Bears Grades: High marks across the board

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Bears Grades: High marks across the board

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011Posted: 5:30 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
A 30-12 win over the winningest team in the 2010 NFC couldve been even more lopsided for a Bears team that rates high marks in nearly every area.

QUARTERBACK A

Jay Cutler both managed the game and attacked the Falcons, completing 22-of-32 passes for 312 yards and 2 TDs despite pressure that sacked him five times and hit him on six other occasions, once enough to shake him up. He was accurate with mid-range throws to wide receivers and also got rid of throws quickly for the most part, although two sacks might have been avoided by throwing the ball away. His passing was even better than the 107.8 rating as his one interception was a batted ball.

RUNNING BACK B

Matt Forte turned short passes into 23- and 56-yard plays, the latter a first-quarter TD with broken tackles and exquisite open-field moves, with fullback Tyler Clutts providing a solid downfield block. Forte averaged 4.3 yards per carry and led the Bears with 5 catches for 90 yards to go with 68 rushing yards. Kahlil Bell carried 10 times for just 24 yards, Chester Taylor-like numbers, but controlled the ball against tough hitting to give Forte needed rest.
RECEIVERS A-

Devin Hester turned a flanker screen into a 53-yard gain that came up a yard short of the end zone and caught two other passes. Roy Williams caught all four of the passes thrown to him, totaling 55 yards before he strained a groin while signaling a first down. Williams blocked well downfield and sustained a first-quarter drive with a 23-yard catch on third down. Johnny Knoxs downfield blocking was key on the Forte TD pass in the first quarter and Williams provided a strong downfield block on Hesters twisting catch-and-run in the third quarter.

Tight end Matt Spaeth caught both balls thrown to him, one for a 1-yard TD in the third quarter when the Bears were putting the game away. Kellen Davis caught two passes, blocked adequately but turned a defensive end loose on the hit that shook Cutler up badly.

OFFENSIVE LINE B
Jay Cutler was sacked three times in the first half, five times in all, but the line was hurt by excellent coverage that forced Cutler to hold onto the ball too long. Chris Spencer was pressed into service at right guard when Lance Louis was injured in the second quarter. JMarcus Webb was called for two holding penalties in the fourth quarter to wipe out sizeable gains. But against consistently strong pressure, the line handled the Falcons front adequately, although Atlanta posted an alarming 11 tackles for loss.
DEFENSIVE LINE A

Henry Meltons sack, supported by Israel Idonije, created a near-safety in the second quarter. Melton added a second sack in the fourth quarter and was a dominant presence with seven QB hits and two tackles for loss. Julius Peppers had a sack of Matt Ryan that turned into a fumble that was recovered and taken in for a TD by Brian Urlacher. Peppers also recovered a fumble to thwart an Atlanta drive, deflected a pass that led to a five-yard loss, forced a holding penalty on left tackle Sam Baker, and sacked Ryan on a two-point conversion. Nick Reed turned in a crucial pass defense on a third down inside the 10 to force a field goal. Amobi Okoye sacked Ryan late in the third quarter.

LINEBACKERS A

Brian Urlachers diving interception stopped one Falcons possession and was followed by the Forte TD in the first quarter. His pickup of the Matt Ryan fumble in the third quarter was even more dramatic, going in for a TD that put the Bears up 30-6 in the third quarter. The defense allowed just two field goals overall and Urlacher was initially credited with a team-high 10 tackles, one for loss, and a pass deflection. Atlanta rushed for 110 yards but 53 of that came on one carry.

SECONDARY A

Major Wrights hit and Charles Tillmans strip forced a fumble by Michael Turner. D.J. Moores blitz forced Matt Ryan to throw his first-quarter interception. Tillmans tackling was poor in spots but his third-down pass deflection was a key stop in the second quarter. Ryan threw 47 passes but the coverage contributed to the lines 5 sacks. Roddy White (8-61) and Julio Jones (5-71) are as dangerous as their billing but the secondarys overall tackling was solid and did not allow either receiver into the end zone.

SPECIAL TEAMS A

Robbie Goulds field goal from 41 yards gave the Bears their first points of the 2011 season and he added two more from in close to get some sort of points off thwarted red-zone possessions. Goulds five touchbacks forced the Falcons to operate from a long field and his second-quarter kickoff 5 yards deep was turned into excellent field position by a Corey Graham tackle at the Atlanta 15. Penalties by Graham and Craig Steltz on kickoff returns were costly in field position. Adam Podlesh averaged 48 yards gross and 46.3 net on 6 punts.

COACHING A

Play design by Mike Martz had receivers wide open in the first quarter, using mis-direction and delays. A back-side throwback should have been a TD as well but for a Cutler overthrow of a wide-open Kellen Davis. The Bears ran the ball 27 times vs. 37 pass plays but MartzCutler threw 14 passes to backs and tight ends to take advantage of defenders committed to stopping the run. Rod Marinelli had the defense prepared to handle Atlantas offensive firepower being run at the Bears in a no-huddle attack. Dave Toubs coverage teams allowed the Falcons just 3.3 yards on 3 punt returns and 16.5 yards per on the only two of seven kickoffs Gould allowed the Falcons to return.

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.

Malik Hooker carries high-risk, high-reward question for Bears

Malik Hooker carries high-risk, high-reward question for Bears

With eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries, the Bears finished dead last in the NFL with 11 takeaways in 2016. That represents a glaring need the Bears began to address with a free agency overhaul of their secondary.

The prevailing thought has been that if the Bears draft a defensive back with the third overall pick on Thursday, it'll be LSU safety Jamal Adams. But there's another safety with top-10 hype that could serve the Bears' desperate need for takeaways: Ohio State's Malik Hooker. 

[MOON'S DRAFT PREVIEW: More secondary upgrades needed

Hooker picked off seven passes as part of Ohio State's outrageously good secondary in 2016. His elite range and knack for interceptions make him a tantalizing prospect, especially for a team that needs that center fielder-type safety. 

"Any ball that's in the air, it's my ball," Hooker said. "I feel like I'm a playmaker. Any time I had a chance to make a play or change momentum of a game, I took it upon myself to do so."

But while Hooker has that ballhawking skill (and returner-like vision once he has the ball in his hands) that Adams perhaps doesn't, he doesn't appear as "safe" a pick as Adams. 

Whereas Adams played all three of his years at LSU, Hooker redshirted 2014, barely played in 2015 and then exploded last fall. One year of tape isn't much — even if it's excellent tape — which makes Hooker more of a projection. 

And it's worth noting that Hooker played hurt at the end of the year and underwent hip surgery to repair a torn labrum and sports hernia surgeries on both sides in January, too. While Hooker said at the combine he's expecting to be ready to participate in rookie minicamp in mid-May, he carries risk for a team like the Bears picking in the top five. 

Adams, on the other hand, is one of six or seven prospects ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay described on their "First Draft" podcast as "clean" — as in, without injury-related red flags — among the top 20 prospects in this year's draft. Hooker and fellow Ohio State defensive back Marshon Lattimore have injury concerns, as does Alabama's Jonathan Allen, the defensive lineman who's been mentioned as a possibility for the Bears at No. 3. 

[Check out Malik Hooker's Draft Profile]

Hooker pushed back on questions about his health in Indianapolis, explaining that he elected to have the surgery with an eye on being healthy for his first football activities with whatever team drafts him.

"The film says what it says," Hooker said. "I feel like a lot of teams will want me to be healthy for the year coming in because surgery was my decision. It wasn't like I needed the surgery, I decided to do that because at that point of the season, I knew I made the decision I was going to declare for this upcoming draft. It was moreso preparing myself to get ready for rookie minicamp coming up."

Draft history shows it's rare for a safety to be a top-five pick, let alone a top-three one. But as the NFL continues to be more and more of a pass-oriented league, why not reach for someone who can command a defense like Adams or create game-changing turnovers like Hooker?

"I feel like we're both very good players," Hooker said. "I feel like we're definitely capable of going top 10, top 5."

If the Bears think a safety is worth their highest pick since 1972, then the prevailing question becomes: Would the payoff for Hooker be worth the risk?

Jordan Howard not resting on 2016 success: 'I want to make the Hall of Fame'

Jordan Howard not resting on 2016 success: 'I want to make the Hall of Fame'

Josh Bellamy considers Jordan Howard his "nephew," and has communicated a message to the second-year running back: Forget about 2016. 

2016, of course, was the year in which the 22-year-old Howard set the Bears' single-season rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards and was a Pro Bowl selection. That's not necessarily easy to leave behind. 

"What we did last year, that's in the past," Bellamy said. "So you gotta do that every year. You do that every year, man, you'll get in the Hall of Fame, and you'll be one of those guys that goes to the Pro Bowl every year, like Adrian Peterson, those guys. Forget last year and let's move forward."

Howard was at Halas Hall Tuesday to be honored along with Bellamy as the 2016 Piccolo Award winners ("It’s a real honor to win this award along with J.B.," Howard said). He spoke like someone who has his sights set on greater accomplishments than one year of 1,000-plus yards or a January trip to Orlando. 

"Ever since I've been playing this game, I always wanted to be the best," Howard said. "That's still my drive. I want to be the best player. I want to make the Hall of Fame. But I also want to win Super Bowls. I want to keep getting better so the team can get better as well."

That Howard was standing in Halas Hall talking about Hall of Fame aspirations is somewhat incredible, given a year ago he tumbled all the way to the fifth round and the 150th overall pick. 

That he fell that far was a surprise to him, and also to some observers — NFL.com's writeup pegged him as a second or third-round pick and compared him to Arian Foster. 

"I didn't go where I thought I was going to be going," Howard said. "So that was kind of a disappointment. But I was very grateful to be selected at all."

And the Bears, of course, are grateful to have landed him.