Grades: A woeful offensive performance

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Grades: A woeful offensive performance

The concussion suffered by Jay Cutler overshadowed some elements of the game played by the offense.
But not all.
The offense was presented with the ball at the Chicago 45, its 37 and the Houston 45. The result: zero points, three turnovers and 10 plays in arguably the worst single quarter of the 2012 season. Of the Bears 14 possessions, nine started at no worse than the Chicago 35, yet the offense managed just six points for the game.
It is not automatically a positive that the Bears offense got better when Cutler was out.
The defense, as it has so frequently through this half-season, gave the Bears opportunities on Tim Jennings interceptions twice in the first 16 minutes. Devin Hester returned Houstons punt after the first possession to the Chicago 45. None of hose mattered.
The problem is that the offense turned those into just three points. The offense gave away the ball on its first two first-quarter possessions on fumbles, by Kellen Davis and Michael Bush, when players simply failed to secure the ball on basic tackles, no overt strip. Add to that Cutlers puzzling mis-throw toward Davis and the Bears were very lucky to end the first quarter down just 3-0.
In the end, luck had nothing to do with it.
QUARTERBACK    D
Jay Cutler threw 14 passes. Seven were caught by his receivers, two were caught by Texans and five were caught by no one. His 16.7 passer rating was the second-lowest of his career behind only his 7.9 in 2009 at Baltimore.
Cutlers first interception thrown into double coverage to Kellen Davis was a poor decision and wasted a first-quarter scoring opportunity after a Jennings interception. He squandered a drive in the Houston end with another throw into coverage, forced toward Brandon Marshall.
Jason Campbell was an upgrade, at least for the moment. Campbell completed 11 of 19 for 94 yards, 45 of those coming on a toss to Marshall. The Texans committed to taking away anything deep but Campbell, the receivers and backs were not able to exploit anything underneath.
RUNNING BACK    D
Matt Forte was controlled with 39 yards on 16 carries (2.4 ypc.), the first time this season he was held below four yards per carry. Forte had no run longer than eight yards and was less than ineffective in the passing game, with five receptions for a net two yards (minus-1.5 yd. average).
Michael Bush had a 20-yard carry but squandered a scoring drive with a fumble after a good fourth-down conversion run in Houstons end in the first quarter. Backs provided support in pass protection with fullback Evan Rodriguez delivering solid blocks that helped keep Bears quarterbacks from being sacked.
RECEIVERS   F
Brandon Marshall recorded his standard 100-yard game (107) with eight catches. But the rest of the receiving group was close to useless, particularly the tight end group.
Kellen Davis position in the starting lineup has to be evaluated. His fumble on the Bears first play after a big Devin Hester punt return was a disastrous start in a game where the Bears desperately needed a fast start. Davis also committed a decisive drop late in the fourth quarter on what would have been a big third-down conversion. Davis finished with one reception from the five passes on which he was targeted.
Matt Spaeth caught all three of the passes thrown to him but for a total of four yards. He got no depth on routes and netted five yards on one catch, meaning his net was minus-1 on two other catches. Kyle Adams had one reception for seven yards.
Devin Hester produced little from his two receptions, a total of four yards. Earl Bennett caught one ball for nine yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE   C-
A difficult group to assess. The run game was effectively stuffed virtually the entire game but Bears quarterbacks were unsacked for the first time this season against one of the leagues best attacking fronts.
The Texans moved rush terror J.J. Watt to multiple spots for matchups, including most of the first quarter against JMarcus Webb. Webb and Gabe Carimi got some help from their guards but both held up well against one of the NFLs elite pass rushers. Watt had no sacks, two tackles, one tackle for loss and one quarterback hit. No passes defensed by someone with 10 on the year.
The Bears were without penalty in the first half but saved the worst til last. Chilo Rachal drew a false-start flag in the third quarter and holding in the fourth. Carimi had his holding penalty on the Bears final possession.
COACHING     C-
Deciding what is poor execution and what was poor design is never easy. Play calling was surprising. The offense had 19 running plays and 37 pass plays (including quarterback runs off pass calls). The Houston defense schemed to take away the deep balls in the second half but too many plays were designed for less than yardage for first downs and little effort was made to loosen a defense that was giving up very little underneath.
The 150 yards in the second half after 99 in the first were a step in the right direction but not enough to overcome shortcomings in all areas.

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Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

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Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”