There was an interesting stat thrown out on a graphic during yesterday's game, it noted that Lovie Smith, Mike Ditka and Marc Trestman each had the same record as the Chicago Bears head coach after 26 games: 12-14.
This intrigued me because I thought about the contrast of how each of those coaches is thought of in Chicago. I'm far too young to remember Da Coaches first 26 games as head coach but I remember Lovie's and I do not remember there being strong calls for his job after roughly a season and a half.
Naturally I went over to pro-football-reference.com to remind myself how exactly each coach got to two games under .500 after 26 games to see if there was anything of interest or noteworthy.
For Da Coach, he technically took three seasons to complete 26 games because his first season was a strike-shortened nine-game slate in which he went 3-6. In year two the Bears finished 8-8 and he won the first game of the season, his 26th, to hit the 12-14 mark. The Bears opened 3-0 in 1984 on their way to a 10-6 record.
For Smith, his first year was marred by bad play and poor offense as the team stumbled to 5-11 but the defense was a bright spot. His team opened 2005 1-3 but hit the 12-14 mark in Week 11 when the team won its sixth in a row in what would be an eight-game win streak.
Smith's offense in '04 ranked 32nd in yards and points, Ditka's 22nd in points, 26th in yards in '82 and Trestman's second in points, eighth in yards. Smith's defense was 13th in points and 22nd in yards back in '04, Ditka's D finished 13th in points and 16th in yards and finally Trestman's team finished 30th in both defensive categories last year.
So each coach had their ups and downs in their first 26 games. Both Smith's and Ditka's teams made improvements in offensive and defensive ranks in their second seasons, Trestman's have regressed (except in defensive yards allowed). I don't know if it means anything or not, but I thought it was interesting.
As for yesterday's game, it was slightly less interesting. The Bears started ugly and went into halftime in a 10-0 hole and the boos raining down upon them.
In the second half, the Bears used pressure from their D-line to force turnovers and poor throws and scored 21 unanswered. The Bears were outgained in yardage (364-204) and had their lowest yardage output in a victory since a Week 13 win over the Vikings in 2006, when the Bears had 107 total yards (yep), in a 23-13 win. In that game Minnesota used three quarterbacks (Brad Johnson, Brooks Bollinger and Tavaris Jackson) and Rex Grossman and Johnson combined for seven interceptions.
Yesterday Jay Cutler had only 130 passing yards, the lowest of his career in a complete game since Week 2 of 2012 when he threw four picks at Green Bay in a 23-10 loss (126 yards). It was his lowest in a complete-game win since Week 9 of 2011 when he had 123 yards in a 37-13 win over the Lions.
There was a lot of bad football on both sides yesterday: penalties (nine on the Bucs, six on the Bears), third down conversions (CHI: 4/16, TB: 7/17) and turnovers (five total). But the Bears came out on top thanks to their rushing attack (18 Forte rushes in second half after just five in the first) and four of the turnovers belonging to the Bucs. The Bears cashed all three of their redzone trips into TDs.
So a lot to like, but a lot to hate. Winning builds confidence and the Bears have won two in a row. Onto the grades:
Cutler was far from good, in fact he was at his best when the Bears more or less took him out of the game by handing it off to Forte consistently. In the first half he had a few passes that could have been picked and was lucky to finish with only one turnover on the day, which came when Gerald McCoy blew through the offensive line and hit Cutler as he threw. Cutler finished 17/27 (63.0 percent) for 130 yards, a touchdown and an 87.0 rating. He wasn't much of a factor but did his best to avoid a fierce pass rush from Tampa, especially on his TD throw to Alshon Jeffery.
Running backs: B+
Matt Forte had another 100+ yards from scrimmage in what is just another day for him. He continues to be the offensive MVP and the fact that Marc Trestman and his staff can't seem to get it through their head that the offense flows through Forte is beyond me. He had five first half carries and the offense was shut out. He did have four of his five catches in the first half, though. In the second half he carried the ball 18 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns. Ka'Deem Carey had three carries for three yards and was unspectacular. He dropped his only target in the pass game.
Tight ends: B-
Martellus Bennett led the Bears in receptions (four) for 37 yards on seven targets. He had a couple of drops and he missed a couple of chances to break tackles and get extra yards. Dante Rosario caught his only target for six yards. Bennett did have a really nice catch in front of a Tampa Bay DB. Neither one of them had a glaring pass blocking error, that I caught anyway. It was a solid but not great day.
Wide receivers: D
The receivers combined to catch seven of 12 targets for 64 yards and one touchdown. They also had four penalties. It was far from the best day from the corps which should be a major strength on this team. Marshall had three penalties: two illegal blocks and a false start while Jeffery had a false start as well.
Offensive line: D+
The offensive line had another rough game, allowing three sacks. There were a few other plays where they surrendered pressure and Cutler had to step up or out of the pocket to avoid the rush. The Bears were finally able to slow the Bucs' rush by running the football and slowing them down that way. Even so though, the Bears averaged only 3.5 yards per carry and Forte had to fight for extra yards, barely getting through the line of scrimmage without contact. The offensive line needs to step up big time if the Bears want to keep winning, especially with the Lions and Ndamukong Suh coming up.
Overall offensive grade: C
Barely a B-, the offense was able to turn the two McCown interceptions into touchdowns and battled back from a 10 point deficit. It was a sloppy performance, especially by the WRs, from whom we expect greatness. Forte helped carry the load and the Bears were able to slap together enough for a win.
Defensive line: A+
By far this was the best game the defensive line has played all year. Jared Allen didn't get a sack but did record four QB hits and he was so, so close to a sack at least twice. Willie Young also had a quiet game but was credited with two QB hits. It was the interior of the line that really had themselves a day: Jeremiah Ratliff a sack, a tackle for loss and two QB hits, Stephen Paea, who is having his best season in a contract year, had two sacks, two TKFL and three QB hits. Reserves David Bass (sack/fumble) and Cornelius Washington (one sack, two TKFL, one QB hit) also got into the mix in Mel Tucker's rotation. Let's hope this continues.
It was another forgettable day for the linebacking corps. Lance Briggs managed to record six tackles before leaving with a groin injury before halftime but there was little else of note. Christian Jones notched five tackles and a fumble recovery and Jon Bostic had two tackles and a pass deflection, but tried for an interception and missed (somehow) and it went for a competition. It's an easy thing to complain about but if you're going for glory, make sure you ether snag it or deflect it.
There wasn't a lot to love here either as the Bucs had two 100-yard receivers. While there were some pass deflections (two from Tim Jennings, one from Al Jean-Louis), there were a lot of bad tackles. Rookie Kyle Fuller got burned for the touchdown by Mike Evans and had a tackle attempt broken too. Tim Jennings dropped an interception and missed a tackle on Vincent Jackson. Louis Murphy finished with six catches for 113 yards and Jackson had five catches for 117 yards. Demontre Hurst once again was getting picked on (evidenced by his seven tackles and many of the big catches by Murphy). Hurst did apply some decent pressure on the blitz but overall reminds me of D.J. Moore, who was also good on a blitz but bad in coverage. Hurst did force the fumble on Jackson and had a QB hit. Sherrick McManis was also in the game at one point and was burned.
I have to give the safeties a better grade because they did have the two interceptions. Ryan Mundy found himself in a good position to grab the tipped ball and Chris Conte made a nice athletic interception early in the game. Mundy led the team with eight tackles and added a pass deflection. Conte had a pass deflection and four tackles. Decent game from a group that I think is sometimes rushed to criticize.
Overall defensive grade: B
The defense outplayed the offense for a change and definitely won the game for Chicago by virtue of forcing turnovers, giving the offense a short field with which to work. The Bears offense couldn't kill the clock and it came down to the defensive line making a final stand on fourth and one to seal it for the team.
Special teams grade: D
The return game worked for a change. Marc Mariani showed he should have been returning kicks all year, averaging 23 yards per kick return but he left a little to be desired as a PR, returning three punts for zero yards. Robbie Gould missed a 54-yard field goal and continues to struggle with the few attempts he gets. Rookie punter Pat O'Donnell had a 40.8 average on nine punts but shanked the one that perhaps mattered most. Penalties continued to plague the unit and most were not from the bottom of the roster players: Christian Jones was flagged for a false start, Ryan Mundy was flagged for holding and Brock Vereen was also called for a hold.
The Bears did enough to win but there was still a lot to complain about. I liked the defensive effort and game plan from Tucker (how about that). But the offensive game plan seemed hackneyed with a gross first-half disparity and then a concerted effort to get Forte carries in the second half. It seemed sloppy though for the offense and Cutler was not in a very good rhythm, and they could not convert a third down when they really needed it. Late in the game they went back to the same toss play which wasn't working well, and also seemed dangerous considering the score and the wet conditions. Maybe I'm just looking for something to complain about, though.
What did you think of the game? After 27 games, do you think Trestman is the man for the Bears? What did you think of the coaching yesterday?