The Bears came into Week 10 with a 3-5 record, and even after the recent win against the Chargers, it was hard to confirm this team was trending up. Cutler showed his usual struggle with turnovers, one fumble and one interception in Week 9. However, for the second week in a row the defense appeared more consistent, at least from a “points allowed” standpoint.
The Bears ranked 27th in defense and 30th in offense in terms of points above/below expectation on numberFrie.com coming into this week, while the Rams ranked 29th in offense and 1st in defense. Cutler and company were expected to have a rough day. Plus, the Todd Gurley to find a lot of running room.
The Bears opened the game by allowing a couple long runs on short catches by Jared Cook and Todd Gurley. As the bottom-line flashed a statistic about how the Rams have only scored on one opening drive the entire season (thanks CBS), Gurley ran up the middle for gains of 8 yards, 6 yards, and another 6 yards to find pay-dirt, and while it looked like this would be over early, Zach Miller of all people responded with an 87-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Some may point to the poor tackling by the Rams on the play. However, even just the first-down portion looked fluid.
The Bears defense apparently learned their lesson and decided to keep close watch on Gurley, especially on second down. This left the third downs in the hands of Nick Foles, which is about the only way to beat the Rams. Foles had already overthrown several receivers and ended the Rams’ second drive by missing an open Wes Welker.
The Chicago special team woes continued, as Mariani dropped yet another punt that would be recovered by the Rams at the Bears’ 17-yard line. The Bears were fortunate enough to get some help in the form of an offensive holding call which took away the ensuing Rams touchdown and left them with a field goal.
The Bears were forced to punt on the following drive after a series of short passes and running Langford head first into a defensive brick wall. Cutler did show poise, taking a big hit while delivering a dart to Jeffery and another accurate strike to Miller. The Bears defense also stepped up on the first play of the Rams’ next drive, stripping the ball from Tre Mason on this first carry of the game. This gave the Bears the ball 19 yards out from a potential score, but after a couple of scary throws by Cutler that could have been picked, the Bears settled for a field goal.
Following a quick three-and-out provided by their defense, the Bears offense found success running the ball with Ka’Deem Carey and getting the ball out of Cutler’s hands fast to an array of different receivers for short but quick yardage. The Bears nearly had to settle for a short field goal, but again the Rams provided a gift in the form of a penalty, this time for roughing the passer. This allowed for a second Cutler to Miller touchdown on a short jump ball you might expect for a tight end, but the Bears didn’t stop there.
After another three-and-out, the Bears drew up a screen for Langford that led to another huge run after the catch, resulting in an 83-yard touchdown for the young back. It just seemed like the Bears were having more success on dink-and-dunk plays than they had all season, this time being more about an over-aggressive defensive rush that left Jeremy Langford a lot of open field to run to.
The Rams seemed to abandon the run game and their stud back early after the Bears took a significant lead (24-10 with 5 minutes left in the first half), and with Foles leading the charge the St. Louis offense looked pedestrian and inaccurate, finishing the half 1/7 on third down conversions.
Even as the Rams defense seemed to find their stride in the second half, the offense negated any significant plays with penalties, putting the Bears offense right back on the field. The Chicago offense continued to seem content running the ball and throwing quick short passes, as they attempted to wear the the defense down, but they did the Rams a solid and committed penalties of their own that led to a punt.
St. Louis did go back to Gurley long enough to get into field goal range, supplementing him with targets to nearly all the Rams open receivers. They likely could have walked away with a touchdown if Foles hadn’t thrown the ball behind Quick on a well-run post route. The field goal was quickly answered by a Chicago drive spurred once again by the legs of Ka’Deem Carey, in which they scored a field goal of their own. This left the score in the Bears’ favor at 27-13 with about 11 minutes remaining.
The Rams looked very out of sync while playing from behind, Foles continuing to throw the ball well-overhead of his tall jump-ball receivers. A failed fake punt gave the Bears essentially a free field goal on their own end of the field, and then the Rams offense was forced to continue the charade, leaving the field after a quick turnover on downs.
At that point, the Bears began the process of running the clock out, which resulted in a garbage time touchdown for Langford simply because they were already well within Rams territory. Watching the clock wind down was painful after that, as Foles took hits and threw a pick to a defensive lineman, only to have the Bears’ Carey fumble the ball back to them. It just got sloppy.
At the end of the day, the Bears walked away with a decisive 37-13 win.
Trending in the Right Direction
I find it odd that special teams disappointment Marc Mariani feels the need to turn the ball over every time Cutler doesn’t. As I mentioned, the Bears found a near absurd amount of success in the short game, especially on the two long touchdowns on balls that were thrown no more than 3 yards past the line of scrimmage. However, this game was also a testament to how the Bears can succeed if they limit turnovers.
This defense is not nearly as limited as it was in 2014. While the pass rush is only minimally better, the secondary is showing vast improvement, especially with the addition of players like Tracy Porter that knocked numerous balls down and away from receivers.
The remaining schedule for this team offers a very feasible shot at finishing .500 if the they can limit turnovers. Four of their last five games are against the 49ers (3-6), Washington (4-5), the Bucs (4-5), and the Lions (2-7). While it hurts slightly to be missing Forte, the key to continuing this streak and finishing 8-8 is for Cutler to stay healthy and manage games, allowing his playmakers to do the work. This team is slowly finding its stride with the new staff.
Image: Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune