It was a rainy night in Chicago. The Veteran’s Day crowd at Soldier Field glumly witnessed their troops fail to defend their homestead. They even lost their gun-slinging captain, Jay Cutler. The final score posted a 13-6 road win for the Texans to literally add insult to injury. It was a damp display of the best laid plans. Footing gave, cuts became waltzes, and wet footballs slipped high tech kicking shoes and catching gloves.
Today, many Chicagoans are claiming that they were one Robbie Gould field goal and one Brandon Marshall drop away from making it a totally different ball game. To that I say: the Texans were three bad penalties and one bad pass block away from grabbing two more scoring drives.
It’s a hard pill for Bears fans to swallow, but here it is anyway: your team was simply outclassed.
Houston is overflowing with young talent, but the main thing that impresses me is how smart that their key position players are with decision making. I’ve already touted Foster’s field vision and block reading and his skill set netted him 100+ on a washing machine Soldier Field last night. Aside from Marshall (let’s face it, rain or snow, meteor shower, or apocalypse Brandon is going to get his) the coverage was great, especially with situational adjustments.
The Texans are excellent at giving their opponents many different looks and their fresh-leg nickel packages have been producing a handful of turnovers and all around solid pass defense. I define a pass defense by how well they squelch the ace receiver and how well they defend the tight end. Marshall is a freak, much like Megatron, or Roddy White, who always seem to catch balls whether all 11 are covering them or not. That being said, Marshall went 8 receptions for 107 yards (slightly skewed by a chuck-and-pray 45 yard grab), but was thrown to 13 times and dropped the game-changer touchdown pass. Davis, Adams, and Spaeth combined for a whopping 17 yards on 5 catches and 9 targets.
As many teams in the league are deducing, the tight end is the toughest position to defend beyond your ace receiver in a league of zone blitzes and Tampa-2’s. Sharpe, Wychek, Gonzo, Gates, Crumpler, just to name a few pioneered the position as far as receiving the ball and today’s NFL teams are getting away with murder snagging their 2nd leading receivers in 4th and 5th round tight ends. The Texans are changing as the game is changing. They turn their opponents’ strengths (in what works so well against other teams) against them, with their zone runs and “I dare you to throw to ___” defensive schemes.
The Texans have proven to be incredibly balanced yet still fun to watch. I’m starting to get the feeling that I will seem them play January football or even February football, but as of now I’m just excited to see them head to Foxboro for Monday Night in December after 3 weeks of snoozer games.
The Bears are a good team, if not a great team. The only issue I have is when they are lumped in with Houston as far as “teams that deserve to be talked about as elite” which I hope ends after last night’s game. The Bears simply need to find their identity, and stop posing as another type of team. They have been very comfortable in their own skins in the past, but since 06’ they have been struggling to classify themselves. Nashville is one of three places in this country I can call home, and I love Jay Cutler. You can’t help but love him, and love to watch his rocket arm. The only thing is, which Cutler will you see? His ego is fragile, early in the season I saw him chew out a lineman in front of the line coaches. Now I know that the quarterback is the captain of the offense, and also that Webb had made a dim-witted decision, but that is simply something you never do. Just think about it, you are walking around the city with bodyguards and you bump into one and say “hey do your job right.”
Needless to say, that sort of thing is not a good idea. In Cutler’s defense he’s been face down in the turf enough to greatly resemble a lawnmower, and the most dangerous headhunters are getting shots at the Vandy Vigilante. Sunday night was a telling moment for Cutler’s career and Bears fans. Jay was willing to do anything to win, and much like watching Vick stand and deliver in the pocket just before getting smeared, Cutler did his best twinkle-toes impression while trying to deliver a pass (though across the line of scrimmage) before getting KO’d by Tim Dobbins. The hit looked pretty clean, and even though he did manage some helmet contact, I don’t think it was intentional. It’s also hard to fault someone for creaming a quarterback who is pirouetting in the open field.
This could be the best thing to happen to Bears fans this season. If you like to watch Favre-like gun-slinging then it’s not, but if all you care about is “W’s” then Jason Campbell should give you hope. It’s not Rex Grossman or Caleb Hanie out there handing the game to opponents. Cutler can win you games that you have no business even being in, and lose you games that you have no business losing. He’s a great quarterback that has never been able to manifest his talent on the field to its fullest, and therefore has a debilitating chip on his shoulder. Campbell is a game-manager who may not have the rocket arm that Cutler has, but also doesn’t try and force watermelon passes into keyholes. The defense is playing great this season, something the Bears are familiar with hearing and having faith in. Campbell doesn’t get the recognition he deserves having so-so tenures in his career, but people don’t take into account that he was a Redskin and a Raider. Those two teams, especially in those two divisions at the time, were some of the worst circumstances to walk into. Even then he has a 60.8% career completion percentage and 74 career passing touchdowns, 6 rushing touchdowns and a career 82.6 QB rating. He’s not exactly elite, but he won’t lose you football games.
There are two types of teams that have success in the post season. The elite teams who 2/3 times will play at a high level and succeed, and the capricious teams who 1/3 of the time will do the same. If the elite teams hit that %33.3 and play mediocre, and the erratic team get’s their 1 in 3 chance of being the team they want to be, then it results in an elite team falling to the underdog. Chicago should embrace that at best they can fit the role of the erratic team that is great 1/3 of the time, and hope for elite teams to have an off day. The perfect example of this role and reversal are the now feared Patriots.
In 2002 a Patriots team won playoff game after playoff game as good teams played poorly and they played their best into a showdown against “The Greatest Show on Turf” Rams as a two-touchdown underdog and prevailed. The Rams sure-handed Warner fell victim to ill-aligned stars that fateful February Sunday and though out-shining then great Favre and McNabb was bested by the Pats. 6 years and two more Super Bowls later, the Patriots fell as heavy favorites to the Wild Card Giants and fell short of a nearly perfect season after going 16-0 (oh and did I mention they were Super Bowl favorites last year and Déjà vu’ed with the Giants again?).
The NFL is cutthroat. There aren’t best of 7’s like other sports, you have to bring your A+ game every week, especially in January and February or you might lose to some C students. The Texans, Ravens, and Falcons are setting the curve through midterms, but teams like the Bears, Giants, Broncos, 49ers, and Packers stay on their heels as the finals weigh the heaviest. Who will graduate summa cum laude?