Bears offense astonishing, but D-Line was key

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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.

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

The adage “play the man, not the board” seems somehow appropriate for what the Bears are doing to prepare for the Detroit Lions behind quarterback Matt Barkley.

“The man” is Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Bears have been scouting him as well as his defenses, beyond just Bears games, beyond this season and last, taking in his 2014 Detroit season when Austin prepared defenses for Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen.

How did Austin scheme for rookie Carson Wentz when the Lions played (and beat) the Philadelphia Eagles? How did he structure is defense to stop a rookie Teddy Bridgewater when Detroit played Minnesota? (Not very well, apparently, since the Vikings won both games and scored 54 points combined in the two games).

While the John Fox Bears staff went against Austin’s Lions defense twice last year, Cutler was the Bears quarterback. When the Bears beat Austin and the Lions two months ago, it was with Brian Hoyer.

Now the Bears quarterback is Matt Barkley, who has fewer NFL games played (seven) than Cutler has NFL seasons (11), Hoyer (eight), too, for that matter.

“Different defensive coordinators attack young quarterbacks differently,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “Some guys blitz, some guys play a bunch of zone. This group on defense there, they have a really good defensive coordinator, they're really smart, they do a bunch of stuff. On the back end, they run all the coverages.

“As a game, we'll have to make adjustments as the game goes and see what their plan to come out is early.”

Coaches and players may talk about how they prepare for a scheme irrespective of which opposing quarterback, running back, linebacker or whatever they will be facing. But in fact, preparations start with who is orchestrating the opponent’s offense or defense – play the man, not the board.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

A risk can be out-thinking yourself trying to anticipate what a coordinator will do. The first point, Loggains said, is to start with your own strengths.

“We definitely look at that,” Loggains said. “As you go in the league long and longer, you face these guys, you see them in crossover games. We always know how a guy attacks a rookie quarterback or attacks a young quarterback, a veteran, or, in Matt's case, a guy who hasn't played as much.”

Evaluations of Barkley’s performance will broaden, particularly now that he is on tape for defensive coordinators to scheme for and scout. And while they are watching Barkley, the Bears are watching them.