Bears grades: Forte, Hester receive highest mark

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Bears grades: Forte, Hester receive highest mark

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011
Posted: 5:45 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
The Cam Newton Experience was overshadowed by a Bears game plan that featured 18 pass plays and 30 runs by backs. The Bears failed to pick up at least one first down on only two of 10 possessions and made the most out of possessions in a game that saw the defense and special teams each score touchdowns and send the Carolina offense back onto the field.
QUARTERBACK: B-

The numbers arent the whole story. Jay Cutler was a game manager. Period. He was asked to throw just 18 passes (17 he got off, plus one sack). He completed a pedestrian nine passes for 102 yards, second-lowest of his career for a full game and his rating of 46.7 was the lowest in his career for a victory. Cutler threw too high to reserve tight end Kyle Adams in the fourth quarter and was intercepted in the Chicago end of the field. But Cutler handled occasional pressure well and controlled the game for his offense.
RUNNING BACKS: A

Matt Forte ran for 205 yards, a career high, on 25 carries and caught four of five passes thrown to him for another 23 and was handed the ball as many times in the first half nine as he was during the entire Green Bay game and one short of his carry total against New Orleans. Forte responded with 94 yards and a TD. Forte made this a statement game for elite status and now has had 158 or more total yards in three of four games this year and his rushing touchdown was the Bears first this season.

Marion Barber was a welcome addition to the backfield, giving Forte relief in the first quarter with a first-down burst and putting the game out of reach with a 3-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.

Forte also provided support for Cutler in pass protection, contributing with several blitz pickups and support on double-teams where needed. Fullback Tyler Clutts did not touch the ball but was effective as a lead blocker.
RECEIVERS: B-

The offense only threw the ball four times in the first half but Dane Sanzenbacher and Roy Williams converted catches into first downs. Sanzenbacher had a drop on a third-down but the receivers delivered downfield blocking that occupied defensive backs and helped extend Forte runs.

Forte had five runs of longer than 10 yards; four of them 17 or longer. Those do not happen without receivers and tight ends making blocks downfield.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A

Frank Omiyale did a respectable job early, sealing the right side for Fortes 45-yard run in the first quarter. Chris Williams cleared the way for Fortes 17-yard TD jaunt in the second quarter, aided by effective back-side protection from center Roberto Garza. Chris Spencer started again for Lance Louis at RG but went out in the first quarter with a hand injury and Louis came on and played well, possibly winning his starting job back.

But Omiyale gave up a first-down sack in the second quarter and did not play well going into halftime, and Garza was flagged a play later for being downfield too soon. Spencer returned to start the second half and Omiyale was benched with Louis moving out to right tackle, a position he had never played previously.

Louis played three different positions right guard, right tackle, tight end. The line gave Cutler adequate protection and was the key to Fortes 205 rushing yards.
COACHING: A

The Bears set up their passing game with throw-back football, running the ball on all eight plays of their opening drive and two out of three on their second. The game plan extended to running the ball on 13 of the first 14 plays and resisted the Mike Martz inclination to throw even though the Carolina pass defense has been one of the NFLs worst at allowing yardage and was without starting cornerback Chris Gamble.

More impressive perhaps, players talked afterwards about the adjustments coaches were making between each series to counteract Carolina scheming and also to maximize what they knew they would be able to do against the Panthers.

Newton played up to his reputation and stats, putting 543 total yards and 29 points on the Bears in their own house. It was a game the defense will take but cannot afford to repeat as a punt return and interception return saved the Bears, who gave up 10 plays of 20 yards or longer.

DEFENSIVE LINE: F

The front got barely any pressure on Newton and too often lost containment both of Newton and Carolina running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Carolina backs averaged 7.4 yards per carry and too often were getting to the second level, while Newton was rarely hurried and never sacked.
LINEBACKERS: D-

Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher each were credited initially with eight tackles and each made solid individual stops at crucial points. Their combination hit on Legedu Naanee resulted in a tipped ball that was grabbed and returned for a TD by D.J. Moore. Briggs provided some blitz pressure but backs were too frequently getting shoulders turned before linebackers were able to fill run gaps.

SECONDARY: D

Moore's interception return was one of the few big plays by the secondary. The defensive backs were embarrassed for 374 passing yards and 9 plays of 20 yards or longer by a rookie quarterback and receivers who clearly were ramped up to stick it to the Bears. Brandon Meriweather was burned by Steve Smith in deep coverage as Smith finished with 181 yards on eight catches. The Bears limited the receivers to a late TD by ex-Bear Greg Olsen but too many times were beaten for big plays.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Devin Hester exploded a 73-yard KOR from nine yards deep in the end zone with excellent blocking to set up the Bears second TD. He topped that with 69-yard punt return for a touchdown to set an NFL record of 11 punt returns for touchdowns.

Julius Peppers blocked a short third-quarter field goal try by Olindo Mare. But Zackary Bowman cost the Bears field position by failing to locate the ball on a fourth-quarter punt that went for a touchback instead of giving Carolina the ball inside its 10.

Hester, Johnny Knox and Kahlil Bell returned three kickoffs an average of 31.3 yards, Knoxs one for 32 yards and Bell 20.

Adam Podlesh punted for a modest 39.3 average but dropped two of four inside the 20 and another for a touchback. Robbie Gould converted from 20 and 24 yards in his only two attempts.

COACHING: B

For the second straight week the Bears appeared ill-prepared for the intensity of an opponents opening drive. The defense rallied after a coverage breakdown on Carolinas second possession but rarely stopped the Panthers all afternoon. The decision was made not to spy Newton but the lack of pressure called for some adjustment somewhere to cut down on his time to throw.

Special teams preparation gave Hester decision-making authority on kickoff returns, the reason he brought one out from deep in the end zone.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

Bears coach John Fox draws much the same distinction as your Mom might have, between real injuries and “owies,” those nicks and things that she could put a band-aid on and you would be back out playing before you’d missed a turn at bat.

Owies won’t keep players out of the Bears’ Sept. 11 opener in Houston against the Texans, so conclusions about whether it’s an injury or an owie don’t mean much at this point when thinking ahead for Week 1 availability.

But the seemingly endless drumbeat of players missing practice time – typically more than a dozen out of 90 on any given practice day – takes players out of the sessions they need to become parts of a whole on offense, defense or special teams. It means, for instance, that rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, working to master pass-rush moves at the NFL level, misses time to work on those desperately needed moves against tackles and tight ends.

This time last year, linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were coming off injuries that ended their 2014 seasons. They were established veterans and it still took time, arguably the better part of a half season, for them to come all the way back physically, but also to integrate fully into the scheme with teammates.

[RELATED: Porter balancing job as 'coach' and starting CB]

Now with one of the NFL’s youngest rosters, the Bears could more than some other more veteran teams feel the effects of that lost time and chances to develop cohesion.

Fox has seen this situation before, and every preseason has injury stories. “I think it's pretty much the same in the other 31 [NFL] cities,” Fox said. “It's been about the same for me the last 15 years. So there's a difference between injuries and owies, so we've had a couple injuries and now it's just about getting everybody healthy for Houston.”

The sick-bay list by the time the Bears visit Houston is not expected to include guard Kyle Long, tight end Zach Miller, running back Jeremy Langford or nickel corner Bryce Callahan. But Long (shoulder) was working off to the side with right tackle Bobby Massie on footwork, not at full speed in practice. Callahan (hamstring) was just doing some light running, not in pads and not in concert with the rest of the nickel secondary projected to include him. Miller (concussion) was in a no-contact red jersey that called attention to his history of injury susceptibility.

They and others are not in any sort of game-week schedule.

“Everything is a schedule,” Fox said. “I don’t care who you are or where it is at home or at the office, there's a routine and a schedule. You like getting guys acclimated to the point of where we've got a 12 o'clock kickoff for a preseason game, which is a typical Sunday kickoff for us in our routine so I think the more you can expose guys to scheduling, kind of what you're expecting in the preparation, I think the better.”

Injuries, and owies, are doing that schedule no favors.

Balancing act: “Coach” Tracy Porter works at his own CB job while helping Bears wobbly young secondary

Balancing act: “Coach” Tracy Porter works at his own CB job while helping Bears wobbly young secondary

When Charles Tillman retired earlier this year, more than an elite cornerback was exiting the game. Tillman was a mentor to young defensive backs, even though he made it abundantly clear that he had no interest in moving on to coaching in his next career.

When the Bears re-signed Tracy Porter to a three-year contract this offseason, one that committed some $4.5 million to a cornerback who’d been with five different teams over the past five seasons, they were cementing in place more than just their top defensive back. They were committing to one of those hard-to-find individuals whose presence makes the whole greater than just the sum of the parts.

Porter, who has played 16 games just once (Oakland, 2009) in his eight NFL seasons, has started as many games in his career (79, including six in postseason) as the rest of the Bears defensive backs combined (75). The result is that Porter suddenly becomes the bell-cow for a group that is struggling to establish itself and a level of NFL competence.

“We’re young in the secondary outside of Tracy Porter for the most part and we’re just going to have to see what they’re capable of doing mentally as we go through the process here,” said coordinator Vic Fangio, “and how many schemes we can ask them to do effectively.”

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A significant measure of how many of those schemes and everything else the secondary will be able to do traces (no pun intended) to Porter. He is not only the best defensive back on the roster; he also is the most experienced, from time in schemes with New Orleans, Denver, Oakland, Washington and now the Bears.

The situation is complex, however.

Veterans are too often assumed to be mentors to young players, even to the point of helping know where to line up, techniques and such. That involves in-game help, which is the nature of defense anyway. But a player assuming too much of a role in coaching others in his group can lose focus on his own job, a prelude to disaster.

“It can, but I try to do my best to focus in on what I need to do, and then once I see those guys taking their reps, then that’s when I go into the coaching mode,” Porter said. “But when I’m out there on the field, I’m locked in to what ‘21’ [his own number] and the rest of the defense has to do.

“But when the younger guys are in, I’m definitely in coaching mode. I’m getting my mental reps. At the same time, I’m watching those guys what they’re doing, if they’re having a missed assignment or having a not-so-good technique that I can help them with.”

The Bears had high hopes last year for tall cornerback Alan Ball, who started the first three games as Porter worked his way back from a preseason hamstring strain. Ball failed to capitalize on his opportunity and Porter replaced him at Seattle, then started the rest of the year.

And he has has begun this year working at setting an example as he did last Nov. 26 when he intercepted one Aaron Rodgers pass and broke up four others – most by any player in Rodgers’ career. Last Thursday’s game at New England was preseason, meaning that stats are typically dismissed as meaningless (which they are decidedly not when they indicate a pattern or trend). Inside the Chicago 10 Porter stripped the football from a Patriots running back and recovered it. The play was one the Bears practiced and the result was a takeaway in a second straight game, something the Bears were unable to accomplish over the final seven games of 2015.

It also was the only pass breakup or forced/recovered fumble by any member of the secondary in the game.

But that is part of preseason, and with the spiraling injury list in the secondary, Porter’s work away from the football will continue to be an unofficial on-field “assistant” to defensive-backs coach Ed Donatell.

“My biggest challenge?” Porter reflected. “Just keeping the guys into it that are injured and bringing the guys that weren’t getting many reps, getting those guys up to speed, to catch up the first- and second-team defense.”

Former Bears CB Charles Tillman jumps out of plane at Chicago Air and Water Show

Former Bears CB Charles Tillman jumps out of plane at Chicago Air and Water Show

Charles Tillman is living on the edge a month after waving the white flag on his NFL career.

The former Bears cornerback jumped out of a plane this weekend at the Chicago Air and Water Show.

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Tillman even got a chance to see a place that he called home for 12 years: Soldier Field.

Not only that, but he had a ridiculous view of the city's skyline — which you can also see in the video.

It's safe to say he's fully in retirement mode.