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Bears coach Fox seeing red after opener

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Often teams can disregard particular preseason difficulties once the regular season begins as aberrations of playing games with so many different players, but a red-zone problem from preseason still lingers with the Chicago Bears offense like a bad cold.

Finding a way to solve it is the chief problem coming out of the season-opening 31-23 loss to the Green Bay Packers as the Bears head into another home game with the Arizona Cardinals.

“Really, just, we didn’t execute as well as we needed to in the red area,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “There were some elements of protection, there were some elements of the route running, the things we were seeing — those adjustments.”

The Bears settled for field goals three times Sunday and had quarterback Jay Cutler throw an interception under heavy rush by a blitzer on fourth down from the 2-yard line while trying for the tie early in the fourth quarter.

During preseason Chicago’s first-string offense had no touchdowns and settled for five field goals.

So despite an 11-for-17 effort on third downs in the opener (65 percent), the Bears offense under new coordinator Adam Gase looked like a team lacking much practice close to the goal line.

Four straight passes from the 2-yard line on the critical drive put Gase directly in line for criticism.

“I’m not taking away anything from Adam,” Fox said. “I hired him, so obviously I think very highly of him and he is a terrific coach.”

Fox pointed out Gase’s staff somehow got new tight end Khari Lee up to snuff in time to play a role as a blocker in the team piling up 189 rushing yards.

“I don’t know if he’s been here a week yet, but (Lee) did pretty good,” Fox said. “The staff did a great job of getting those guys ready. I think the same could be said for our wide receivers.

“I don’t know that we’re a well-oiled machine at this point. Same thing with the offensive line. We’re getting to know our players and our players are getting to know us.

“Adam’s always done a good job with mixing personnel. We’re trying to dictate (to) their defense what they have out there, trying to create matchups that we think work in our favor.”

In the red zone was where tackle Kyle Long experienced some difficulties in his first game at a new position.

Long moved from right guard to right tackle with only a week’s preparation time and on Monday took responsibility for failing to pick up a blitz that forced Cutler to throw on the run without an open receiver on a failed fourth-down throw.

“Situationally, you’re talking that fourth-and-goal where the SAM blitzes in the A gap, that’s my guy,” Long said. “There’s a reason Jay can’t make that throw — it’s because there’s a guy with his arms up his face.

“On a personal level, there’s too many things that went wrong in my performance to be able to give Jay time to give our offense a chance to have success, or the level of success that we expect here.”

It wasn’t only on the offensive line. Cutler hadn’t worked with his three top receivers together on the field since the second week of training camp.

Even in the week of practice leading up to the opener, the three were limited in practice.

It made for some lack of separation, particularly in the red zone.

Cutler had trouble finding an open receiver on the interception he threw late while trying to find tight end Martellus Bennett.

“Everything that happened at the goal line, and the interception, I still feel like we beat ourselves,” wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said, adding that the problem can be solved with time.

“Just clean up on our details and assignments. It’s something we can build from and learn from.”

In the end, it was frustrating but players tried to take it as a good place to start building from in a complete rebuild.

“Playing a team like that, you have to play perfect football,” running back Matt Forte said.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. PACKERS

PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus — QB Jay Cutler went short most of the time and there was an obvious lack of timing with his wide receivers due to their absence from practices the past month due to injuries. They may need to work for more than one entire practice on passing inside the 5-yard line after their struggles in the red zone. Cutler ran the offense as dictated without glaring mistakes until crunch time. Then he reverted to wildness by nearly throwing an interception near the goal line when Green Bay made a goal-line stand, and then later by throwing a pick to linebacker Clay Matthews to seal the defeat.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus — RB Matt Forte had his biggest rushing game since 2011 (141 yards). The blocking on most plays that involved pulling was very effective and tight ends sealed the edge. Forte even ran with more power than he normally showed under coordinator Marc Trestman, so possibly that portion of his game has been underrated.

PASS DEFENSE: D — A pass rush that seemed to progressively vanish as the game went on, and CB Alan Ball’s inabilty to contain James Jones (two touchdown catches) spoiled what was largely a solid effort since QB Aaron Rodgers had only 189 passing yards. The 140.5 passer rating Rodgers achieved told it all in this one.

RUSH DEFENSE: C — NT Will Sutton seemed to be shoved off the ball more as the game wore on and ILB Shea McClellin and Christian Jones were easy fodder for Packers guards in the second half. RB Eddie Lacy had 50 second-half rushing yards as the Packers ran when they needed to, and particularly troublesome was the inability of any linebacker to stop Aaron Rodgers when he scrambled for 35 yards that helped extend drives.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus — If not for Robbie Gould’s 50-yard field goal into the wind and his three kicks to become the all-time Bears field-goal leader, this would have been a disaster. Coverage teams allowed rookie Ty Montgomery three kickoff returns for a 35.3-yard average and made the field shorter for Rodgers.

COACHING: B-minus — The concept of shortening the clock for Aaron Rodgers by controlling the ball nearly worked. Relying on the running game took the fate of the team out of Jay Cutler’s hands much of the game, and also built a solid base for future games that could open up the passing game. However, the play-calling on the Packers’ goal-line stand was atrocious, with four straight passes. Defensively, the Bears tried to avoid the big mistake and did, but it let Rodgers nibble away and get the Packers down the field. They’ll need more pressure from the game plan on him next time.


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