Bears Grades: Four units earn failing marks

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Bears Grades: Four units earn failing marks

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011Posted: 6:21 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
The Bears generated 165 yards of offense in the first half and had the Saints within reach early in the third quarter at 16-13. But the offense netted just 81 yards for the second half and collapsed repeatedly, failing to come up with not only big plays, but even vital smaller ones, converting just two of 12 third-down opportunities, 0 for 6 in the second half.

QUARTERBACK: C

Jay Cutler survived but did little else. He was sacked five times in the fourth quarter alone, managed to avoid throwing any interceptions, and netted 244 yards with receivers dropping too many passes. Difficult to evaluate his play, although he continues to hold onto the ball deep into plays behind a line that is stretched to its max. Cutler completed only 19 of 45 attempts and was forced too often to go with check-downs to Matt Forte against a defense that blanketed his receivers.

RUNNING BACK: B

Forte accounted for 118 of the Bears 165 yards of offense in the first half, 166 for the game (out of the Bears 246) and produced another outstanding effort that only served to underscore his value the Bears as presently constituted. He was not the primary receiver on the majority of his 10 receptions but repeatedly turned lost causes into positive yardage. His 42-yard run in the first quarter was his only effective carry, as he had just seven yards in his other nine carries.

RECEIVERS: F

Dane Sanzenbacher forced a Saints LB into a holding call in coverage, then capped a first-quarter drive by catching his first NFL TD pass, an eight-yarder from Cutler. With Earl Bennett out early with a chest injury, Sanzenbacher received extensive playing time, did well enough but dropped a key third-down pass that would have given the Bears a first down in the third quarter and caught just three of the seven passes on which he was targeted. Devin Hester had a key drop as well and caught one of his nine pass opportunities.

Kellen Davis missed block on DE Turk McBride got Cutler sacked and caused a fumble that led to a New Orleans TD. Davis missed a block last weekend in the Bears end zone that caused Cutler to take a huge hit as he released a pass.
OFFENSIVE LINE: F
Gabe Carimis knee injury late in the first half is a franchise concern, although Frank Omiyale performed adequately at first when pressed into service in one of the NFLs most difficult venues. But Omiyale was overmatched under pressure and the line could not handle the looks and blitzes overall. Cutler was hit 10 times in addition to the six sacks, and the Saints were credited with seven tackles-for-loss. Chris Spencer started in place of Lance Louis at RG. Besides Fortes 42-yard carry in the first quarter and a 12-yard Cutler scramble, the offense picked up six yards in its other 10 rushing attempts.
DEFENSIVE LINE: F

Against a pair of Pro Bowl guards (Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks) and one-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, pressure was difficult to get. Israel Idonije sacked Drew Brees in the second quarter and that was about it for the pass rush. Julius Peppers got a pressure on Brees but Idonije and Amobi Okoye had the only QB hits initially credited. Henry Melton, after two sacks and six QB hits against Atlanta, did not make the initial stat sheet with so much as a tackle assist. The Saints picked up five rushing first downs and rarely were under duress from a front that owned the Falcons a week ago.

LINEBACKERS: C-

Lance Briggs had a game-high 11 tackles, 10 of them solo. But Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach were too often invisible against an average Saints rushing game that netted 118 yards at a 4.1-yards-per-carry clip. Brees was able to force the LBs to cover in space and then took advantage of them underneath, and run support was rarely there until backs were in or through holes.

SECONDARY: F
Major Wrights breakdown and failure to protect deep resulted in a 79-yard TD pass on third-and-long from Brees to Devery Henderson. Brandon Meriweather, starting for Chris Harris, was late to react on a 31-yard toss to the tight end. Wright was late in covering tight ends throughout and was injured in the third quarter on a hit on 260-pound tight end Jimmy Graham. Charles Tillman forced and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter too late to matter.

But Brees was able to complete 26 of 37 passes for 270 yards and a rating of 118.1 and the Saints 50 percent conversion rate on third downs through three quarters, 8 for 17 for the game, was fatal.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Robbie Gould salvaged points from two possessions with 42 and 38-yard field goals, the only Bears points in nearly the final 52 minutes. He converted all three of his attempts. Adam Podlesh averaged 43.6 net on eight punts and was about the best offense the Bears had all day. Sam Hurds silly interference with a fair catch in the second quarter cost the Bears 15 yards, field position and fueled growing New Orleans momentum.

COACHING: C-

Mike Martzs play design overall found openings and mismatches against a hyper-aggressive New Orleans defense. He isolated Dane Sanzenbacher against a linebacker, and maneuvered Sanzenbacher and fullback Tyler Clutts into wide-open situations behind all-out blitzing fronts. But with the Bears trailing by six points at halftime, he abandoned the run increasingly through the third quarter. The game spiraled out of control in a venue where the need was to force New Orleans to respect some kind of run game.

The defense was exploited too often but breakdowns appeared to be more a factor of slow reactions to balls and situations. The Bears had the Saints in 17 third downs but allowed conversions on eight of them.

The Bears were penalized fewer times (six) than the Saints (seven), a hint of some reasonable preparation for one of the NFLs most difficult places to play.

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.

Cautionary quarterback tales for Bears as playoffs move along

Cautionary quarterback tales for Bears as playoffs move along

Watching the playoffs from a safe distance since the Bears aren’t in them, you see things that make you think… .

Watching the Atlanta Falcons demolish the Seattle Seahawks might have raised a gee-what-if moment, as in what if Falcons coach Dan Quinn, the presumptive first choice of GM Ryan Pace to succeed Marc Trestman, had ended up directing the Bears instead?

Don’t spend a lot of time on that one. This isn’t quite GM Phil Emery deciding on Trestman over Bruce Arians, which earns some richly deserved second-guess time. And it’s not quite accurate to declare that John Fox wasn’t Pace’s first choice, because Fox did become that first choice when he somewhat unexpectedly came free from the Denver Broncos.

More to the relevant point, however, is that Quinn inherited Matt Ryan (not Jay Cutler) as his quarterback effected something of a breakthrough for the Falcons because of what he did having little to do directly with Ryan.

Ryan became “great” this season because Quinn, who has a deep defensive pedigree that included two distinguished stints with Seattle, turned the Atlanta defense into something ferocious. Ryan was 1-4 in playoff games before Saturday in very large part because the Falcons had given up 28, 28, 24, 48 and 30 points in Ryan’s five postseason games. Ryan didn’t have to throw-throw-throw this year because his teams weren’t behind; his total attempts this season (534) were the fewest of his last seven seasons.

So would the Bears have been better off with Quinn than Fox? Only if Quinn brought Russell Wilson with him from Seattle.

Jimmy Garoppolo the answer to the Bears’ quarterback quest? Consider carefully because those who do not learn from the mistakes in history are condemned to repeat them.

Ryan Pace is obviously right in placing the code-red priority on addressing his quarterback situation. And it increasingly difficult to envision a workable scenario other than Brian Hoyer signed as a veteran starter (more on that another time), Connor Shaw or Matt Barkley (probably not) as a No. 2, and a draft choice.

One reason was on display Saturday in New England, and a cautionary reason at that. Call it an object lesson.

The Texans cast their lot with Brock Osweiler to the tune of $72 million, their thinking being that he was a franchise answer based on his resume consisting of precisely seven starts (one against the Bears) with a really good Denver team in 2015. But Osweiler, who’d already been benched for a late-season week, was further exposed in the double-digit loss Saturday to New England, a game in which Osweiler threw 3 interceptions to dig a fatal hole for the Texans and a defense among the NFL’s elite even without J.J. Watt.

Like the Bears were with Jay Cutler’s contract in 2015 and 2016, the Texans are stuck for massive ($19 million for Osweiler) guaranteed money before next season even gets here. The cries for Houston to eat the deal have already started.

But the overriding lesson lies in expecting a backup, even a basically OK one, to somehow be more than he was with his previous team.

Notably, Brady proved what he was in 2001 when Bledsoe was injured and Brady guided the Patriots into the postseason, so effectively that Bill Belichick made the decision, as Jason Garrett did in Dallas between Dak Prescott and Tony Romo, to stay the course with the No. 2. He knew exactly what he had in Brady.

Others were victims of false hope/hype.

And the constant seems to be a mysterious assumption that if the guy is No. 2 to a pretty good quarterback, then HE must be a really good quarterback.

Scott Mitchell (behind Dan Marino), Matt Cassel (behind Brady), Matt Flynn (behind Aaron Rodgers), Kevin Kolb (behind Donovan McNabb), Chad Henne (behind Chad Pennington), Ryan Mallett (behind Brady), Osweiler (behind Peyton Manning) – all backups who gave enough of a tantalizing tease for some hopeful team to gamble – and lose, big.

Probably just a coincidence here, but Cassel, Mallett and now Garoppolo all back/backed up…yeah, THAT guy.

One epic exception is Drew Brees, whom the New Orleans Saints acquired as a free agent after the San Diego Chargers decided their future lay with Philip Rivers. But Brees is memorable for precisely that reason, that No. 2’s going on to greatness are easy to remember because they are so rare.

Pace was on the pro personnel scouting side of things with New Orleans when the Saints made the Brees move. Unlikely he would be a knee-jerk follower of something he was involved with that worked once.

But stranger, and worse, things have happened in the NFL.

Devin Hester: From busting returns to a bust in Canton

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AP

Devin Hester: From busting returns to a bust in Canton

Difference makers. Playmakers.  Game changers.

It's more of what the present-day Bears are trying to stock their roster with and develop the potential ones that might already be there. The Bears of the mid- and late-2000s either inherited, drafted, or signed enough of them on the defensive side to remain a contender that too often fell short. A big reason for that was their inability to do the same on the offensive side of the ball.

But general manager Jerry Angelo made a boom-or-bust roll of the dice in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft on a kid from Miami. He was definitely special and could be a difference makear, but didn't really have a position.

If Devin Hester did indeed play the final game of his career Saturday in Atlanta, the 11-year pro gave us a quick flashback at age 34, if only wearing the navy, white and neon green of the Seahawks instead of the navy, white and orange of the Bears.

An 80-yard punt return was nullified due to a holding call. But he had five kick returns for 194 yards. Had he produced like that more consistently in recent years with the Falcons, or this season with the Ravens before signing a pre-playoff deal with Seattle, he wouldn't be retiring, as he says he now will.

Those Bears teams with the frustrating, inconsistent offenses that fell short of the mostly-high defensive standard set during Lovie Smith's years needed something extra. That was Hester.

When you pore through the hits and misses of Angelo Era drafts, this gamble was a thumbs up, even if the desire to further implement Hester's natural gifts fell short (and confirmed by Atlanta's short-lived attempts to do the same once the Bears let him go three years ago).

The Brian Mitchells and Eric Metcalfs and Dante Halls and Leon Washingtons and Joe Cribbses who preceded him set a certain standard in the return game. Hester blew them away. Had Gale Sayers never suffered his knee injuries, perhaps that would have been the standard Hester chased, and could still be chasing.

But the combined 14 punt return touchdowns (first all-time), five kickoff return touchdowns and one missed field goal return should push Canton's door open for the first time for a return specialist. Whether it's five years from now, or if the wait needs to be a little longer, it's deserved.

The biggest stage, the one in Super Bowl XLI when Hester opened the game with his 92-yard scoring return, turned into one of just six losses the Bears suffered when he returned a kick for a score. Hester's weaponry capped a perfect special teams storm that picked up slack in those years when the offense lagged. He was the cherry on top of Dave Toub's group that rarely seemed a concern on gameday when the likes of Patrick Mannelly, Brendan Ayanbadejo, Jason McKie, Robbie Gould, Nick Roach, among many others, found often-overlooked ways to make a subtle impact.

And that rainy night in Miami was the highlight and, unfortunately, the exception to what was often common in games Devin would do his "ridiculous" thing.  His magic helped them to 12 wins, while most of the other five losses were ones in which the Bears fell short by 10 or fewer points.

B.H. ("Before Hester") was the time we'd get up in the press box, or watching at home, to take a bathroom break or go on a snack run as opposing teams set up to punt or kickoff. He changed that. By the time the NFL determined in 2011 that kickoffs should come from the 35-yard line instead of the 30, most of Hester's serious damage to opponents had been done.

Plus, the league was concerned about the growing number of injuries on kickoffs. But that likely took away a few more opportunities to add to Hester's record. Touchbacks went from 16 percent in 2010 to 52 percent in 2015. Then this past year, the league got even "safer" by giving offenses five more yards (to the 25) on touchbacks (a rule which will revisited this off-season).

Toub has the newest return sensation in Kansas City in Tyreek Hill, whose game so far seems more versatile offensively than what Hester was ever able to provide. Time will tell about his staying power.

But between rule changes, impact on games and opponents' strategy, the record, plus a don't-turn-your-back now change of mindset, it wasn't just us in Chicago who realized Devin Hester was a game changer. It's fun to listen to and watch smile when his former teammates relate the charge of energy that burst through the team whenever Hester took one to the house.

The second-most memorable, of course, was the one that capped the Monday night comeback in Arizona his rookie season. He was an impactful addition, just as he should eventually be the first of his kind in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Because he was one of a kind.

Sandberg in Cooperstown. Jordan in Springfield. Here's to another Chicago No. 23 in the Hall.