Where Did Things Go Wrong?

Brandon Marshall, Tramon Williams

Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

I’ll have a more comprehensive take on the season later in the week; where the franchise was, where it now stands, and where it should go in the offseason. But I’d be remiss if I attempted to gloss over yesterday’s defeat to the Packers, as much as I’d like to do so for the sake of my own sanity. In general, it’s sort of obvious what happened: the offense played pretty well, while the defense did not. Yesterday was actually nice microcosm of the season as a whole. As has been the case all year, the offense needed to play what would have amounted to a perfect game, and they were unable to do so.

Here are three plays I wanted to highlight, and then try to scrub from my memory forever:

The Green Bay Fumble Recovery Touchdown

Few sights summed up the struggles of the 2013 Bears defense as well as this play. (Although you’ll find an even better one below.) The Bears were leading 7-3 in the second quarter, but the Packers were set up with a 1st and 10 on the Chicago 17.  As Rodgers began his throwing motion, Julius Peppers knocked the ball loose. But the momentum from Rodgers’s hand knocked the ball forward. The ball bounced around on the turf for a few agonizing moments. James Anderson made a half-hearted attempt to pick it up, but dropped it again. Then Green Bay receiver Jarrett Boykin scooped it up, standing still as Rodgers came over to say something. The whistle still hadn’t blown, and it was only after the Packer sideline encouraged Boykin to run that he took off for the endzone, jogging in as the Bears stood around and watched. It was eventually (and correctly) ruled a touchdown for Green Bay.

That is a criminal lack of awareness, for everyone on the field. (The Packers were guilty as well; I think Boykin wanted to toss it to an official. He had no idea what was happening.) But the Bears pride themselves on this sort of thing, and in a game as important as this one, to have made that sort of mental error was crippling. If Anderson just stops, picks it up, and takes off (like Bears defenders have done all year, on meaningless dead balls) he likely scores to put Chicago up 14-3. Instead they trailed 10-7.

Alshon Can’t Quite Recapture the Magic

The offense wasn’t perfect on the day; they punted 4 times, and Alshon Jeffery fumbled in the second quarter, which led to a Green Bay field goal. They scored touchdowns on every other drive (save the final one which led to a Hail Mary interception) but that wasn’t enough. As has been the case all year against relatively competent offenses, the Bears were going to have to score 30+ points to win, which is an incredibly thin margin of error. But late in the fourth quarter, the Bears had the ball and a one point lead. A touchdown likely guaranteed overtime, and I was wondering to myself whether they should consider going for two in that scenario; a nine point lead would have likely put the game out of reach.

The Bears had 1st and 10 on Green Bay’s 38, nearing Robbie Gould’s field goal range. An illegal formation penalty moved them back five yards. Cutler found Forte for a short gain on first down, but that was erased by a five yard loss on second down, setting up third and seventeen. The Packers took their second timeout to avoid having too many men on the field, and out of the timeout Cutler looked deep down the near sideline for Alshon Jeffery; it was a route reminiscent of his other highlight reel catches; he was single covered, he made a wonderful adjustment (including a savvy tug of the DB’s arm) and went up for the ball. He had his hands on it. I thought he was hauling it in. I really did. But he never quite got a handle on the ball, and it fell harmlessly. It was an incredibly tough play to make, and it’s a testament to his greatness this year that I fully expected him to make it. Instead, the Bears were forced to punt, which set up one of the most painful drives I’ve watched as a fan.

Basically the Entire Final Green Bay Drive

The worst part was the final play, of course. But there was so much horror in the buildup. First, the Bears forced a fourth down and inches try from Green Bay; it was converted by John Kuhn, but it should have been a delay of game on the Packers. (As seen in the picture, courtesy Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune.)

delayofgame

Rich Campbell, via Twitter

The Bears forced another fourth and short play near midfield; Rodgers converted that one with a pass to Jordy Nelson. (It was almost underthrown; Nelson made a great adjustment to come back and make the grab. He had 10 catches for 161 yards.)

A few plays later, the Packers were faced with 4th and 8 from the Bears 48. Just 46 seconds remained. And then this happened. (Warning: not for the faint of heart.)

blowncoverage

GIF via SBNation

That’s a whole giant heap of failure. The Bears brought the house, playing Cover 0 (no safety over the top, every defensive back in man coverage) in an effort to force the ball out quickly. Randall Cobb ran a go route straight past Chris Conte, who apparently thought he was playing zone. Matt Bowen confirms it was a busted coverage, as if we needed more confirmation; he notes that Conte moved to the flat while everyone else was in man. There were a few hints of miscommunication after the game, as this report from CBS Chicago’s Adam Hoge notes. If that was true, it seems like only Conte was affected.

Whatever the cause, that can’t happen. It just can’t happen. It was a great play by Rodgers, and also by Packer fullback John Kuhn, who managed to cut Julius Peppers which prevented a likely game-winning sack. Conte had an interception early on, but he allowed a ball to go through his hands to set up Green Bay’s second to last touchdown, and here his mistake essentially cost the Bears their season. If this were out of character for him, I’d be more inclined to sympathize. But it’s been a season of miscues for Chicago’s safeties, and at this point I would be surprised (and a bit disappointed) if either of them opened next season as starters. Much like the offensive line issues entering last offseason, I have a hard time believing that different players could be worse. Roll the dice with some new bodies; the risk/reward ratio has to be fairly favorable at this point.

I didn’t even mention the questionable officiating (what looked like a blown call on a Bear punt downing, and an extremely bogus roughing call on Shea McClellin that set up a Packer field goal) which was certainly an issue. But the Bears had chances to win, and they failed to capitalize.

That’s an incredibly painful way for the season to end.

Jay Rigdon is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation Bears, and can also be found @BearsBN on Twitter.

38 responses to “Where Did Things Go Wrong?”

  1. jh03

    Question:

    Okay, so this is a terrible way to frame the question, because I can’t remember the exact game.. but I know there was a game in the past two weeks where the exact same thing happened (ball hit and the QB flings it forward) and they ruled it an INT. Now, it was a catch, so it doesn’t matter because it would have been a fumble recovery too, but they did end up ruling it an INT (last I saw). Question is, first off, do any of you remember what I’m talking about? I’m hating myself for drawing a blank. Secondly, and the main question, why was that ruled an INT and the other a fumble? I get that the fumble was the right rule, but what’s the difference? Then again, it’d probably help if I could remember the damn play lol.

    1. Jon

      I think I remembered it too – was it Alex Smith?

  2. mjhurdle

    forget as a starter, i will be disappointed if Conte is back as a member of the practice squad.

    Either cut him, or trade him to an Alaskan outdoor flag football team for a barrel of whale oil.
    We can figure out what to do with the whale oil later, just get Conte gone.

  3. Cheese Chad

    Conte must go.

    1. Mike W

      Along with the rest of the Bears team huh?

      You pin point one player then you are a fool. Chris Conte is not the reason for the Bears to Suck game after game at Defense. Was he apart of the problem? yes of course.

      If you expect your safeties to stop the Run, Zone Coverage, Man Coverage and also Blitz you are basically saying your Defense sucks. DLine stop the Run and put pressure on the QB when that doesnt happen you leave your DBS out to dry. Linebackers stop Run and Zone coverage short routes, when they cant do either they are also leaving the DBS out to dry. The front 7 for the Bears was god awful and those players should be looked at before the Safeties.

      Change the Scheme of the Bears, let Mel Tucker do what he is good at which is 3 – 4 Defense, Release Peppers, draft DLine and rebuild this poor Defense. Releasing a 24 year old safety who still has upside would be a huge mistake.

  4. DarthHater

    Brett or Jay:

    I am trying to log in on the Bears side and am having troubles. I used the same user name and password that I use on the Cubs side and it keeps rejecting me. Not sure what I am doing wrong. Do I have to create a completely separate Word Press ID for the Bears side?

  5. Matt

    I heard that Pro Football Focus actually had Major Wright as rated lower than Conte for the year — in fact, lowest among all safeties.

    Jay, you’d only be “a bit” disappointed if they returned as starters? I say nay. Mucho disappointo.

    1. frank

      I’ve seen that too. Wright was ranked dead last, and Conte was something like 42nd of 46.

    2. Chicago4life

      Worst tandem in history. I wonder where they rank to Adam Archuleta, though, when he was on the Bears. They are the 3 worst I have ever had the displeasure of watching.

  6. guy44

    Seriously, I can’t ever remember seeing worse safety play. Conte and Wright were barely passable when they knew where they were supposed to be, but that was a rare occurrence. I think I heard the announcers berate the two of them in every single game for being in the wrong place in run coverage. I don’t know if it’s the players, or the coaching, but the safeties were constantly, and consistently, in the wrong place. As bad as every other aspect of the defense was, watching the two of them run to the wrong gap or forget whether they were supposed to play zone was an even worse experience.

    Mel Tucker was new, he inherited an old defense, and his unit suffered the most injuries in the NFL. But still – it wasn’t just a problem of execution. His players never seemed to know what they supposed to do or where they were supposed to be, and at some point, that’s gotta be on the coach.

    1. frank

      Right–that’s the whole discussion of “run fits.” A run fit is merely being in a gap–knowing where you’re supposed to be. Even the rookies should’ve known at least that much coming out of training camp.

  7. mdavis

    defintely a lot of overhaul coming. very well could see 4 new starters in the secondary, though i anticipate 1 of jennings and tillman back, and probably bowman. the play where conte undercut the TE and had the ball go right thru his arms just kills me too.

  8. Jon

    Did you see the stat where the Bears had the worst rushing D in the ENTIRE NFL since 1961…1961! And this is a passing era!

    There is no justification for Mel Tucker keeping his job. None! And I don’t want to hear about what he did in Jacksonville, cause those defenses sucked too!

    1. frank

      Just heard on the radio that no defense in NFL history gave up more rushing yards over an 8 game span than the Bears defense before this last game. Just over 1,600 rushing yards in 8 games.

    2. frank

      I did hear Rashied Davis say that Tucker has called the right plays at the right times, but that the reads have been bad, and the execution and technique have been lacking. He said that the assistant coaches are the ones who have to go. I think there’s justification for getting rid of him, but I think they’ll keep him and change the scheme.

  9. Ed

    The Bears need to fire Mel Tucker, switch to a 3-4 and hire Ray Horton!

    1. Jon

      I’m not so much hung up on scheme as just getting the right guy. But I want Horton bad, and let him run whatever he wants to.

      1. mdavis

        agreed. i think the 3-4 is just one of those things, its different, havent seen it in chicago so people want it. too be honest though, i’m not convinced the bears fire Tucker. i do however, see them changing the scheme. they left it as is because a lot of the vets, well, a good chunk of those guys wont be back next year. so we’ll see. i do think the draft will be heavy heavy on the def. some lineman, a pass rusher, and a corner…and a safety. and of course some of this can be taken care of in FA too, though youd like to keep that minimal.

        1. frank

          I also agree. The scheme isn’t necessarily a problem–the 3-4 can be played just as poorly as can the 4-3. The Bears defense under Marinelli did very well in a 4-3 scheme. The key is getting the right personnel for whatever scheme you’re running, and the right coaches to teach it. I just simply don’t think the Bears have the personnel for a 3-4. You need a much bigger defensive line, a secondary with much better man-to-man coverage skills (as opposed to zone coverage skills), and linebackers with a different skill set as well.

  10. Bowa41

    Yup. Good analysis of game… While I love Peppers and would like to see him come back for a bounce back season (full disclose: not sure of the cap hit/actual savings organization would realize if cut), I could have done without the timing of Peppers coming back from his 15 game vacation and actually making a play. Ugh. The entire play smelled of something that would only happen to the Lions!

    Looking forward to hearing at least a weeklong blowjob of Aaron Rodgers by the media, that should be fun. Almost as much fun as seeing the Cobb TD replay for the next 20 years… Ugh 2.0

    At least pitchers and catchers report in six weeks.

    1. mdavis

      haha agreed on the media, already saying how the packers are in the hunt. cmon.

      as for the cap numbers, i believe i read that as of now, hes an $18 mil+ cap hit. if they cut him, it’d be $8mil. so…..he’s gonna be cut. unless he takes a massive paycut, you just can’t pay that much for 7.5 sacks. clearly in a decline.

      1. frank

        Makes sense–but the problem is, what’s plan B? If Peppers just had a down year, and was affected by the injuries around him, it can make sense to keep him, figuring he’ll bounce back. But if he’s hit a severe decline in skills, you can’t keep him at that price tag. But, you can’t go into next season with Wootton and McLellin as your starting DEs either. The good thing is that there’s still time to evaluate and sort things out. Emery’s shown he can turn an offense around–now the question is whether he can turn a defense around too.

  11. Serious Bears Fan

    Hey Jay,

    Really like to hear your opinion on guys you’d like to see the bears pick up in FA this offseason. Position by position.

    Thanks

  12. Serious Bears Fan

    I personally needs to be cut this offseason. Cap hit will hurt but get it done with in one season. Set ourselves up for 2015 offseason. Peps is not getting it done. He’s MIA in almost half the games

    1. Serious Bears Fan

      Cut peppers*

    2. Chicago4life

      I don’t think you cut Peppers, he didn’t earn his money though. I would restructure, figure out what he would make over the next 2 years after this next year based on performance this year and offer something like a balanced contract for those 3 years. He will hit the cap $6 million on a cut and is making $17 million next year. An $11 million DE vet on the market right now may not be as good as Peppers next year and extending and shrinking the contract may be better for us.

  13. Chicago4life

    NFL.com-On a play from scrimmage, if an offensive player fumbles anywhere on the field during fourth down, only the fumbling player is permitted to recover and/or advance the ball. If any player fumbles after the two-minute warning in a half, only the fumbling player is permitted to recover and/or advance the ball. If recovered by any other offensive player, the ball is dead at the spot of the fumble unless it is recovered behind the spot of the fumble. In that case, the ball is dead at the spot of recovery. Any defensive player may recover and/or advance any fumble at any time.

    Looks like the NFL botched that play, considering above is the rule.

    1. Mark

      I thought that too at the time, however, this wasn’t on 4th down and it wasn’t in the last 2 minutes of the half.

  14. spriggs

    Bring in Les Frazier now for Defensive Coordinator

  15. Roland Perrelli

    If you cut Peppers it will have to be in June and then it will be a cap hit of 4 million this year and 4 million next year. That is the only way you do it. But I do not think they should they have way to many holes to fill. I hope Jennings is back he played well all year considering the lack of a pass rush.

  16. Jon

    Here’s another possible DC name, what about Greg Williams?

    1. Roland Perrelli

      No way this organization does that. They are way to conservative to do that. Besides there are some really good names out there without the controversy.

      1. mdavis

        i like Frazier, i think he’d mesh well with Trestman, though I read he’s gonna go with Lovie (if he gets a job, which i think he lands in Tampa). I think by Thursday, we’ll know if Tucker is back or not. I’ll be honest, i think they bring him back. I think the scheme changes, but Tucker will be back.

      2. Jon

        What controversy? SpyGate? That’s over. He served his suspension.

        1. Jon

          *BountyGate I mean.

          1. Roland Perrelli

            Yeah but do you think the bears want to be the organization that hires him as a DC first…I just do not see it. But I am not an insider just a lifelong fan. Anyways I think Tucker is back next year so it is a mute point…

            1. mdavis

              He worked as Defensive assistant for the Titans this year. That being said, his style is really hit or miss. but like you said, I think Tucker is back. Yes, they were historically bad. But its hard to replace: Melton, Collins, Briggs, Williams, Tillman. Had a declining Peppers, a non-factor McClellin, most brutal safeties in the league.

              but like I said i think the scheme will change. and Emery is going to overhaul that defense.

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