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.

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Preseason games are about evaluations as well as fusing together the component parts of offense, defense and special teams. But for a handful of Bears, a little more is at stake, for the franchise itself, not just for themselves.

The foundation of any franchise ultimately is the draft, and the Bears are seeing at least preliminary impact from key members of this draft class, and not simply down in the lower third of the projected roster. Why that becomes particularly relevant this weekend is that preseason game No. 3 is when starters and key rotational players, and the top picks in this year’s draft are in fact already firmly ensconced in roles at the top of the depth charts.

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Among the most significant:

No. 1 - OLB Leonard Floyd

The No. 9-overall pick has not dominated through two games but insiders told CSNChicago.com that Floyd has not only played the run very well, but also delivered impact pass rushes even if only netting him a half-sack on stat sheets. Floyd has played 68 of opponents’ 126 presesaon snaps already and is a critical part of the current edge rotation with Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young as well of the future Bears defenses.

Floyd has missed practice time with three separate issues but “we've been very, very pleased with his progress,” coach John Fox said, an extra “very” always being noteworthy.

No. 2 - LG Cody Whitehair

After a brief flirtation with him replacing injured Hroniss Grasu at center, Whitehair has resumed his upward-trending at left guard. He has been the starter there since the opening of training camp, given an opportunity with an injury to Ted Larsen, and Whitehair has never given the job up.

“He’s done well,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “He’s a smart kid. He’s quiet, he kind of fits in with that group and he’s doing exactly what we ask him to do. He’s really talented. You can see some stuff he does, the way he passes things off, it comes natural to him.”

No. 3 - DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard has been given significant playing time (71 of opponents’ 126 snaps) and has produced four tackles, one for loss, and a half sack. He is part of a rotation with Mitch Unrein primarily and has demonstrated starter-grade impact already. “Our expectations are big,” said Fox. “My experience has been, you don’t expect much, you don’t get much. I think he’s lived up to expectations so far.”

No. 4’s - S Deon Bush/CB Deiondre’ Hall

The Bears selected safety Deon Bush three picks ahead of Hall in the fourth round; Bush did play 44 snaps and make two solo tackles against New England but has been out with an injury this week. 

Hall tied for team high with five tackles vs. Denver, plus two pass breakups, and followed that with two tackles at New England as he took over when starter Jacoby Glenn went out with a concussion.

“[Hall] has improved,” Fox said. “When you bring in rookies you don’t really know. You get them out there, they play. He’s played a lot. He’s actually shown up pretty good. We’ll see where that takes us.”

No. 5 - RB Jordan Howard

Howard was given the ball 11 times during his 31 snaps at New England and netted 46 yards along with rave reviews from scouts. His workload may diminish against Kansas City with Ka’Deem Carey back from injury and Jeremy Langford and Jaquizz Rodgers doing heavy time with the No. 1 offense. But he has already made a strong impression.

“Howard, the rookie, has kind of followed along, picked it up as he goes,” Cutler said. “So with those four guys, you’ve got a lot of options.”

Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson (No. 6) and wideout Daniel Braverman (No. 7) have played but their main work will come next Thursday in the game four at Cleveland.

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

What’s wrong with this picture? Or maybe, what’s right?

Over the past two years, no Bear made more tackles than Christian Jones’ 196 – a total accomplished in spite of being shunted around in a death-spiraling 4-3 scheme under the Marc Trestman staff in 2014 and then moved inside as part of the John Fox/Vic Fangio 3-4 last season.

An undrafted free agent picked up by the Phil Emery regime out of Florida State, Jones also was third in special-teams tackles (11) in 2014 and contributed four last season along with four pass breakups and four quarterback pressures.

Then this offseason Jones could only watch as the Bears made replacing him (and Shea McClellin) a priority, signing inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan. And suddenly Jones finds himself in a battle for a roster spot. He even saw his number (59) taken to one of the new guys (Trevathan).

It is not often that teams put replacing one of their leading tacklers high on their offseason to-do lists. But there it was.

“You can’t really get surprised,” said Jones, still among the most upbeat players to be found anywhere on the roster. “It’s the NFL, and they brought in two good players, and that’s going to help the team, the defense. I was all in for that.

“So it’s taking my role and doing the best I can with that.”

The trouble is, that “role” is fluid.

[MORE: Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus]

Coaches came to Jones early in the offseason and said they were moving him back to the outside. Fine. He was comfortable there before. Except that since the start of training camp, Jones has been something of a “Where’s Waldo?” character – inside, outside, try finding him.

If there’s an irony, it lies in the fact that not finding Jones a clear role sets him up as a piece of roster versatility that teams crave.

“We went and signed two inside linebackers in free agency and moved him to outside, and now we’ve kind of moved him back inside, so he’s kind of a hybrid,” said coach John Fox. “And sometimes you have to be that.

“There’s the old adage, ‘The more you can do… ,’ and there are a lot of those hybrid guys in different spots. It gives him an advantage, too, as far as offensive recognition.”

Fox and the Bears staff have placed a premium on attitude as well, and Jones has continued to be a factor on special teams, something not every three-year veteran and former starter embraces.

Jones thinks clearly: “You want to have a job,” he said, laughing. “That’s the main thing.”

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The bumping around between positions has not set Jones’ development back. Indeed, “I think it’s been somewhat smooth, and playing both, I’m getting a sense of the defense,” Jones said. “That helps a lot. It’s a good thing to know both spots because you never know with injuries, so in the long run it helps me and helps the team.”

When Jones was tasked with calling defensive signals in McClellin’s absence last season, it did not go overly well. Jones was benched by Fangio in Week 15 for inconsistency.

Indications are that something has changed. “I think there is a maturity difference, in my opinion,” Fox said.

Not enough injury woes? Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus

Not enough injury woes? Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus

John Fox could be excused for wondering if someone somewhere is sticking voodoo pins in a Bears doll. If it weren’t for bad luck, the 2016 Bears might have no luck at all. And now things have gotten worse, not better.

The Bears coach has overseen the M*A*S*H unit working to look like an NFL team while dealing with a sick bay situation that some days has made it seem easier to list the Bears who ARE practicing rather than the ones who aren’t.

Besides the injury tsunami that has beset them, the Bears this week are dealing with a flu/stomach virus that has hit as many as a dozen players, some more severely than others, and had one Bears higher-up facetiously (or maybe not) reaching for the Walter Payton Center door handle with his hand covered.

“We've got about six illnesses,” Fox said Wednesday, a list that included rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, right tackle Bobby Massie and fullback Darrel Young for the first time.

Not all of practice was a study of absenteeism. Kicker Robbie Gould capped off Wednesday’s indoor session with a 57-yard field goal, consistent with his standing as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history.

Gould has converted a respectable 83.2 percent of attempts in the wind tunnel known as Soldier Field. He has converted 90 percent of his kicks in NFL stadiums with either a dome or retractable roof.

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Tight end Zach Miller and wide receiver Eddie Royal practiced again on Wednesday wearing don’t-hit-me red jerseys throughout practice, emblematic of their return from preseason concussions. They represent critical elements in the Bears’ passing offense, with Royal signed to put in place a steady veteran for three-receiver packages.

“We’re at a point now where we’re like, 'hey, we’ve got some time here with you guys; let’s get you guys back to 100 percent,’” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “We know what they can do on the field. It’s just a matter of us getting into game week and getting them back in the flow.”

How did Royal look coming back from his missed time? “Fresh,” Cutler said, smiling. “As he should be.”