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.

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both win; Bears finish draft

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View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

Trying to sort through some Halas Hall draft mysteries…. well, one big one, anyway.

Now that it’s all done: Were GM Ryan Pace and the personnel staff really in phase with John Fox and the coaching staff? Because that really is the franchise-grade question and one with the broadest possible ramifications.

The gut feeling is, yes. That’s really based just on watching the two of them together Saturday during the post-draft debriefing. If there was tension, frustration or a fracture in the relationship, the two were as good at masking it as they were concealing their draft plans.

Which they could be. Maybe reading John Fox’s face is no easier than Jay Cutler’s. They wouldn’t be the first to put up a fraud façade or public face.

But regardless of any taffy pulls or disagreements that may have played out during the draft, the jokes, asides and other responses to queries suggested otherwise. It wasn’t just what they said; it was how they said it.

“How would you grade your draft?” the pair was asked.

“I’ll tell you in three years,” Pace said.

“I’m sure we’ll get some ‘input,” Fox said, laughing, for a media corps that will provide more than a little of that “input.”

This was their third draft together. Fox has worked with myriad personnel guys and draft rooms, so how has Pace changed? Gotten bossier?

“He’s been the same guy,” Fox said. “We talk about that in this building, whether that be players, coaches or personnel people. I think he has done a terrific job and he’s got great people skills. You listen, but then you have to go with your gut, too… . After three years, every year you have convictions on players and everyone kind of keeps track of that. We have been in this spot three straight years and we’ve even been in this spot with high picks. I think he’s done a terrific job.”

Beneath all of the analyses of whether Mitch Trubisky is really the franchise quarterback the Bears have sought since Jim McMahon couldn’t stay healthy 30 years ago, or whether lesser-fete’d college programs (Ashland, Kutztown, North Carolina A&T) will produced NFL-grade talent for the Bears, lurks the deeper and arguably more significant assessment of what the 2017 draft means for the futures of Pace and Fox, jointly and individually.

The vulnerabilities are obvious; a combined 9-23 record in their two Bears seasons puts a lot of jobs over a “vulnerable” trap door in an organization that has never retained a coach after three straight losing seasons – even if the last thing Chairman George McCaskey wants on his watch is a situation in such steep decline that it even continues to lose even after a regime change, as it did after three-season-losers Jim Dooley, Abe Gibron and Dave Wannstedt.

Irrespective of specific 2017 draft choices, the surest course toward cataclysm would be a divide between coach and GM, which some want to believe has begun, fueled if by nothing else but Chris Mortensen’s report Thursday that Fox only found out about the decision to pursue and make the Trubisky deal a short time before Pace made it. Mort walked back from the claim, and Pace ripped it as “so false” later on Friday.

Pace was adamant that he and Fox were in lock step on the move for a quarterback who ideally doesn’t see the field a lot this season. As a first-rounder the Bears do have him for as much as five years if they elect to pick up the option for the fifth year of his rookie contract.

Would Fox have wanted a defensive force? Probably. But he went 3-13 last season in no small part because he had to use three different quarterbacks and two of them were bad.

“I think the quarterback position was obviously a need position as well,” Fox said. “That became pretty clear as we went out in free agency and got Mike Glennon. I think you're always trying to add depth at every position.

“Unlike what some people think, quarterback is key, too. If you look back at a year ago, we went through three quarterbacks, due to injuries, so I think building depth is really important. I think Mitch is a quality, quality player. I think if you did research and we need to do that, I'm going to say that a lot of people had him ranked very high, and us no different.”

[MORE BEARS DRAFT COVERAGE: Trust the tape: Bears feel confident in Division II draft picks Adam Shaheen, Jordan Morgan]

One cynical view making some rounds is that Pace has set Fox up to fail specifically by not giving him defensive help that would translate into win-now prospects for a coach who obviously needs to. But that doesn’t quite square somehow.

Pace and the draft powers were promising Fox a real shot at something even better than a quarterback. All they needed was for Cleveland to opt for Trubisky, which was in discussion over in Ohio until not long before the draft. Then the Bears, who’d talked over scenarios with San Francisco GM John Lynch over recent weeks, would have made that trade, but for Myles Garrett.

The Bears at No. 3 had tabbed three possible options for themselves, but with every intention of trading up unless the 49ers were blown away by a trade offer the Bears couldn’t match.

“I would say there were probably two of the three that we’d be willing to go up for,” Pace said, with a sly smile but without naming Garrett.

Which makes it reasonable to conclude that Fox knew the GM would get him the projected best edge rusher in the draft, unless their projected best quarterback was there. Which is what happened.

“We knew [Trubisky], obviously, was our top quarterback,” Pace said. “At one point in time – you don’t know what to believe – but up until the last second, there was speculation that Mitch could go 1. So then there’s even talks: ‘Wow, if he goes 1, and Myles goes to 2, what are we going to do?’

“And so all these scenarios are being played out. And there’s just so many of them. And we talk them all out. But the idea of ‘If Mitch is there at 2, and it’s realistic for us to go get him,’ that was something we discussed.”

The Bears were expected to prioritize the secondary, even as high as LSU’s Jamal Adams in some first-round scenarios. They didn’t get draft help for one of the poorest takeaway secondaries in NFL history until well into the fourth round. Was Pace undercutting his defense-based head coach and a staff boasting some of the top mentors in their areas?

Really?

Pace guaranteed $20 million of Bears money to cornerbacks Prince Amukamara ($7 million) and Marcus Cooper ($8 million) and safety Quintin Demps ($5 million). To have then used a high pick for a defensive back could conceivably have had McCaskey calling over and asking just exactly how Pace figured he needed to give his coaches a viable secondary. In the final analysis, Pace’s view of upgrading the secondary was more than draft-centric.

“We added a lot in free agency, so that was the plan,” Pace said. “We signed three corners in free agency and a safety and now we just drafted a safety. Part of our free agency plan was to attack the secondary and we accomplished it there. And that kind of allowed us to draft best player available when this moment came.”

If Fox had a problem with any of that, it was not apparent Saturday night after their third draft together.