OAKLAND – A 27-point first half with the offense scoring on its first four possessions was a statement of sorts. So were the six drops in the half, but Jay Cutler didn’t seem outwardly perturbed and just kept going to different receivers while letting the run game come to him.
The 34-26 win revealed some of what the offense and Cutler can be without catastrophic mistakes. It also revealed some interesting trend lines:
The offense needed an efficient performance from Cutler and it got that, and more. Cutler threw 21 passes, completed 12 and had six drops, including three by battery mate Brandon Marshall. What Cutler did was simply take the ball elsewhere, with the result that he netted 142 yards in the first half, throwing to seven different receivers.
Josh McCown played the third quarter and completed five of nine passes and threw one interception, his first in 25 preseason passes. The Raiders dialed up pressure with their second unit and kept McCown from generating much with the offense. Jordan Palmer played seven snaps other than kneel-downs at the finish and six of the plays were handoffs to running back Michael Ford. Palmer and Trent Edwards will divide the work in game four vs. Cleveland next Thursday.
Trending: The offense has a chance to be exceptional with the elimination of errors more than pressing to make big plays that aren’t there. The longest play of the night was 32 yards and that was a swing pass where Cutler simply put the ball in the hands of a playmaker (Matt Forte) in time to work off solid blocking. Simple.
Coach Marc Trestman’s offenses make major use of running backs and this game was a showcase for the ground game with the dizzying rate of drops by receivers in the first half. Forte had his second straight big half both running and receiving, taking a swing pass 32 yards for a touchdown. Michael Bush now has scored three touchdowns on 31 rushes, resuming his “closer” role from in close with TD runs of 10 and 1 yards vs. Oakland. Ford broke runs again both from scrimmage and on kickoffs, taking another long stride toward claiming the No. 3 running back job.
Trending: Forte is visibly enjoying the production that is coming his way in the Trestman offense after a 2012 he himself termed “one-dimensional.” The upside with Forte as the underneath threat is enormous. With Ford’s work on kickoff returns, a question about the status of Eric Weems would not be out of line. Ford averaged 25.5 yards on four returns in addition to his work as a relief runner.
As good as some of the pass-catching was, it was the blocking of wide receivers that was perhaps more impressive, factoring strongly into a number of Forte touches in particular.
Alshon Jeffery helped spring Forte on his TD catch. Marquess Wilson had a superb catch for a first down and at least tried to block on a Forte run.
Jeffery was the receiving story, however, catching seven of eight passes to him and showing the strong hands that were a reason behind the Bears drafting him last year.
Marshall had one of his poorest nights with three drops in the first half and Cutler didn’t seem to miss him in the offense.
Wilson continues to play with some flash but he’s a long-strider and not a slot guy at this point. And the likes of Joe Anderson, Devin Aromashodu, Terrence Toliver and Weems have shown little to fill the void.
Jeffery and Marshall were out of the game at halftime. Through three quarters on Friday, only Weems (two) had more than one reception.
Trending: Jeffery has taken a step that hints at big things in an offense that will turn in part on Cutler’s confidence in teammates. The offense right now has nothing remotely dangerous after Jeffery and Marshall or as an alternative to Earl Bennett for a No. 3. Bennett has missed 11 games over the past three seasons and Jeffery missed six last year with hand and knee injuries. This is a potentially significant cloud over the pass offense.
Martellus Bennett caught his first Cutler pass but it was his blocking on Forte’s 32-yard TD run that was special. Actually, far more special than his receiving, which included drops of two of the three passes thrown to him. One was a deep throw that led him just a bit too far but the ball went off his hands and, “I want to come up with the tough catches, at least 50 percent of the time,” Bennett said. The Bears opened the game with three tight ends and who blocked generally well but Bennett, Kyle Adams and Steve Maneri only caught one pass each.
Fendi Onobun had a disaster of an evening, with several more drops, a second TD pass muffed in as many weeks, and called for holding.
Trending: The depth chart appears largely set with Adams and Maneri as blockers and Bennett the fixture with the starters. The utilization of the position, however, is still a work in progress although Jay Cutler showed with Greg Olsen (60 rec., 2010) that he will make significant use of a big target working seams in a defense.
[SPORTSTALK LIVE: United States of Football documentary]
Zero sacks with three different quarterbacks and 165 rushing yards (5.5 per carry) is a proficient evening, preseason or not, starters or not. The starters generally controlled the Raiders on the line of scrimmage and the rookies on the right side – guard Kyle Long, tackle Jordan Mills – handled their assignments and got to second levels repeatedly to add to runs. Mills had a false start in the second quarter with the Bears in Oakland’s end, contributing to a thwarted scoring opportunity. Jermon Bushrod has shown strength and control in run blocking, impressive for a left tackle renowned for his pass blocking.
J’Marcus Webb did himself some harm with a holding penalty in the third quarter and a false start in the fourth. The hold came with the Bears leading 27-3 and the false start occurred with the Bears looking for a couple of first downs with the Raiders closing to within eight points. Eben Britton had some strong efforts, sustaining blocks into the second level to extend runs, and did himself some good in the competition for No. 3 tackle.
Trending: The physicality of the line continues increasing with the spark from rookies Long and Mills, and that is carrying over into the rest of the line. The offense has pounded for more than 100 rushing yards in two straight first-halfs.