If you were unable to finish the game, I can't blame you. It was clear in the middle of the third quarter that the game was slipping away. And slip away it did. Even though the team was able to fight back to tie the game at 13-13 in the third quarter, it was all for naught. The remaining quarter and a half showed a team that was losing it's grip and whose confidence was all but shattered. It was a demoralizing display made all the worse by the fact that it was played on our home turf.
Given the debacle this game was, here are the three key things I noticed.
1. The Offensive Line Is becoming a liability again
Sam Baker - lost for the season. Joe Hawley - lost for the season. Lamar Holmes - lost for the season. Jake Matthews - ankle injuries. Justin Blalock - back injury. To say that our OL has been banged up is an understatement. It's looking more and more like losing Hawley was the biggest blow to the performance of our OL. His departure has shown a sharp decline in the pass blocking of the unit, with the game against the Bears being a particularly low point.
Ryan was sacked 4 times, pressured a billion others and it was a minor miracle that our QB survived the entire game. Both Carimi and Matthews were beat consistently by Allen and Houston and our interior OL was unable to generate consistent push. Tice needs to come up with some serious magic, because this line is resembling the 2013 unit that nearly got Ryan killed.
2. The defensive woes are not just talent related
I've seen people say repeatedly that our defensive issues are solely talent related, but it's not that simple. On one particular play, Bears TE Martellus Bennett stiff-armed one of our players and carried him nearly 5 yards. I saw fans say repeatedly that our players aren't strong enough, but that wasn't the issue. On that particular play, our player showed terrible tackling technique, trying to tackle a large tight-end way too high instead of waist down.
Sound familiar? That's because it's an issue that has persisted with this team for years - not just with these players. Poor tackling. Soft zones. Allowing 3rd and long conversions. Lack of a consistent pass rush. These are all issues that have been here for most of the time that Smith has been coach. Is some of it talent related? Absolutely. But there are some clear coaching issues where what talent we have are either being mis-used or are showing consistently poor technique - and that boils down to coaching.
Just to hammer home the point: early in the game, Massaqoui was generating consistent pressure - registering a sack and a couple of hurries early on. So what did the coaches do? They began using him in coverage more during the second half of the game, while Kroy Biermann - our most in-effective pass rusher according to PFF - was going after Cutler (unsuccessfully I might add). Is it any wonder that the same defense which looked halfway decent in the first half looked god-awful in the second?
While this D needs more talent in some key places, there's no doubt that using the talent properly would also make a difference.
3. Our receivers let Ryan down
What was supposed to be a strong point of our team let Ryan down repeatedly Sunday. Toilolo demonstrated persistently terrible hands, dropping at least 3 passes that were on the money. Roddy, who was repeatedly crushed by the Bears secondary, also dropped several passes. And Julio, one of the great bright spots on offense this season - also dropped some critical passes. In quite a few of those instances, the passes would have resulted in converted third downs - which means the drops were drive-killers. Those drops were the difference between Ryan completing 70% of his passes versus a little over 50% of his passes.
Ultimately, this game had far more takeaways - none of them particularly encouraging. I won't get into the specifics of whether this game signals the beginning of the end - that's for another article. But given these takeaways, it's not unreasonable to believe that these negative takeaways are only the tip of the iceberg. A very dark, depressing iceberg.