Final Thoughts: Physical Defense and Solid Offense Lifts Bears To Road Win

Final Thoughts: Physical Defense and Solid Offense Lifts Bears To Road Win
Bears strong safety Ryan Mundy celebrates after his touchdown against the Jets. (Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

The Bears looked the part in primetime for the second straight week.

Knocking off San Francisco last Sunday night was impressive, but on Monday night against the NFL’s top blitzing team and run defense, the Bears made things happen. The Jets are as physical as they come and the 27-19 road win places the Bears a top the NFC North along with Detroit at 2-1.

Jay Cutler hung tough in the pocket, completing 23 of 38 pass attempts for 225 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked four times and averaged only 5.9 yards per pass attempt, but Cutler was never rattled even during a stretch of three consecutive three-and-outs in the second half.

According to Pro Football Focus, Cutler was blitzed on 40 percent of his dropbacks on the night, including 13 pressures. On the flipside of things the Bears’ defense did their part in this game.

The Bears pressured Jets quarterback Geno Smith often. They finished the night with eight quarterback hits. Strongside linebacker Jonathan Bostic led the team with 13 tackles.

Often criticized for its soft defense, the Bears held the Jets dynamic runners Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson in check. The two combined for 20 carries for 78 yards (3.9 yards per rush). Smith, Bilal Powell and Michael Vick combined for 36 rushing yards on six carries as well.

Other than a couple of bad penalties by defensive tackle Lamarr Houston (unsportsmanlike conduct) and special teams linebacker Terrell Manning, the Bears played smart on the road in the Meadowlands.

Red Zone Defense

The Jets worked their way into the redzone frequently on Monday night, but the Bears allowed them to convert only one of six tries inside the 20. They surrendered just one touchdown on the night, while forcing the Jets to settle for four field goals.

Exchanging touchdowns for field goals played a big part in the Bears victory. So far on the season, the Bears’ revamped defense has allowed opponents to convert only five of 15 times in red zone touchdown efficiency.

Yes, the Bears’ defense allowed Smith to throw for 316 yards, but they got two big interceptions off of the second-year quarterback.

The first one was brought back for a touchdown on the second play of the game by Ryan Mundy, who made a great read on a screen pass attempt. Kyle Fuller made the play on the second pick, his third in two weeks. He also forced two fumbles.

The Jets converted only six of 15 third-downs and the Bears’ defense was able to get off the field more often than not. That’s all despite playing without two starters (DT Jeremiah Ratliff, LB Shea McClellin) and seeing both of their starting safeties (Mundy, Chris Conte) exit the game.

Jared Allen hasn’t a recorded a sack as a member of the Bears this season, but the veteran pass rusher led the Bears’ defense with three quarterback pressures. His presence benefited many other members of the defensive line, including Willie Young, who recorded his career-high fourth sack for the season and Stephen Paea who added a sack, a pass deflection and two quarterback pressures.

Houston finished the night with two quarterback pressures as well and played his most complete game minus the boneheaded penalty that cost the Bears’ defense a touchdown. Second-round rookie Ego Ferguson recorded his first career sack on a play where fellow rookie lineman Will Sutton sniffed out the initial pressure.

The defense should earn majority of the credit for this second victory on the season. The offense did their part, but the Bears’ defense continues to make plays and improve game-by-game despite many new faces cycling in and out.

Offensive Efficiency 

Cutler was forced to go to the air more often than not with the Jets’ defense stuffing running back Matt Forte for the entire night. Forte was held to 13 carries for 33 yards, with a long of eight.

However, the Bears found a way to make plays. Cutler got Forte involved in the passing game as well as tight end Martellus Bennett, who led the way with two redzone touchdown grabs.

Alshon Jeffery appeared to be back to normal in terms of his hamstring injury as he missed only three of the team’s 66 offensive snaps. He was targeted a team-high 13 times, reeling in eight receptions for 105 yards.

Cutler found Jeffery down the left sideline for a big 42-yard catch that set up Bennett’s second score of the night and put the Bears up 24-13 early in the third quarter.

Jeffery made another clutch play in the fourth quarter on a third-and-9, when Cutler was facing an all-out blitz by the Jets. It was a 13-yard grab that led to a 45-yard field goal by Robbie Gould and proved to be the difference maker in an eight-point game.

The Bears’ offense is playing mistake free football for the most part despite being so heavily reliant on the pass this season. Cutler’s fumble was the only turnover on the night.

Injuries Piling Up

Fullback Tony Fiammetta (hamstring) and wide receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle) both re aggravated their respective injuries. Marshall returned in the second half and caught only one pass for six yards on the night.

The Bears used a mixture of tight end Dante Rosario and lineman Eben Britton in Fiammetta’s place as well as many three wide-receiver sets.

Marshall should take this short week off from practice to heal that sore ankle up because he was clearly not even close to full strength after re-injuring it.

Conte (shoulder) also re-aggravated his injury, while Mundy suffered “a serious stinger”, according to Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Potash. Danny McCray replaced Conte early on and finished the night playing 47 of 74 defensive snaps. Rookie Brock Vereen played on 33 snaps with Mundy out.

Both McCray and Vereen did a solid job in emergency duty. Nickelback Isaiah Frey on the other hand struggled in his first action on the season in 42 snaps. Slot receiver Jeremy Kerley led the Jets in receiving with seven grabs for 81 yards and the lone touchdown. Frey covered him for a majority of the night.

No Respect!

Cutler is now 7-1 on Monday Night Football since arriving in Chicago in 2009. He’s thrown 16 touchdowns compared to only three interceptions in those eight games.

Minus a couple of bad throws in the home opening overtime loss to the Bills, the Bears have been one of the most complete teams in the NFL so far this season.

In Monday night’s broadcast ESPN’s play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico didn’t hide the fact that he was favoring the Jets. He rarely gave the Bears a compliment if at all when they made a nice play. However, Jon Gruden did when needed.

But Tirico said these phrases often: “the Jets are are trailing”, and later in the game “they need a score and a two-point conversion to tie it up”. He also used the word imperative in terms of the Jets final drive of the game. Tirico never said the Bears led, it was always something about the Jets first.

How ESPN can put Tirico on the primetime Monday night broadcast is beyond me. Gruden is not that great, but at least he isn’t one-sided. Tirico acted like he had money on the Jets or that ESPN was the Jets network.

With all that in mind, this is how the Bears should feel after their latest appearance on Monday Night Football.

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