Ten thoughts after the Chicago Bears held on for a 27-21 victory over the New York Giants Thursday at Soldier Field, improving them to 4-2 on the season.
1. The arrival of the Giants represented an opportunity for the Bears to get the dormant pass rush going against an offensive line that has been racked with injuries and one that has struggled protecting Eli Manning. Entering the game, New York had allowed 15 sacks, which tied for the sixth-most in the NFL.
A struggling offensive line against a front that is beat up with injuries and has been struggling to get home? This was a good chance for the Bears. But they turned up just one sack when Lance Briggs got Manning down in the third quarter on a third-and-11. Turned out it was one of just four third downs that the Giants did not convert as they finished 7 of 11.
But before you dismiss the idea that pressure on Manning wasn’t fruitful, take a closer look. Manning’s first two interceptions came against blitzes called by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The Bears might not have driven Manning into the Soldier Field grass, but they did one better in these instances.
On the first interception, James Anderson, playing middle linebacker in the nickel package, blitzed through the A gap with nickel cornerback Isaiah Frey coming unblocked off the left edge of the defense. He forced an early throw by Manning, who was trying to connect with wide receiver Rueben Randle.
“He dropped back and he was looking my way and threw it,” Bowman said. “I had a good read and got a good break.”
The opportunity to convert the takeaway into points was squandered when Marc Trestman made the unusual decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Giants’ 4-yard line. But Manning gave it right back to the Bears on the next possession. This time, it was only Frey blitzing. Manning looked to get the ball out quickly and he and Randle were clearly not on the same page. Tim Jennings read the play the entire way. In fact, if you re-watch the play Jennings is watching Manning the entire time, not Randle.
“I really wasn’t (watching Randle),” Jennings said. “I was kind of keying the quarterback. I knew we had three-deep. I knew we had a blitz going so if you’re going to sit there and double move me, I believe in our rush, I believe in our blitz package and I just kind of played it slow, kept my eyes on the quarterback and he threw it and I had a good break, good read on it and I was able to go up and get it.”
Is that a situation where Manning could pump-fake Jennings and get Randle wide open, though?
“He can pump me,” Jennings said. “But everything I saw, I saw him hit his back foot (setting to throw) and I saw his hand come off the ball. Once you do that, I am gone because I believe in our rush. If you sit back there and can pump that and do all that, you don’t have that much time.”
How does Jennings keep his faith in the pass rush to do its job when it hasn’t performed well through the early portion of the season?
“I believe in my defense,” he replied. “We brought an extra guy there on that play and I believe in my defense. I believe in the guys around me that are going to do their job just like they believe in me. I believe it. I saw it and I was able to get a good break.”
It was encouraging because the blitzes produced results even if the pass rush doesn’t necessarily show up in the stats for those plays. They were well-executed calls and the defense made plays even if Manning’s miscommunication with Randle served up a gift that Jennings returned for a touchdown.
But the pass rush is still not where it needs to be. Defensive end Julius Peppers was a no-show on the defensive stat page in the gamebook afterward for the second consecutive week. That means no tackles, no assists, no hurries, no deflections. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I wrote about Peppers making Bengals reserve offensive tackle Anthony Collins money in free agency after the season opener when Peppers was a non-factor. He’s done little since and it has to be a serious concern for the coaches whether they want to acknowledge it or not.
But in these key instances, the blitz helped create a pair of turnovers, one that produced a touchdown.
2. Second-round draft pick Jon Bostic got his first experience on defense this season after D.J. Williams went out with a chest injury. Williams declined to answer questions afterward, saying he wants to find out more about his condition on Friday. But Lance Briggs seemed to indicate Bostic is going to be needed, at least for the next game Oct. 20 at Washington.
“Bostic did well,” Briggs said when I asked him how the rookie performed. “He got in and got his nose in it. He found out that some of the stuff you see in practice or the preseason is a little bit different on the field. But Bostic is going to be big next week.”
If Bostic is going to be “big” next week, that implies Williams, who missed the entire preseason with a calf injury, is going to be out again. Perhaps coach Marc Trestman will shed a little light on the situation at his news conference scheduled for noon.
Bostic got credit for one assist in press box statistics after playing only on special teams through the first five games.
“I wouldn’t say anything surprised me,” Bostic said. “Anybody can go down at any given time and this is really my first experience with someone going down. Preseason is one thing and the regular season is totally different.
“Lance always says if you are going to make a mistake, make it full speed. So, I was trying to do that (play full speed). Obviously, there are going to be a lot of things I need to clean up on. I just have to get back, make those adjustments and try to get better.”
We’ll see if he can apply what he learns against the Redskins. Sounds like it is at least a possibility.
3. Brandon Marshall put together a solid game against the Giants, particularly in the first half, but what jumped out most was a clean performance by the offense. The Bears did not turn the ball over and they also did not allow a sack. That is the first time the offense has accomplished that since Dec. 23, 2007, against the Green Bay Packers. It was the second time this season quarterback Jay Cutler has not been sacked in a game.
“I think we are heading in the right direction,” Cutler said. “I think we got better this week. The first half we did well. I thought we got in the red zone and made some plays. Finished the game on the field there on a four-minute situation. A lot of positives. You know, third downs are going to be tough, just is. We got what we wanted, we didn’t make the play. So that is a good sign. We are calling the right plays. The ball is going in the right direction. Physical things we have to clean up. As long as we are getting better, we don’t need a time table (for improvement).”
4. The Bears got a gift from the Giants to begin the game when Zack Bowman picked off Eli Manning on the third snap and returned it to the New York 12-yard line. The Bears were in instant scoring position and I could not make sense of the decision by Marc Trestman to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the 4. It wasn’t even three minutes into the game and the Bears had a chance to put three points on the scoreboard against an 0-5 football team that was on the road. Pounce while you can instead of giving the Giants a chance to atone for Manning’s pick by coming up with a defensive stop.
Trestman explained he felt confident the play call, designed for wide receiver Brandon Marshall, would work.
“I did. I did,” Trestman said. “We were hoping to score a touchdown, obviously. I felt our defense was in a place that, if we didn’t make it, they’d have to go the distance. If we did (make it), we could get some energy of Zack’s interception. Didn’t happen that way. The good part about it, we bounced back. We came back on what was really our official first drive, went down and scored. We see things each and every week that tells us, we cannot just be good, we can be very good. But we also know there is work, work ahead, and we’re going to work real hard this weekend to continue to improve our football team. The things we can do as coaches to help get our guys along and help get them better in all three phases.”
Those three points would have loomed large as the game advanced. You like seeing an aggressive coach but this wasn’t a fourth-and-short. They didn’t need to just move the pile a little. It was two yards and even if Marshall had caught the pass, it is unlikely he would have reached the marker. The Bears were expecting man-to-man defense and the Giants threw a zone at them. They had the better call and that was the difference on that play. Next time? Maybe Trestman goes for three.
5. I introduced the idea Monday morning that Corey Wootton’s role as a defensive tackle – he has been forced inside at least temporarily because of injuries – could harm his value as a free agent in March. Wootton is in the final year of his contract and coming off a seven-sack season in 2012, he’s looking to have a big season and secure his future. But the loss of Henry Melton to a torn ACL and with Stephen Paea sidelined with a sprained toe, Wootton was forced inside to tackle on Sunday against the Saints. Now with Nate Collins out for the remainder of the year with a torn ACL, Wootton was inside again Thursday night against the Giants.
“I can’t really worry about that to be honest, you know,” Wootton said. “It’s definitely been tough because ideally I would like to play end but injuries have happened and I am doing everything. They ask me to step in and play three (technique) so I am just going to go out there and do the best I can. I actually felt like I did pretty good in there for the first time.”
It’s a different world playing on the outside in space and sliding inside where the action is on top of him. It’s like moving from an island to inside a phone booth. Wootton is trying to adjust to the fundamentals of the position, starting with his footwork. At 6-foot-6, it’s been a challenge for him to play with proper pad level and leverage on the outside. Inside, that is even more significant. He’s focusing on his footwork and the coaches were happy with his work coming out of the Saints game.
“It is definitely different because I won’t have as much tape (as an end) but I have to do everything I can to help us win,” Wootton said. “Who knows? Maybe this could turn out to be a good thing. Show versatility. They haven’t really told me much about whatever will happen whenever (Paea) comes back. I am banking on playing three for the time being and then we’ll see.”
6. Don’t expect general manager Phil Emery to veer off course with what he’s said in regards to in-season contracts but the Bears have been pleased with the performance of left guard Matt Slauson to this point and Emery acknowledged as much earlier in the week on the WBBM-AM 780 "Coaches Show." Emery said he expects at some point the club will sit down discuss the possibility of a new contract for Slauson. Now, keep in mind that point could very well come after the season. After placing defensive tackle Nate Collins on injured reserve on Wednesday, the Bears dipped below $3 million in remaining cap space for this season with the addition of tackle Christian Tupou to the 53-man roster. Cap space is becoming limited.
The point here is not when the Bears will approach Slauson but that the team has been encouraged enough at this point to have it as an order of business to get to with the goal being, of course, to maintain stability on the offensive line. Slauson signed a one-year, $815,000 contract with the Bears that included $300,000 guaranteed. The next move, in my opinion, would likely be a multi-year deal. Certainly that is what Slauson will shoot for as he looks to put down roots after spending the four previous seasons with the Jets.
“That’s nice,” Slauson said when told about Emery’s remarks. “I didn’t know about that. Thank you. I appreciate it.
“It’s great to hear that. The thing about that, though, is it doesn’t change anything. I’ve got to still go out there and earn it every day. I haven’t signed anything. I’ve got to keep making sure that I am studying the way I have been studying and working the way I have been working and playing good throughout the whole year.”
Emery didn’t discuss possibilities with other players but realize it’s a process that is going to make for a very busy 2014 offseason. Linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson have played well, too, but the Bears have two draft picks behind those players they want to see on the field at some point.
There were 12 players in the starting lineup Thursday that are in the final year of their contract. So, Slauson is just one piece to a large roster puzzle for Emery come February.
7. A lot of readers have been waiting for Marquess Wilson to get an opportunity and the wide receiver was on the field for one snap on offense, a first for the seventh-round pick from Washington State. He is another guy general manager Phil Emery has talked up on the radio and the Bears feel like good things are going to come for Wilson, who still needs to develop. He made the first step against the Saints in Week 5 when he was on the 46-man gameday roster for the first time. He got one snap on kickoff return in that game and now he was up again.
“I have just been watching the older guys and learning from them how to run certain routes and pick up coverages and film study and all of that,” Wilson said. “It is a big improvement from the first week of the season to now. I am just waiting. I am not trying to pressure anything. I am waiting for the opportunities that they give me and just trying to take full advantage of them when they come.”
8. None of the players are enthusiastic about the short week to prepare for a game on Thursday but it is easier when the game is played at home and the Bears are ready for the payoff now. Coach Marc Trestman is going to give them time off over the weekend and it is almost like a second bye week.
“There is a flip side because once you are done with the game you get the weekend off, you get extra rest for the next game,” center Roberto Garza said. “But trying to recover from a Sunday game to a Thursday game is definitely tough. Getting a chance to play Thursday night is fun for the fans but it is tough to get yourself ready and recovered for that game, physically trying to get your body recovered from the game to play another game.”
Most players say their bodies don’t physically recover from playing in a Sunday game until Tuesday or Wednesday. With that in mind, the Bears didn’t hold a practice this week. It was more or less glorified walk-throughs at Halas Hall. Now, they’ll get some legitimate rest and that will help with the injuries that have added up, particularly on defense to cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) and defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe).
9. Kicker Robbie Gould is off to a strong start to this season. He has made his first 10 field goal attempts. This is hardly a trend. Gould began last season by connecting on his first 12 field goals, the first miss being a 47-yarder that was blocked by the Lions’ Lawrence Jackson. He made his first 13 field goals to begin the 2011 season, missing a 41-yarder against the Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium in London.
Gould hit a 52-yard field goal in the third quarter, the 12th consecutive kick he has made from 50 or more yards. That ties him with Minnesota’s Blair Walsh for the NFL record. What’s interesting is Walsh also has an active streak going.
“I don’t know if (50 yards) is routine,” Gould said. “I’ve put in a lot of time and a lot of effort with (long snapper) Pat (Mannelly) and (holder) Adam (Podlesh) to make sure that we corrected what little opportunities I had (from that long distance) in my younger career. I think it just comes with maturity, with the coaching staff getting to know you and place a lot of faith in you. All I want to do is go out and make plays.”
Gould set a franchise record in 2006 when he began that season with 24 consecutive field goals. It would have been 25 had it not been for a false start against Alfonso Boone. Gould hit a 40-yard kick against the Patriots in Week 12 and after he was backed up five yards on the penalty Richard Seymour blocked the 45-yard attempt.
10. The NFL created a rule this week that can allow the league to select a team to appear on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” But there are three exceptions that can allow teams to avoid appearing on the show. Presumably, the rule was passed in the event that there are no volunteers to do the show. The Bears can ensure they are not among a pool of teams to select from in 2014 provided they make the playoffs this season. Here are the three exemptions:
a) Teams that have appeared on “Hard Knocks” in the previous 10 years.
b) Teams that have made the playoffs at least once in the previous two years.
c) Teams that have a new head coach.
So, unless the Bears have plans to replace Marc Trestman (we know that isn’t happening), they need to be playing in January to ensure they aren’t on a pay channel in August.
10 a. The longest reception for the Bears was made by fullback Tony Fiammetta on a 30-yard gain. It was a check down and he slipped an arm tackle effort by Giants linebacker Keith Rivers. Fiammetta was tackled at the 10-yard line but would have scored if he could have come up with a way to shake cornerback Terrell Thomas.
It was the first catch of the season for Fiammetta and just the ninth of his career. It was also the longest.
“Every time I go out, I guess I am an option. It just came to me that time,” Fiammatta said. “I just tried to get up the field as soon as I could. I felt someone was on my back. Luckily, they didn’t get me.”
10 b. The Bears announced Landon Cohen would start at defensive tackle last week and then put Corey Wootton in his place. This week, Cohen made the start, just the sixth of his career. Could he be prepared to handle that role the rest of the way if Wootton goes back to defensive end after Stephen Paea returns from his toe injury?
“You never know,” Cohen said. “I will be ready for whatever they need me to do.”
Thing is, the more you look at the situation, the more it looks like Wootton is going to be there for a while.
10 c. Alshon Jeffery had another successful end-around, gaining 15 yard, and he has 72 yards rushing on four carries for the season. It is the most yards rushing by a Bears wide receiver since Bobby Wade had 76 yards in 2004 – on 12 rushes.
10 d. With three interceptions the Bears now have 17 takeaways on the season (nine picks and eight fumble recoveries). That puts them on pace to have 45 for the season. The Bears produced 44 takeaways last season to lead the NFL.
10 e. The touchdown by Tim Jennings was his second this season and the fourth for the defense giving the Bears 13 defensive touchdowns in the last 22 regular-season games. That is remarkable production.
10 f. With cornerback Charles Tillman’s consecutive games started streak of 53 snapped, defensive end Julius Peppers now has the longest streak on the Bears’ defense by himself. He has started 54 consecutive games.
10 g. Opponents are now converted 42.7 percent of third downs against the Bears after New York moved the chains on 7 of 11.
10 h. Richie Petitbon, the grandson of the former Bears standout safety with the same name, is one of the nation’s most recruited offensive linemen in the high school class of 2015. Alabama, LSU, Clemson, Penn State and more are making a hard push for the left tackle that plays at Gonzaga in Washington, D.C.