We look at some of our notes and details from yesterday's win against the Panthers.
- The best way that I can sum up yesterday's game in one word is... Odd. There were plenty of odd things that happened yesterday that had me thinking more than once that, well, this just wasn't going to be the Bears' game. The first one of those times was when the Panthers were going in for their first touchdown. 3rd and 3 at the Bears' 9, Cam Newton takes off against man coverage and runs for the touchdown. Only the ball was forced out by Major Wright, Newton's seventh fumble. End of play? No, because Louis Murphy jumps on it in the end zone for a touchdown. The Bears did what they had to do to stop the touchdown, and it still wasn't enough. On a related note, Newton holds the ball so loosely and lets it get away from his body that if I could put a decent enough whack on it (and I weigh all of 135 pounds soaking wet and don't lift weights), I might be able to knock it out.
- The broadcast went after Newton for not thanking the living daylights out of Murphy (a bit of the Cutler treatment). Unfair, but really, Murphy saved that drive for Newton.
- Chris Conte had himself a bad game, for a safety unit that was until this week pretty solid. On Brandon LaFell's 62-yard reception in the first quarter, LaFell's route was an intermediate post route set up by play-action - Conte bit, hard, and cut his zone shallow and LaFell dove right through the opening Conte left.
- The Panthers had five drives of at least eight plays - and three of those drives were double digits. They went 17 plays for 58 yards and ended in a field goal; they went 12 plays for 90 yards and a field goal; they went 8 plays for 63 yards and a field goal; and they went 11 plays for 53 yards in the fourth quarter for, you guessed it, a field goal. The Bears were horrible in terms of getting off the field on third down; the Panthers converted 10 of their 19 third downs, as well as their lone fourth-down. The Bears entered yesterday's game leading the league in preventing third down conversions. Long story short, this is the kind of game that you have when the defensive line, the strength of the defensive unit, isn't getting the gobs of pressure the defense is used to - and really, it's a different defense entirely in those cases. The Bears started sending Urlacher and Briggs blitzing the gap in an effort to bring extra pressure, which didn't exactly work.
- The Panthers held the ball for 36:38 - 19:48 in the first half. Time of possession is a shaky way to measure defensive "exhaustion," but the Panthers also ran 47 first half plays to the Bears' 25. When your longest offensive drive in the first half is 2:17, no, your defense isn't going to be fully rested. The Bears mitigated some of this with some increased rotation, but the Panthers overall ran 24 more plays, and for about a yard and a half more per play than the Bears - that's going to keep a defense on the field longer.
- Matt Forte finished the day with a total of 94 all-purpose yards, which is a far cry from the production he showed the last two years, which makes me wonder whether or not Mike Tice was actually present the last two years. The offensive line was actually opening some nice running lanes (Lance Louis opened up the hole letting Forte into the end zone, and J'Marcus Webb and Chilo Rachal did some nice runblocking themselves).
- The offensive line didn't have bad a showing as six sacks in the first half would indicate. Jay Cutler was holding onto the ball for far too long at times, at least what I'd call three of the sacks. On another one, both tackles got collapsed near-simultaneously, and Cutler tried to escape from one side to the other before being dropped by Greg Hardy. Hardy actually picked up sacks from three spots - he lined up on the interior on the third sack, beating Rachal and Roberto Garza, the second sack saw him lined up in the Wide 9 against Webb, and the first was from more of a traditional DE look. Also having a good day against the Bears' line was Frank Alexander. Like so many times before, runblocking was the unit's strength.
- As long as we're on the subject of the ends, you can gameplan an individual end out of the game. You can't do that with two very good ends. When the Bears ran with multiple-target packages, the pass protection predictably suffered. When the Bears ran with few targets, they were well covered. When they weren't well covered, Marshall dropped a couple, a leaking-into-a-route Spaeth dropped one, and Devin Hester had one go off his shoulder. No wonder Cutler was frustrated. The Bears' drive at 4:36 in the second quarter: Forte for 9, Forte for 5, drop, drop, incompletion bailed out by defensive pass interference for a first down, Forte for 3, drop, drop. Seventeen yards, five incompletions.
- Tim Jennings finally got his hands on the ball for the first time in what seems like forever. His first interception was set up by a rare moment of fantastic pressure, where Newton tried to get the ball to a "waiting" Greg Olsen and couldn't get everything on the throw; Jennings drove on the ball himself. On the second, Steve Smith slipped and Jennings was right there to take advantage. Honestly, I'm not sure why the Panthers decided to try to get the ball to Smith in that particular part of the field at that particular point of the game, where a wrong throw is football death.
- There's a problem with Tim Jennings on Steve Smith, though. Jennings had a couple nice plays on Smith, but Smith still won the matchup. Don't believe me? Just ask Smith! ... Seriously though, the Bears just don't have a consistent answer for a receiver like Smith - small, precise, with a ton of fight and speed. Smith only caught 7 of his 16 targets, but a lot of those were balls Smith wasn't going to catch anyway. Cam Newton isn't the most accurate quarterback, at all.
- When the Bears' offense was having trouble moving for the first three quarters, the Panthers took an interesting gamble that had me scratching my head but made a lot of sense - plenty of squib kicks to remove Devin Hester from the equation, but allow the Bears decent field position. And, well, it was working - after the first two series, the Bears ran 22 plays for -1 yard total, four punts and two Cutler sack-fumbles. With offensive production like that, no reason to put the ball in the hands of a top returner that can trash you at notice. Hester's punt returns were noticeably different, as he tried immediately to turn upfield for yardage. On the second return, he tried going upfield before trying to gain the corner; simply well covered by the Panthers.
- Whether it's Earl Bennett or Alshon Jeffery, Jay Cutler needs a guy to make some catches for him to settle him into a rhythm. Bennett finally got involved late in the third quarter with a pair of nice first down catches - from there, Brandon Marshall got a catch, Forte chipped away a couple runs and catches, and the Bears capped a fourth quarter drive with Kellen Davis.
- On the Bears' first drive of the game, the Bears had 2nd and 1 at the 50. They used max protect - 3 TEs and keeping Forte in to block, meaning Brandon Marshall was the only one streaking downfield on the interception. In the fourth quarter, the Bears ran several plays with only one or two receiving options, and on the quick huddles to keep the offense moving, actually ran the same play back to back to back. The Panthers were trying in the fourth quarter to keep the Bears' offense running the clock, so while Cutler's fourth quarter numbers look great, the Panthers had aided it to a degree.
- Julius Peppers picked up his first career sack against the Panthers. First two, actually.
- Michael Bush only saw three carries, and I swear that on one of them he just stood in the backfield like on Madden when you snap the ball and forget you called a running play. ... Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything.
- Greg Olsen gave Shea McClellin the ole! treatment. I'm sure DeAngelo Williams appreciated getting stuffed in the backfield.
- The Panthers' had a great offensive day - or at least, as good as a team can have without punching the end zone - but keep in mind they were changing up the way their offense works. Fewer Newton runs, except in some key situations, Stewart as a bruiser and Williams as the home run threat, a little more of a traditional application instead of the read-option stuff they were running this season. It's hard to play against what you haven't seen.
- Robbie Gould missed a field goal. I know, I'm shocked too.
- The touchdown throw to Kellen Davis looked a lot different than Cutler's other throws in that game.
- Speaking of players looking like themselves, Urlacher had an extra step to him yesterday.
- Brad Nortman (Panthers punter) had himself a horrible day. I thought he was trying to pin the Bears on his first punt; I didn't realize that would be his best punt on the day. That six-yarder looked like my first drive of the day off the local golf course's first tee. Adam Podlesh, on the contrary, was great.
That's all I've got for you. What'd you notice about yesterday's game?