Moon: O-line struggled, defense prevailed


Moon: O-line struggled, defense prevailed

Players typically declare that they are not competing with their opposite numbers. Jay Cutler says he is not measuring himself against Aaron Rodgers. Julius Peppers doesnt watch film of Jared Allen. Defensive team goals are based on points allowed, yards allowed, takeaways and such, not whether their defense had better stats than the other guys.

But coach Lovie Smith said after the game that the Bears defense outplayed the other teams. Defensive players said the same.

What Im trying to say is we played a little bit better than them as the game went and that was why we were able to win, cornerback Charles Tillman said Monday, then included Matt Fortes 205 rushing yards and Devin Hesters touchdown return among other whys behind the Bears victory.

The Bears need to find a more meaningful measure of defensive performance than the other teams defense.

Smith in fact tempered that significantly on Monday, saying simply, We didnt play as well as we need to.. We wont play defense like that here very often.

That would be a good idea.

The Panthers had 10 plays of 20 yards or longer, and unlike in past Panthers nightmares when wide receiver Steve Smith abused the Bears, six different players made them. That doesnt include runs of 16 yards by running back Jonathan Stewart and 14 by quarterback Cam Newton plus a 15-yard completion to tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Newton was neither sacked nor hit hard enough to count except when he ran with the ball. Carolina ran 72 plays; the Bears had exactly one tackle for loss.

We need to get more pressure on them, Smith said, expanding the sweep of his not-goods. We didnt play the run well yesterday. We gave up big plays in the passing game. You just cant have that.
To be fair

A couple of perspective items to consider here:

The Panthers may not necessarily be a good prism through which to evaluate the Bears defense. Indeed, the wonder of Sunday may not be that the Panthers got 543 yards, but that they got only 543.

The Carolina offense has a No. 1 at quarterback (Cam Newton); two No. 1s at running back (Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams); two No. 1s at tight end (Greg Olsen, Jeremy Shockey; two No. 1s at tackle (Jordan Gross, Jeff Otah); and a Pro Bowl guard in Ryan Kalil, a No. 2. And thats not even including Steve Smith, a No. 3 but among the NFLs top wideouts over most of the past decade.

The time of possession disparity (Carolina had the ball 33 minutes 29 seconds, 7 minutes longer than the Bears) shouldnt be particularly surprising. The touchdown returns by Devin Hester and D.J. Moore meant that the Panthers had two more possessions than the Bears.

And very significantly, in a stop that was a decisive tipping point in the game, the defense allowed Carolina just three incompletions after a fourth-quarter Jay Cutler interception gave the Panthers the ball at the Chicago 29. Carolina missed a field-goal try from 52 yards to net nothing from the takeaway.
Yes, but

For the Bears to say that their defense out-played the Carolina defense carries a hint of whistling past the graveyard for a unit that is disarray. The Carolina defense, missing a Pro Bowl linebacker (Jon Beason) and cornerback (Chris Gamble) should not be any standard of comparison.

For the Bears to say that their defense out-played Carolinas, whether because the Bears scored a touchdown or because Carolinas gave up 224 rushing yards and that they only allowed 169,

A bigger problem looms up front, where games are typically won. The defensive line has just three sacks over the last three games, albeit against two quarterbacks among the NFLs more sack-proof in Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton. Unofficial post-game stats had the Bears delivering zero quarterback hits on Newton after just two against Rodgers.

Without a pass rush, the difficulties in the deep secondary are magnified exponentially simply because receivers have time to get to the safeties level. And Bears cornerback play is far from the shut-down level.

Now the Bears get Matthew Stafford, who has not been sacked in three of the Detroit Lions four games. Stafford has been sacked five times but all came against the Minnesota Vikings, and the quarterback has been hit just 14 other times this season.


Guard Chris Spencers exact injury is a small fracture in his right hand, suffered in the first half of the Carolina game but not enough to sideline him Sunday or against Detroit. Anytime you have a player finish a game, Lovie Smith said, you feel pretty good about him going into the next one."
Scoring issues

The final Bears point total of 34 against the Carolina Panthers was ample but the offense is still not taking over games in any respect beyond Matt Fortes play.

The Carolina offense out-scored the Bears 29-20, with touchdown runs by Forte and Marion Barber augmented by two thwarted red-zone trips that resulted in Robbie Gould field goals of 20 and 24 yards.

But the Bears offense still has not scored more than two touchdowns in a game this season, scoring two each against Atlanta, Green Bay and Carolina. Only the Falcons offense was outscored by the Bears, and that game also featured a defensive touchdown, a fumble forced by Julius Peppers and returned by Brian Urlacher.
Not in a rush

The Carolina Panthers became the fourth straight team to rush for 100 or more yards on the Chicago defense. Running backs DeAngelo Williams (82 yards) and Jonathan Stewart (52) were supplemented by Cam Newtons 35 as the 169 rushing yards were the most since the New York Giants 189 in game four last Oct. 3.

More concerning perhaps, teams are averaging a stunning 5.1 yards per rush against a defense that ranked No. 6 in the NFL last season giving up 3.7 yards per carry.
Duly noted

Devin Hester is making history but hes also drawing unwanted attention and from more than just kick-coverage teams

For the second straight week Hester drew a 15-yard penalty for actions after a play was over. The first was a dead-ball foul for punching a Packer after a play in the loss to Green Bay. Sunday he drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag for following his 69-yard punt return for a touchdown with a series of three somersaults in the Carolina end zone.

The 15-yard penalty was assessed on the kickoff, Carolina started from its 36, its best starting field position of the entire game, and the result was a touchdown in eight plays.

Right guard Chris Spencer left the game in the first half with what was diagnosed as a broken right hand, according to several reports. Spencer returned to the game and played the second half with what appeared to be a cast or heavy wrap on the injured hand.

Safety Brandon Meriweather, no stranger to fines from the NFL, is expected to receive a letter from the NFL this week for his helmet-to-helmet hit on wide receiver Steve Smith in the second quarter.

The good news is that the Bears have gotten points every time they reached or breached an opponents 20-yard line. Last year the Bears scored points of any kind on only 40 of 51 red-zone possessions, 26th in the NFL. The bad news is that the Bears are scoring touchdowns on just half their red-zone possessions (5 of 10).

I am not making this up.

Former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick handled color commentary for the FOX telecast of the Bears-Panthers game, describing plays by individuals such as center Robert Garza and noting that offensive coordinator Mike Martz wants to run the ball." No, really, he said that.

John "Moon" Mullin is'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 In-Foe: Vikings defense is Purple People Eaters, Part II

Bears In-Foe: Vikings defense is Purple People Eaters, Part II

It's bad enough that Jay Cutler will be rusty and he may not have Kyle Long and Josh Sitton protecting him. But even if all the Bears' offensive hands were on deck, Monday night's challenge would've been formidable anyway.

The Vikings' defense leads the league in fewest yards allowed (279.5 per game), is tied for the league-lead in allowing fewest points (14.0), third in rushing defense (81.7), fourth in pass defense (197.8), and sixth in third-down defense (34.2 percent). And oh yeah, they lead the league in turnover ratio (plus-11), courtesy of their nine interceptions (tied for second), seven fumble recoveries and 19 sacks (seventh-most in the NFL).

It's nice to have quality and depth up front. That's where that push comes from, especially off the edges, with ends Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and sophomore Danielle Hunter supplying four sacks apiece. That trio combined for 21.5 sacks a year ago (when the Bears totaled 35 as a team). And while injury-prone Sharrif Floyd finds himself sidelined again since the opener, tackle Linval Joseph (three sacks) is back playing at the All-Pro level he was at a year ago before an ankle injury slowed him. And Tom Johnson contributed 6.5 sacks a year ago rotating in with Floyd at three-technique.

[RELATED: Bears In-Foe: Purple a fitting color for Vikings' battered, bruised offense]

Reunited UCLA linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are in their second year together in a run the Bears will likely have to deal with for another decade. This is the 11th and final year they'll see Chad Greenway, who's more leader than playmaker now in the middle of that defense.

Ryan Pace, Vic Fangio and position coach Ed Donatell must also be jealous of the Vikings' deep defensive backfield. Top cover man Xavier Rhodes, last year's top pick Trae Waynes and Andrew Sendejo have two picks each. Waynes still hasn't taken a job away from ageless 37-year-old Terence Newman. The Vikes were trying to upgrade on Sendejo, who answered the challenge and should be able to play Monday after departing the Eagles game with an ankle injury he suffered almost taking an interception to the house. It's almost unfair that second-round rookie Mackensie Alexander can't even surpass fourth cornerback Captain Munnerlyn for playing time.

But we must not forget Harrison Smith. The humble Golden Domer, humorously nicknamed "Gangsta White Boy" by Adrian Peterson, became the NFL's richest safety by inking a five-year, $51 million deal this summer, is coming off a first Pro Bowl that probably would've come sooner if not for a couple injuries. Two of his four career pick-sixes have come against the Bears, and Pro Football Focus has him as the only safety to grade positively in coverage, run support, and pass rush over each of the last two seasons.

Special teams

Just as Robbie Gould fell under the microscope of the current Bears brass with last season's rough finish, the strong-legged Blair Walsh probably feels a few more eyes on him after missing the 27-yard game-winning attempt in the frigid playoff loss to Seattle. He's 10-of-13 on field goals this season, 11-of-13 on extra points.

But while the Vikings' kickoff coverage was burned by Josh Huff's return Sunday in Philadelphia, the Bears coverage units have to be disciplined and smart against Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels. Both have burned the Bears more than once before. With more than his seven kick returns, Patterson's 29.9 average would lead the league. Sherels' 14.6-yard return average on punts ranks third in the NFL. He's already returned two for touchdowns this season after burning the Bears at Soldier Field a year to the day short of Monday's contest.

Bears In-Foe: Purple a fitting color for Vikings' battered, bruised offense

Bears In-Foe: Purple a fitting color for Vikings' battered, bruised offense

Mike Zimmer couldn't hold back his frustration after Sunday's 21-10 loss in Philadelphia.

Realistically, big picture-wise, he should feel fortunate. Not that his team isn't any good. We've seen these Vikings coming for awhile. But his offense, minus so many pieces that have been subtracted due to injuries, hadn't turned the ball over once in its 5-0 start.

That's when Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who'd seen Sam Bradford for all of training camp before he was traded a week before the opener, dialed things up. The result? Four turnovers, including Bradford's first interception of the season, coupled with a pair of fumbles. Schwartz doesn't have as many pieces as the Vikings' defense, but he had enough to sack Bradford six times, deliver 19 hits and 14 knockdowns.

Bradford's managed to step in for Teddy Bridgewater more easily than starting tackles Matt Kalil (hip) and Andre Smith (triceps) have been replaced. T.J. Clemmings is capable after starting all of his rookie season a year ago, but the hope that former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long had anything left took a serious hit Sunday. He'd gone unclaimed for quite a while (even reportedly going through a workout with the Bears), and we saw some of the reasons against the Eagles. He was replaced by journeyman Jeremiah Sirles. The middle of that line seems OK, thanks in part to the free agent signing of guard Alex Boone to anchor the interior with Brandon Fusco and center Joe Berger.

[RELATED: Bears In-Foe: Vikings defense is Purple People Eaters, Part II]

The great Adrian Peterson's torn meniscus in week two has him on injured reserve, with little hope he'll make it back. And while Jerrick McKinnon (3.2 yards per carry) and Matt Asiata (3.3) are serviceable, the line hasn't been able to help those replacements rush for an average of even 75 yards per game (31st in the NFL).

And think about this: Yes, the Bears have played one more game than the Vikings, but they have four receivers who've matched or surpassed the dangerous Stefon Diggs' team-leading total of 27 receptions. Three of Bradford's seven touchdown passes have gone to tight end Kyle Rudolph. Former Illinois High School Player of the Year Laquon Treadwell was targeted to be the big target Bridgewater/Bradford needed, but had just two snaps the first three games and has yet to catch his first NFL pass. It's part of the Zimmer Way to bring along draft picks slowly (think Trae Waynes last year, albeit at a much deeper position on this team). Zimmer's indicated the 23rd overall pick's still too mechanical, still thinking too much at this level to earn snaps over Adam Thielen, Charles Johnson and now, even the once-exiled Cordarrelle Patterson, who scored the Vikings' lone touchdown Sunday on a pass from Bradford.

Like the Bears, this banged-up unit has trouble in the red zone (touchdowns on just 47 percent of their trips inside), and their 21.5 points per game average is boosted by four touchdowns combined from its defense and special teams. It'll be interesting to see if Leonard Floyd, Willie Young and perhaps Pernell McPhee can have themselves a good night next Monday against that susceptible line, and who's able to go among the Bears' defensive backs versus a passing offense that's averaged only 225 yards a game.