After Chicago’s 17-9 victory over St. Louis, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
The Bears have changed their safety configurations 19 times under coach Lovie Smith, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times, but the latest alteration paid dividends. With Kevin Payne starting at strong safety and rookie Al Afalava at free safety, the Bears held the Rams to 233 total yards. Included in that total was a manageable 112 yards on 28 carries for tailback Steven Jackson. You have to recognize the Rams' offense is a shell of its former explosive self. But Payne is good in run support, and I think Danieal Manning has proved to be no better than average as a free safety. So I’m all in favor of any new lineup change that, if nothing else, could give the Bears some offseason food for thought. In this case: Can Afalava be counted on as an opening day free safety?
There was nothing positive to glean from the decision to make defensive end Gaines Adams a healthy scratch. Adams has only three tackles in the six games he played since being acquired from Tampa Bay, but this is a time when he should be putting to use the skills he’s learning from defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. Instead, he was inactive for a meaningless game in terms of playoff implications. Perhaps the Bears have decided Adams needs a full offseason before he’s ready to help them, but right now it looks like they wasted their second-round draft pick to acquire him.
It was interesting to see the Bears move to a rotation between tailbacks Matt Forte (24 carries) and rookie Kahlil Bell (11 carries) in their first game of December. I’m sure this is how coach Lovie Smith envisioned his offense shaping up when the Bears acquired quarterback Jay Cutler: Power running, with Cutler stepping in to make a few more big plays than they got last season with Kyle Orton. A preseason injury to presumptive backup Kevin Jones and a weaker-than-expected offensive line scuttled those plans. But for one day, at least, the Bears had a matchup advantage over their opponent. Tellingly, they used it to run their offense as originally contemplated.
And here is one question I’m still asking:
Was it really necessary to fake what would have been a chip-shot 28-yard field goal in the second quarter? The Bears led 10-0 at the time and no doubt were seeking the knockout punch. I’m sure they weren’t too concerned if the Rams’ anemic offense got the ball back at their 10-yard line. But based on the way their own offense has played recently, weren’t the Bears better off taking the higher percentage? As it turned out, the Rams were one score away from tying the game in the fourth quarter. The actual fake -- a pitch from holder Brad Maynard to tight end Greg Olsen -- was slow to develop and probably won’t strike much fear in the Bears’ future opponents. It didn’t gain a yard.