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Data Responds: Bears vs. Steelers

| September 24th, 2017

 

  • Bears win! It’s been so long I’ve forgotten what that looked like. Hell, I had forgotten what it looked like for them to have a lead, as this was the first game that happened at any point since the first half of week 15 last year.
  • Good teams find ways to win close games, and bad teams find ways to lose them. Despite trying their best to throw this one away with a litany of stupid plays, the Bears still found a way to win. Hopefully they can build off of this going forward.

Offense

  • We’ll start with the good and focus on all three running backs, starting with a monster day by sophomore Jordan Howard, who looked like his rookie self for the first time this year. He ran hard, was decisive, and finished runs with power. Holes were there better than they’ve been so far this year, but credit Howard for playing better as well to take advantage of it. Howard did have a 3rd quarter fumble (though on replay it looked like he was down) that let the Steelers back in the game, and he had to leave the game twice with his injured shoulder in the 2nd half. Still, he came back and finished the game in OT, and finished with 138 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. Just for good measure, Howard also led the Bears with 26 receiving yards.
  • Tarik Cohen rebounded from a poor week 2 effort as well. He made a big play in the first half and a huge play in OT that jump-started the Bears’ offense and should have won the game (he was incorrectly ruled out of bounds, costing him a tochdown). His electricity showed up in limited touches (though 16 is still too many). Perhaps equally important, the Bears finally started using him properly. His small size means that he can’t sustain as many touches as he’s been getting, so this week they started using fakes to him to open things up for others. They ran him around on a fake reverse several times, and this helped open up the running game for Howard.
  • While we’re talking about running backs, Benny Cunningham was back from an ankle sprain today and made a few nice plays on 3rd down. Twice he caught checkdown passes way short of the sticks and turned them into a new set of downs for the Bears.
  • Now for the quarterback, which is a lot less fun to talk about: it’s been 3 weeks and 3 bad games for Mike Glennon, who completed 5 passes (none of them to wide receivers) on 8 pass attempts for 31 yards in the first half. Despite this incompetence, the Bears still held a ten point halftime lead; just imagine how good this team could be if their quarterback wasn’t completely terrible. It stunts their entire offense, from the play calling to the run game.

  • To be fair to Glennon, there were a few more drops in this game, so it wasn’t all on him. But he doesn’t really provide anything positive to help the offense or receivers out. This marked the 2nd time in 3 games that Chicago’s passing game had less than 40 net passing yards through three quarters. Yet somehow, the Bears were in both games (leading by 3 in one, trailing by 3 in the other), which is a testament to their defense and running game.
  • To illustrate just how little the Bears trust Glennon, they called two straight screen plays in the first half after getting to 2nd and 29. There was no benefit to getting into field goal range or anything, they just thought it was better to take the sure punt than let their quarterback try to make a play and end up turning the ball over.
  • And it’s hard to blame the coaches for that approach, as they let him try on 3rd and 7 in the 4th quarter and he promptly threw an awful pass behind his target (stop me if you’ve heard that before) that was intercepted. With 8:00 left in the game, Glennon had completed more passes to the opposing defense (1) than his own wide receivers (0). Glennon finally completed a pass to a WR when Deonte Thompson caught a checkdown for 9 yards on 3rd and 16 (stop me if you’ve heard that before).
  • The Bears had a chance for a game-winning field goal drive in the last 4 minutes of a tie game. They at least picked up a few first downs to mostly run out the clock, but much to exactly nobody’s surprise, Glennon was awful again. He threw another terrible pass behind his wide receiver that was almost intercepted and checked down short of the chains on both third downs.
  • The game-winning touchdown drive in overtime didn’t feature a single passing attempt. That was the 2nd touchdown drive in this game (and 3rd of 6 total on the season) where the Bears didn’t let Glennon do anything but hand the ball off.
  • The Bears finished the day with 84 net passing yards, which is just plain embarrassing. Even worse, only 26 of those came from non-running backs. Their top three pass catchers in both number of catches and yards were running backs. They won this game in spite of atrocious quarterback play.
  • Tight end Dion Sims was an offseason acquisition who’s supposed to be a good blocker, but he had a rough blocking performance today. I saw him chasing his man into the backfield a few times on busted plays.
  • Shout-out to RT Bobby Massie for recovering a Tarik Cohen fumble on the last drive of regulation that saved the game. Have to give credit to the big guys when they make a play like that.

Defense

  • We’re starting with Marcus Cooper here, who had about as terrible of a day as you can. For some reason, he started ahead of Prince Amukamara, but getting torched deep twice in the first quarter led to his benching fairly quickly. He then had a blocked field goal fall right into his hands on the last play of the first half, but inexplicably stopped running short of the end zone, fumbling when inevitably hit and costing the Bears four points. That was one of the dumbest football plays I have ever seen.
  • Somehow, Cooper re-gained his starting job after halftime. To his credit, he played better in the 2nd half, though he did pick up a holding penalty in the end zone that turned a 3rd down stop into a 1st and goal that the Steelers ultimately scored. Still, the 2nd half featured several key pass breakups and was easily the best he’s looked as a Bear.
  • Outside of Cooper, it was a good day for the secondary. Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan, Quintin Demps, and Eddie Jackson are all solid players who had solid days. Fuller in particular made a number of quality plays on the ball, and Callahan forced a sack/fumble on a blitz. There aren’t any studs in the secondary, but there aren’t any terrible players on the field either, which is a big step up from past years.
  • The front 7, on the other hand, did not have a particularly good day. They were unable to generate enough pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, leaving the secondary hanging out to dry for too long. Part of the problem was that Vic Fangio kept dropping back 7 and frequently 8 men in coverage, and the 3-4 guys who were rushing weren’t able to get home.
  • Pernell McPhee did show up with a big sack on 3rd and 2 in the 4th quarter. The sack kept the Steelers out of field goal range and took enough yards off that they had to punt instead of going for it on 4th and short. This was huge because it let the Bears hold their 17-14 lead. That’s now 2 big plays for McPhee in 2 weeks after he forced a fumble last week. This is realistically the best the Bears can hope for from McPhee, make about 1 impact play a game in limited snaps.
  • Overall, it was quite an effort from the defense. They held an explosive Pittsburgh offense to only 17 points, 10 of which came on short fields off of turnovers. They even forced one turnover, and came awfully close to bringing in 2-3 interceptions as well.
  • The defense was also much better in three key areas where they’ve struggled. They forced turnovers (even if 2 came from defenders playing special teams), didn’t give up points on the first drive, and held the Steelers to 4 for 11 on 3rd down. They need to win those areas consistently going forward for this team to win games.

Special Teams

  • That’s right, the special teams gets their own section today. They made enough big plays to justify that.
  • Have to hand it to Sherrick McManis, who might have been the best player for the Bears today. He forced a muffed punt in the first quarter that led to the first points of the game, and then blocked a field goal shortly before the half that led to one of the strangest sequences I’ve ever seen. Those two turnovers led to 10 easy points (should have been 14), which is exactly the type of impact the defense and special teams have failed to provide for most of the last 3 years.
  • It wasn’t all good on the special teams front though. Kicker Connor Barth missed a 47 yard field goal attempt early on when he pulled the kick right. That was a huge blow, as the defense had finally forced a turnover to give the offense the ball in good field position and they got nothing out of it.
  • A bad holding by Roy Robertson-Harris in the 4th quarter also undid a beautiful punt return by Tarik Cohen, which would have set the Bears up just a few yards away from attempting a game-winning field goal.

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