Offensive grades: Bears return to prominence

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Offensive grades: Bears return to prominence

A desperately needed rebound from the disaster in San Francisco is the only way to look at the overall offense.

The distribution of the ball bordered on the bizarre with Brandon Marshall targeted on 17 of 31 throws by Jay Cutler, but Mike Tice put together a plan and packages to force the Minnesota Vikings to respect the run, with the result that Cutler was sacked only once, and that when he tripped over his own centers feet.

The commitment to the run (39) and balance (32 pass plays) was a decisive factor with the offense putting together drives of 10, 14 and 12 plays, and at least one first down on eight of the first 10 possessions when the game was remotely in any question. The offense scored on four straight possessions in the first half, three times for touchdowns, and took the heat off the defense for a change.

QUARTERBACK B

Jay Cutler evinced no signs of his concussion of two weeks ago and was an efficient 23-of-31 for 188 yards, a touchdown and one interception off a tipped ball. He used mobility in the pocket well and spread the ball among eight different receivers, albeit with 17 throws to Brandon Marshall.

Cutler created a problem by tripping over the foot of C Roberto Garza on his first dropback for a sack. Cutlers gratuitous flip of the ball at the end of a successful scramble inside the Minnesota 20 cost the Bears 15 yards and was an inexcusable lack of composure in a critical situation, and resulted in the Bears losing a TD chance.

Overall, an important return from injury and managing the game well without excessive exposure to risk other than some forced throws toward Marshall.

RUNNING BACK B

The numbers were not big but the effects from backs were. Michael Bush reaffirmed the value of his signing last offseason with two rushing TDs and yeoman work throughout the game, particularly after Matt Forte suffered an ankle injury in the second half. Bush moved the chains and also moved the pile as well for 60 yards on 21 carries, none for more than eight yards.

Forte fought for 42 yards on 14 carries before his injury. Fortes fumble on the Bears first play from scrimmage gave the Vikings three points and was just poor ball control since he wasnt hit by a tackler. It was his first of the year in 145 carries but a big mistake at the time.

Evan Rodriguez swung out of the backfield for a key 11-yard catch for a third-down conversion in the second quarter.

RECEIVERS A-

A difficult group to critique if only because the passing game was so Marshall-centric. Marshall was exceptional with 12 receptions for 92 yards, many times working against double-plus coverage and taking hits. His average per catch was a modest 7.7 and he gave away yardage with questionable moves after a couple of catches, but he also blocked well and created a place for Cutler to go in crisis.

Earl Bennett caught all four of the balls thrown to him, with a Bears-long of 20 yards and picking up three first downs on his catches. Matt Spaeth made a picture-book catch of a 13-yard TD pass in the second quarter and his blocking throughout was key in the run game.

Kellen Davis grab in traffic in the first quarter set up Bushs first scoring run. But Davis had two catchable balls get away and missed chances to sustain drives.

OFFENSIVE LINE A-

Have to grade on a curve here. This group spent the last week in turmoil with changes at RT (Jonathan Scott for Gabe Carimi) and LG (Chris Spencer for Chilo Rachal). And it only got more chaotic on Sunday.

Spencer and Louis both exited with knee injuries, forcing Edwin Williams in at left guard in the second quarter after Spencer was shaken up, and Carimi at right, for the first time in his career high school, college or NFL.

Carimi as an extra tight end and JMarcus Webb caved in the Minnesota right side for Bushs one-yard TD run in the first quarter. Webb more than atoned for his nightmare in Game 16 last season against Jared Allen, holding Allen without a sack and to one quarterback hit, that long outside the pocket.

Scott was outstanding on the right side, containing Brian Robison with one hit and a couple of tackles.

COACHING A

Mike Tice called himself out on his play-calling but had a plan in place for the Vikings. The Bears had 39 snaps in the first half, with 21 runs and 18 pass plays on the way to a 25-3 lead. The running wasnt dominating (2.7 yards per carry) but the physical play slowed the pass rush.

Using a jumbo package of Gabe Carimi as the extra tight end, Matt Spaeth as a wing, and Michael Bush behind Evan Rodriguez gave the Bears some heft in the run game.

Tice used a mix of max-protect with chipping on Jared Allen to slow the blindside rush from the All-Pro end. But the mix of signals was key against a defensive front that had allowed only seven rushing TDs all year but gave up two to the Bears.

Wake-up Call: White Sox top Cubs; D-Rose has a new home; Jerrell Freeman a life-saver

Wake-up Call: White Sox top Cubs; D-Rose has a new home; Jerrell Freeman a life-saver

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports after the first Crosstown Cup game was played:

Slumping White Sox get huge boost after Miguel Gonzalez 'defended his ground'

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

Derrick Rose to sign with Cavaliers

Such a mighty wallop: How does Matt Davidson's mammoth home run stack up?

Willson Contreras may be ‘the f------ Energizer Bunny,’ but Cubs still need to get another catcher before trade deadline

'I'm a patient man': Lovie Smith takes the long view entering second season of Illini rebuilding effort

Fired-up Anthony Swarzak relishes pressure of first career save

Was Hector Rondon tipping pitches during late-game meltdowns with Cubs?

Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman saved a man's life at an airport

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

This Bears rebuild has taken longer than expected. Ideally, in year three of a GM/head coach tandem, they should be contending for the playoffs. 

That’s not to say the 2017 Bears can’t. It’s just unlikely. They don’t have enough players opponents have to gameplan for. They don’t have the depth to overcome key injuries. When franchises get on a winning roll, it’s when they have enough of those studs on both sides of the ball, and have the depth to avoid as many emergencies as possible. And that happens when second- and third-year players make a jump in their play.

Offensively, we saw an impressive jump by Cam Meredith, but another left leg injury still have us wondering exactly what Kevin White is, and how good he can be. Jeremy Langford’s growth was stunted by his ankle injury. Second-year center Hroniss Grasu missed the entire year. On the defensive side, we never got to see if Kyle Fuller could’ve proven his first-round status in his third year. Safety Adrian Amos started another full season, but is now in a battle to do the same a third straight year. We can see star qualities in Eddie Goldman, but how much of a difference-maker can he be by remaining on the field? We’ll learn the same about Leonard Floyd if he can do that this fall. And there are a handful of other second-year players we’ll be watching, from Deon Bush to Deiondre Hall to Cre’Von LeBlanc. There’s also 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard, who learned what it took to become a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL.

“It was okay. I got about 17 snaps a game,” Bullard said of his rookie season during last month’s minicamp. “That’s not what I wanted coming in. But it is what is. I want to move on to the next year and hopefully be able to help this team in a big way.”

Rookie seasons for every player lay the groundwork. How high their ceiling goes starts to get established in year two, between the player’s effort, and getting coached-up correctly.

“They asked me to gain a few pounds. I was like 282 last year, and right now I’m at 296, so hopefully that helps me, said Bullard. “I’m just trying to make all this solid and not lose my burst that got me here. So I’m looking forward to it. I got a year under my belt now, I know what they expect. I’m gonna be ready.”

Part of Bullard taking things upon himself was hooking up with a former defensive end, from the same alma mater, who happens to be fourth in franchise history in sacks (albeit in a 4-3 scheme): CSN’s very own Bears analyst, Alex Brown.

“We saw each other at the Florida spring game and we kind of linked up and put in some work at his facility down the road,” Bullard explained. “We’ve met up quite a few times, just working on little things. He’s just trying to give me a better understanding of the game, and some of the veteran things he knows that I want to incorporate into my game.”

So what kind of a teacher is Alex?

“He’s alright. I make him him jump in there. I tell him he’s not that old.”

And while Pace didn’t make the big splash in free agency as he tries to match up salary with his grades for players, Bullard has to prove he’s now better than last year’s starter, Mitch Unrein, as well as a hungry fellow former Gator, Jaye Howard, who was brought in on a “prove it” one-year deal after being cut just before the draft by Kansas City.

“As far as him being a Gator, it’s exciting. But it’s a competition. He’s gonna come in and try to win the starting job, and I’m gonna do the same. It’s just gonna have to be a friendly competition when training camp comes, and may the best man win.”

Let this, and many other Bourbonnais battles, begin.