GREEN BAY -- The coaching adage is that a team is never as good as it might look in a victory and never as bad as it might appear in a defeat. Keeping that in mind, we’ll try to maintain perspective with 10 thoughts coming out of another ugly loss at Lambeau Field as the Packers defeated the Chicago Bears 23-10 Thursday night.
1. There is plenty to get to with quarterback Jay Cutler, who had another lousy outing against the Packers, and his wide receivers that did a sudden disappearing act. But coaches also tell you it starts up front so what better place to evaluate this game than in the trenches. Cutler took seven sacks which is the second-most in his career behind only the nine-sack meltdown in the first half of the Oct. 3, 2010 game against the Giants in East Rutherford, N.J.
The sacks came in all varieties. There was a blown block by running back Matt Forte on the first snap from scrimmage resulting in a 13-yard loss. Recall tight end Kellen Davis whiffed on a block against Robert Mathis in the opener vs. the Colts resulting in a sack on the first play from scrimmage in that game. There were coverage sacks when Cutler held the ball too long and the pocket eventually collapsed. And then there were offensive lineman being plain whipped.
"He didn't have a lot of time tonight," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "I think it’s safe to say that."
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews had 3½ sacks to give him six for the season and match his output from all of last year. You might recall Jared Allen posted 3 ½ sacks lining up primarily over left tackle J’Marcus Webb in the Week 17 meeting with the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome last season. Matthews was far too much for Webb to handle and when the NFL finishes reviewing the replacement referees, they will see multiple holding penalties that Webb got away with. There was a two-point takedown that went uncalled at one point.
"He lined up on me all night, and I got myself into trouble by not using my hands and not using my feet at times, and it showed," Webb said.
I asked Matthews if he was surprised the Bears didn’t do more to help Webb – and he did get help. One of Matthews' sacks came when he defeated Webb and running back Michael Bush to get to Cutler.
"I don't think they can specifically help one person with the talent that we have up front," Matthews said. "I think it is going to be difficult. Guys have really stepped their game up. We have added some young talent and have people across the board going after the quarterback so it is going to be very difficult to single in on one guy."
It is alarming because the shift in the offensive philosophy was supposed to make the line better. Now, you have to wonder if against a defense with an elite pass rusher the Bears are going to be in for a rough ride. They host the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field on Sept. 23 and then they are back in the prime-time spotlight at Dallas on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" on Oct. 1. Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is a more accomplished pass rusher than Matthews and Dallas utilizes a 3-4 scheme. Could the Bears be headed for another disaster there? You can't discount the possibility.
Cutler was clearly wearing his frustration on his face. That is what seven sacks and four interceptions will do to a quarterback. He let his linemen have it. He got after center Roberto Garza on the field for a delay of game call. He got after Webb. He got after receivers.
"Just frustration more or less," Webb said. "We really had to score there so that was him just saying 'Let's pick it up, let's get it together.' "
The Bears never did get it together and now it's worth wondering how long the offensive line will stay together. I don't sense Mike Tice will make a knee-jerk reaction based on one lousy outing. But I would imagine the leash is short and maybe getting shorter for Webb. Chris Williams could step in for him. Newly signed Jonathan Scott could get up to speed in the offense in a few weeks. But swapping out left tackles right now probably will not be the solution to everything that ails the Bears in the trenches.
What is most disappointing is the new playbook that was supposed to create a sturdy pocket for Cutler looked a lot like the old one. Sure, circumstances conspired against the Bears when they fell behind by two touchdowns, but this was ugly all the way around and Cutler isn’t going to be taken to the turf repeatedly and not act out.
"I care about this," Cutler said. "This isn't a hobby for me. I am not doing this for my health. I am trying to win football games and trying to get first downs. When we are not doing the little things, doing things the right way consistently, I am going to say something. If they want a quarterback that doesn’t care, they can find someone else."
2. The Packers would likely prefer the Bears don't find someone else. They have Cutler's number at this point as Green Bay has now captured seven of the last eight in the series since Cutler began his career with the Bears in the 2009 season opener at Lambeau Field. One of the seven losses came a year ago when Josh McCown started in place of Cutler.
The offensive line is largely responsible for seven sacks and Cutler is to blame for four interceptions for bad mechanics driven in part by ego. When he throws off his back off, as he did repeatedly, bad things can happen. They tend to in bunches against the Packers. In the seven games now as a Bear, Cutler is 115 of 216 (53.2 percent) for 1,383 yards with seven touchdowns, 16 interceptions and 26 sacks. It adds up to a passer rating of 53.1.
It is difficult to compete with the team to beat in the division when the quarterback is performing that poorly. But the Packers didn't seem the least bit surprised, not even with Cutler now armed with bigger wide receivers. Of course, Cutler had said "good luck" earlier in the week when asked if the Packers would be able to play the physical brand of man coverage they have in the past.
"I don't know if we took it personal, but we thought it was kind of funny that all of a sudden they're the team to beat because they've got a couple new guys," Green Bay safety Charles Woodson said. "We played against Jay 100 times. We know Jay."
As the game wore on and Cutler lashed out at some of his teammates, the Packers knew they were getting to him.
"I heard a few of the (Packers) coaches say something about it," Woodson said. "They were saying he was pretty frustrated out there. Who wouldn’t be frustrated?"
Cornerback Tramon Williams, who had two of the four interceptions, was key in helping shut down wide receiver Brandon Marshall and limit him to two receptions for 24 yards. Like Woodson, he gave a lot of credit to the front seven.
"I didn't think the quarterback could get it to him with all the pressure that was on him," William said. "It just made our job kind of easy. When guys are coming after you every play and you are down in the game, you feel like you need to make a play."
There was a play in the fourth quarter that might merit some attention from the Packers moving forward. On second-and-eight from their own 49-yard line, Cutler hit Earl Bennett for an 11-yard gain, one of only five completions he made to a wide receiver in the game. Woodson was blitzing on the play and landed near Cutler's feet. As Woodson was on the ground, it appeared that Cutler attempted to kick him.
"I'm good," Woodson said when asked specifically about the incident. "I don't want to talk about it."
It's possible the Packers could remember that incident far longer than anything Cutler says.
3. If two man was as foolproof as the Bears offense made it look, every defense in the NFL would play it on nearly every snap. That is what the Packers elected to use in an effort to stymie Brandon Marshall. You’re talking about man-to-man coverage underneath with two deep safeties over the top. In essence, it allows the defense to put a bracket around Marshall.
“We know Jay was looking to go to Marshall,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “You want to take that away from them early. He stopped looking at him and probably didn’t start looking at him again until the end of the game. We got what we wanted out of the scheme. It’s tough to shut down a guy like that. It is a total defensive effort to shut down a guy like that.”
In shutting down Marshall, there should have been plenty other options. The running game should have gotten cranked up but the Bears couldn’t sustain drives in the first two quarters and therefore had only nine carries at halftime. The middle of the field was open for plays to be made and Cutler didn’t make any, not under constant pressure.
“They played two-man 90 percent of the game, so we have to get other guys involved and get them out of it,” Cutler said. “We never challenged them in that and they never had to get out of it, so it was an easy game for them.”
What is the solution?
“We have to look at the tape,” he said. “We have to talk to (offensive coordinator Mike) Tice a little bit, figure out how we want to attack defenses when (they face this defense).”
It was as if an in-game adjustment wasn’t there for the Bears. Running back Matt Forte, who was lost to a right ankle injury in the third quarter, gained 49 yards on four receptions and 31 yards on seven carries. Those 80 yards accounted for nearly half of the team’s 168. There was nothing explosive about the offense and the passing game was a particular wreck with the revamped corps of wide receivers unable to make plays on the Packers secondary.
Should there have been more for Marshall, who was targeted only five times, 10 less than a week ago.
“When I look at having an impact, you have to see how much he was involved to have an impact,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We didn’t get him in enough positions. We had plays called to Brandon that we couldn’t get off.”
4. If the fake field goal the Packers ran for a touchdown in the second quarter looked familiar, maybe you’ve seen it previously in this rivalry. The Bears ran nearly the exact same play with punter Brad Maynard tossing a pass to tight end Dustin Lyman for a 12-yard touchdown in the same South end zone during a Dec. 1, 2002 game at Lambeau Field. It was one of two touchdowns for Lyman in the game that helped the Bears to a 14-6 halftime lead in what turned into a 30-20 loss. Unfortunately, Lyman suffered a torn ACL in the second half.
The Packers were more gutsy with their call because they faced fourth-and-26 from the Bears’ 27-yard line. If Tom Crabtree was tackled short of the 1-yard line after getting the pitch from holder Tom Masthay, they would have turned the ball over on downs and missed on the opportunity for three points with a Mason Crosby field goal.
“It’s kind of a universal fake,” Bears long snapper Pat Mannelly said. “They fake you on the outside and throw that underneath pitch. I think a lot of teams use it because it has a lot of success if you execute it right and get the right look against you.”
The right look was key for the Packers. Crosby was lined up to try a 45-yard field goal from the right hashmark. The Bears had a block called and overloaded their right side with seven of the 11 defenders. That gave the Packers the numbers they were seeking on the right.
“Frankly, fourth-and-26 was not the plan (for when to call the fake),” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I really called that for different reasons. We’ve been working on that for two or three years and we were looking for a certain look from the Bears. They gave it to us and it was a great execution on our players' part. I was trying to send a message when I made the call and I was fine with the field position. Then our guys executed and I thought it really lifted our sideline up and our defense just kept going. Offensively we were able to put some points on the board. It was a big play in the game.”
The touchdown put Green Bay ahead 10-0 with 1:50 remaining in the first half and they stretched the lead to 13-0 as Crosby hit s 35-yard field goal on the final play of the first half following a Jay Cutler interception.
It’s interesting because the Packers, for much of the last decade, have really struggled on special teams. The Bears have been traditionally strong in that area and they’ve had a considerable advantage in that phase. The Bears might have changed the complexion of the game had they gotten the block they went for and they’re among the best teams in the league at getting blocks. They have 22 since 2004 when special teams coordinator Dave Toub took over, the most in the NFL in that period.
“It would have been a game-changer at that point in the game," said cornerback Charles Tillman, who was on the overloaded side. "They called a perfect play for the field-goal block that we put on."
It even fooled players on the Green Bay sideline.
“I was watching up on the Jumbotron and something just looked a little off at first,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “I thought … somebody got bowled over right away, or it was going to get blocked, or we didn’t catch it right. Then I saw Crabby running out the backside, I couldn’t believe it. That’s a gutsy call. You’ve got to score on that."
It was the first fake field goal for a touchdown against the Bears since John Kidd of the San Diego Chargers scored on a two-yard run Nov. 14, 1993.
5. Trent Green was all set to be the quarterback of the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis before it became the Greatest Show on Turf. But a hit from Chargers safety Rodney Harrison in a 1999 preseason game left Green with a torn ACL, MCL and PCL in his knee. The career of Kurt Warner took off from there. But Green rebounded to star for the Kansas City Chiefs, who used essentially the same offense under Al Saunders as Mike Martz was running in St. Louis.
Green, a radio analyst for Dial Global Sports network who called the game, was ideal to ask about the shift from Martz’s system the past two seasons to the new attack led by Mike Tice. I talked to him before the game and Green was obviously basing his evaluation on what he saw of Cutler and the offense from the week prior against the Colts as well as in preseason.
“From what I have seen, this really fits Jay better,” Green said. “Martz’s system is about timing. It’s about putting the ball in the spot. It’s about receivers being very defined in their routes, being right in the right spot. I don’t know if that necessarily meshed well with Jay. He is a little more backyard, drop back … he is not real disciplined in his drops. He likes to sit there – bounce, bounce – and then fire it in there.
“With what Tice is doing, if you go back to what he was doing when he was in Minnesota with Daunte (Culpepper) and Cris Carter and Randy Moss, it was more about two big receivers. That is really what I see. I see this offense fitting Jay better. From what I have seen, Jay likes to see the receiver come open and he then fire it. He’s got a big enough arm, like a Daunte Culpepper, where he can do that.
“Martz’s system was based more on timing where you are putting it to the spot and the receiver better be in that spot. That is what a lot of it was. So, what I saw in that first game was really Jay being a lot more comfortable because it is what he does – he likes to sit back there, pat the ball, look around and then when Brandon (Marshall) or Alshon (Jeffery) or (Devin) Hester – whoever it was – opened up then he just fires it. I think that fits him better.”
Martz’s scheme hasn’t thrived in the NFL for some time so I asked Green if it has become obsolete or if it was a system that needed Hall of Fame talent with players such as Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Orlando Pace, who closed out his career with one season as a Bear.
“Where that system thrived for a long time was having the same guys in that offense for a period of time when you could have as many OTA’s and minicamps and quarterback camps,” Green said. “Now, if I am a quarterback, I can’t just call up the receivers and say, ‘Hey, let’s all meet up at the complex.’ You’d have to go to a high school somewhere because they monitored by the union. That is what the CBA is now. You couldn’t have meetings. It’s all regulated now. And that offense is so based on timing. If you look at what a lot more teams are doing now, it’s more freelance, make adjustments. Not that it’s all that, there is still quite a bit of timing involved.”
Unfortunately, the new offense looked like the old offense when it came to pass protection. Cutler then compounded problems with some of his familiar bad habits.
6. Wasted in the victory was a perfectly fine effort by the Bears defensive line. It totaled five sacks, matching the season high from 2011 that the Bears hit on three occasions vs. the Saints, Vikings and Broncos. Julius Peppers remained dominant with two (giving him 22 multi-sack games in his career) and rookie first-round draft pick Shea McClellin nabbed the first of his career and finished with 1 ½. Defensive tackle Henry Melton had one to give hm three for the season and Corey Wootton split one with McClellin.
“I thought the defense as a whole we were really getting after (Aaron) Rodgers,” Melton said. “We did a good job of containing him. We knew what he was going to do. We just didn’t come out with the victory.”
McClellin said there was relief in getting his first sack and putting it behind him. He had a couple nice rushes against Andrew Luck of the Colts but got home vs. Rodgers.
“It does feel good,” McClellin said. “It is kind of like a weight lifted off your shoulder to get that. Now, it’s out of the way. I don’t have to worry about getting the first one. I just have to keep going.”
Does he have a number in mind he’d like to hit for the season?
“I haven’t thought about a goal in mind,” he replied. “I just have to keep getting better and we’ll see what happens.”
That’s probably a wise answer. There is no reason to place a ceiling on his goals. A great number to aim for would be 12 – the club’s rookie record set by Mark Anderson in 2006.
7. It was good to hear Gabe Carimi take full ownership for an ill-advised personal foul. He got into a bit of a tussle with Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk on a running play in which Michael Bush was stuffed. Carimi got the last shove in, sending Hawk into the pile, and predictably that was the move that drew a flag.
It backed the Bears into a second-and-26 from their own 47-yard line after they had reached the Green Bay 37-yard line. The drive quickly ended with a punt with the Packers leading only 3-0 at the time.
“The one drive we did get going I had a bad penalty,” Carimi said. “We needed to come out there and get something going right away. We can’t have anything that kills us. That hurt the team a lot, and that is all on me. It was a stupid penalty and I need to learn from my mistakes and not do that again.”
The guess here is Carimi learns his lesson.
8. Cedric Benson ran the ball hard for the Packers and while he didn’t have a career day like he enjoyed in his first meeting with the Bears after leaving the team in 2009, he was effective. Benson carried 20 times for 81 yards and was consistent hitting plays between the tackles. He also caught four passes for 35 yards, including a 17-yard gain. He’s still learning the scheme a little particularly some of the runs out of the shotgun formation.
“I thought Cedric is starting to look a lot more comfortable in our offense,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought it was important to get him back with his toes at seven (yards) and play where he’s played his whole life. Cedric Benson is one of those men that was put on this earth to run the football. We’ve been doing some things with him out of shotgun that he doesn’t have a ton of experience with. We’ll continue to get better. I definitely felt we made a step forward tonight against a very active, disciplined defensive front that presents a lot of challenges with their line movements. They definitely can be hard to run against because when you have a defensive line that is active and disciplined as they are, especially with the linebackers, the experience of their linebackers. That was a big challenge for us.”
Benson maintains respect for the Bears defense that still has some core parts he knows well.
“I think they’re great contenders,” he said. “When they want to stop the run, they stop it. When they want to defend the pass, they’re good at that. They’re great. They were playing from behind and it’s tough to play from behind in the NFL.”
9. Behind the scenes and during the week the Bears are working to groom Matt Blanchard, the practice squad quarterback from Wisconsin-Whitewater. It’s a challenging task for Blanchard to improve and for the Bears to get him better when he doesn’t get a lot of action on the field. There are not a lot of reps to go around for the backup Jason Campbell, so Blanchard gets even less work.
I asked quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates about the process of teaching a quarterback in an environment where physically his opportunities for maturation are limited.
“The biggest thing is the classroom,” Bates said. “He is studying. The challenge a lot of guys have as young quarterbacks is that each week is a brand new week. And what I mean by that is one week it’s 3-4 and the next week it’s 4-3 or a crazy Rex Ryan defense. I think the biggest challenge as a young quarterback is seeing how the game changes week in and week out and being able to sit in the classroom and absorb that. Protections are different, routes are different, run game is different. It’s still your foundation you’re using but it’s how it changes so much week in and week out. It’s a mental grind … it gets on you.
“Young quarterbacks have to be a professional. They have to take notes, they have to study and it shows up in next year’s OTA. If they just blew off the year, that is not a very professional move on their part. They have to study on their own a little bit and go home and act like they are the starter. The more knowledge you gain, it’s going to show up in OTA’s, you start playing, you start clicking and the faster the game slows down. It’s a little bit on their own but that is what we are looking for, professional players.”
Blanchard can get some practice squad reps in practice on occasion when Campbell doesn’t take them all. It all depends on how many snaps Campbell receives with the starters.
“Right now for me, coach Bates and the coaching staff, are giving me projects to do to get better,” Blanchard said. “For me to identify coverages, fronts quicker and faster so when I do get the opportunities I start recognizing things quicker. For a lot of rookie quarterbacks, NFL coverages are a lot more advanced and fronts are a lot more advanced than in college. Being able to do that, on the field, the scout teams I will get, I will be able to work on my craft as far as footwork and seeing actual coverages live instead of on film but there is going to be a lot of stuff I am going to be able to do. It’s going to be a lot of mental reps. That is going to be good for me because the higher I get my football IQ, the better so when I step I am picking stuff up.”
10. It’s too early to tell what kind of situation the Bears face with running back Matt Forte, who exited in the third quarter with a right ankle injury. He appeared to be injured when he was tackled by Packers safety Charles Woodson along the Bears sideline following a 14-yard reception. Trainers re-taped Forte’s ankle but he was then taken to the locker room. The bad news, as Lovie Smith would put it, is Forte did not return to the game. The upside is the Bears have extra time to prepare for their next game Sept. 23 vs. the Rams at Soldier Field.
10a. Charles Tillman was at it again in the third quarter when Packers tight end Jermichael Finley caught a pass and turned to head upfield. Tillman, who was closing in to make the tackle, punched the ball out with his right fist and recovered the fumble. It was the 29th forced fumble on his career.
10b. Matt Toeaina was listed as inactive for the game, not a good sign for the veteran. The Bears have five defensive tackles on the roster and are unlikely to ever dress more than three. The problem is defensive tackles seldom hold roles on special teams.
10c. Hope you caught the tackle by Sherrick McManis of Packers kickoff returner Randall Cobb to open the game. McManis made a terrific move to slice Cobb down at the 17-yard line. Looks like the Bears might have helped themselves in the Tyler Clutts trade.
10d. Expansion in the South end zone is moving along briskly at Lambeau Field. They are enclosing the stadium at that end and have upgraded video boards. It’s going to look nice when it’s done and it will be huge. Attendance was 70,543 for the game and with additional seating the Packers could approach 80,000 and make it one of the largest buildings in the NFL.
10e. It is only Week 2 and Tim Jennings already has established a new career-high for interceptions in a season with three. He made a nice break on an Aaron Rodgers’ pass in the fourth quarter to set up the Bears’ only touchdown.
10f. That lone score came on fourth down as Jay Cutler hit Kellen Davis for a 21-yard touchdown. Davis faked Packers inside linebacker D.J. Smith that he was running inside and instead went up the seam for an easy catch. He now has 10 career touchdowns in 29 career receptions. That puts him in company near former Bears legend Red Grange who had 10 receiving touchdowns out of just 16 receptions.
10g. The Packers are 16-3 in NFC North games at Lambeau Field under Mike McCarthy. That is protecting home turf.
10h. Press box statistics credited Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher with eight tackles. Still didn’t look like the player everyone is accustomed to seeing, but it was an improvement over his work against the Colts.