Welcome back to “The Blitz Package,” your weekly destination for notable news, nuggets and intriguing Chicago Bears storylines. This week’s topic: the offensive woes in the second half of Sunday’s 31-24 loss to the Panthers.
The Bears left Charlotte on Sunday evening in an irritated state. Not only had they lost a winnable game, surrendering 24 of the game’s final 27 points, but their highly touted offense had once again gone M.I.A. after halftime. After a scoreless second-half meltdown in a demoralizing Week 4 loss at home to the Packers, the second-half stumbles against Carolina prompt legitimate questions on whether Marc Trestman’s offense has truly been developed and strengthened enough to carry the team as it’s designed to do.
It wasn’t just the three turnovers on the final three possessions that sealed the Bears’ collapse Sunday. They also registered only 26 second-half rushing yards against a Carolina defense that had given up a combined 391 yards on the ground in losses to the Steelers and Ravens in Weeks 3 and 4.
On top of that, the Bears never really did establish a vertical passing game either. Their longest completion of the day was a 56-yarder to Matt Forte in the second quarter, a ball the running back caught near the line of scrimmage. Alshon Jeffery’s 25-yard TD reception also came on a screen. And so really, the only ball quarterback Jay Cutler connected on deep down the field was the 31-yarder to Jeffery up the right sideline in the first quarter.
With all that in mind, we took our microscope to each of the Bears’ seven second-half possessions to find the breakdowns in an effort that produced only 112 net yards and three points after halftime. There were no shortage of culprits and a wide variety of blunders.
Began: at the Chicago 20.
Ended: at the Chicago 42.
Drive summary: Six plays, 22 yards; one first down; 3 minutes, 44 seconds – ending with a punt.
Shouldering the blame: On a series where very little went right, the biggest error came on first-and-10 from the Bears 34. With a clean pocket, plenty of time to throw and tight end Martellus Bennett wide open over the middle near midfield, Cutler inexplicably bounced a pass a full 2 or 3 yards in front of Bennett. Instead of a big gain and a first down, the Bears were in second-and-long.
What else went wrong? On the next play, a screen to Forte was a disaster due to a number of smaller breakdowns. Left guard Matt Slauson had the most obvious error, unable to seal or slow defensive tackle Kawann Short, the first miscue that kept Forte from getting into the open field quickly. With the timing of the play off, center Brian de la Puente had a choice between taking on linebacker Luke Kuechly or cornerback Charles Godfrey. De la Puente went for Godfrey and didn’t get a clean block. Meanwhile, receiver Santonio Holmes didn’t hold his block against Thomas Davis quite long enough and it was the Panthers linebacker who ended up making the stop.
Began: at the Chicago 20.
Ended: at the Carolina 27, resulting in a made 45-yard Robbie Gould field goal.
Drive summary: Eight plays, 53 yards; two first downs; 4:38.
Shouldering the blame: Tight end Dante Rosario. The Bears were cruising on a bounce-back drive, delivering consecutive completions of 13 yards apiece to Brandon Marshall followed by a 9-yard Forte run to establish a second-and-1 from the Panthers 25. Then, just before a run play to Jeffery, Rosario false started, a pre-snap flinch that badly hurt the Bears. A 4-yard completion to Forte followed. But then a third-and-2 run, on a pitch left to Forte, went backward 1 yard when Davis blew the play up. Ola, pulling on the play, didn’t prevent Godfrey from disrupting Forte’s run. And on the opposite side of the formation, right guard Kyle Long whiffed on Davis off the snap.
What else went wrong? The second play of the drive produced what appeared to be a pretty 19-yard Forte gain on a toss right. But that gain was quickly negated by a late flag and and a baffling call for a blindside block against the Bears. The officials incorrectly announced Jeffery as the culprit. But it was Marshall who delivered the play’s big block on safety Thomas DeCoud. It sure appeared to be a legal block, so much so that Trestman and the Bears have submitted the play to the league for an explanation.
The NFL rule book defines an illegal blindside block as hitting a player “when the blocker is moving toward his own endline and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side.” Marshall did not appear to do anything illegal. The Bears are hoping for an apology.
Began: at the Chicago 11.
Ended: at the Chicago 14.
Drive summary: Three plays, 3 yards, zero first downs, 2:13, ending with a punt.
Shouldering the blame: The Bears were protecting a 24-21 lead to start the fourth quarter and needed anything but a three-and-out. Yet Long’s false start on second-and-9 proved most damaging to the drive, the kind of pre-snap error that will give Trestman migraines.
What else went wrong? The Bears’ third-and-10 play went nowhere, a check-down pass to Forte 3 yards past the line of scrimmage that was immediately blown up by Kuechly. The Panthers dropped seven into coverage on the play and had two high safeties. And even though Cutler had plenty of time against a four-man rush, no one got open. Not Martellus Bennett nor Alshon Jeffery to the right. Not Brandon Marshall nor Santonio Holmes to the left. Cutler knew when it was time for the ball to come out and dumped to Forte.
Began: At the Chicago 20.
Ended: At the Chicago 29.
Drive summary: Five plays, 9 yards, one first down, 2:38 -- ending with a punt.
Shouldering the blame: With another chance to add to a fourth quarter lead, the Bears missed on their only opportunity to get something going on the ground. After two straight completions delivered a first down, a shotgun handoff to Forte was quickly swallowed up when Long missed his block attempt on Kuechly and right tackle Jordan Mills was a step late getting to Davis. What could have been a chunk play went for only 1 yard.
What else went wrong? A snap after Forte was stuffed, Cutler threw too high to Jeffery. And the quarterback never had a chance on third-and-9 against a stunting six-man Panthers rush. Even with seven of their own players in pass protection. Forte did his job with a nifty blitz pick-up on Godfrey. But the pocket was already collapsing. Defensive end Charles Johnson delivered the 6-yard sack, looping behind Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotouleilei and powering through de la Puente. Long got caught in between helping de la Puente on Johnson and Mills on Dwan Edwards and also had his vision caught by Mario Addison stunting. All in all, Cutler had zero chance to climb the pocket, was drilled and the Bears had to punt.
Began: At the Chicago 47.
Ended: At the Chicago 45.
Drive summary: Two plays, minus-1 yard, 48 seconds, ending with a Cutler interception.
Shouldering the blame: Cutler threw 36 passes and completed 28 Sunday. His completion percentage for the season has now spiked to 68.1, well above his career number (61.4). But it’s the unforced turnovers that continue to be his undoing. And no throw was more discouraging than the interception he threw with 6:08 left and a golden opportunity to seal a win. The Bears were ahead 24-21 at the time. They were near midfield. The defense had just delivered a tremendous stop to set up good field position. A TD drive there secures the team’s third win. Instead, on second down, against only a three-man rush with Santonio Holmes being covered over the middle by defensive end Kony Ealy, Cutler threw a ball behind his target, 2 feet over Holmes’ head and into the arms of DeCoud, a deep safety on the play. Yes, Holmes was bumped by Ealy 6 or 7 yards up the field. But with a little more patience, with much more accuracy, a Cutler connection with Holmes there could have gone to the end zone. At the very least, it would have pushed the Bears into field goal range. Instead, DeCoud returned the gift 35 yards to set up a 6-yard game-tying field goal drive. Inexcusable. And Cutler has acknowledged as much.
What else went wrong?: The only other play on the drive was a pitch left to Forte that lost yardage. Ola got hung up off the snap against defensive end Wes Horton, allowing Kuechly a free run at the Bears running back. Forte also had to slow up when Godfrey got a jump on Jeffery to alter the play.
Began: At the Chicago 20.
Ended: At the Chicago 25.
Drive summary: One play, 3 yards, zero first downs, 0:11, ending with a Forte fumble.
Shouldering the blame: Forte. And it’s pretty cut and dried. In an effort to grind out additional yardage, the Pro Bowl running back simply didn’t hold the ball tightly enough to prevent cornerback Antoine Cason from clawing it free. Forte actually picked up a pair of solid blocks on the play from Bennett and receiver Josh Morgan and had a good cutback lane that he was turning into a positive play, pushing for a 5-yard gain when he lost the ball.
What else went wrong? To have turnovers on consecutive offensive plays was thoroughly demoralizing for the Bears, who despite all their lapses, were still in a tie game when Forte lost the ball. The Panthers then needed only 23 yards over six plays to deliver the game-winning touchdown.
Began: At the Chicago 15.
Ended: At the Chicago 28.
Drive summary: Seven plays, 13 yards, two first downs, 1:12, ending with a Cutler fumble.
Shouldering the blame: Shortly before the final turnover of the day, the Bears’ final drive was torpedoed on an 11-yard sack by Mario Addison and Dwan Edwards. But it was actually Short who deserves the majority of credit for the big play, badly beating Slauson off the snap and sending Cutler spinning and gasping and dancing until he ran out of room. Slauson, seeing his first action in four weeks due to a high left ankle sprain, just didn’t seem as sturdy as usual. And Cutler said on his radio show that the starting left guard seemed to be in significant pain by game’s end. The Bears went from first-and-10 at their own 39 to third-and-21 at the 28. At that point, they were finished.
What else went wrong? The Bears’ final offensive play, a fourth-and-21, resulted in the third sack of the second half, this one delivered by Short. It was highly unlikely that the Bears were going to convert there. Yet with the Panthers dropping seven players deep, a four-man rush got home against a six-man protection scheme with little trouble. With Slauson and Ola each admitting they were crossed up by the Panthers’ stunt, Short hit Cutler from the blindside and created a fumble. Carolina recovered. The Bears headed for the showers at 2-3.