Bears grades: Unsatisfactory marks all around

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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.

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

NFL teams typically wants as many draft picks as possible. The theory: The needier the team, the more picks required for those needs.

Not sure that this is the true situation confronting the Bears in 2017, however. In fact, something nearly the opposite, a variation on a less-is-more theme, is truer.

For the Bears approaching the 2017 NFL Draft, quality is more important than quantity. “Best available” player is fine, but for a team in major need of true impact difference-makers, a “best-possible” player is paramount. How GM Ryan Pace and his personnel posse accomplish that will be one of the most closely watched and far-reaching dramas of this draft. Because it may require some creativity on the clock, with a dizzying array of scenarios popping up in front of them by virtue of possible picks by the Cleveland Browns at 1 and San Francisco 49ers at 2.

Pace already has been about the business of giving himself the option of going after best-possible rather than simply waiting, staying with the draft board and selecting best-available.

The Bears were among the NFL’s most active teams in free agency. That has taken care of some “quantity” issues (cornerback, wide receiver, tight end), with an eye toward freeing the draft for the pursuit of true excellence, something too few Bears drafts have managed to secure (which is how teams miss playoffs nine times in 10 years and find themselves on third different GMs and coaches in the span of six years).

As he has always had within the context of the overall direction of the football franchise, Pace has a draft plan. More specifically, he also has a structure within which to execute that plan.

Draft “bands”

Besides an overall top-to-bottom ranking of players, the Bears establish various “bands” of players they identify as being worth a pick at a certain spot. Not all players in the band are graded equally, and the Bears may move to trade up if a significantly higher-graded players in the band is within reach, or if they fear other teams leap-frogging them to grab a targeted player.

But the bands allow the Bears to weigh trading back and still being able to select one of the talents in that band. With the Bears sitting at No. 3 this year, the first band in this draft will be a small one.

“We’ll have an elite group of names that we’re confident will be there [at No. 3],” Pace said at the recent owners meetings. “Three names, yeah. But beyond that, [we say,] ‘OK, there’s some pretty good depth in this draft, too, so are there scenarios’ — and it’s easier said than done — ‘where we can trade back.’ Those things’ll be discussed.”

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They’re being discussed right now. The phone in Pace’s Halas Hall office has been increasingly active the past couple weeks — calls ingoing and outgoing — and will become more so this week as the Bears and most of the NFL take the temperatures of trade ideas going into the start of the draft Thursday night. It happens every year about this time: general managers looking to satisfy sometimes-conflicting objectives, one of adding draft picks via trades down where possible, and the other of adding best-possible players, sometimes necessitating trades of picks or players to move up.

For the Bears, this year is a bit out of the ordinary, if only because they hold the No. 3-overall pick in a draft considered extremely talent-rich at certain positions and extremely less so at others. Loosely put, a position such as cornerback is rated deep enough that quality starters can be had even down into the fourth round, so teams likely need not trade up to land a blue-chipper. Conversely, the quarterback position, the one most often targeted for round-one trades up, is short of consensus elites, so again, teams are less likely to trade up to secure one.

The Bears are in position to select a franchise quarterback but opinions vary widely on whether there are clear ones to be had as high as where the Bears draft, as the order now stands. Pace, who established last year his willingness to trade up for what he considers “elite,” is like any other personnel executive in wanting more selections.

The Bears do not want to slip out of a band entirely. When they sat with No. 7 in the 2015 draft, the Bears identified a quiver of eight players deemed worth the seventh-overall pick. Those ranged from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Amari Cooper to defensive lineman Leonard Williams, and included Kevin White, one of two from the eight not already selected by that point.

Because the goal was a player judged to be elite, trading down was not a realistic option because of the risk of getting none of their targets and instead settling for the next, lower tier of prospects.

Dealing with market forces

But what will the market allow this time? 

“Yeah, and based on the talent of the guys in those bands, what it would require for us to go back?” Pace said. “Those things are all being talked about and studied now, and we’ll keep on fine-tuning it.

“But you’ve got to have a partner willing to do that, too.”

Pace has been a willing partner for trades either up or down, sometimes in the same draft.

Last year, holding the 11th pick, the decision was made to trade up to No. 9 because of their grade on Georgia edge rusher Leonard Floyd, and the concern that either the New York Giants would take Floyd at No. 10 or another team would leap-frog the Bears and grab him. The Bears wanted a pass rusher and the falloff from Floyd was viewed as significant. Clemson’s Shaq Lawson was the next edge rusher taken (No. 19), he was less the speed player that Floyd was, and concerns about Lawson’s shoulder issues proved valid, requiring offseason surgery that cost him most of his rookie season.
 
On day two, Pace traded down twice with an eye toward landing one of his top second-round-band talents: Kansas State offensive lineman Cody Whitehair. 

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Franchise-QB search expected to continue sooner rather than later

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Franchise-QB search expected to continue sooner rather than later

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day could have in store. Sixth in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

Jay Cutler lasted through two years under the John Fox coaching staff while his 2014 contract still contained some guaranteed money. The new regime under GM Ryan Pace was given the option by Chairman George McCaskey of cutting ties earlier regardless of financial commitment but Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains as coordinators made a go of it before Cutler's injuries (shoulder and thumb last season) and mediocre play regardless of supporting cast made the organization's decision for it.

Resolving a now-decades-old problem position has been goal No. 1 of Pace, with all indications that the process will be ongoing, vs. the Cutler's-fine approach of the past eight years. Step one was signing Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup Mike Glennon to a three-year deal but with $16 million of the $18.5 million guaranteed coming in 2017. The situation establishes Glennon as the starter, with a chance to put a hold on the job beyond this season with a breakout year.

"It's a leap of faith to some degree," Fox acknowledged during the NFL owners meetings. "But I think you do that in a lot of different positions and evaluations of personnel and people. The big thing with him is that he has been in NFL football games. He has been in a lot of systems and around different players and personalities and, I think, handled it well."

The decision was made to move on from Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley as backups, signing Mark Sanchez, 30, to a one-year pact worth $1 million guaranteed plus a per-game bonus that allows the deal to top out at $2 million. Connor Shaw showed promise before going down for the year with a broken leg suffered in preseason.

Pre-draft depth chart
 
Starter: Mike Glennon
Reserves: Mark Sanchez, Connor Shaw

Bears draft priority: High

The Glennon and Sanchez signings were modest financial and time commitments by NFL standards. Their depth chart has no "elite" in place and does not need another mid-range quarterback; they had that for eight years in Cutler and know what limitations a limited quarterback brings to a franchise.

Using Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints experience as the template, Pace has been clear that he is seeking a quarterback with the intangibles to do more than post statistics, going further to lift the collective team mojo, something too often painfully lacking during the Cutler tenure.

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All of which makes the quarterback draft options a level more interesting than the basic talent/traits assessments and evaluations that have circulated. The Bears have done extensive research on the quarterback prospects, and few envision scenarios where the Bears do not strike for one within the first several rounds.

The overarching No. 1 question: Will the Bears disregard draft slot (No. 3) and land a quarterback perhaps not graded that highly but with the intangibles the organization craves?

Question No. 2: Could quarterbacks go a surprising 1-2 with the Cleveland Browns tapping Mitchell Trubisky and San Francisco 49ers snatching Deshaun Watson?

As far as this year's class, "I'm not banging the table for any of them," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who tapped Clemson's Deshaun Watson as the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 draft class.

Keep an eye on:

DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame — The Bears sent a task force to South Bend for Kizer's Pro Day, in addition to a Combine interview and private meeting. Athletic but INT rate (2.7 percent), accuracy (60.7 completion percentage) and W-L record (14-11) nothing special.
 
Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech — Has been likened to both Cutler and Brett Favre for big-play predispositions, mobility and arm abilities. May have widest hit-miss potential, with major upside but also weaknesses in decision-making that concern some. "I just think his fundamentals break down too many times," Mayock said.
 
Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh — Bears coaches worked with him at Senior Bowl. Not as highly touted as others in the class but among most pro-ready and rates as possible nugget in mid-rounds — if left on the board that long.
 
Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina — Bears were scouting him intently early last college season and invested a Combine interview and private workout in additional time with what some rate as the best-available at his position in a class short on "elite" talents. But opinions vary widely, with Trubisky being mentioned for Cleveland at No. 1 or for No. 12, for example.
 
Deshaun Watson, Clemson — Unquestioned intangibles leader with curious "negatives:" accuracy (67.4 career completion percentage) and turnovers (2.7 INT percentage). Two full years as starter, two appearances in national championship game.