"It's MR. 21 to you!"(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Saturday's game had the makings of a story all too familiar for the Bears. The combination of a number of defensive breakdowns and bad calls would assuredly lead to another collapse on the road. Here we went again.
But Saturday was different. Despite a historic effort from Colorado's Tyler Hansen and Paul Richardson, the Bears held on 36-33 when Zach Maynard hit his brother Keenan Allen on a fade route in the endzone for the final dagger in the Buffalo heart.
And boy it felt good.
Look, there's going to be plenty of b*tching tonight about the defensive inadequacies and the number of huge mistakes that nearly led to the Bears falling to Colorado. And I'm not saying it isn't warranted. People are absolutely correct in thinking that if the Bears play the way they did today, they won't win too many conference games this year.
But it's all about how they held on today, and right now, I'm loving it. The Bears rarely, if ever win these types of games. Seriously. 90% of the time, the Bears either a) win big b) lose big, or c) lose heartbreakers. That's about it.
Cal winning close games happens once in a blue moon, so excuse me if I relish this one with a Blue Moon. The Bears are now 2-0 (3-0).
Now let's get to the nitty gritty.
Keenan Freaking Allen
There are a lot of stories coming out of today’s game, but let’s start off with the one that feels the best to tell.
Allen continued his amazing sophomore campaign with his most clutch performance so far. Maynard hooked up with Allen five times for 97 yards and a touchdown, but the final two were the real gems.
Facing a 1st and bloody 30, Maynard hit Allen on a crossing route for a 32 yard reception to the Colorado 3 yard line. Two plays later, and the game on the line, Maynard calming drops the ball into Allen’s hands on a fade route for the game winning score.
You have to think that Maynard and Allen dreamed of making such plays together as kids. What an incredible thing to watch.
Allen also got in on the passing action by hitting Maynard 27 yard catch and run on a wide receiver screen. He was also seen performing a triple bypass surgery on a brain surgeon with a broken spork and a swiffer wipe on the sidelines.
The other, yet more disheartening story coming out of today’s game is the defensive breakdown by the Bears today. The Bears’ continued their proud tradition of giving Bears giving opposing quarterbacks historical performances as Tyler Hansen tore up the Bears for 474 yards on 28/49 passing and 3 touchdowns.
Much of it had to do with Paul Richardson’s eye popping 11 catch 284 yard 2 TD day. Richardson abused Cal’s secondary, particularly cornerback Marc Anthony, showing off his wheels for two long scores.
The Bears also failed to get pressure on Hansen, often rushing just four linemen and allowing Hansen plenty of time to connect with his receivers.
So what can we glean from this?
First off, Pendergast’s propensity to leave his corners in one-on-one coverage got the Bears killed in the secondary today. I do believe the Bears have a very athletic secondary, so I can see the trust in believing they have the matchups. However, against some of the more explosive and more importantly speedier wide receivers, those one-on-one matchups are going to get the Bears destroyed like they were today.
Also, Marc Anthony’s lack of top end speed was exposed a bit. Anthony is quick and has very good coverage skills, but is going to get burned by speedy receivers who have quarterbacks who can throw some accurate deep balls.
There was some also blown coverage on Colorado’s TD pass to Ryan Deehan between DJ Holt and Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks released the tight end, and Holt was out of the coverage zone. Those types of breakdowns can’t happen.
Also, in my Keys to the Game last week, I talked about the screen passes being some of Colorado’s most productive plays, and they again racked up nice yardage against the Bears’ overzealous pass rush. Rodney Stewart caught seven balls for 86 yards. Ouch Charlie.
Finally, today’s game may have confirmed the Bears’ defensive line is solid, but short of spectacular. I was really hoping the Bears could apply some pressure on Hansen rushing only the linemen and outside backers, but Hansen was barely touched today. I think there is still some quality depth that can be developed, but they were nowhere to be seen today.
Oh an before I forget, Steve Williams really came through in the clutch in overtime. He broke up two big passes to Paul Richardson, with the second nearly intercepted. I thought Williams was a better matchup against Richardson from the getgo because of Williams speed, and I wonder how the game would have gone had he switched sides of the field with Anthony.
Nothing pretty about it, but Zach Maynard continues to go from making you want to pull your hair out one play, and throwing on a #15 jersey the next.
Maynard again completed just about half of his passes today, showing off some inaccuracy, when going 18 for 35 for 243 yards, and again threw an early interception. But again, Maynard played composed and came through in the clutch time and time again.
It’s just two games in, but we continue to get a more clear glimpse of what we have with Maynard. He continues to get a bit antsy at times when feeling pressure in the pocket, and gets sloppy with his footwork which leads to his inaccuracy. On his interception, he felt pressure from his left side, and instead of stepping into the pocket, he retreated backwards and proceed to yes, again jump pass off his back foot to lob the ball right into the hands of Colorado’s Jon Major.
Maynard also needs to get faster about finding his hot routes and and often locks onto his primary options. He has to get faster in checking down and going through his progressions, learning to settle for some of the open receivers underneath instead of always going for the deep pass.
Yet, despite all the “bleh”s, Maynard continues to show his resiliency. He bounced back from the early interception, and proceeded to throw four touchdowns. Despite often missing passes on 1st and 2nd down, made some really clutch throws on third down. The pass to Calvin to extend a drive was critical, and who can forget the multiple deep balls to Allen to get the Bears in scoring range?
For now, the Bears can say they have a quarterback. Sure, he might make you sweat, but isn’t it comforting to know that when things get tough, he isn’t?
Grumbling Rumbling Running Game
I’ve been quietly confident with Sofele for a while now, thinking for a while that Sofele would prove critics wrong.
Two games into the season, and I’m beginning to think that I may not fully buy into the Isi real estate.
It’s not that Sofele was bad. He wasn’t. He was pretty decent, rushing for 84 yards on 20 carries for a 4.2 YPC. That's ok. He looked really good in space on those halfback tosses (which I’m loving blocking on by the way). He also was productive, falling forward for positive yardage out of very little in some small running lanes.
However, he has yet to really impress me, and continues to go down upon first contact once hitting the hole.
CJ Anderson looked good and has established himself as the unquestioned backup runningback. I’m hoping for Anderson’s workload to continue to increase, as he shows a refreshing level of power and balance when running the ball. He broke tackles and stayed on his feet for a huge 19 yard tumble into the endzone, and kept his balance in reaching across to convert on third down.
The running game is looking to be productive but unspectacular this year. I continue to have faith that the coaches know exactly what they are doing in managing the carries. As CJA continues to learn the playbook, the Bears should hopefully develop an effective one-two punch, and allow Sofele to really shine in space.
Miscellaneous Offensive Bits
A few other notes on the offense.
I liked Anthony Miller’s game today. He had two uncharacteristic drops, but was clutch in both his TD grabs. The first was a nice one hander in the endzone, and in the second, he dragged the CU defender seven or eight yards into the endzone. Miller is already having a much better year, and I’m hoping it continues.
Cal’s offensive line had a much better day today than last week. It’s still not perfect by any means, but you could see some improvement. They cut down on their penalties, were a tad better in pass protection and a bit better in run blocking. There were at least some holes to be found today.
They still struggled a bit in picking up blitzes, and Sofele also didn’t have his sharpest day as I usually think he’s very solid in blitz pickups.
Again, it wasn’t a great performance by any means, but it was encouraging to see it improve ever so slightly against a more stout defensive front seven in Colorado.
Finally, it was good to see Michael Calvin get more involved in the passing game. He caught 3 balls for 42 yards including the aforementioned 27 yard grab on third down. It’s going to be really important for the Bears to find that 3rd and 4th receiver. Calvin and Edmond (who got hosed) look like those players.
Let me start off with the good. Tavecchio destroyed a number of kickoffs into the endzone. In fact, every single one landed in the endzone. Even without the altitude, a number of those would have still been touchbacks. He also nailed a nice 39 yard field goal.
Now. *Deep Breath*
It’s just beyond unbelievable to me that the Bears have had three extra points blocked so far in two games. Has that ever happened?
This week, the interior part of the line on the PAT just collapsed. Who are we putting there to block the most critical part of the line? Selena Gomez?
Look the kick still didn’t reach the ideal height, but with adequate blocking, there’s no question that’s an easy point after. You can’t pin it completely on Tavecchio here.
Moreover, why the hell am I talking about this anymore? We’re talking about PATs. Who blogs about PATs?
Simple solution. 3 straight delay of game penalties, to backup Tavecchio into his ideal range of 40 yards. 40 yard PATs. That’s the way to go.
It was good to see the Bears go back to a more traditional pro-style punt formation. Though he had difficulty finding the right level of “boom” with his first two punts, the rest were some beauts. He finished averaging 51 yards per punt.
Not related to the Bears really, but what terrible work by the cameramen today. Jeez. I've never seen such poor use of the zoom feature on a camera ever. Bleh.
Here's hoping that if last week's game was the sloppiest the Bears have all year, that this week's game is the worst defensive game we have all year.
But for all the mistakes the Bears made today, and for all the inadequacies that might have been exposed, take a step back and think about this: I don't think many Bears teams of years past win today's game. The fact is that when it mattered most, the Bears buckled down and made the necessary plays to pull off the win.
It wasn't pretty, but the fact that you could even make an argument that it was a clutch win has to count for something.
Let's have the Bears starters play two quarters next week to work out some kinks, and continue to develop their depth. Now if you'll excuse me, that Blue Moon is still calling my name.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
"It's MR. 21 to you!"(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)