ST. LOUIS — The discouraging theme for the Bears amid the aftershocks of their 43-21 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday was that there are obvious, almost uncharacteristic cracks that have formed and even widened since their long-ago 3-0 start, but the Bears simply don’t seem to know how to fix them.
Rams rookie Tavon Austin embarrassed the Bears’ defense for a 65-yard touchdown run on the game’s third play. Afterwards, Bears middle linebacker Jonathan Bostic unintentionally spoke for the entire defense, regarding that play and effectively the game: “I really don’t know what happened on that play,” Bostic said. “We have to watch the film and try to clean everything up.”
The accommodating rookie linebacker was just being honest, and it does sometimes require film after the fact to see exactly what went wrong. But the fact was that the Bears really didn’t seem to know what happened on that or a lot of plays, and that’s a problem.
One veteran told CSNChicago.com that as much as people want to point to the supposed age of the defense, a challenge is keeping so many young players from splintering when early catastrophes happen.
The things that the Bears (6-5) spent extra time and attention on last week remained major problems at a time when first place in the NFC North was theirs with a victory while the Detroit Lions (6-5) were bumbling away a game at home.
[WATCH: Trestman: "We didn't get it done"]
The offense was again stymied deep inside the red zone, failing to punch in for a touchdown on four plays inside the St. Louis 5 on the opening possession of the second half, and then needing eight trips to the line of scrimmage to score after a first down on the St. Louis 1 in the fourth. But for two Rams penalties, that possession has to settle for a field goal or less.
The discipline within the defense was no better even when penalty flags were not fluttering. The Rams (5-6) ran for 200 yards through three quarters, 258 for the game, as Bears linemen and linebackers were out of position and defensive backs were unable to make tackles either in time to prevent first downs or at all.
"(Failing to stop the run) is not the only reason why we got beat today," said coach Marc Trestman. "We had too many penalties, we turned the ball over (on a Matt Forte fumble and sack/strip of Josh McCown, both leading to touchdowns) and they got a quick touchdown early on.
“They got a fast start on offense, so there are a lot of reasons why you lose, and we didn't do a good job of stopping the run, obviously."
The Bears haven’t won consecutive games in more than two months, since beating Cincinnati, Minnesota and Pittsburgh to open the season. With the severity of problems running through NFC losses two of the past three weeks, winning two in a row and somehow reaching the 2013 postseason has suddenly fallen to feeling a like purely a theoretical exercise.
McCown completed a franchise-record 36 passes (out of 47) for 352 yards, a couple of touchdowns and another 100-plus passer rating (102.4) but did suffer his first interception after 148 pick-free attempts.
But when Austin ran through the defense for a 65-yard touchdown on the Rams’ third play and backup rookie running back Benny Cunningham running for 109 yards replacing injured rookie Zac Stacy (87 rush yards), the Bears' numbers are basically just statistical niceties.
The lack of discipline (before and after the whistle) that produced 13 penalties (not including ones declined) and 111 lost yards was there again Sunday, with 10 accepted penalties costing the Bears 84 yards and likely some money in fines.
Arguably worse, the Rams pushed the Bears around for five drives of 69 yards or longer, all resulting in points. And the Bears, who have gotten worse instead of better against the run, were at a loss to stop the slide or the Rams.
Player discipline within the scheme was hard to find as players were out of position, lost containment against the run or broke down in pass coverage.
Indeed, the discipline issues involving penalties was a disturbing parallel to poor play overall, particularly on defense.
“We got down 10-0 right away to the Ravens last week and without the rain stopping things, who knows what would’ve happened?” one member of the defense said. “This week we fall behind 14-0, we can’t stop the run when we know they’re running.
“That’s just not us.”
Or is it?