Matt Trowbridge: Bears great defense overlooked in offensive debacle
A horrifying loss.
An encouraging sign.
All four descriptions fit Sunday night’s 17-3 loss to the Giants. It just depends which side of the ball you are on.
Nine first-half sacks that left Jay Cutler concussed made this the scariest defeat for a supposedly good Bears team since a 33-6 Halloween night loss in a monsoon to Green Bay on the night Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers had their numbers retired.
But, even in defeat, it was the Bears’ most encouraging defensive game since the 2006 miracle in Arizona, the game that made a YouTube star out of Arizona coach Dennis Green after Chicago became the first NFL team to rally from a 20-point deficit without scoring an offensive touchdown.
You can crown Chicago’s defense again. For the first time in four years.
It’s easy to overlook how good Chicago’s defense played because the Giants finished with 372 total yards. But most of those yards were gained after the game should have been over.
The Giants went three-and-out on eight of their first nine possessions. This is how the No. 6 offense in the league fared against a suddenly aggressive Chicago defense on those first nine drives:
Three plays, 9 yards, punt
Eleven plays, 76 yards, field goal.
Three plays, 3 yards, missed field goal.
Three plays, 4 yards, punt.
Three plays, minus-5 yards, punt.
Two plays, minus-4 yards, lost fumble.
Three plays, 7 yards, punt.
Three plays, 7 yards, punt.
Three plays, 6 yards, punt.
On eight of those first nine drives, New York combined to gain 37 yards on 23 plays. $106.9 million quarterback Eli Manning was 6-for-13 for 34 yards with two sacks and a lost fumble on those drives. The running game had 13 yards on eight carries. Even with the one long scoring drive, the Giants had 3 points on nine possessions, despite twice taking over in Chicago territory.
This, as I wrote last week, is what happens when you stop playing soft pass defense. Chicago challenged New York receivers. Taking away the easy short pass gave Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher time to get to Manning. Until Chicago’s defense wore down, Manning was almost as harried as Cutler. The only difference is Manning threw hurried incompletions while Cutler held the ball and took sacks.
If Chicago’s offense had moved the ball at all, New York might not have gotten a 10th chance on offense, much less 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th chances.
This season was the first time in maybe a half-century where Chicago was expected to be better on offense than on defense. Sunday night showed that’s not true. But that news was only half bad.
But, man, that half was really, really bad.
Therein lies Chicago’s despair.
Woody Hayes preached moving the ball with “three yards and a cloud of dust.” The iconic curmudgeon said: “There are three things that can happen when you pass, and two of them ain’t good.”
Woody meant incompletions and interceptions.
He undersold the Bears incompetence by two.
But then, Woody Hayes believed in blocking and tackling, so it probably never occurred to him that 10 sacks and getting two quarterbacks injured are other downsides to Bears-style passing.
The Bears need to get Jay Cutler back, and they need to find a way for the offensive line to keep him upright. How? Who knows.
But at least the Bears showed they know how to play defense again.
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.