Bears kick off season with dominating win

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Bears kick off season with dominating win

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011Posted: 4:10 p.m. Updated: 8:45 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Box score Photo gallery
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Profiling Bears' legend Mike Ditka
The Bears are perfectly happy to be disrespected. They clearly relish reminding doubters of their doubts.

They will now have a thoroughly told-ya-so week after Sundays 30-12 smashing of the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) , the defending NFC South champions and 2011 favorites after their 13-3 mark in 2010.

The three top-rated teams in the supposedly elite NFC South all fell to NFC North teams in the first week of the NFL season. Besides the Bears defeat of the Falcons, the Green Bay Packers turned back the New Orleans Saints last Thursday and the Detroit Lions were a TD better than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday.

The Bears (1-0) travel to New Orleans to face the Saints next Sunday before hosting Green Bay in game three.

Its one win, said coach Lovie Smith, whose record in first home games improved to 6-2. Were excited about it. We have a long ways to go. There were a lot of mistakes we made. Normally thats the case the first game.

The Falcons made runs at the Bears at various points, as late as midway through the fourth quarter. With quarterback Matt Ryan completing 31 of 47 passes for 319 yards, Atlanta out-gained the Bears 386-377 and had 20 first downs to the Bears 17.

Dominant performance

But be in no doubt: This was a domination almost from the outset. The Bears never trailed and most of the afternoon was spent simply arriving at a final score; the winning team was evident early.

The yardage totals are meaningless. The Bears defense allowed exactly 2 field goals to an Atlanta offense that scored 25.9 points per game last season. The Bears sacked Ryan five times and hit him six more. The defense was credited with 11 tackles for loss.

"It was great to have everyone pitch in, said defensive end Julius Peppers. It was impressive. Guys get hungry and want to get to the quarterback.

They did. The defense forced three turnovers and had points off all three: a pair of field goals and Brian Urlachers fourth career touchdown when he picked up a Ryan fumble caused by sack pressure from Peppers, who had two sacks to go with two by defensive tackle Henry Melton and one by tackle Amobi Okoye.

We cant relax offensively there in the fourth quarter, said Jay Cutler, who was 22 of 32 for 312 yards, two TDs and a rating of 107.8 despite being sacked five times. The Bears had zero first downs on their final three possessions following an Atlanta interception and TD return.

Our defense kept the clamps on all year long in 2010. We still have to play up to the defenses level, Cutler said. They are still carrying us.

Early breakaway

The offense struck immediately with conversions of 23 yards on their first two third downs, one a Cutler pass to Roy Williams and the second on a dump-off underneath to running back Matt Forte, with both receivers having no defender within 10 yards of them in the first of numerous well-designed plays. The drive stalled and Robbie Gould put up the first points of the season for the Bears on a 41-yard field goal.

Before an opening-day crowd of 59,808, the Bears built a 16-3 halftime lead on a 56-yard catch-and-run by Forte, who broke tackles behind downfield blocks by receiver Johnny Knox and fullback Tyler Clutts and outraced the Atlanta secondary into the right side of the end zone.

The rest of the first-half scoring was provided by Gould on field goals of 23 and 26 yards. The two kicks represented failed red-zone possessions on which the Bears had first downs at the Atlanta 17- and 10-yard lines.

What the offense didnt do, however, the defense more than made up for as the Bears stretched their lead to 30-6 before the Falcons did some brief fourth-quarter damage.

"The defense line got great pressure, Urlacher said. They played their butts off. We played great all training camp. The Falcons didnt run at all the second half, besides that gash the first series. Our guys were able to make plays.

Ill take that

A serious Bears concern throughout the preseason was the lack of takeaways by the defense. That abruptly changed in the first half Sunday as takeaways ended three possessions for one of the NFLs elite offenses.

A corner blitz by D.J. Moore, who never lost control and bore straight in on Ryan without going for any fakes, pressured Ryan into a weakened throw. That was picked off by a diving Urlacher at the Chicago 35, one possession after the Falcons scored their only points of the half, on a 48-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.

The defense struck again on the next Atlanta possession. Major Wright, whose tackling issues in preseason put his job in jeopardy, drilled running back Michael Turner with a helmet on the football and allowed Charles Tillman to make another strip and forced fumble. That turnover also occurred in the Chicago end of the field, this time recovered by Peppers.

Crusher
Any percolating momentum for the Falcons seemed to be met with a defensive stop. Three plays after tight end Matt Spaeth scored on a one-yard TD pass, Ryan was forced to spin away from pressure from Peppers off the Atlanta right. Ryan lost the ball, which lay on the ground briefly at the Atlanta 16. Peppers beat Ryan to the ball but couldnt control it.

That was a good thing.

Urlacher picked up the loose ball at the 12 and went into the end zone for his fourth career TD and a 30-6 lead late in the third quarter.

"I thought Pep had it, Urlacher said. Luckily it bounced to me. Even if I dont get it, it was third down and long or still down towards our goal line.

The Falcons attacked the Bears with a no-huddle offense from the outset, keeping the Bears from subbing in particular on the defensive line. But the Bears defense, apart from occasional breakdowns, limited the potent Atlanta offense to 170 total yards and 3 points in the first half.

The Atlanta defense was not going to go quietly. Defensive end John Abraham deflected a Cutler pass up into the air where it was gathered in by Kroy Biermann. The defensive tackle rumbled 50 yards for touchdown to put some life back on the Falcons side.

The try for the two-point conversion failed with a sack of Ryan by Julius Peppers, leaving the score 30-12.
Positioning

With Goulds kickoffs and aggressive coverage, the Falcons had starting position from their 20 four times, their 15 and their 6 (after a penalty) on possessions starting with a kickoff.

But the defense had a breakdown on the last of those, costing the Bears not only field position but also points.

On a third-and-one at the Atlanta 15, Turner burst through the middle and galloped 53 yards before a TD-saving tackle by Tim Jennings ended the embarrassment. Instead of potential field position after a punt, the Bears had to take consolation in a third-down pass defense by end Nick Reed forcing the Falcons to settle for a field goal and a 16-6 score.

Closing burst

But then the offense attacked again. Forte carries, including a nifty jump-cut to get outside the left side where he picked up a block from Earl Bennett, set the ball at the Chicago 46. Another well-designed misdirection play got a Cutler pass to Devin Hester on the short right and he twisted his way through the defense all the way across the field and toward the Atlanta end zone.

Hester was forced out of bounds at the Atlanta 1 (the spot was unsuccessfully challenged by the Bears. From there Spaeth caught his first TD pass as a Bear and the Bears led 23-6 with just under 7 minutes to play in the third quarter.

That went to 30-6 three plays later on the Urlacher TD run-in with the recovered Ryan fumble.

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.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.

Bears' best rookies will have another learning curve

Bears' best rookies will have another learning curve

There's a sense of irony and, to a certain degree, concern about what changes the Bears' coaching staff has undergone.

Think of the best of Ryan Pace's 2016 rookie class: Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, and Jordan Howard. They were brought along under the position group tutelage of outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, offensive line coach Dave Magazu and running backs coach Stan Drayton. The latter was the first to depart, shortly after the season ended, to return to the collegiate ranks on Texas' new staff.

He's been replaced with former 49ers and Bills offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins (also serving as that position coach in Detroit, Buffalo, Arizona and Kansas City). Howard certainly adapted to the NFL game well, more than anyone expected, as the NFL's second-leading rusher. One would think Drayton played a part in that.

Longtime John Fox assistant Magazu was also let go after the season despite the impressive move of second-round pick Whitehair to center the week of the season opener after Josh Sitton was signed following his release by Green Bay. Whitehair was sold as a "quick study" following his selection out of Kansas State, where he was a four-year starter at three different positions (but not center).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Like Howard, he wound up making the All-Rookie team, but whether he remains in the middle of the line or not, he'll be getting his orders now from Jeremiah Washburn.

Rounding out the trio of All-Rookie selections was Floyd, who was brought along by Hurtt. He impressed Fox enough to be kept around from Marc Trestman's staff, and moved from defensive line to outside linebackers.

That's where he assisted Willie Young in morphing to a foreign role, yet still managing 14 sacks over the last two seasons. The Bears have yet to name a replacement for Hurtt, who's joined the Seahawks in taking over one of their strengths in recent years, the defensive line.

These three were already good, and the jewels of last year's draft. But if they're to grow and ascend into impact contributors if and when this team becomes a regular playoff contender, it'll come from new faces, new voices in their respective classrooms and position groups.