after the Seahawks quarterback hit the ground, Briggs dove across his right hip.

Zoom out review: It was interesting Monday to hear coordinator Mel Tucker single out penalties as a major reason for the defensive struggles in Seattle. After all, Tucker’s unit only committed two fouls for 20 total yards, hardly a troublesome figure when viewed in isolation on the stat sheet.

But Tucker’s concern is justified because of the circumstances of each penalty and the end result of the drive they came on.

The Bears' first penalty came on the Seahawks’ second possession, on a third-and-4 from the Seattle 37 with defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff called for encroachment. Rather than having an opportunity to get off the field on third down, the Bears instead gifted the Seahawks a free first down.

Two snaps later, Willie Young sacked Wilson for a loss of nine, pushing Seattle back into a second-and-19 situation. But after Wilson broke contain on that next play and gained four yards, Briggs offered up another free first down with his personal foul misstep.

It was hardly a vicious hit and not even all that late, but foolish nonetheless. Instead of the Seahawks facing third-and-15 at the Bears 47, they had first-and-10 on the 32, on their way to another TD.

Said Briggs: “He went to slide. I was running full speed. I tried to avoid him. I thought I avoided him enough, but the referee didn’t think so."

Added Trestman: “When you have those kinds of penalties, they’re going to lead to touchdowns.”

SPECIAL TEAMS

The error: Earl Thomas’ 59-yard punt return late in the second quarter.

The culprit: The Bears' coverage unit, which on that particular punt consisted of Craig Steltz, Danny McCray, Trevor Scott, Shea McClellin, Shaun Draughn, Jon Bostic, Brandon Hartson, Tony Fiammetta, Jerry Franklin and Sherrick McManis.

What happened: On a 44-yard Pat O’Donnell punt, Thomas caught the ball near the right hash at the Seahawks 25, found a lane to his left and weaved all the way to the Bears 16 before being tripped up from behind by O’Donnell.

Zoom out review: With such a huge return surrendered, the knee-jerk reaction is to skewer the coverage unit. And there certainly were breakdowns. Both Bears gunners (McManis and Draughn) failed to get off blocks. Bostic couldn’t free himself to make a tackle and McCray overran the play. But the root of the problem came on O’Donnell’s kick, a shaky punt that lacked both the hang time and the angle the Bears were after.

“We’d obviously like to get the ball cornered better,” coordinator Joe DeCamillis said Monday. “Put the ball up in the air on the sideline, one way or the other. It wasn’t the best of punts that he’s hit all preseason and we didn’t recover like we needed to either. That’s something that’s emphasized, and we’ll get that corrected for sure.”

O’Donnell has been far from consistent during the preseason and that’s a concern with the regular season closing in fast. That particular punt put the Seahawks on a very short field, where they capitalized with a far too easy three-play touchdown drive.

OFFENSE

The error: An incompletion on a third-and-5 pass toward receiver Brandon Marshall.

The culprit: Starting quarterback Jay Cutler.

What happened: With the Bears behind 14-0 and craving a big play, Cutler was locked in on his favorite receiver from the snap, firing a pass to Marshall that was a bit wide. The Pro Bowl receiver dived to make the grab. But officials ruled the ball hit the ground first.

Zoom out review: Trestman didn’t address this play specifically Monday. But he was most certainly alluding to it when he mentioned Cutler’s failure to find the proper check-down reads in Seattle. On this particular play, running back Matt Forte leaked out of the backfield and found himself standing all alone in the middle of the field with no defender within seven yards. Instead, Cutler tried to squeeze a throw into Marshall, who had three Seahawks defenders near him.

It wasn’t a foolish gamble; it’s a play the quarterback and receiver are more than capable of connecting on and would have produced a 13-yard gain and a first down. But the safer and surest option was the dump to Forte, who would have had an easy first down and likely much more.

“We saw more zone coverage than we anticipated. We thought we’d see more man,” Trestman said Monday. “I think the biggest thing in the game, as Jay would tell you, is because of the score their underneath coverage started dropping deeper and was giving us some underneath throws that we weren’t thinking about taking at that point in time.”

Those are the kinds of throws Cutler always will have to think about taking. And the hope is that Friday’s tape will provide needed reminders of just how sharp the entire operation has to be to keep a game from getting away so quickly.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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