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.

Jay Cutler has answered doubters in Bears locker room, coaching staff

Jay Cutler has answered doubters in Bears locker room, coaching staff

When Jay Cutler came to the Bears in that 2009 trade with the Denver Broncos, he was “the new guy.” The locker room belonged to Olin Kreutz and Brian Urlacher on their respective sides of the football, and while the quarterback position by definition places its occupant in a necessarily leadership position, that wasn’t the Bears. They weren’t going to be “Cutler’s team,” not for a while.

But Matt Forte exited this past offseason and with him went the last position player – on either side of the ball – who had been here longer than Cutler now has. The reality wasn’t lost on Cutler.

“I was looking at the roster a couple of weeks ago and I feel like there’s been a major shift in experience — especially on the offensive side,” he said. “I’m at 11 [years] and then you look down, there’s a couple of nines, a couple of eights and mostly five and under, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think a new talent and new guys in the building, there’s new energy and new attitude. I’ve embraced it. I’ve enjoyed it. I think the coaching staff’s done a great job of getting all these young guys up to speed. It’s a good group right now.”

It is also a group that looks to Cutler perhaps in ways teammates haven’t. Where Forte was at least the template for an NFL professional for his position group, Cutler now becomes the go-to veteran for everything ranging from details on a play-call to how to behave as a rookie.

It is a role that at times Cutler did not always appear to fit into comfortably, particularly with established veterans and personas that were the Bears’ identity for, in cases like Kreutz and Urlacher, a decade or more. Now, a player once sometimes perceived by outsiders as poutish or petulant has become something of a standard-setter for teammates.

“Obviously Jay does a great job with the younger guys,” said guard Kyle Long. “He brought me along, and continues to bring me along. He can be a little honest and blunt with me from time to time, but beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s the right thing to do in his position, as the leader and vested player.

“The quarterback is the leader of our team. I think he’s done a great job. I see him with the defense a lot, which is something I didn’t see a lot the first few years. I don’t necessarily know if that’s on Jay, or if it’s a perception-of-Jay basis. He’s a great guy. People in that locker room love him. He’s tough as hell. He’s got a cannon. He can run. And he’s a competitor. We love him. He’s been great this offseason and we’re looking forward to seeing how he’ll be this season with this new O-line and with the defense getting us the ball back a lot.”

Tough love approach

Cutler has earned the respect of his teammates. But gaining the confidence of his head coach and general manager through last year were possibly career turning points.

Cutler had been given a contract extension six games into his first (2009) year with the Bears. He responded by leading the NFL in interceptions.

When Phil Emery arrived as general manager, he spoke from the outset of Cutler as a “franchise quarterback” and “elite.” Emery gave Cutler a seven-year contract after the 2013 season, whereupon Cutler again led the league in interceptions in a 5-11 season marked by friction with coordinator Aaron Kromer and coach Marc Trestman, whose staff was fired after that year.

Instead of fawning treatment, Fox, coordinator Adam Gase and GM Ryan Pace were decidedly noncommittal on Cutler through last offseason and into the year. Cutler produced the best statistical year of his career, still not as good as Aaron Rodgers’ poorest single season, but with an overall performance that settled the Bears’ quarterback situation for the foreseeable future.

"I had questions on everybody," Fox said. "You come in, you take a job, you evaluate and you have to make decisions oftentimes before you even meet somebody in Year 1 as a head coach or general manager. They could be robots for all you know. But the game is still about people and relationships.

“I will say this: At the conclusion of the whole season working with Jay, I was very impressed. So I feel way more confident about him."

Bears make front office changes

Bears make front office changes

The Bears announced in a press release on Wednesday that the team has made numerous changes in their front office this offseason.

One such move included the hiring of Brandon Faber as the VP of Communications. Faber was with the Blackhawks communications department since 2008, where his most recent position was Senior Director of Communications and Community relations. 

"The club created a new executive layer of SVP’s to better lead and develop various areas of business with a focus on innovation & strategy," the release detailed. "The club promoted Scott Hagel, Karen Murphy, Cliff Stein and Lee Twarling to the newly created SVP level. The Bears have also added three new members to the VP level, promoting Doug Carnahan to VP of Corporate Partnerships and Jake Jones to VP of Finance and hiring Brandon Faber as the VP of Communications."

Hagel has been promoted to SVP, Marketing and Communications after 20 years with the Bears. Murphy has been promoted to SVP, Business Strategy and CFO. She has been with the Bears for 17 years.

Stein has been with the Bears for 14 years and has been promoted to SVP and General Counsel. He is the legal advisor for all of the club.

Twarling, who has been with the club for 12 years, has been promoted to SVP, Sales and Customer Relations. 

Food for thought on Bears training camp

Food for thought on Bears training camp

Bear-ly Possible?  Maybe Not…

As the Bears prepare to take the field for the first time in Training Camp-apalooza 2016, we present a little food for thought here that Leonard Floyd was too full to finish.  As Ryan Pace continues to build this roster, this team’s injury margin for error remains smaller than the Minnesotas, Green Bays, Carolinas, Seattles and Arizonas of the NFC.  Idle football off-season minds can start working with actual news and reality as teams charge toward the first full week of September.  But here are a few thoughts about this team that’ve passed between my ears over the past week or so, and you can decide whether I should’ve slathered the top of my head with sunscreen, too.

2nd and 3rd before 1st

As we anxiously await Saturday’s first contact practice at camp to see how Leonard Floyd stands up to attacking NFL linemen, the thinking here is guard Cody Whitehair and defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard will play a greater role for the Bears this season than their top draft pick.  Even with his role simplified compared to what it was at Georgia, there’s still a physical and mental learning curve that might not be as steep for the two guys in the trenches.  Whitehair started for four years at Kansas State, Bullard the equivalent of three at Florida, and many scouts believed both could’ve been drafted even higher than where they landed with the Bears.  I’m still confident Vic Fangio can turn Floyd into the player the team projects, and will make some impact plays in 2016.  I just think the steadier contributions will come from the other two.

White will be a Beast

….eventually.  Call him an “advanced” rookie because he had to settle for just being around the team, getting a knack for NFL life, as well as mental playbook reps and a month of actual on-field practice.  And that will help him now.  He had an big-target NFL body before his injury a year ago and that size and speed figures to win a lot of battles down the road, along with his share this season.  But his limited route tree he had at West Virginia has to grow, and how quickly that happens immediately affects the level of his impact this fall.  Is 65 to 70 catches (4-plus per game) too much to ask?  If….if…he, Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Zach Miller don’t miss significant time and those weapons are available options all season, White’s numbers could exceed that.

Top 10 “D”

Consider Coordinator Vic Fangio taking over a unit that had its two worst seasons in franchise history, and taking it from 30th overall in 2013 and 2014, to 14th in 2015.  And he didn’t have close to the pieces he needed.  So many square pegs for round holes.  Now, add Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as an inside linebacker tandem that can’t be surpassed elsewhere around the league.  Throw in an end who can anchor one side of the line in Akiem Hicks to pair with an ascending young nose tackle in Eddie Goldman.  Pernell McPhee’s knee needs to be ready, with Willie Young and Lamarr Houston rotating in.  With health, that’s a front seven to be excited about for the first time, post-Lovie.  Now, the secondary is another issue, needing Tracy Porter to stay healthy, Kyle Fuller to put it all together and Adrian Amos and a safety-to-be-determined required to make more plays on the ball.  Between the improved first two lines of defense and Year Two of defensive back tutorship under Ed Donatell, I’m sayin’ there’s a chance.

Four-win First

The Houston Texans are a better team than the Bears right now, and should be a better team this season.  But if they open the season without J.J. Watt (back surgery), Brock Osweiler feels the weight of $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) with a green receiving corps outside of DeAndre Hopkins, and the new-look Bears defense can create some chaos and uncertainty for the hosts, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Bears could steal that opener, depending on their health going in.  So after that?  It’s Philadelphia at home, what should be a dreadful Cowboys defense in Dallas, then Detroit at Soldier Field.  Of course, this franchise has to figure out a way to beat the Lions, which they haven’t done since 2012.  The biggest test to a four-win first month would seem to be the first one.  They pull that off, maybe that baby bear baseball team won’t steal all the attention come October.  If they get there.

In closing, I have not been sipping the Bears Kool-Aid that on-air partner Dan Jiggetts loves to swig.  But who knows?  Maybe I needed to shampoo with some of that sunscreen, after all.