Bears offense astonishing, but D-Line was key

326384.jpg

Bears offense astonishing, but D-Line was key

Sunday, Nov. 29, 2010
8:49 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Scoring a season-high 31 points wins high marks for just about everyone on offense, even the line despite allowing four sacks; that group settled in as the game went along and did not allow Philadelphia to dominate consistently at any point. The defense made plays when needed but was hit for 333 passing yards and a possible game-changing late TD. Still, a strong overall performance by an 8-3 team.

Quarterback A

Jay Cutlers 146.2 passer rating was a career best and four TD passes matches his best. His TD throw to Earl Bennett in the first quarter was one of his finest throws in two seasons, a low red-zone bullet that either his guy or nobody was going to catch. Cutler was sacked four times in the first half but maintained composure throughout for his best half of the season with three TDs, 7-for-10 passing and a 152.1 rating. Cutler finished with 14-for-21 passing for 247 yards and the TDs but most important, no INTs and had a total handle on the game.

Running backs A

Matt Forte broke off his left side for a 61-yard run in the first quarter to set up a TD and picked up 28 on a third-quarter carry that was the key starter for a 17-play drive of 83 yards. Forte finished with 117 yards on 14 carries and caught two of three passes for another 22 yards. Chester Taylor was ineffective again, with minus-three yards on six carries.

Receivers A

Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox each caught first quarter TD passes on precise throws from Cutler and wideouts provided solid blocking downfield to spring first-half plays for long yardage. Bennett and Knox provided excellent yardage after catches and Devin Hester added a game-high 86 yards on three catches. Greg Olsen scored on his one catch and he and Brandon Manumaleuna performed generally well in pass protection.

Offensive line B

A difficult grading situation. The Bears allowed no sacks of Cutler in the second half and Fortes runs were behind increasingly solid blocking. Assignments against a creative Philadelphia pass rush befuddled the Bears early, who allowed four sacks in the first half to squander momentum as well as yardage and possessions. LT Frank Omiyale was guilty of a third-down false start, then was beaten for a sack on the ensuing play and for a second sack in the second quarter. RT JMarcus Webb appeared to miss an assignment and leave rookie defensive end Brandon Graham unblocked for a sack, and breakdown between Webb and RG Roberto Garza left DT Mike Patterson unblocked for another sack. But give Philadelphias blitz looks credit for causing many problems.

Defensive line A

The rotating front four was arguably the key to the game, allowing the rest of the defense to focus on more than just Michael Vick, whom the Bears sacked four times in all. DT Henry Melton collected his third sack in three games, sharing a first-quarter takedown of Michael Vick shared with Israel Idonije and getting superb early pressure on Vick. DT Matt Toeainas seven-yard sack ended a drive and Julius Peppers third-down sack on a play from the Chicago-3 midway through the second quarter forced the Eagles to settle for a field goal. Peppers pursued and tackled Vick in the fourth quarter to force another FG. Tommie Harris pass deflection was a game turning point. Anthony Adams was credited with a sack of Vick.

Linebackers B

Brian Urlacher was initially credited with a team-high 10 tackles and appeared to force a fumble on a sack that wasnt credited to him. Urlacher broke up a pass while Lance Briggs added six tackles and Pisa Tinoisamoa was credited with two solo stops.

Secondary B

S Chris Harris pick off of a deflected Vick pass in the end zone and 39-yard return was a major turning point, from a Philly scoring shot at the Chicago-3 to a TD by the offense. Harris also had two passes broken up. Nickel back D.J. Moore turned in two impact plays with first-half blitzes and finished with six solo tackles, one for a loss. Vick passed for 333 yards but the game plan was to prevent big plays and force the Eagles to play on a long field.

Special teams B

Danieal Manning returned a kickoff 44 yards and Devin Hester opened the second half with one of 46 yards. Poor coverage on Brad Maynards booming first punt allowed DeSean Jackson a 35-yard return to set up a Philadelphia FG. Robbie Gould converted his one FG try from 23 yards.

Coaching A

Relying on basics and the scheme vs. Vick was superb and kept the Bears from leaving huge gaps. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli made stopping big plays the priority and the discipline staying with that plan was crucial. Mike Martz showed the run early with good effect and again called more than 20 runs by his backs. The Bears were clearly a team with solid focus and was not caught up in panic reactions against one of the NFLs best offenses and the No. 1 defense at producing turnovers.

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."