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.

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Pro Football Focus has more than its share of both supporters and detractors of how it goes about grading NFL players. They break down every snap for every player, and while there are general agreements on what's seen by naked, untrained eyes who don't put the time and investment into its system that PFF does, there are other evaluations that seem to come out of the blue. While there's occasional guesswork on a player's particular assignment on a given play within its scheme, those of us who've watched and studied nuances of the game, or those who've played it, can usually identify how many jobs were done correctly.

Tuesday, PFF released its rankings of all 32 NFL rosters but in essence focused on the quality of each team's starting lineup, listing the Bears — are you sitting down? — 18th in the league. That's ahead of the likes of the Ravens, Saints, Texans, Dolphins, a Jaguars franchise that's had tons of high draft picks in recent years, as well as the Broncos and Lions (whom they rank 28th). The top five are the Falcons, Patriots, Titans, Packers and Steelers (the Bears play three of those teams in September alone). Among other Bears opponents, they rank the Panthers 10th, Vikings 12th, Buccaneers 13th and Eagles 15th.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Their evaluation is based on each player's final score from last season, "elite" and "good" being the top two levels, followed by "average" and "below average" to "poor." The only Bear earning elite status was inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Another nine Bears finished with good grades: Jordan Howard, Zach Miller, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Adrian Amos and Quintin Demps (who earned his grade in Houston).

Those earning average grades were Cam Meredith, Kendall Wright, Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Jr., Pernell McPhee and Prince Amukamara. Below average: Mike Glennon (in mop-up duty in Tampa Bay), Kevin White, Bobby Massie, Leonard Floyd and Jaye Howard. The only Bear earning a poor grade among projected starters was tight end Dion Sims (with Miami). The other potential flaw is that PFF lists Kyle Fuller (no grade) and Bryce Callahan (average) as starters when Marcus Cooper and Cre'Von LeBlanc likely have the inside track to start at cornerback and nickel back, respectively.

How did the Bears get to 18th, above three playoff teams and another that won the Super Bowl two years ago? Well, all of those other teams have more elite players at certain positions, but it's offset by a number of spots occupied by more players with poor or below average grades. The Broncos (25th) for instance, had four elite players, just another four falling under the good grade, but five players listed as poor.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."