Re-Focused: Bears @ Broncos, Week 14

| December 13, 2011

The world gasped once again as Tim Tebow led another late, game-winning drive over the shocked Chicago Bears, leaving them in sole possession of first place in the AFC West at 8-5. The Bears, despite not having star players Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, led 10-0 with a little over two minutes left in regulation but could not hang on, falling to 7-6 with their postseason hopes very much in doubt.

Caleb Hanie is no Jay Cutler, but he didn’t turn the ball over, helping his defense to keep Tebow and Denver’s strong running game in check. Marion Barber aided his team with over 100 yards rushing against a recently-revitalized defense, but his turnover in OT proved costly. Tebow had his own ball-security problems with his first multi-turnover game of the season, but without a running game he had to make plays with his arm, and he did. Take a look at some performances that shaped this overtime contest that turned into a thriller late and sends both teams in different directions going forward.

 

Denver – Three Performances of Note

He does it. Again.

Tim Tebow (+3.0) once again led a game-winning drive, giving him six in the fourth quarter or overtime in his 11 NFL starts. While Tebow had a field day against the Vikings’ depleted secondary last week, the Bears were predictably a much tougher test and it wasn’t always pretty. Tebow’s interception at 2:38 in the first quarter – his second pick on the year – was a bad decision. It was a forced pass with Brian Urlacher and Stephen Paea chasing him that negated good field position; in most games, particularly a low scoring game such as this, running out of bounds for a sack or throwing the ball away would have been a cautious move, with a potentially positive outcome on the game. Another play that could have been avoided was his fumble with 9:02 left in regulation, holding onto the ball too long and allowing the strip-sack by safety Craig Steltz; Tebow’s second lost fumble in two weeks.

Turning the ball over against the vaunted Bears defense is not too embarrassing though, and luckily for Denver, it didn’t cost them the win. Throwing a season-high 40 times, Tebow completed just over 50% of his passes for 236 yards, the pick, and a TD, while suffering five drops. His scoring pass showed a calm and aware signal-caller who, instead of quickly taking off, kept his eyes downfield, stepped up in the pocket, and made sure to avoid going over the line of scrimmage, allowing Demaryius Thomas enough time to get wide open in the corner of the end zone. He wasn’t perfect, though. A chance for a 55-yard TD pass early in the third quarter fell a little too far ahead of Thomas (though you could argue that Thomas could have still made the catch). Still, it seems as if Tebow is continuing to mature as an NFL quarterback, which is bad news for the rest of the AFC West.

 

Pass Protection issues

With Tebow having to throw 40 times for the first time all season, the offensive line was tested in pass protection, and the results were not pretty. Only LG Zane Beadles graded positively in this regard, and just barely with +0.1, and all the others grading in red. Ryan Clady struggled from the start in this game, getting bull-rushed backwards by Julius Peppers at 13:53 in the first quarter aided a 2-yard sack, and he was later neutralized by a Peppers’ swim move on a second-quarter sack … not to mention giving up five other pressures. Aside from Clady, the rest of the line allowed a combined 15 pressures, with Chris Kuper responsible for five of those. Fortunately, Tebow’s athleticism prevented those pressures from becoming costly QB hits – in the pocket, he was only hit twice not including sacks, both of which were flagged as roughing the passer – but this group will need to step up if the Broncos want to get to the playoffs with their QB healthy, especially with all the hits Tebow takes a runner.

 

Still Getting It Done

With Barber rushing for over 100 yards, you may be surprised to learn the Broncos’ run defense grade was a solid +13.2. With safeties Rahim Moore (who took over for an injured Brian Dawkins) and Quinton Carter each missing two tackles, the front seven had to step up, and several of them did, especially the two highest-rated run defenders on the team, rookie Von Miller (+3.3 run defense) and Broderick Bunkley (+4.8), who combined for seven stops. Blocking Miller–who seems poised for at least the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award–with a tight end is a horrible idea, as the Bears found out at 4:04 in the second quarter when Miller discarded Kellen Davis with ease to fill a hole and bring down the runner at the line of scrimmage. Bunkley was a chore to deal with all afternoon, in particular making center Roberto Garza’s life miserable (-3.9 run blocking). DT Marcus Thomas and LBs Wesley Woodyard and Joe Mays also deserve recognition, combing for eight stops and a forced fumble. With Hanie’s arm not much of a threat, this group had to bear down on the run, and they mostly succeeded.

 

Chicago – Three Performances of Note

Marion Barber

In relief of injured star Matt Forte, the former Dallas running back will be labeled the goat for two crucial plays late in the game, despite  having a good day otherwise. Marion Barber (+0.5) handled the majority of the carries, gaining 108 yards on 27 carries, with 75 yards coming after contact and forcing five missed tackles in the process. Two of those misses came on his 9-yard TD run where he escaped both safeties on his way to the end zone. Barber also showed off his skills in the receiving game, including laying out for a 16-yard pass with 13:59 left in OT.

Still, everyone will remember the two costly mistakes. At the two minute warning in the fourth quarter with a three-point lead and the Broncos out of timeouts, Barber gained 5 yards on a carry and then inexplicably went out of bounds, immediately drawing the ire of the commentators. This gave Tebow & Co. another chance; just enough time to set up the game-tying field goal. To make matters worse, at 12:53 in OT with the team close to field goal range, Barber ran through a hole on the left side with plenty of free space ahead, but allowed a falling  Woodyard to strip the ball and the Bears never got the ball back.

 

Shutting down the run

In order to have a chance in this game, the Bears defense had to shut down the stubbornly effective running game of the Bronocs, and they did just that, holding the team to 124 total yards and missing just one tackle in the process. Right from the start, Willis McGahee could get nothing going. The second play of the game epitomized Denver’s struggles, as Lance Briggs ran right by TE Brandon Fells to stop McGahee at the line of scrimmage. They also contained Tebow, except for a 16-yard scramble in which Tebow escaped Briggs in the open field and ran through Tim Jennings. One of the best plays came from Israel Idonije (+1.6 run defense grade) at 10:58 in the first quarter he sees Tebow fake a handoff to McGahee up the middle, isn’t fooled by the fake and changes direction immediately, trapping Tebow in the backfield for a 3-yard loss. Brian Urlacher also contributed (+1.5), one of his best plays came at 4:57 in the second quarter on on 3rd-and-6 as he drops into coverage, then sees Tebow scramble and, in the open field, is able to make the ankle-tackle on the running QB, limiting him to five yards and forcing a punt.

 

Not Tillman’s Best Day

Charles Tillman is one of the better cornerbacks in the league – you’ll probably hear us reference his masterful performance against usually-unstoppable Calvin Johnson a few more times this year – but he wasn’t his best on this day. He did make a great play early on, intercepting a hurried Tebow pass along the sidelines by going up, plucking the high pass out of the air, and then having the mindfulness to get both feet down in-bounds. Later on, at 10:29 in the third, he also came up in run support on a 9-yard Tebow run, preventing the QB from converting the first down. The pick was a nice highlight, but he was on the wrong end of others, including missing an unacceptable three tackles. His first miss occurred early in the game at 6:03 in the first quarter on a 2nd-and-9 and allowed Thomas to convert the first down. Another critical miss came with 53 seconds left in regulation as the Broncos were trying to tie the game: Eric Decker caught a short pass and spun away from Tillman, converting the first down and getting out of bounds to stop the clock. He also would have been on the hook for the long TD pass at 13:11 in the third if Tebow didn’t overthrow the pass.

 

Game Notes

- The two teams combined for 14 missed tackles, with Denver missing nine.

- This was the first time in Caleb Hanie’s short career that he hasn’t turned the ball over.

- Robbie Gould’s 57-yard field goal was the longest field goal in Bears’ history, with the next longest being a 55-yarder in 1993.

 

PFF Game Ball

I’m tempted to give this ball to rookie sensation Von Miller who was great in both run defense and rushing the passer, but you have to give credit to Matt Prater. A 59-yard field goal is not even close to a guarantee, and making it under incredible pressure with only three seconds left only makes it that much more clutch. Not to mention his game-winning 51-yarder, which is also far from a sure-thing.

 

Follow Trey on Twitter @PFF_TreyC and our main feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus

 

  • defenaughty

    How do you grade a play like Marion Barber’s run out of bounds in that two minute drill? The play isn’t inherently bad, and at virtually any other point in the game it would be considered a win for the offense. However, in that time and place, that was virtually the only thing that would be considered a bad play and was a total back-breaker. How do you grade that?

    • Chris Benson

      While the context of a play isn’t taken into consideration as far as injuries, strength of opponent, or other aspects of the game that can’t be quantified, the context is definitely important in regard to game situations. Plays that are made worse by the situation are graded accordingly. In this case, Barber was graded negatively for that run but he also was graded more harshly for his fumble in overtime than he would have been ordinarily because the Bears would have been in field goal range after his run if he hadn’t fumbled.

      Now whether situations like that are judged on an individual basis or there are guidelines for what constitutes a negative or positive play in every feasible situation I do not know. Perhaps our analysis team can provide more insight in that regard.

  • defenaughty

    What you said seems perfectly reasonable. I just wanted to see just how deep the insight went. Thanks.