Report card: Championship nearly earns straight A's

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Report card: Championship nearly earns straight A's

Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010
12: 52 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The second-highest point total of the past two seasons was the result of impact plays in virtually every area and helped the Bears become the first team to clinch a division title. Not many negatives in a 26-point win on the road in adverse conditions.

QUARTERBACK A

Jay Cutler shook off some early struggles to seize momentum with a 67-yard TD pass to Johnny Knox on a third-and-long. He finished with three TD passes, all to different receivers, and was in control of the offense throughout. Cutler completed a modest 14 of 24 passes and threw a bad interception, but his teams are 20-0 when he puts up a 100-plus passer rating and in a game for a division championship, he posted a 106.6.

RUNNING BACKS B

Matt Forte netted 92 yards on 17 carries (5.4 per rush) and had repeated runs for first downs which set up second downs without long yardage to convert. Forte carried 10 times in the first half to help establish a ground presence in inclement weather and forced the Vikings to slow their pass rush to account for him. Chester Taylor struggled against his old teammates with just five yards in 11 carries.

RECEIVERS A

Knoxs 67-yard TD catch was a precision route and game-changer in the first quarter. Devin Hesters post route set him up for a 15-yard strike from Cutler in the second quarter. Rashied Davis scored his first TD of the season. Greg Olsen caught all four of the passes thrown to him and gave the offense solid underneath threats. All four WRs averaged at least 11.5 yards per reception.

OFFENSIVE LINE A

The offense netted 104 rushing yards and Cutler was sacked just once in 25 pass plays. Chris Williams and Olin Kreutz had 10-yard penalties on consecutive first-quarter plays but the line consistently righted itself in difficult situations and kept Minnesotas front from ever establishing any control over the line of scrimmage.

DEFENSIVE LINE A

Julius Peppers collected his second interception of the season on a pass deflected by Henry Melton and nearly had another in the second quarter. Corey Wootton beat Pro Bowl LT Bryant McKinnie for a 12-yard, second-quarter sack of Brett Favre that sent him out of the game. Matt Toeaina had his second career sack when he took down rookie Joe Webb in the second quarter. Melton recovered a red-zone fumble in the fourth quarter.

LINEBACKERS A-

Lance Briggs sacked Webb at the end of the second quarter and added a tackle for loss, quarterback hit and pass breakup. Toby Gerhart rushed for 5.7 yards per carry as Adrian Petersons fill-in and had too many yards after first hits. But Nick Roach and Brian Iwuh forced fumbles and gave the defense solid performances.
SECONDARY A-

Tim Jennings had an interception of a Favre pass but it was taken way after an offsides penalty. Charles Tillman and Chris Harris collected interceptions while Harris also added six tackles. Tillman and Jennings had pass breakups as the secondary kept Webb from enjoying his first extended action.

SPECIAL TEAMS A
Hester nearly had his TD return record when he broke the opening kickoff of the second half 79 yards. He then got the record on a 64-yard punt return for an NFL record. Robbie Gould was perfect on all four field goal attempts - from 29, 26, 34 and 20 yards - to finish possessions that the offense couldnt punch into the end zone. Coverage units limited Minnesota to 19.6 yards per KOR and Brad Maynard punted well under the conditions, averaging 41.7 on three kicks and posting a 39.7 net.

COACHING A

Leaving Cutler in a game with a 23-point lead and throwing the ball put the franchise quarterback at questionable risk in a game where the outcome was no longer in question. But the Bears were well prepared and focused on winning a division championship and playing with no ill effects left over from the New England massacre. Return teams executed precise plans of attack against Minnesota weaknesses. The defense adapted well to the change in quarterbacks after the Vikings first possession.

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.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.