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SportsMonday: Bears Outblitzed

Just one successful blitz would have been nice. One play where a Bear linebacker, safety or even cornerback came in clean on the quarterback and delivered a blow.

True, meatball sports fans always want more blitzes. If the pass rush isn't good enough, they reason, a team should just send more people. And it made more sense for the Bears to be judicious with blitzes on Sunday against one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

But what is frustrating about the Bear D, and it carries over from the Lovie Smith era (not a coincidence given that new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker reportedly strove to change as few things as possible when he took over earlier this year) is that the Bears can't seem to come up with anything to at least occasionally turn up the heat with an extra rusher.

By contrast, the Saints ran several tactically terrifying blitzes in the first half to great effect, until the Bears finally adjusted. The Saints identified a few holes in the Bears' protection scheme and exploited them.

The Bear defense doesn't seem capable of exploiting any schematic shortcomings of good teams at this point. Throughout the game, there was never a play where a fan could celebrate the Bear brain trust putting one over on their foes and making Drew Brees feel the consequences.

Part of the problem is simply personnel. I don't think any Bear fan feels confident that their safeties can make something special happen on a blitz. Of course it would be difficult for them to do worse than they so frequently do in coverage.

The 38-yard pass down the left sideline to Jimmy Graham that set up the Saints' first touchdown was classic safety malpractice. When Brees released the pass, Major Wright seemed to be in great position to make a play in coverage in front of the tight end.

Except he absolutely failed to gather himself and go up for the ball with any sort of aggressiveness and late in the play he looked like he gave up and simply turned and waited for Graham to catch the ball so he could tackle him. As for Chris Conte, for the 77th time this season he arrived just a step or two too late to impact the play. That is his specialty.

On the plus side, linebacker Lance Briggs made his way into the backfield for one Brees sack and three tackles of Saints running backs for losses amidst his 14 total tackles on the day. But then he wrapped things up by committing one of the stupidest penalties in Bear history in the fourth quarter, jumping offside when everyone in the stadium knew the Saints weren't going to run a play, they were just going to use the hard count to . . . get someone to do exactly what Briggs did.

"It was a boneheaded play," Briggs told reporters after the game.

The Bears offense also lacked the sort of innovation the Saints displayed at critical times. The screen pass touchdown that made it 20-7 before the half was highly instructive. It was a play the Saints ran at the perfect time, when they knew Bear linemen would be desperate to get to the quarterback after several plays in which they had failed to slow another New Orleans march down the field.

And there was a twist. The Saints went against tendency by throwing the screen to Pierre Thomas. One has to think that if ultra-quick back Darren Sproles had been in there, the Bears would have been more attuned to the possibility of a screen. But it was Thomas and all of the Bears took the bait, rushing aggressively to completely clear the way for a convoy of Saints blockers to escort Thomas to the end zone.

Finally, the quarterback: Jay Cutler had a strong game against the Saints on Sunday.

But a quick listen to post-game sports talk revealed a host of fans and even some hosts who don't share that opinion. One noted that Cutler was blindsided right before he lost a fumble that gave the Saints the ball at the Bears' six in the first quarter, leading to a field goal that put New Orleans up 6-0. Cutler was criticized for holding the ball incorrectly and therefore it was his fault.

Let's try to be clear about something: A quarterback is not responsible for what happens when he is driven down by someone he doesn't see.

These same folks seemed to revel in the fact that Cutler was charged with the fumble on the Bears' first play from scrimmage despite delivering a perfect pitch to Matt Forte that Forte simply missed. Because Forte never fully possessed the ball, he couldn't officlally be charged with the fumble, but that one was all on Forte.

Other callers pointed to Cutler throwing multiple passes resulting in near-miss interceptions. First of all, that simply wasn't accurate. Second, he was 24 of 33 for 358 yards, two touchdowns, no picks and a whopping 128.1 rating on the day. And that was despite facing serious pressure virtually throughout the first half and receivers who picked several delightful times for brutal drops.

On this day, everyone needed to try a little harder to find a goat than zeroing in on the signal-caller again.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Nov 26, 2021