Something strange happened on Sunday, and it was not just that the Bears won at home against the Lions. However, it was something so out of the realm of recent experience for Chicago fans that it was difficult to recognize as it happened. A very good thing was mistaken for controversy and for mistakes in coaching. Let’s begin with the symptoms.
First, consider what happened on defense.
Leonard Floyd only played 30% of the defensive snaps, being held out after an injury basically on the judgment of the coaches. That, actually, was what many commentators here thought would and should happen as part of his development. Then it actually happened. Why it happened matters less, in the long run, than why it was able to happen. Before we get there, however, consider what else happened on defense.
Deiondre’ Hall and Jacoby Glenn (second- and fourth-string cornerbacks on the September 6th depth chart) each managed an interception, while the leading tacklers on the team were Freeman, Callahan, and Amos. That’s a rookie 4th-rounder and an undrafted free agent stepping up when they had their chance. It’s a free agent who (per Spotrac) is paid 16th in the NFL at his position doing his part while another undrafted free agent and a 5th-rounder also did their jobs.
Now back to Floyd. Did he struggle? In places he did, even though he did continue to show the same high motor and versatility he’s had for the whole season. However, even though the Bears have been hit by the injury bug, there was no need to press him into continued service. He was taken out and other players did what they needed to do.
In other words, while it wasn’t perfect, the Bears defense showed that it had depth. Ryan Pace built, and Vic Fangio coached, a unit that didn’t collapse when it faced adversity. A defense made of role-players and replacements held a rival team to its lowest point total of the season so far.
Now, let’s turn to offense.
Kevin White (who—if uninjured—could have been on track for a 700+ yard season, despite a slow start) caught 6 passes and managed 55 yards, coming in as the second receiver on the team…to Eddie Royal. Alshon Jeffery was not silenced. Zach Miller got a touchdown. And the team had enough receiving weapons that the #3 receiver was actually the biggest threat. Is it painful that White is now on IR? Yes. However, the team has options.
What about at quarterback? Previously, when Cutler went down the team was in trouble. Hanie? Clausen? Even with McCown’s 3-2 record in 2013, the Bears without Cutler have lost 60% of their games prior to this year. Hoyer played well enough to manage a win, and he sits at 1-1. Regardless of who starts when Cutler is ready (a debate that had been had ad nauseum elsewhere), the simple fact is that the Bears actually have both a capable starter and a solid backup at the most important position in football. That’s not controversy—that’s good planning.
The offensive line started to gel. Although the line was helped by playing a weak defensive team, it still did well enough overall (read more [here]). Is it a perfect line? No. However, Pace put in place through drafting and free agency a group that showed promise, especially moving into the future.
Meanwhile, Jordan Howard (5th round) has put together a pair of games that make him a favorite in the eyes of many to keep the “lead back” job. Yet, somehow, this is a sign that the coaching staff misread his talent, or Langford’s. It is a sign of neither. Instead, it’s an indicator that the team has taken steps to find and develop talent.
Put simply, a team that was shaken with injury actually had enough depth to put together a solid football game. Did they score too few points? By a lot of measures, they did. However, they also did enough to get a W.
I am not saying that the Bears are headed to the Super Bowl. I do not think the roster is a finished product or that coaching was flawless (hmmm…which phase wasn’t mentioned above?). I am not saying that all of Pace’s decisions have been fantastic.
What I am saying, however, is that Chicago fans saw something promising on Sunday. They saw a team that did not rely on a single player or three to make a difference. They saw a team that didn’t need every high draft pick to be a home run if they were going to compete. They saw a team that actually seems to be growing the kind of depth it takes to make a rebuild stick.
It makes sense that some of us don’t recognize it at first, but in reality, it was a very promising first sign of what will hopefully be a lot of good things to come. There will still be some losses to come, and some bumps in the road. However, there was at least as much good as there was bad, and as a Bears fan, that was refreshing to see.