Bears grades: Forte, Hester receive highest mark

550928.jpg

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

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

The adage “play the man, not the board” seems somehow appropriate for what the Bears are doing to prepare for the Detroit Lions behind quarterback Matt Barkley.

“The man” is Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Bears have been scouting him as well as his defenses, beyond just Bears games, beyond this season and last, taking in his 2014 Detroit season when Austin prepared defenses for Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen.

How did Austin scheme for rookie Carson Wentz when the Lions played (and beat) the Philadelphia Eagles? How did he structure is defense to stop a rookie Teddy Bridgewater when Detroit played Minnesota? (Not very well, apparently, since the Vikings won both games and scored 54 points combined in the two games).

While the John Fox Bears staff went against Austin’s Lions defense twice last year, Cutler was the Bears quarterback. When the Bears beat Austin and the Lions two months ago, it was with Brian Hoyer.

Now the Bears quarterback is Matt Barkley, who has fewer NFL games played (seven) than Cutler has NFL seasons (11), Hoyer (eight), too, for that matter.

“Different defensive coordinators attack young quarterbacks differently,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “Some guys blitz, some guys play a bunch of zone. This group on defense there, they have a really good defensive coordinator, they're really smart, they do a bunch of stuff. On the back end, they run all the coverages.

“As a game, we'll have to make adjustments as the game goes and see what their plan to come out is early.”

Coaches and players may talk about how they prepare for a scheme irrespective of which opposing quarterback, running back, linebacker or whatever they will be facing. But in fact, preparations start with who is orchestrating the opponent’s offense or defense – play the man, not the board.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

A risk can be out-thinking yourself trying to anticipate what a coordinator will do. The first point, Loggains said, is to start with your own strengths.

“We definitely look at that,” Loggains said. “As you go in the league long and longer, you face these guys, you see them in crossover games. We always know how a guy attacks a rookie quarterback or attacks a young quarterback, a veteran, or, in Matt's case, a guy who hasn't played as much.”

Evaluations of Barkley’s performance will broaden, particularly now that he is on tape for defensive coordinators to scheme for and scout. And while they are watching Barkley, the Bears are watching them.