Bears columnist Brad Biggs tackles readers' questions.
Bears safeties are getting too much blame. What happened to the supposed improvement of the front seven? Is Lance Briggs hurt? He looked slow. -- @keith_schmitz from Twitter
The Bears need to be better at all three levels of the defense, but I agree the safeties have taken an inordinate level of criticism. Strong safety Ryan Mundy, who overall had a pretty decent game, was out of position on Fred Jackson’s 38-yard run in overtime and Chris Conte got stiff-armed about 10 yards at the end of the play. Conte’s issue isn’t a big deal to me because he was in a position where he was trying to come up with a way to get the ball out. The Bills were easily in field-goal range. But I expected more from the defensive line, and more from Briggs, who had a particularly poor game. Briggs was on the ground on Jackson’s long run and jumped out of his gap on the long run by Anthony Dixon. There was a report about Briggs staying out until the wee hours Friday evening and he even addressed it on his CSN Chicago television show. To me, that doesn’t matter. What a player does on his own time is his business. What matters is Briggs played like he was out until the wee hours a little more than 24 hours before kickoff.
Lance Briggs looked slow, a bit overweight and was all too often in the wrong place on Sunday. I also question his passion and leadership based on his decision to leave his teammates during Week 1 preparation. Do you think Lance still has the ability and the passion to be a viable starter? – Aaron, Las Vegas, from email
Sure, he has the ability to be a viable starter. Briggs has been a little defiant, I think, since the start of the season and the BBQ restaurant opening was poorly planned and a mistake from every angle. I don’t know how you gauge a man’s passion for the game. We’ll see how he produces. In terms of being a “viable” starter, it’s not like there are experienced options behind him. The Bears need the Briggs everyone is accustomed to seeing to play like he has in the past.
At what point does Mel Tucker take heat for the run defense? Doesn’t seem much better. -- @Swotell from Twitter
Am I missing something or is Tucker not taking heat? The guy is under pressure to produce this season, no question about it. He knows that. He’s not new in the league. It’s a bottom-line business and the Bears need to make improvements on defense. But I don’t think Tucker coached players to jump out of their gaps. I don’t know how you can pin it on Tucker that Jared Allen had little impact despite being on the field for 53 of 57 snaps. The players have to play. Tucker has not shied away from the reality that pressure is on him, either. But the regular suggestions I get that he should be canned are a little over the top. Who recalls a football team making real strides with an in-season coordinator change? This was one game and the Bills were held below the league average for points scored in a game in 2013. That figure was 23.4. The offense did not measure up, either.
Mel Tucker is everyone's favorite whipping boy but at what point does it become legitimate to question his responsibility for the defensive woes? With all the turnover and supposed upgrades (not to mention a lack of injuries like last year), shouldn't there be some improvement in this defense? -- Kellen M., Gahanna, Ohio, from email
No question. One game is one game. Let’s evaluate this with a larger sample size. Also, ultimately it is Marc Trestman’s defense. It was tiring to hear people complain about the offensive coordinator under former coach Lovie Smith. It was all the coordinator’s fault. The coordinator’s offense didn’t work. The coordinator didn’t know how to properly use the personnel. At the end of each and every season, it was ultimately Lovie Smith’s offense, right?
Do any of you question Marc Trestman's questionable play-calling? That bootleg play that resulted in the game-killing interception was particularly indefensible. Third-and-1, late in the game, and your running back has averaged almost 5 yards a carry so far and you don't use him in favor of a risky pass play? And being in field-goal range, with another down to hit the line again or kick a field goal? Trestman makes a lot of these boners but I never see him called to account. -- Hutch L., from email
I wasn’t present at Monday’s media session with Trestman at Halas Hall, but I can assure you he did receive questions about that call. Trestman has received ample scrutiny about this failed opportunity since it happened and multiple questions. Maybe you didn’t hear the answer you were hoping to get, but he’s definitely been put on the spot about the call. The decision by Jay Cutler to throw back over the middle of the field was worse than the call itself. Cutler throws it away and the Bears get to kick or go for it on fourth down.
It appeared Bills coach Doug Marrone was working the referees whenever a penalty was called on the defensive secondary. Do you think that contributed to the lack of calls on the Bears' last drive in regulation? -- Chris N., Temecula, Calif., from email
Marrone was highly agitated that the officials threw a flag for holding in the fourth quarter on left tackle Jermon Bushrod and then made the decision not to assess a penalty. They deemed a penalty had not occurred and you could see Marrone took a while to calm down. The Bills were called for nine penalties that cost them 108 yards and the Bears had four for 43 yards. What’s the old saying? Officials don’t beat you.
Third-and-1. The coach feels the need to call a misdirection pass play. Doesn't this show a complete lack of respect from Marc Trestman toward his offensive line? Wouldn't good offensive linemen prefer to run on third-and-1? -- Mark E., Arlington, Va., from email
In general, offensive linemen prefer to fire off the ball on running plays, yes. Ultimately, they prefer what works. It looked like the Bears were faking the toss crack they had run previously to Matt Forte and you saw Bills defenders flowing that direction. The problem is it didn’t fool everyone and wide receiver Santonio Holmes was crossed up as to what his assignment was. In the past, you might see some good, old-fashioned power O there. But the Bears are a finesse offense, one that was second in the NFL in scoring last year. This play didn’t work and it failed for a number of reasons and it was a contributing factor in the loss.
The Bears won the coin toss for overtime. Why did they choose to receive instead of going second, so they would know if they needed a touchdown or just a field goal? – Steven D., Chicago, from email
You consulting with Marty Mornhinweg? The Bears have far greater investments in their offense than the defense. They have built this team to win on offense. Had the Bears scored a touchdown on the opening possession, the game would have ended. The opponent only gets a possession if the receiving team scores a field goal on its first possession. Score a TD and it is game over.
What will the Bears have to do to stop the 49ers? They dominate on offense and defense. -- @astager13 from Twitter
They’re going to have to do a better job containing the zone read, which the 49ers arguably run more effectively than the Bills. San Francisco also likes to run power so that will be coming right at the Bears. Turnovers were a problem in the loss to the Bills. The Bears have to protect the football, no question about it. Those are a couple of good places to start.
It infuriated me under Lovie Smith and now after the Bills game: Why, when trailing at the end of the first half (this time with 36 seconds and three timeouts left), do the Bears always elect to run the clock out and walk off the field? Four seconds I would understand, but 36 and timeouts left? They supposedly have one of the best receiving corps in the game. Is there any reason why they never go for at least a field goal? I watch other teams and don't ever see this happen. With the Bears it happens every single time, whether they are behind or not. The postgame interviews never touch on it. What gives? It just seems like a demoralizing waste of an opportunity. I watched Lovie lose at least six games in overtime to this practice but never expected it from Marc Trestman. Please tell me there's something I'm missing here. -- Brian R., Peoria, from email
I like seeing aggressive coaching tactics as much as the next guy, but I think you’re missing the big picture here. The Bears took possession on their own 7-yard line with 36 seconds remaining in the first half. There is a lot of bad stuff that can happen that close to your own goal line. Game-changing stuff. Conservatively, you’re talking about needing close to 60 yards to get in range for a long field-goal attempt. Consider also that the offense had just lost center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson. The strength of the Buffalo defense is on the line. You really want to see Jay Cutler dropping back in that situation with Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams coming off the edge? I think it was a good time to head to the locker room and regroup. The chances of getting in range for even a very long field goal are remote.
Can you explain to me why in the second year of this offense did Jay Cutler let the play clock run down to under five seconds on just about every play? It appeared to me that it was under three seconds most of the game. Was that by design or confusion? -- Richard P., Lake Havasu City, Ariz., from email
I didn’t pay close attention to that as it didn’t seem to be an issue and I doubt it was below three seconds on most plays. Cutler wants to make sure he is on the right page with the offensive line and make the necessary pre-snap adjustments. Sometimes, he’s selecting a play at that point with package plays that are called in the huddle Also consider there was a new center for half of the game. I think this is a non issue.
Devin Hester had five receptions for 99 yards in his debut with the Falcons, which was more yardage than any Bears receiver Sunday. He also made some really key third-down grabs that kept the Falcons rolling. If he keeps up this production and, if he shows his flash as a return man, he's going to make the front office and the coaches look really bad for not finding a role for him and then letting him slip to free agency when they probably could have gotten the hometown discount. Now the Bears released Micheal Spurlock, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey have shown they're not impervious to injuries and Santonio Holmes and Josh Morgan showed they don't have chemistry with Jay Cutler. Is this a self-inflicted wound for gambling on Hester's decline or just an unlucky roll of the dice? – Mike, Rockford, from email
I don’t think Hester is going to remain on pace for nearly 1,600 yards receiving. But give him credit for fitting in nicely to what the Falcons are doing on offense. You reference Holmes and Morgan not having chemistry with Cutler. Did Hester ever look like he had chemistry with Cutler? The quarterback said Hester wasn’t a “go up and get it” kind of wide receiver after a bad interception in the 2009 preseason opener at Buffalo, Cutler’s first exhibition with the Bears. They never really seemed to have chemistry. Hester isn’t a No. 1 receiver as Lovie Smith once declared him to be. I think the Bears have adequate depth at wide receiver. They lost Marquess Wilson to an injury and have Holmes and Morgan, both proven NFL players. There just aren’t teams going six deep at wide receiver. I’d also dispute the suggestion Hester would have come back for a “hometown” discount. Those are largely mythological and they often sound like a good idea to everyone but the person pulling in that specific paycheck.