MINNEAPOLIS--The last time the Bears had three losses in a season where they were blown out by 20 or more points, they shook up the building at Halas Hall and the organization went out and hired a general manager.
All of a sudden, they are stacking losses like they haven't previously in the Lovie Smith era, and they're getting blown out in the process. The Bears have lost four straight, six of their last seven and they've suffered three blowouts in the last six games after being humiliated 36-10 Sunday afternoon by the Minnesota Vikings at at the Metrodome.
General manager Jerry Angelo was hired in the spring of 2001 after a disastrous season in which the team finished 5-11 and lost three games by 20 or more points. Don't look now, but they're doing it again. It wasn't this bad in Lovie Smith's first season in 2004 when the Bears were rotating between Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel and Chad Hutchinson. They played some defense that season, even if middle linebacker Brian Urlacher missed half the year, and they competed for the most part. They were laying a foundation for something. These Bears have stopped competing and in the last two months the only victories they have are against Cleveland and Detroit. At this rate, at 4-7, they're playing the Denver Broncos into a sweet pick in the top 10 of the 2010 draft.
Give them credit for this much: I didn't hear a soul mention the possibility of making the playoffs with a 9-7 record after the game. Sure, there were plenty of cliches to go around, but none of that crazy "run the table" talk you often hear teams that have fallen into this kind of position spout.
The Bears are not a good football team, no matter what they try to tell you. Let's count a few reasons why coming out of this game:
1. The offensive line was overmatched by the Minnesota Vikings. Leslie Frazier, the '85 Bear, watched his defense tear apart the Bears without blitzing. They simply beat them one-on-one up front, over and over again. The Bears ran just 38 offensive plays and 12 of them were for no gain or a loss. It was complete domination. The Bears gained just two yards in the second half. There was zero effort whatsoever to run the football. The gameplan--whatever it was--got away from them. The line has got to be the first issue addressed in the offseason, and maybe before then. They've got to see if Chris Williams can play left tackle, and they've got to hope he's better there than he is at right tackle. If not, this rebuilding project is going to be more severe than anyone could have imagined. Angelo rolled the dice on drafting the tackle with a bad back. So far, this pick isn't working out but it's far too early to rule Williams out for the future. Put him at left tackle and give him some experience there. See if he can put down roots there. Otherwise, it's back to the drawing board when it comes to protecting the blind side.
2. Gameplan. The Bears went in with the idea of stopping Adrian Peterson. As Brett Favre continued to carve them up, they stuck to their plan: Stop A.P. They stuck with something, that is for sure, but you don't earn any points for being stubborn. How good was Favre? He completed 32-of-48 passes for a season-high 392 yards and three touchdowns. He completed five passes or more to five receivers. He had targets running free. The Bears sold out to stop the run--Peterson had just 85 yards on 25 carries--and they dared Favre to beat them. Guess what? He can still make it happen. They'll need a better scheme the next time around, and might want to hope for some help from Old Man Winter for the Soldier Field rematch on Dec. 28.
3. Defensive line. Favre was sacked only once on a safety blitz by Al Afalava so the pass rush, or what there was of it, wasn't good enough. Adewale Ogunleye has gotten it done against bad competition only. Gaines Adams has done nothing. Tommie Harris flashed for a few plays. Marcus Harrison is a better behaved, less talented Tank Johnson. Just like the offensive line, this group needs some work, some major work. But where will the help come from? The Bears don't have first- or second-round draft picks.
4. Safety. The one thing that really sticks out about safeties Afalava and Danieal Manning is that neither one of them makes plays with any kind of consistency. Afalava got called for pass interference in the end zone. Sure, he made up for it with a sack but these guys aren't making big plays on the back end of the defense, and Favre was completing plenty of passes downfield.
5. Big play receiver. Devin Hester is not a true No. 1 wide receiver. With the Vikings missing their top cornerback Antoine Winfield, Hester made one catch for 20 yards. Granted, there wasn't time for Cutler to throw, but the Bears lack an elite wide receiver. Add it to the list.
And some more thoughts:
6. Those are just a couple areas that really jumped out at me. I'd be remiss if I didn't say that I thought middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer played a strong game. He was credited with a team-high nine tackles, he forced two Peterson fumbles and he was all over the field. Favre actually singled him out afterward in his comments to media.
7. Cutler made one terrific throw to Johnny Knox for a 24-yard touchdown despite tight coverage from Benny Sapp. That was about it. Given a chance to pull within three late in the first half, he underthrew a ball to Knox and was picked off in the end zone by Cedric Griffin. When the Bears got the ball on the Vikings' eight-yard line after Knox opened the third quarter with a 77-yard kickoff return, they retreated to the 20. They remain terrible in the red zone. They have six touchdowns in their last 20 red zone visits going back to the Atlanta game Oct. 18.
8. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner came under fire last week. A league source told me that Mike Martz said he would love to work with Cutler. Guess what? The nature of these lopsided losses is going to turn the questioning to Lovie Smith when it comes to job security. It's one thing to lose, it's another thing to lose consecutively, and it's something all together different when the losses are embarrassments. Turner is in a tough spot because at this point almost nothing the Bears try is working. But now the questions will become bigger and bigger.
9. I still believe Smith will be back as the head coach of the Bears in 2010. He's owed more than $10 millions through 2011, when all signals right now are pointing to a potential work stoppage even if commissioner Roger Goodell told me on Friday that the ongoing talks give him optimism for an extension of the CBA to avoid an uncapped year in 2010 and a lockout the year after that. Angelo is signed through 2013, and I don't believe anyone sees the McCaskeys paying him not to work for four years. The challenge is before him right now, how does he find a path out of this mess? He's got to ask himself that question, and the Bears need to start making decisions in 2009 that are based on 2010. There's no reason not to, and they'd be fools to play the "we're not mathematically eliminated" card. They've seen what has transpired.
10. When can it end? A victory over the woeful St. Louis Rams, if the Bears can beat them this coming week at Soldier Field, will prove absolutely nothing. A loss, well, that might clear some things up in a hurry, believe it or not. There are many, many questions to be asked. How many of them have legitimate answers to them right now, I don't know. We'll see starting Monday at Halas Hall.