Chicago beat Dallas 34-18 on Monday night to improve to 3-1 in a game that was not as lopsided as the score indicates. The Bears’ defense struggled against the short passing game of Dallas, but grabbed five interceptions and returned two for touchdowns to atone for giving up a lot of yardage. The Bears’ offense started to click as well, moving the ball fairly consistently with a balanced attack.
Here are some key observations from the game:
Smart Game Plan
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice came out with a very solid game plan on Monday night, running the ball and making short, easy passes early. This resulted in a slowed-down Dallas pass rush and enable Jay Cutler to get in a rhythm. Although the offense only netted 3 points in the first half, the early action opened up their offense for the 2nd half, when they moved the ball fairly easily and scored 17 points.
Cutler’s first pass of the game was a bad misfire on an easy throw, but he was very good after that. Rather than trying to force the ball deep, which had been an issue through the first 3 games, Cutler took what the defense gave him. The result was his best game of the season, as he went 18 of 24 for 275 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs. He also did a good job of spreading his targets out rather than forcing the ball to Brandon Marshall, as 4 different receivers got between 4 and 8 targets. Even better for Jay, Romo’s horrible night ensures that he is no longer anywhere near the league lead for interceptions.
The stats might not fully reflect it, but this was easily the worst defensive showing of the year so far for Chicago. They only notched one sack of Dallas QB Tony Romo, who did a masterful job of moving around to avoid the pressure, and they struggled to stop the short passing game (Dallas QBs were a combined 40 of 53 for 389 yards, and could have had significantly more if not for several atrocious drops by Dallas receivers). However, Dallas gave Chicago plenty of chances to get turnovers, and they capitalized. The Bears grabbed 5 interceptions and forced two fumbles (although Dallas recovered both of them), returning 2 interceptions for TDs. Making big plays like that will help mask defensive deficiencies, but consistently relying on them is not a long-term recipe for success (just ask Green Bay circa 2011).
S Major Wright continued his breakout third year, notching 2 interceptions to bring his season total to 3 (both in the last 2 games). There were good rumblings coming out of training camp this summer that Wright was looking a lot better than he has the past two years, and he said he was finally understanding the defense and his role in it. He and Chris Conte (11 tackles) have combined to give Chicago improved production from their safeties so far in 2012.
Tillman did not have a great game, but he should be recognized for getting yet another turnover tonight. He returned an interception for a TD late in the first half, giving him 61 turnovers forced in his career (31 interceptions, 30 fumbles). He also has 6 interceptions returned for touchdowns, the most in Chicago Bears history.
End of Half Defense
Chicago’s defense really struggled at the end of the halves tonight, giving up 15 of the 18 points they allowed in the last minute of either half. It can be argued that the end of game drive isn’t terribly important, as Chicago had a comfortable lead at 34-10 and was sitting many of its starters. However, there are no excuses for giving up a 9 play, 80 yard drive that results in a TD with 14 seconds left in the 1st half. If Chicago gets a stop there, they go into the half up 10-0 instead of 10-7. These drives ended up not mattering in this game, but Chicago’s two-minute defense bears monitoring in the future (much pun intended).
There are many positives to take out of this game for Chicago. Most importantly, they beat a solid team on the road to improve to 3-1 and remain tied with Minnesota for the division lead. Their offense had a solid game against a good defense, with Jay Cutler playing his 2nd consecutive game in which he took pretty good care of the football. The passing game finally began to click a little bit, and Brandon Marshall broke out of his mini-slump with a big game (7 receptions on 8 targets for 138 yards and a TD, no drops). The cause for concern now is that a blueprint may have been exposed for beating the defense through short, quick passes, which have long been a troublesome area for Chicago’s cover 2 scheme.
Chicago heads to Jacksonville next week to take on the Jaguars (1-3), a game in which Chicago should be fairly clearly favored to win. They then have their bye in week 6.