It would be nice to find all the silver linings in the Bears’ 26-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints, but burying your head in the sand for any longer than absolutely necessary can be a dangerous and misleading choice.
What we learned at Soldier Field from the Saints visit is New Orleans is one of the elite teams in the NFL, a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The Bears are not.
Yes, Jay Cutler did have one of his best games as a Bear and certainly his most productive under coach Marc Trestman.
And Alshon Jeffery played very much like an elite receiver. He actually resembled Brandon Marshall. Unfortunately for the Bears, Marshall didn’t look very much like himself, and therein lies the problem.
The Saints basically mimicked what the Bears’ other recent opponents have done and most will the rest of the season. The Saints defense took away Marshall and dared the Bears to beat them with Jeffery. The game wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
The Bears need more weapons to play with top-flight teams. It would be a lot harder to take away Marshall if the Bears had any other weapons who scared teams besides Matt Forte and Jeffery.
Another real concern with this Bears offense five weeks into the season is it still doesn’t seem to know exactly what it is or wants to be.
I find it near impossible to believe the plan going into this game was to call five running plays and 19 passes in the first half.
You’re not going to beat many teams, and certainly not an elite offense like the Saints, with 28 rushing yards in the first half.
For the game, the Bears called 18 runs and 33 passes, and one direct effect of that was New Orleans owning a 36-minute to 24-minate advantage in time of possessoon. It’s awfully hard to win when you rarely have the football, and it puts a severe strain on an injury-plagued defense.
Once the offense found a little better balance with nine called running plays and 17 passes attempted (Cutler rushes actually are scrambles on attempted passes) in the second half, it became quite a bit more productive.
We also have to acknowledge the offensive line still is a work in progress. It’s better, but needs to get a lot better to play with the big boys.
On defense, I hate to beat a battered drum, but on a day when the unitactually was better than I thought it could or would be, the front-four just didn’t do anywhere near enough to win.
For the second time in five games, Julius Peppers was on the field but failed to show up on the stat sheet. I still need to study the tape on this one, but I assume we’ll find the Saints schemed to take him away because they didn’t think there was anyone else there to beat them.
Even if that’s so, after playing his best game of the year last week, Peppers had to find a way to make a play here or there, and he didn’t.
That Stephen Paea couldn’t go and Nate Collins was playing well before he was hurt obviously didn’t help, but where is everyone else?
Pass coverage from the safeties also continues to be a concern, but I have to give them a pass this week. Saints tight end Jimmy Graham does that to everybody.
Perhaps the Bears’ 3-0 start raised false expectations for some, perhaps 3-2 is where they belong. It still can project to 10-6, which is exactly what and who they were last year.
What the Saints and Lions clearly have exposed is these Bears are not ready to run with the big boys yet, and probably won’t be without at least one more offseason of roster-building talent upgrades.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears and pro football for Shaw Media. Write to him a firstname.lastname@example.org.