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First-and-10: Bears still in better shape than a year ago today

Last year at this time, the Bears were 2-1 after back-to-back road victories over the 49ers and Jets and ranked eighth — yes, eighth — in ESPN’s NFL power rankings.

Today the Bears are 0-3 after back-to-back losses of 48-23 to the Cardinals at home and 26-0 to the Seahawks on the road and likely won’t budge from the 32nd spot in the ESPN power rankings they occupied last week.

Which team would you want?

The Bears weren’t as good as they looked a year ago at this time. And they’re not as bad as they look right now. Unless Jay Cutler is out for an extended period of time, the loss to the Seahawks didn’t change their 2015 season prospectus. If you thought they were a 5-11 team before, they’re still a 5-11 team today.

A year ago, with Phil Emery, Marc Trestman and Brandon Marshall in leadership roles, the arrow was pointing straight down when it looked like it was pointing up. You can’t say the opposite is true today. But the fact that there is a long way to go is a good thing and not a bad one.

“There has been parts of those games where I think we’ve been competitive. We just haven’t done it for the long haul yet, for all 60 minutes,” Bears head coach John Fox said Monday. “I have to remind people that one-and-a-half of those three games that we were without our starting quarterback. That’s not an excuse. It’s just a reality.

“We’re missing some integral parts that hopefully, at some point, we get back. When that is, I don’t know. But the good news is that we’ve got to look at some other people, some other guys and see how they react in those situations. And hopefully we’re learning some stuff that will help us moving forward.”

 

2. With the trades of Jared Allen to the Panthers and Jon Bostic to the Patriots (each for a sixth-round draft pick), Bears general manager Ryan Pace and Fox seem to be picking up steam in re-shaping the roster: Brandon Marshall traded; Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs not signed in free agency; Tim Jennings and Jordan Mills cut; Kyle Long moved from guard to tackle and now the trading of Allen and Bostic.

Of the 62 players on the Bears’ roster at the end of last season (active and injured reserve), 29 are left — including 11 of 22 starters. Next year’s draft and free agency — in addition to a healthy Kevin White — can’t seem to come fast enough for Pace.

 

3. Was the conservative game plan for Jimmy Clausen an indictment of the Bears’ backup quarterback or an acknowledgement of the degree of difficulty? As it turns out, Clausen’s 61.6 passer rating was the third best by a backup quarterback against the Seahawks’ defense at CenturyLink Field since 2011. And the Rams’ Kellen Clemens (65.6 in a 27-9 loss to the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in 2013) and Shaun Hill (65.5 in a 20-6 loss last season) — neither of whom was that much more efficient than Clausen — both came in with at least seven consecutive starts. Clausen was making his first start of the season.

 

4. That said, Clausen’s inability to utilize Matt Forte as a receiver was a disappointment. Forte often is a safety valve for Bears backup quarterbacks — in six games over the previous two seasons when Cutler was sidelined, Forte had 32 receptions for 280 yards and three touchdowns.

But Clausen targeted Forte three times without success against the Seahawks and he missed a wide-open Forte on a wheel route on a third-and-four in the first half. It was the first time Forte had not caught a pass in a game since 2011 against the Chiefs, when played just nine snaps before suffering a knee injury. The last time Forte did not catch a pass in a game he finished was the 2009 opener against the Packers — 94 games ago.

 

5. The Bears have now allowed three of the five longest kickoff returns in the NFL this season — 108 yards (the Cardinals’ David Johnson), 105 yards (the Seahawks’ Tyler Lockett) and 46 yards (the Packers Ty Montgomery). All three are rookies.

The Bears, of course, are last in the NFL in kickoff coverage — allowing an average of 46.9 yards per kickoff return. It can’t be just talent. The Bears were short of experience and talent on special teams last season and still led the NFL in kickoff coverage (17.5 yards per return, a long return of 31 yards).

 

5a. There’s always hope, though. The Oakland Raiders, who come to town this week, were last in kickoff return coverage last year (32.5 yards per return). Through three games, they are tied for second this season (15.5 yards per return).

 

6. Bears linebacker Lamin Barrow gets the hustle award for running down Richard Sherman on his 64-yard punt return that snookered the Bears. But it helped that veteran cornerback Cary Williams — a first-year Seahawk — was celebrating a touchdown instead of blocking Barrow on that play.

 

7. Did you know? Marshawn Lynch has been tackled for no gain or negative yardage on 13 of his 38 carries this season — including twice against the Bears. In a related note, there have been 21 passes from the 1-yard line this season without an interception — 124 pass attempts from the 1 without a pick since the start of the 2014 season.

 

8. For what it’s worth, John Fox did not dismiss the idea of having Pat O’Donnell kick off to try and prevent returns. O’Donnell was a punter and place-kicker at Cincinnati and Miami (Fla.). O’Donnell had 37 touchbacks in 79 kickoffs as a senior at Miami in 2013. His only kickoff during his rookie season with the Bears was a touchback against the Saints in Week 15 — a kick that bounced at the 11 and rolled into the end zone and out of bounds.

Robbie Gould has four touchbacks in 11 kickoffs this season (36.4 percent) — second lowest percentage in the NFL. The league average this season is 68.9.

 

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Carolina tight end Greg Olsen had eight receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the Panthers’ 27-22 victory over the Saints. His 11-yard touchdown in the third quarter gave the unbeaten Panthers (3-0) a 17-16 lead they would not lose.

For the season Olsen has a team-high 15 receptions for a team-high 215 yards and a team-high two touchdowns. Olsen was the Bears’ first-round draft pick in 2007 (31st overall). He played four seasons for the Bears and led the team with 60 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns in Jay Cutler’s first season with the Bears in 2009.

 

10. Brandon Marshall, who played for the Bears from 2012-14, continued his hot start to the 2015 season with the Jets (2-1). Marshall had 10 receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown in the Jets’ 24-17 loss to the Eagles. Marshall had three receptions for nine yards and fumbled twice (losing one) as the Jets fell behind 24-0. He had seven catches for 100 yards and the touchdown as the Jets rallied to make it close.

Do the Bears miss Marshall? It’s worth noting that in his 10 NFL seasons, Marshall’s teams are 21-8 in the first three weeks of the season and 8-17 in the final three weeks — with no playoff appearances. Ask again in December.