What we learned about the Bears in Week 1

What did we learn about the Bears from their 23-20 overtime loss to the Bills?

Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman raised his voice in excitement last Wednesday when contemplating how the season opener against the Bills would establish his team’s starting point for 2014.

“We’re just excited to see where we are,” he said. “Certainly we have high expectations, and we’re expecting to go out and play well, and then we’ll be able to work from there. But we don’t know because we haven’t played together.”

So now we know, and the answers aren’t auspicious. Many of the questions we had about this team entering the season surfaced in the 23-20 overtime loss, and other new ones did, also.

Here are three things we learned about the Bears in Week 1.

1. Despite the advances quarterback Jay Cutler has made in 20 months under Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, he still is capable of head-scratching, game-killing decisions.

Cutler “lost himself for a minute,” Trestman said Monday, when he decided to throw late back to the middle of the field to Martellus Bennett on a bootleg on third-and-1 from the Bills’ 34 yard-line in the fourth quarter of a tie game. The throw hit defensive tackle Kyle Williams in his belly. Cutler acknowledged to reporters after the game and to the team on Monday that he should have thrown that ball away. That was obvious.

Trestman called it a "decision that I know we’ve seen other great quarterbacks make."

But the more pressing question—one that could determine whether Cutler lives up to the $54 million guarantee his contract includes through 2016—is how it’s possible for him to make those decisions despite his experience and despite the coaching. Trestman didn’t have an answer Monday.

“I’ve seen Jay in my time here do a lot of the right things with the football,” he said. “I can’t speak for anything else. I’m disappointed for the team and I see how hard he works and what he puts into it.”

2. Zone-read runs and backfield misdirection are problematic for this restocked Bears’ defense, too.

That was the case last season for a defense that was decimated by injuries, and similar problems surfaced against a Bears’ defense at full strength Sunday. After Trestman reviewed the Bills game video, he identified a list of errors that includes missed run fits, players overlapping their run fits and poor tackling.

“We just have to continue to work on our rules and make sure guys stay disciplined in their rules,” Trestman said Monday. “There is somebody for the back. There is somebody for the quarterback on each of those plays. A lot of them are based on formations and demeanor of the back as he works into the line of scrimmage, and we just have to get better at it.

“We've got the guys to fix it, and we see the light. Certainly, with the amount of read zone we saw yesterday there was certain reasons to believe it can be fixed. But it has got to be fixed on every play. It can't be inconsistent. We have to have consistency in that area and that's what we're going to continue to work to as we move through the season.”

Trestman and defensive end Willie Young acknowledged they’ll get another heavy dose of it next Sunday against the 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“Everybody’s buying stock in that particular play,” Young said, “so we’re just going to have to be sound for stopping that zone read.”

There are certain keys that could help the Bears’ defensive linemen defend zone-read runs.

“Down and distance,” Young said. “Hopefully you can get a few keys from your opponent’s stance, alignments, personnel. Sometimes the play-calling can give you an edge.”

3. The Bears will need better production out of their receiving depth than they got after Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were injured in the third quarter.

Trestman early Monday afternoon gave no updates on Marshall’s right ankle or and Jeffery’s hamstring, and it will be interesting to see whether either of them practices on Wednesday. In the meantime, the Bears have to get Santonio Holmes, Josh Morgan and Micheal Spurlock ready for expanded roles.

After Jeffery left the game with 6 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Cutler completed three fo the eight passes he intended to either Holmes, Morgan or Spurlock. He connected on the first three but missed the next five.

“We didn’t get the productivity overall that we would want for the time that they were in the game,” Trestman said. “First time out, we focused on that. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t targets and (that doesn’t mean) down the road they won’t be targets. But they’ve got to continue to get better just like the rest of us and be in a position when they have the opportunity to make a play to make one.”

Trestman suggested that Holmes’ unfamiliarity with the offense was the reason he blocked instead of going out on a pass route on the third-and-1 bootleg on which Cutler threw an interception.

“Santonio, maybe being new, there was some discrepancy on the language of the call in there,” Trestman said Monday. “We really never found out exactly why because Santonio should have cleared. He thought the call was for him to block, so that was part of the issue. But nevertheless it came down to making a good decision with the ball.”

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