Bears film study: What's gone wrong with the defense the last few weeks?
Bears film study returns this week with a quest: After looking solid in wins over the Bengals, Lions and Raiders, why has the defense softened like a quart of ice cream left on the kitchen counter?
Strength of opponent explains some of it, but Cincinnati and Las Vegas were the top two seeds in the AFC heading into last weekend. So it's not the ultimate answer. Let's thread the projector and take a look:
Defense in decline: There were a few things going on the last few weeks. The Lions and Raiders self-destructed at key times, which helped the Bears' cause considerably. The Packers, Bucs and 49ers did not.
Injuries and changing personnel is another issue. Akiem Hicks and Robert Quinn missed games and came back, Khalil Mack didn't play Sunday against the 49ers, while safety Eddie Jackson left after two plays with a hamstring injury.
An important factor in those impressive Bears' victories was the pass rush and it wasn't there Sunday. Jimmy Garoppolo was never sacked and the Bears were credited with just 4 hurries, two on blitzes by safety DeAndre Houston-Carson.
San Francisco's offensive line overpowered the Bears and wore them down, as evidenced by Elijah Mitchell's runs of 27 and 39 yards in the fourth quarter. On the second long run, left tackle Trent Williams walked linebacker Alec Ogletree back about 20 yards.
This game was just more of what we've been preaching here for more than a year: The Bears lack overall talent. They haven't drafted well, gave up too many picks to move up in the draft, and overpaid for too many players.
Last week former Bears RB Matt Forte sent a tweet that read in part, "What upset me the most about the last two weeks is that our guys are very talented. We're never really overmatched when it comes to talent ..."
Can't fault Forte for sticking up for the players, and the Bears are strong at the top when Hicks, Mack, Quinn. Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson are all healthy and playing well. But it takes 22 guys, plus some quality replacements to make a good team. The Bears have weak spots on defense, the offensive line needs help and they lack the kind of game-changing playmaker the 49ers have in Deebo Samuel.
Considering Hicks, Quinn and Mack are all in their 30s, 39-year-old tackle Jason Peters has been arguably the best offensive lineman, and the Bears have already traded away their 2022 first-round pick, it's hard not to feel bearish about this team's future.
Offensive-minded: What stood out about Justin Fields' day, besides the best rushing game for a Bears QB since Bobby Douglass, was how many bootlegs he ran.
It's a good plan for keeping things simple. Fields rolls out and usually has two receivers running with him. He can choose the short guy, the deep guy or take off and run. When sitting in the pocket, Fields completed a few passes, but was definitely not as successful.
The problem is, you can't run the same play every time. The 49ers would run-blitz when the Bears got to the red zone and thought they had the bootleg sniffed out when Fields had his spectacular 22-yard TD scramble, but he eluded defensive end Arik Armstead. The challenge moving forward is finding more plays that work.
Calling on Robinson: Receiver Allen Robinson had 98 and 102 catches the past two seasons. This year, he has 26 catches through eight games. Here's a theory on why that number is low: Robinson's strength is his hands, not speed or slick moves. Many of his best connections with Mitch Trubisky happened when Robinson was well-defended, but was able to win the one-on-one matchup. Fields hasn't had a chance to build that chemistry yet and his eyes are drawn to open receivers.
Play of the day: The visitors deserve this one for the 83-yard bubble screen to Samuel that changed the momentum. The 49ers had about six nice blocks on the play, including center Alex Mack taking out safety Teez Tabor 20 yards downfield. The pass was thrown behind the line of scrimmage, so that's legal.