Seeing red: Bears failures to close may doom playoff hopes

Seeing red: Bears failures to close may doom playoff hopes
November 19, 2013, 11:00 pm
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The Baltimore Ravens game came down to two defensive stops, one to force a field goal off a first-and goal and the second on the first possession of overtime. It should not have reached that point.

For all of the season-saving positives of Josh McCown’s play at quarterback, the Baltimore game was marked by ominous failures to close on touchdown opportunities. And it is not a new concern: The Bears are decidedly middle of the pack on red-zone touchdowns, barely improved over last season, which is not the route to success beyond the regular season.

The Bears were inside the Baltimore 20-yard line four times and came away with only one touchdown. This followed the same one-for-four success rate in the loss to Detroit. Even in Green Bay, of the four red-zone trips, the Bears scored touchdowns on only two.

“Certainly we’re disappointed in the red zone,” said coach Marc Trestman. “We feel we got the right plays. Our last couple of weeks I’ve been very disappointed because we’ve gotten the ball to the single-covered guy, I mean we’ve thrown the ball to the guy but we haven’t made the best of throws and we haven’t put our guys in a position to make the plays.”

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It is more than fault-finding with an offense that has been largely responsible for the Bears’ 6-4 record and presence in the playoff discussion. But if the Bears are going to play more than 16 games in the 2013 season, their current success rate won’t work.

Of their last 11 scoring possessions, only four have resulted in touchdowns. Of the Bears’ last eight drives of 60 yards or longer, five have had to settle for field goals.

Most of the teams currently ahead of the Bears in the NFC playoff standings after 10 games have higher red-zone touchdown rates — Carolina, Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle. So do AFC division leaders Denver, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. The Bears are turning a modest 55.8 percent (21 of 38 possessions) of their red-zone incursions into touchdowns.

Last season, for all of its foibles, the Mike Tice offense converted 50 percent of its red-zone opportunities. Super Bowl winner Baltimore was at 57 percent.

Last Sunday the Bears had a first-and-goal at the Baltimore six-yard line. They ran six plays (the Ravens gave them a new set of downs with a third-down holding penalty) and did not get into the end zone on any of them.

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They were at the Baltimore 18 with 18 seconds remaining. They committed a holding penalty and not only didn’t get into the end zone, but had to settle for a Robbie Gould field goal of 46 yards in the final seconds of the half.

“We see it in every game and we didn’t get that done in running inside or outside and it’s something we have to pay close attention to because we had a fast start this season in the red zone and the last couple weeks that’s dissipated,” Trestman said.

“That can’t happen. We have these long drives; we have to finish. I know guy are mindful of that and that’s something we have to work on to get better because we have to finish these drives, and we have to turn these drives into seven points.”