Running game stalls as Bears lose to Packers

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Running game stalls as Bears lose to Packers

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011Posted: 6:35 p.m. Updated: 9:54 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
READ: Jim Miller's take on the Bears' offensive woesREAD: Bears earn unsatisfactory grades all aroundREAD: Rodgers says punt trickery was "most incredible play I've ever seen"WATCH: Moon dissects Bears' loss to PackersWATCH: The Bears PGL Crew breaks down the loss

The start of the Bears 2011 season was going to be difficult. That much was apparent when the schedule came out with three playoff opponents in the first three games.

The Bears, however, have conspired to make it even more difficult, and they have no one to blame but themselves.

Those first three games are over and the challenge for the Bears now is to rally and establish that their season isnt over after a 27-17 loss to the reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

The defeat left the Bears (1-2) looking a long way up at not only the Packers (3-0) but also the Detroit Lions, who rallied for an overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears will get another shot at the Packers, on Christmas Day in Green Bay, but the Bears will need a turnaround to make that a game of any consequence.

This was the second double-digit loss in a row, only the third time that has happened to Lovie Smith teams since his first season heading up the Bears. The situation represents an early fork in the road for a team that considered itself a playoff contender and then some going into this season.

After it happened to drop the Bears to 1-3 to open the 2005 season, the Bears rallied to reach the playoffs. When it happened in 2007, however, the Bears never recovered and finished out of the running at 7-9.

It is early on, said linebacker Lance Briggs. We have a lot of opportunities to get better. We will do that working toward Carolina.

Against a Green Bay defense that had yielded 477 and 475 yards in its first two games, both at home, the Bears finished with 291. In Soldier Field.

The win was Green Bays 15th in the last 20 games in Soldier Field. It also improved Aaron Rodgers record to 6-2 against Bears teams coached by Lovie Smith, an alarming trend considering how early Rodgers presumably is in his career.

Besides the 27 points, the second-highest total for the Packers against Smiths defenses since the 2004 season, the Packers ran up 392 yards and controlled the ball 37 minutes 29 seconds. They became the third straight team to rush for 100 or more yards on the Bears.

What should be concerning for the Bears, who think they are far from playing their best, is that the Packers think the same thing. The Bears did little against this Green Bay defense, for example, and thats a unit still struggling.

Were still not clicking on both sides of the ball and on special teams, Rodgers said. Defensively I think theyre still trying to figure things out. I know we an play better football. And the standard we have set around Green Bay is excellence.

Self-destructing

The pass-heavy offense that failed in New Orleans was virtually repeated against Green Bay, with predictable results.

Coordinator Mike Martz called run plays to Matt Forte only nine times, netting a dismal two yards total. He called 43 pass plays (37 attempts, three sacks, three Jay Cutler scrambles). At this point not even a passer like Cutler wants to stay a failed course.

Were 0-2 doing this, said Cutler, so its not looking very good.

The Bears had their chances, if not many of them or very good ones. And they effectively self-destructed on several they had:

Of the 10 penalties assessed on them, five came on first-down plays, setting the offense back unnecessarily. Three calls, all on offensive linemen, came on successive trips to the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter with the Bears in possession starting near midfield.

One of the remaining penalties, a dead-ball personal foul against Devin Hester, came 20 yards away from the play and after the play was over.

A perfectly executed deception on a punt return touchdown by Knox was nullified by a holding penalty on Corey Graham 35 yards from the play. The call was roundly denounced in the locker room afterward but Graham acknowledged he should never have put his hands on the Packer in the first place.

On 12 of the Bears 14 possessions, they had zero or one first down.

Were never happy when we have penalties called on us to hurt our football team, Smith said. Youre never happy with that, especially post-play penalties. Thats all part of us not playing our type of football. Well clean those things up.

The Packers had the ball more than 37 minutes to 22 for the Bears, in part because of those drives that the Bears could not sustain. Besides the totally ineffectual run game and the penalties, virtually every Bear receiver had at least one dropped pass.

Unacceptable, plain and simple, like I told Cutler, said Johnny Knox, who had a 40-yard reception among his four catches but a costly fourth-quarter drop. Im a receiver. Ive got to catch that ball, simple as that.

No balance, no matter

Rodgers built a 27-10 lead with three touchdown passes to tight end Jermichael Finley before the Bears recovered a fourth-quarter fumble and scored a play later on a 32-yard pass from Cutler to tight end Kellen Davis. That kept the Bears within two scores with 11 minutes remaining in the game
Brian Urlacher made his second spectacular diving interception of the season, picking off a throw intended for Finley. But three different offensive linemen were flagged for penalties on successive trips to the line and Hester killed the possession with a dead-ball personal foul downfield and the Bears lost a critical opportunity with the ball at the Green Bay 40.

Woeful wanderings

It was not a game of any Bears offensive dominance. With the game well within reach, the Bears opened the third quarter with three straight three-and-outs as Cutler threw a string of eight straight incompletions, including the three in the red zone at the end of the first half, and was sacked twice in the three possessions.

Those three possessions generated a combined minus-20 yards. Nine kneel-downs by Cutler would have produced more offense.

Missed opportunity

Predictable pass-only playcalling marked a significant missed opportunity late in the second quarter. A 40-yard completion to Knox, one for five yards to Dane Sanzenbacher and a 28-yard check-down to Forte put the Bears at the Green Bay 7-yard line with a first-and-goal.

Cutler then threw behind Sanzenbacher at the goal line on first down. A second-down throw to Sanzenbacher in the end zone was broken up and Cutler was forced to throw away a third-down attempt to Knox.

The Bears got something for their troubles when Robbie Gould converted from 25 yards and a 17-10 halftime deficit.

There were signs of trouble. Forte managed just two yards on six carries in a first half in which the offense called 17 pass plays to just those six runs.

Fast offense, fast start

The Packers started as they did in the NFC Championship game, with a touchdown and first score on the Bears. With Rodgers playing basically a drill game with Jennings (four completions, 61 yards), the Packers went a seemingly effortless 80 yards for a touchdown on a seven-yard flip from Rodgers to Finley.

The defense was able to turn the Green Bay offense back on the next couple of possessions but then helped the Packers out with key mistakes. Julius Peppers was guilty of a neutral-zone infraction on a third-and-3 to give Green Bay a first down. That was followed on a third-and-2 pass to Finley, who completely lost safety Craig Steltz on another conversion.

That drive pushed the lead to 14-0 when Rodgers found Finley open at the goal line for a six-yard TD pass

This one time the Bears had an answer.

Cutler hooked up for a 37-yard catch-and-run with Hester for a first down at the Green Bay 43. Three plays later Cutler threw a back-shoulder strike to Knox for 24 yards and a first-and-goal at the Green Bay 3-yard line.

The offense shook off a drop by Roy Williams at the goal line on first down and Cutler got a throw in to Sanzenbacher for a four-yard touchdown at a time when the game was in danger of spiraling completely beyond the Bears reach.

The only damage done by the two teams for the remainder of the half was a pair of field goals.

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’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

No doubt, there are doubts about the makeup of this 2017 Bears wide receiver corps. But as the departed Alshon Jeffery created doubts, health-wise, the past two years about whether he could stay on the field to prove himself worthy of a big payday (which he didn’t even get from the Eagles), Ryan Pace brought in a handful of replacements who’ve flashed in this league before. But recent history’s shown each of them has something to prove as well.

From Rueben Randle to fellow former Giant Victor Cruz. From former first rounders Kendall Wright to Kevin White, taking a third swing at making it though an entire NFL season.

Then there’s Markus Wheaton, the only free agent signee at the position this season to receive a two-year deal ($11 million total, with $6 million guaranteed). Like the rest of the group, though, he’s at a career crossroads. Following seasons with 53 and 44 catches in Pittsburgh in 2014 and 2015 (with a 17-yard average in the latter), the quick-twitch former Steeler was limited to three games a year ago before eventually undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in January.

“Everyone’s new, so we don’t know what it’s gonna be,” he said of the group at the team’s recent minicamp in Lake Forest. “In Pittsburgh you kind of have a clue `cause they’ve done it for so long. Everybody’s new, everybody’s trying to find their niche, so we’ll see how it goes. Anything’s possible. We’ve got a lot of guys who are looking for opportunity. A lot of guys that are hungry and have something to prove. Anything’s possible. Anyone can come out on top. The ultimate goal is to win games and I’m sure the coaches will put us in position to do that.”

The former third-round pick out of Oregon State (where he’s the Beavers’ all-time career leader in receptions, one ahead of Brandin Cooks) played all three receiver positions in Pittsburgh at various times, and while he seems most natural in the slot, is working to make himself as versatile as possible here. But that comes with some risk as a quarterback room that’s also gone through its share of turnover tries to get on the same page with all the targets. But Wheaton is more than confident the results will come from within this group.

“I think we definitely are underrated," Wheaton said. "We’ve come in and worked to get to where we wanna be. We will get there, and it’ll show up on the field.”

The incumbents in the room include Joshua Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Daniel Braverman, Cam Meredith, and, of course, White. Wheaton can see the potential in the ex-seventh overall draft pick.

“I couldn’t imagine all the stuff he’s been through, all the pressure that’s been put on him," Wheaton said. "But he’s a down-to-earth guy who works extremely hard, so I think he’s gonna get his. He’s a big-time playmaker, so I’m excited to see him play.

“They welcomed me with open arms. Everybody’s down to earth, been easy to talk to so when I have questions, I’ve been getting answers, so it’s been real easy for me.”

That surgically-repaired shoulder was cleared for full participation just in time for minicamp two weeks ago. And Wheaton won’t allow himself to become hesitant physically as he aims to conquer what hesitation he could have within the offense, working with quarterbacks not named Ben Roethlisberger.

“I really don’t think there’s time for that. When you’re ready to go, you just go,” Wheaton told us. “You come in, you work, you rehab. And for me personally I had to rehab a lot to get back to where I wanted to be. There’s a level I want to be at. I’ve been just working to get there, so there’s no time for that.”

That last statement comes even if some observers hesitate to call Wheaton and these wideouts “underrated.” They’ll start attempting to prove that when the Bears report to Bourbonnais exactly one month from Monday.

Can Deiondre' Hall overcome on- and off-field hurdles to make an impact with Bears?

Can Deiondre' Hall overcome on- and off-field hurdles to make an impact with Bears?

Rookie Deiondre' Hall flashed in the preseason a year ago, leading the Bears coaching staff and fans to believe they found something amidst their trio of 2016 fourth round draft picks. 

He’s hoping to do the same this August after overcoming one physical hurdle, while waiting to see if he can get past a legal hurdle he created for himself.

Let’s start on the field, where, just days after his first NFL interception in the fourth game last season, he sustained an ankle injury in practice, sidelining him for two months. Once his walking boot and scooter were finally put away, he was active for the final four games. But what progress he’d been making on the field was difficult to recapture.

“Just coming off the injury, there was a little rust here and there, but the training staff here’s great and I had to push through it,” Hall said at last week’s minicamp in Lake Forest after he was one of numerous Bears hit by the injury bug, but not one of the 19 who wound up on Injured Reserve. “(I was) getting comfortable with the defense and in myself playing with those guys out there, getting the opportunity in the red zone and making plays. But the injury kinda sucked because I haven’t really had an opportunity to play since Week 5, so I’m not necessarily starting fresh.”

As the offseason unfolded, Hall was informed the coaching staff was going to try him at safety, if not permanently, then as an option for the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Northern Iowa product. 

But Hall’s not totally foreign to the position. He was a free safety his first year in college, then transitioned to outside linebacker/nickel as a sophomore, moved to cornerback as a junior before breaking his hand his senior year, playing through it back where he started at safety. So the decision wasn’t a big deal, especially if it enhances his chances to get on the field. But his preference?

“Defense. Opportunity,” Hall responded. “You get in where you fit in and the more you can do, the better it is for the team. If opportunity presents itself at corner, then I’m at corner. But right now at safety, I’m making strides (there) and keep pushing for that.”

“We’re gonna float him back and forth,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said last month, after the Bears signed free agent cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper in the off-season, while Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc are expected to battle for slot duty and former first-rounder Kyle Fuller and veterans Johnthan Banks and B.W. Webb hope to impress. “He (Hall) had some experience there in college. When it comes down to picking your team and you’re taking nine or 10 DBs, if someone’s got versatility to play both of those spots, that helps, so we’re gonna see if he’s one of those guys.”

But before Hall gets back to work in Bourbonnais, he’ll find out if he has some other dues to pay. Hall was back at his alma mater’s Cedar Falls campus March 26th when he and a former UNI teammate were arrested outside a bar called Sharky’s. Police had responded to a call, and by the time all was said and done, Hall needed to be tased before being arrested on charges of public intoxication, interference (with an arrest), and disorderly conduct. 

The case was continued late last month and Hall’s jury trial is scheduled for July 11th. Pending the outcome, he could face disciplinary action from the team and the NFL. He’s told his side of the story to Bears management and while expressing remorse for putting himself in the situation, Hall says it wasn’t in character and feels confident in what the outcome will be.

“People make mistakes and the truth always comes out,” the 23-year-old said, adding the situation isn’t weighing on his mind or affected his preparation in off-season workouts. “You gotta let people make their own mistakes. I won’t shed light but the truth always comes out, and (I’ve learned) just don’t take anything for granted.”

“My main focus is football and keep pushing to make strides to become good, and great.”