Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

After the Chicago Bears' 13-6 loss to the Houston Texans, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Bears coach Lovie Smith acknowledged Monday that "we think" quarterback Jay Cutler suffered his concussion on a hit by Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins with 2:30 remaining in the first half on Sunday night. So why did Cutler remain in the game? Smith insisted that he was evaluated by the team's medical staff before the next play and did not show any concussion symptoms until halftime. According to Smith, that's why Cutler played seven more snaps over two possessions. "Our trainer talked to him, evaluated him, and he was fine from there," Smith said. "Players from the huddle didn't see anything wrong with him. Not just then. We continued to talk to him all the way out until halftime. … If you look at his play, it's not like he was light on his feet or starry-eyed or anything like that. We felt like he was in control of everything." There are two options here. One is that the Bears fell short on their medical protocol, either failing to examine Cutler thoroughly or making an inaccurate initial diagnosis. The other is that Cutler had a relatively minor concussion that didn't present right away. Regardless, given the concussion climate in today's NFL, it's fair to consider Cutler questionable at best for next Monday's game against the San Francisco 49ers.

  2. Going back to Week 7 of last season, the Bears are 12-1 in games Cutler starts and finishes and 1-6 in those he either doesn't play or leaves early. That's precisely why the Bears spent $3.5 million to sign Jason Campbell this offseason, hoping that he could bridge any Cutler absence better than Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown did last season. Replacing Cutler at halftime of a bad-weather game against a tough opponent was far from ideal, but as Smith said, "that's why you bring in a veteran like Jason Campbell." You can only assume Campbell will look more comfortable with a week of preparation, but it's not unheard of for a premium backup to play better under unexpected circumstances than Campbell did. He was exceedingly cautious, attempting only two passes that traveled more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. He also had trouble against the Texans' blitz, completing only three of 10 passes when they brought at least five pass-rushers.

  3. The Bears' defense did a fine job against Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, holding him to 14 completions and 95 total yards. But the Texans were able to run the ball much better than anticipated. Tailback Arian Foster was one of the few runners to beat the Bears to the outside, gaining 45 of his 102 yards outside the tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In their first seven games, the Bears defense allowed only 107 total yards outside the tackles. Just something to keep an eye on.

And here is one issue I still don't get:

Normally I'm in favor of a "number count" approach to calling offense. If the defense is lined up to stop the run, you pass. Likewise, if the defense is aligned to stop the pass, you run. But considering Sunday night's rain and wind, it was surprising to see the Bears throw so much in the first half while Cutler was in the game. Cutler dropped back on 17 of his 25 first-half plays. He threw 14 passes and scrambled three times. Meanwhile, Matt Forte and Michael Bush combined for 22 yards on eight carries. Whether or not the Bears should be able to throw in the rain and wind, and regardless of the advantage receivers should have in unsure footing, it became clear pretty early that the Bears were having trouble throwing. How bad? Cutler completed only one pass that traveled more than five yards past the line of scrimmage (in eight attempts). You don't normally want to force the run, but in this case I'm not sure why the Bears were so willing to throw.