It’s mostly just two areas that make it appear as if the sky is falling for the Bears: The defense collapses at the most important spot on the field. The offense starts slow and seldom builds a lead.
The Bears defense hasn’t always been bad recently. The offense, too, has been more potent than credited.
It’s mostly just two areas that make it appear as if the sky is falling for the Bears (3-3):
The defense collapses at the most important spot on the field.
The offense starts slow and seldom builds a lead.
Chicago’s No. 16-rated defense befits its .500 record, but the Bears rank 30th in red zone defense. Teams have scored touchdowns 14 times in 20 tries (70 percent) inside Chicago’s 20-yard line.
“We’ve got to focus more on the red zone,” defensive tackle Anthony Adams said. “That’s when the defense is supposed to rise to the occasion.
“You’ve got to force the quarterback to make that tight throw, because it’s not like he can throw a bomb when you are on the 15- or 20-yard line. You don’t have that much field to cover. Guys have to tighten up down there.”
Atlanta and Cincinnati have seven touchdowns and a field goal in eight red-zone tries against Chicago the last two weeks. And the one field goal came after the Bengals already held a 28-0 first-half lead.
Tony Gonzalez, Chad Ochocinco and others kept springing free in the back of the end zone.
“We’ve got to keep everything in front of us,” rookie safety Al Afalava said. “The back of the end zone is like an extra defender.”
“A lot has gone wrong,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We’re trying to fix it. A lot of those are on third-down situations.”
The Gonzalez touchdown was on third-and-10. Three of Carson Palmer’s career-high five TD passes came on third-and-seven or more. Those are supposed to be downs that favor the defense. Especially close to the end zone.
“You start converting a little more on third downs and you start getting more takeaways,” Smith said, also complaining about the Bears’ No. 26 rating in turnover margin.
“Everything goes up when you start doing those things. We know that’s a problem and we’re working on it.”
The offense’s main problem is it doesn’t give the defense a lead. Defenses can “play downhill” and more aggressively chase the quarterback when they are ahead, but Chicago has been ahead for a total of 39:24, excluding for the Detroit blowout. That’s less than eight minutes a game. And 23 of those minutes came in a win over Seattle, when the Bears rallied early from a 13-0 deficit.
“Whenever we put the defense in a tough spot, it’s hard on them,” said quarterback Jay Cutler, who has thrown only 23 of his 209 passes when the Bears have held the lead. “Whenever we turn the ball over and give the other team good field position, it’s tough. It’s hard to win ballgames like that.
“We’ve done it to the defense on numerous occasions. They’ve helped us out a lot. We’ve got to return the favor once in awhile.”
Neither side is helping the other now. The offense puts the defense behind and the defense makes it worse by giving up touchdowns instead of field goals. Cutler then gets forced into trying to play catch up; only one of his 10 interceptons — the second one in Atlanta — has come with Chicago in the lead.
“There are a lot of areas we need to improve on,” Lovie Smith said. “That’s why we are a .500 ballclub right now.
“They don’t give out championships in October, though. You get in position up until October. November, that’s when you decide what’s going to happen during the course of the year. We’re in position now to make a run. That’s what we need to do.”
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or email@example.com.