Bears grades: Unsatisfactory marks all around

542974.jpg

Bears grades: Unsatisfactory marks all around

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011Posted: 9:05 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
The offense cut its sacks-allowed total in half but also saw its rushing yardage slashed by nearly 80 percent in a game that was there to be won but was never in the Bears control primarily because of offensive issues.

Of the Bears 14 possessions, they had zero or only one first down on 12 of them.

QUARTERBACK: C-

The numbers were average but too many details were poor. Jay Cutler helped his offensive line initially with mobility in the pocket and quicker releases than in the New Orleans game. He finished with 21 completions in 37 attempts for 302 yards and two touchdowns, respectable enough in a game where he had zero support from any running game.

But Cutler was too often inaccurate with throws, resulting in two interceptions and also in some missed opportunities down the field. He continues to hold onto balls under pressure, although whether it is his receivers failing to gain separation or simply waiting too long looking for a big play is a matter of speculation.

RUNNING BACKS: D

Matt Forte was completely shackled, with 2 total rushing yards in 9 attempts. He caught 7 of 8 passes thrown to him and managed to turn one into a 28-yard gain. The lack of rushing offense remains a deadly noose around the offense and it is far from the fault of Forte, who was being hit too often before reaching the line of scrimmage.

RECEIVERS: D-

Johnny Knox may have established himself clearly as a starter even with Roy Williams back from injury and Dane Sanzenbacher is appearing more adept at hanging onto key passes than Williams or any of the receivers. Sanzenbacher caught his second TD pass in as many weeks with a third-down catch in the second quarter to stop some gathering Green Bay momentum. Knox caught a 24-yarder to created the first-and-goal that preceded Sanzenbachers TD.

Williams returned to the starting lineup, did not play well early and was a non-factor, used only sporadically as the game went on. The first-quarter Cutler INT was not a good pass but Williams did not alter his route on a long throw and should have been in position to challenge for the catch. Williams also dropped a TD pass in the second quarter that was redeemed by Sanzenbachers catch.

Devin Hester gave the offense a desperately needed boost in the second quarter with a 37-yard catch-and-run that set up the Bears first TD. But Hester also was guilty of a stupid dead-ball personal foul in the fourth quarter to cost the offense desperately needed field position.

Tight end Kellen Davis dropped a third-down pass in the third quarter but caught a TD pass in the fourth quarter to give the offense a lift that turned out to be its last gasp.

Receivers continue to drop too many passes, however. Cutlers accuracy is suspect to this point of the season but few of his receivers are establishing themselves as capable of making difficult catches to help him out.

OFFENSIVE LINE: F

The concerning overall is that the Packers do not present the bizarre scheming that the New Orleans Saints did and yet the Bears, even with familiarity, were unable to establish any sort of offensive momentum or continuity. Three different linemen (Frank Omiyale, Roberto Garza, Chris Spencer) were flagged for penalties on successive plays after a Brian Urlacher interception created a game-changing opportunity in the fourth quarter.

Despite missing two starters, the line gave Cutler time to let plays develop deep in the first half. But almost to a man the linemen stated that the team has a back the caliber of Forte but they are not doing what needs to be accomplished to get him any running room.

Cutler was sacked three times and hit unofficially just two times. But the line has yet to establish a shred of dominance through three games against good teams, and until the Bears do, they will not be one of them.

The evidence was there on the scoreboard: 27 Green Bay points. The Bears admitted to being flat to begin the game, inexcusable in a contest of this importance. Two opponents in succession now have put 27 or more points on the Bears.

DEFENSIVE LINE: D

Julius Peppers ended a first-quarter Green Bay possession with a third-down sack but he was offsides twice, once giving the Packers a first down in the second quarter. Peppers more than made up for that by inducing LT Chad Clifton into three false starts. Henry Melton recovered from a poor showing in New Orleans to post a first-half sack.

Melton, who had 3 tackles for loss, and Peppers each had a hit on Aaron Rodgers, the only two hits initially credited against the Green Bay quarterback.

But the interior defense was repeatedly caved in on run plays and the Packers became the third straight team to rush for 100 or more yards on the Bears. Ryan Grant got into the linebackers and secondary repeatedly on his 17 runs (for 92 yards). The Bears expected Green Bay to run and still couldnt stop it.

LINEBACKERS: D

Lance Briggs was initially credited with a game-high 14 tackles, two for losses, but he nullified a first-drive interception with an offsides penalty that allowed the Packers to retain possession on what would be a touchdown drive. Urlacher had an interception at the Chicago 45 in the fourth quarter that the offense wasted and he also broke up a pass.

But none of the linebackers provided any consistent run support and too often were out of position on Grant cutbacks. Nick Roach finished with two tackles but was used sparingly because of Green Bay's offense forced the use of nickel packages.

SECONDARY: D-

Charles Tillman made an end-zone interception that was nullified by a penalty in the first quarter, one of the few plays where the Bears truly beat Rodgers. The Green Bay quarterback completed 28 of 38 passes for 297 yards and a rating of 111.4, the second of three quarterbacks to put up a passer rating above 110.0 on the Bears already this season.

Injuries shook up the safety tandem; Craig Steltz started but was in poor tackling position on Green Bays first-quarter TD drive and was beaten badly on a third-down conversion in the second quarter. The DBs were no match for tight end Jermichael Finley, who caught three TD passes, and wideout Greg Jennings caught nine of the 10 passes thrown his way.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

A creative touchdown punt return by Knox was nullified by a holding penalty by Corey Graham completely on the other side of the field. The call was bad; the play was worse. Robbie Gould ran his successful field goal string to five and forced touchbacks with all 4 of his kickoffs. Adam Podlesh continued to punt effectively with an average of 42.6 yards on 7 punts.

The return game continues to produce virtually nothing of impact, however. Hester had one return of 21 yards. But no Bears possession started any farther upfield than the Chicago 32 after a kickoff or punt return.
COACHING: F

The Bears called 17 pass plays to six runs in the first half, not running particularly well but effectively taking away a chance at establishing a ball-control offense. Matters played out pretty much as they did in New Orleans and the offense finished with nine rushes by Forte, for a paltry two yards, vs. 43 pass plays (37 attempts, three sacks, three Cutler scrambles). The Green Bay defense had struggled in the first two Packers wins but was never challenged in this one.

The Packers offense was too effective running the ball inside and was only forced into three-and-outs four times.

Special teams planning of the trick punt return was exquisite, well-scouted and executed except for a stupid penalty.

The Bears also were admittedly flat early in the game. If this team could not get up for this game

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.

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Friday's unit: the offensive line. 

1. Will Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flip spots, and will it be effective?

One of the more intriguing storylines to come out of the Bears’ offseason program was the possibility of a Kyle Long-Josh Sitton guard swap, with Long moving from right to left and Sitton to left to right. The prevailing wisdom is that Long’s athleticism would be better suited for the pulls needed at left guard, while Sitton has made Pro Bowls at both positions. But is it prudent for the Bears to make this switch with Long still recovering from November ankle surgery and some nasty complications that came after it? He’s shown he’s skilled enough to already make one position switch on the offensive line (from right tackle to right guard), so there’s no reason to doubt he couldn’t handle another so long as he’s healthy. We’ll see where he is next week. 

“You want flexibility,” coach John Fox said. “You don’t want as much flexibility as we had to use a year ago because we had to play so many guys due to injury. But we’re messing around with (Sitton) and Kyle both playing opposite sides, whether one’s on the left, one’s on the right. We’ll get those looks in camp, we got plenty of time.”

2. Can Charles Leno Jr. capitalize on a contract year?

Leno has been a pleasant surprise given the low expectations usually set for seventh-round picks. He started every game in 2016, checking off an important box for John Fox — reliability. Whether Leno can be more than a reliable player at left tackle, though, remains to be seen (if the Bears thought he were, wouldn’t they have signed him to an extension by now?). He has one more training camp and 16 games to prove he’s worthy of a deal to be the Bears (or someone else’s) left tackle of the future. Otherwise, the Bears may look to a 2018 draft class rich in tackles led by Texas’ Connor Williams and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. 

“I know if I take care of my business out here, everything else will take care of itself,” Leno said. 

3. Will Hroniss Grasu survive the roster crunch?

A year ago, Grasu was coming off a promising rookie season and was in line to be the Bears’ starting center. But the Oregon product tore his ACL in August, and Cody Whitehair thrived after a last-minute move from guard to center. If the Bears keep eight offensive lineman this year, Grasu could be squeezed out: Leno, Long, Whitehair, Sitton and Bobby Massie are the likely starters, with Eric Kush and Tom Compton filling reserve roles. That leaves one spot, either for fifth-round guard Jordan Morgan or Grasu. The Bears could try to stash Morgan, who played his college ball at Division-II Kutztown, on the practice squad and keep Grasu. But Grasu doesn’t have flexibility to play another position besides center, which could hurt his case. 

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season.