Yesterday's 42-21 loss sucked a lot of hope out of Bears fans. It seemed like the Bears were able to persevere through a lot of their issues to this point in the season and stay in the playoff chase.
However, on a day when the Lions dropped a game to a bad Tampa Bay team and the Packers tied the Vikings, the Bears turned in another frustrating performance that allowed the division to stay close but didn't let Chicago make any traction.
The defense surrendered 258 rushing yards, were penalized 10 times and turned the ball over three times. It's nearly impossible to win on the road in the NFL when you are penalized that much and turn the ball over that much.
Starting with the Tavon Austin touchdown and then right away with the Matt Forte fumble, the Bears had another sloppy start. It was a point of emphasis for Marc Trestman this week but clearly whatever the Bears worked on didn't work.
Neither did their redzone offense. Despite being 3-for-4 in that area in the final box score, it took six tries to punch it in on one drive and the team needed two endzone penalties to keep the drive alive. The team also had three touchdowns negated by penalties.
The defense is so strung out with injuries I don't even think Lovie Smith could get anything more out of the unit.
So let's get to the grades.
Josh McCown played yet another solid game filling in for Jay Cutler. He completed 76.6 percent of his passes for 352 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a 102.4 rating. He had his first two turnovers of the season; the interception which was in garbage time and was an aggressive play by the defensive back. The fumble came on a late game sack and I thought McCown should have done a better job of feeling the pressure, but it is what it is. I think Cutler would have taken a lot more flak for that turnover. Overall though McCown played another good game, his pocket presence was great other than that one play, and he stepped up well and kept his eyes downfield. He completed a franchise-record 36 passes, surpassing the 34 shared by Jim Miller (set on 11/14/99) and Brian Griese (9/30/07). I will say that despite his high completion percentage there were times he was off-target and when he was hitting passes he wasn't always throwing the receivers open, making them work for yards after the catch rather than allowing them to be in space and get more YAC.
Running backs: B
Forte had a solid game but one glaring error, when he fumbled deep in Chicago territory to set up an easy score for the Rams and allow them to jump out to a 14-0 lead. After that, though, he was solid. He gained 77 yards on 16 carries, averaging 4.8 YPC. He also added seven catches and 40 yards in the passing game. Michael Bush, on the other hand, was a disaster. He ran seven times for -7 yards and showed poor vision, but did eventually find the endzone for a touchdown. Tony Fiametta had a good day blocking and got in on the receiving action with two catches, including a nifty 17-yard screen pass.
Wide receivers: B+
Each of the top three Bears wide outs caught at least four passes, which is both a testament to McCown's ability to spread the ball as it is the receivers' ball ability to make plays. Brandon Marshall led the way with 10 catches on 12 targets for 117 yards and a touchdown. Earl Bennett, who has had a quiet year, showed his old reliable playmaking by catching a career-high eight passes for 58 yards. He caught every target he had. Jeffery had a quiet game for him with four catches for 42 yards. Forte passed Neal Anderson for second place on the franchise career rushing yard list.
Tight ends: A
Martellus Bennett had a great day for the Bears, both receiving and blocking. On his touchdown he made a good play and fought hard to get into the endzone. Bennett held spring Fiametta on his screen pass. Dante Rosario also blocked well. Bennett did have one drop though.
Offensive line: C-
The line had an up and down game. They gave up five QB hits and one sack. The line got pushed around by the Rams defensive line, which didn't slow down Forte much as he was able to make several impressive plays to either get back to the line of scrimmage or get downfield and gain positive yards. Bush on the other hand did not fare as well, and was creamed behind the line of scrimmage for losses. McCown also got hit as he threw or immediately after several times. Not a great day for the Bears' front five. Kyle Long was extremely lucky he wasn't ejected for his little fracas.
Overall offensive grade: B
Another solid effort from the Bears' best phase. While it was nice that they were able to put up points, it was disappointing they couldn't get more, and they absolutely needed it with the defensive breakdowns the team suffered. At the end of the day though this loss still isn't entirely on the offense.
Defensive line: D-
The line managed a sack of Kellen Clemens and two of the team's QB hits. That was the good. The bad? They were a main reason that the Rams rushed for 258 yards, 261 not counting Clemens' kneels at the end of the game. They were blocked out of plays and had poor gap discipline. More of the same for the line. They got pressure at times but Clemens had a mistake-free day and had time to work in the pocket.
The linebackers once again turned in a bad game. The group couldn't get off blocks and couldn't keep contain. James Anderson had a sack and Khaseem Greene led the team in tackles (6) with Jon Bostic close behind with 5, but overall the group had a poor game. Zac Stacy and then Benny Cunningham were able to slice through the defense. Early in the game I noted a better presence by Greene but he still didn't make a great impact. Bostic was not able to identify the ball when Rams put it on the turf which allowed them to recover it. Bostic also allowed Jared Cook by him several times in pass coverage.
The Rams threw for only 167 yards but they did not need to throw it much with the success of the run game. Their longest pass play was 32 yards to Tavon Austin and Cook had a 29 yard catch. Not entirely awful but it wasn't great at times. Cook was open in the middle of the field consistently. Zach Bowman continues to be a liability filling in for Charles Tillman.
Is this even a surprise anymore? Chris Conte was juked out on Austin's 65 yard run on the first Rams series. He was also called for pass interference even though it wasn't that bad of a play. Major Wright was burned by Cook and got burned in run defense as well. Safety continues to be a liability for this team.
Overall defensive grade: F
It was a defensive failure overall. Not enough pressure on the QB, not enough gap discipline and coverage and allowing 35 offensive points. Another game, another awful performance. This is going to continue to be the norm though, with all the injuries the unit has.
Special teams: C-
The coverage units did wonderfully against Austin (who managed to do all his damage on offense). The Bears coverage units allowed Austin only one punt return and kick return. However the special teams penalties continued with three on the unit, including the big one by Craig Steltz to cancel out Devin Hester's would-be record breaker. Even the ones that don't bring back scores set the team back a whole set of downs and make the offense work harder to score.
Usually when a coach brings up a point of emphasis for a week of practices you hope to see improvement in that area. Trestman brought up the Bears getting off to a bad start in recent games, as well as their struggles in the redzone and yet there was little to no improvement there. I mentioned that the team needed defensive penalties in order to punch it in for scores inside the Rams' twenty. I also put the onus on the coaches for the burned timeouts, the delay of game penalty and the 12 men in the huddle flag. Those are communication issues and yes, I realize they were struggling with the headsets, but shouldn't hand signals be fluid at this point in the season, especially since your number two QB should be used to relaying them? I get the fourth down call but taking the points there would have been smarter, I think.
How would you grade the team?