Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011Posted: 6:21 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
The Bears generated 165 yards of offense in the first half and had the Saints within reach early in the third quarter at 16-13. But the offense netted just 81 yards for the second half and collapsed repeatedly, failing to come up with not only big plays, but even vital smaller ones, converting just two of 12 third-down opportunities, 0 for 6 in the second half.
Jay Cutler survived but did little else. He was sacked five times in the fourth quarter alone, managed to avoid throwing any interceptions, and netted 244 yards with receivers dropping too many passes. Difficult to evaluate his play, although he continues to hold onto the ball deep into plays behind a line that is stretched to its max. Cutler completed only 19 of 45 attempts and was forced too often to go with check-downs to Matt Forte against a defense that blanketed his receivers.
RUNNING BACK: B
Forte accounted for 118 of the Bears 165 yards of offense in the first half, 166 for the game (out of the Bears 246) and produced another outstanding effort that only served to underscore his value the Bears as presently constituted. He was not the primary receiver on the majority of his 10 receptions but repeatedly turned lost causes into positive yardage. His 42-yard run in the first quarter was his only effective carry, as he had just seven yards in his other nine carries.
Dane Sanzenbacher forced a Saints LB into a holding call in coverage, then capped a first-quarter drive by catching his first NFL TD pass, an eight-yarder from Cutler. With Earl Bennett out early with a chest injury, Sanzenbacher received extensive playing time, did well enough but dropped a key third-down pass that would have given the Bears a first down in the third quarter and caught just three of the seven passes on which he was targeted. Devin Hester had a key drop as well and caught one of his nine pass opportunities.
Kellen Davis missed block on DE Turk McBride got Cutler sacked and caused a fumble that led to a New Orleans TD. Davis missed a block last weekend in the Bears end zone that caused Cutler to take a huge hit as he released a pass.
OFFENSIVE LINE: F
Gabe Carimis knee injury late in the first half is a franchise concern, although Frank Omiyale performed adequately at first when pressed into service in one of the NFLs most difficult venues. But Omiyale was overmatched under pressure and the line could not handle the looks and blitzes overall. Cutler was hit 10 times in addition to the six sacks, and the Saints were credited with seven tackles-for-loss. Chris Spencer started in place of Lance Louis at RG. Besides Fortes 42-yard carry in the first quarter and a 12-yard Cutler scramble, the offense picked up six yards in its other 10 rushing attempts.
DEFENSIVE LINE: F
Against a pair of Pro Bowl guards (Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks) and one-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, pressure was difficult to get. Israel Idonije sacked Drew Brees in the second quarter and that was about it for the pass rush. Julius Peppers got a pressure on Brees but Idonije and Amobi Okoye had the only QB hits initially credited. Henry Melton, after two sacks and six QB hits against Atlanta, did not make the initial stat sheet with so much as a tackle assist. The Saints picked up five rushing first downs and rarely were under duress from a front that owned the Falcons a week ago.
Lance Briggs had a game-high 11 tackles, 10 of them solo. But Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach were too often invisible against an average Saints rushing game that netted 118 yards at a 4.1-yards-per-carry clip. Brees was able to force the LBs to cover in space and then took advantage of them underneath, and run support was rarely there until backs were in or through holes.
Major Wrights breakdown and failure to protect deep resulted in a 79-yard TD pass on third-and-long from Brees to Devery Henderson. Brandon Meriweather, starting for Chris Harris, was late to react on a 31-yard toss to the tight end. Wright was late in covering tight ends throughout and was injured in the third quarter on a hit on 260-pound tight end Jimmy Graham. Charles Tillman forced and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter too late to matter.
But Brees was able to complete 26 of 37 passes for 270 yards and a rating of 118.1 and the Saints 50 percent conversion rate on third downs through three quarters, 8 for 17 for the game, was fatal.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Robbie Gould salvaged points from two possessions with 42 and 38-yard field goals, the only Bears points in nearly the final 52 minutes. He converted all three of his attempts. Adam Podlesh averaged 43.6 net on eight punts and was about the best offense the Bears had all day. Sam Hurds silly interference with a fair catch in the second quarter cost the Bears 15 yards, field position and fueled growing New Orleans momentum.
Mike Martzs play design overall found openings and mismatches against a hyper-aggressive New Orleans defense. He isolated Dane Sanzenbacher against a linebacker, and maneuvered Sanzenbacher and fullback Tyler Clutts into wide-open situations behind all-out blitzing fronts. But with the Bears trailing by six points at halftime, he abandoned the run increasingly through the third quarter. The game spiraled out of control in a venue where the need was to force New Orleans to respect some kind of run game.
The defense was exploited too often but breakdowns appeared to be more a factor of slow reactions to balls and situations. The Bears had the Saints in 17 third downs but allowed conversions on eight of them.
The Bears were penalized fewer times (six) than the Saints (seven), a hint of some reasonable preparation for one of the NFLs most difficult places to play.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.