Reporting Dan Durkin
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By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Four games in the book, two up and two down for the Bears. Outside of the known commodities of Matt Forte, Devin Hester, and Brian Urlacher, I’m struggling to figure out what the Bears do well. Lovie Smith evaluates the regular season in four quarters, so let’s evaluate Lovie’s crew in the same fashion:
● Top Performer: Jay Cutler (71 of 131 for 960 yards, 5 TD’s, 4 Int’s, 77.8 QB Rating).
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler mentioned that the clock in his head has been “tinkered a bit” as a result of the 15 sacks he’s endured this season (102 total in 36 starts with the Bears), and his schizophrenic play through four games reflects that. When Cutler sees ghosts in the pocket his mechanics break down, and he floats passes off his back foot. Cutler has started to look gun-shy, allowing his eyes to drop down to see where the pressure is coming from, which forces him to re-scan the defense before making his throws.
Cutler is completing 54 percent of his passes and is on pace to throw 20 touchdown passes, which would be career-low totals in both categories for the six-year pro. Obviously, as I previously documented, Cutler is not the sole reason for the Bears offensive woes, as he plays behind and throws to (arguably) the worst group of offensive lineman and wide receivers in the NFL. This lack of a supporting cast earns Cutler a C- for his first quarter performance.
Running back: A
● Top Performer: Matt Forte (60 carries for 324 yards, 1 TD).
Matt Forte is the only player on the Bears’ offense that opposing defensive coordinators actually have to scheme for and game-plan around. Simply put, Forte is the Bears offense. Aside from leading the team in all rushing categories, Forte leads the Bears in passing targets, receptions, receiving yards, yards after catch, receiving first downs, and has the longest reception of the season. Forte is on pace to be the Bears first 1,000 yard receiver since Marty Booker in 2002. The thought of where the Bears offense would be without Forte is vomit-inducing. Do you think he’s earned that contract extension? Note to Jerry Angelo: pay the man! Easy A for Forte.
Wide Receiver: F
● Top Performer: Matt Forte (26 receptions for 310 yards, 1 TD)
While the rest of the NFL experiences a passing-game renaissance, the Bears drag their knuckles in the stone ages. See above, where I point out that Bears running back Matt Forte is the Bears leading receiver and is on pace to be the first 1,000 yard receiver since 2002. When an undrafted rookie free-agent, Dane Sanzenbacher, is your quarterback’s go-to guy in the red zone and on third down, and your team is pining the loss of Earl Bennett, your wide receiver corps is devoid of talent. How many more years of the Devin Hester experiment do fans need to suffer through before the Bears’ coaching staff realizes he’s just not an NFL wide receiver? Roy Williams? Not really worth discussing. Safe to say he will fall short of the 70-80 catches offensive coordinator Mike Martz projected. The only wide receiver who might start for another NFL team is Johnny Knox, but even Knox has had a few crucial dropped passes this season.
Seeing how infrequently Jay Cutler is throwing the ball from a well-formed pocket, the least his wide receivers can do is make a play for him. Easy F.
Tight End: D
● Top Performer: Kellen Davis (3 receptions for 55 yards, 1 TD).
Mike Martz’s influence on how the 2011 Bears roster would be shaped was obvious when they sent tight end Greg Olsen packing to Carolina for a third-round draft pick. Olsen was more of a pass receiving threat, which wasn’t a fit for Martz’s scheme. Martz prefers tight ends to be more of a hand-on-the-ground blocker to handle the 6-technique (defensive end lined head-up over the tight end), than a pass receiver. Seeing the numbers that tight ends across the league are putting up – Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski – you have to question Martz’s philosophy about how to utilize the position.
Bear tight ends – Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth, and undrafted free-agent rookie Kyle Adams – have struggled both as blockers and receivers. Davis has had some whiffs in pass protection, failing to seal the edge, leading to sacks and hurries. There have been a few positive moments, including Davis’s run after the catch on a 27-yard touchdown reception against the Packers, and Spaeth scored in the home opener, sparing this group a failing grade, with a D.
Offensive Line: F
● Key stat: Surrendered a league-high 15 sacks through 4 games.
What can be said about the Bears’ blob of bad that hasn’t been said already? This is unequivocally the worst offensive line in football. They can’t pass-protect, surrendering a league-high 15 sacks through four games, and save for a match-up against the 31st ranked Carolina Panther run defense, they can’t open up holes in the running game. The offensive line was the Achilles’ heel after last season when they gave up a league high 56 sacks, and very little was done to raise the level of competition of this group. Combine the lack of talent with unpredictable play-calling, and it is easy to understand why the offense is so dysfunctional.
Perhaps this past Sunday is an indication of things to come, where the Bears ran simple bread-and-butter I-formation lead plays putting a hat on a hat, allowing Matt Forte to run downhill and make decisive one-cut runs. The only hope for this team is to grind out yards in the running game, and in turn set up play-action shots down-field. But when the mad scientist side of Martz re-surfaces, and 7-step drop backs that the Bears can’t block are called, you wonder how much longer Jay Cutler can stay healthy. Easy F.
Defensive Line: C-
● Top Performer: Henry Melton – 8 tackles, 3 sacks.
The Tampa-2 is a defensive scheme that drops seven into coverage, so effective performance is predicated on pressure from the front four. Outside of a dominant performance in the home-opener against Atlanta, the defensive line has not shown up. Julius Peppers has to be the best player on the field every Sunday. He’s the primary focus of opposing blocking schemes and is frequently double teamed, which generates 1-on-1 match-ups for his line-mates. His linemates’ inability to consistently win these 1-on-1 situations through four games is troubling.
What’s even more troubling was how ordinary Panthers’ left tackle, Jordan Gross, made Peppers look this past Sunday. Granted, Gross may be the best left tackle in the NFC, but in order for the Bears to be dominant, Peppers biggest contribution can’t come via a blocked field goal. Henry Melton was the toast of the town after Week 1, and is the Bears’ best interior lineman, but he has been silent since then. Israel Idonije, Nick Reed, Anthony Adams, Matt Toeina, and Amobi Okoye, have been non-factors. Minus a one game flash, this group has underwhelmed, earning a C-.
● Top Performer: Brian Urlacher – 28 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery.
Other than a lack of depth, this is easily the most talented position group on the Bears roster, and it shows on the field. Brian Urlacher is playing at an incredibly high level, Lance Briggs has put together two solid performances after a slow start, and the fact that Nick Roach’s name hasn’t been mentioned is a good thing. The Bears are reportedly working out a familiar face, Pisa Tinoisamoa, and if he is signed to a contract, it will be interesting to see if he’s used on special teams or challenges Roach for a starting spot. Easy A for this solid group.
● Top Performer: Tim Jennings – 22 tackles, 4 passes defended.
When Tim Jennings has been arguably the top performer in the defensive secondary through four games, your group has issues. Charles Tillman continues to display his uncanny ability to force fumbles, but his coverage and tackling has been shoddy. Next to the defensive line, disciplined safety play is essential for the Tampa-2 to function properly, and limit big plays in the passing game. Despite this importance, the Bears have played a game of musical chairs at safety, with every safety on the roster making a start except rookie Chris Conte.
Chris Harris’s value to this team has been on display over the past three weeks, as opposing coordinators and quarterbacks have mercilessly tested the discipline of the likes of Major Wright, Brandon Merriweather, and Craig Steltz, and all of them have failed. First it was Devery Henderson roasting Major Wright in Week 2, then it was Jermichael Finley toying with Craig Steltz in Week 3, and this past Sunday it was Steve Smith inexplicably getting behind Brandon Merriweather for a huge gain. The safety position, along with offensive line and wide receivers, are positions that Jerry Angelo has failed to stabilize during his tenure.
For a team that has seen 168 passes thrown against them, to have a single interception from the secondary is damning. In a division with pass-happy attacks in Green Bay and Detroit, the Bears better tighten up quickly. Easy F.
Special Teams – A
When is Dave Toub going to be considered for a head coaching job in the NFL? John Harbaugh has had success in Baltimore, so certainly Toub should get some consideration. I mean, can he be worse than Todd Haley? The fake punt return Toub dialed up late in the Packers game was the most incredible football play I’ve ever seen. That’s not hyperbole, it was sheer brilliance. Too bad it was wiped out by an iffy holding call on Corey Graham as he slowed the release of the Packers’ gunner.
Aside from the greatest punt return that never was, the Bears’ special teams is once again, to borrow a Dan Hampton-ism, the “de-facto cream of the class.” English translation: they’re really good.
Robbie Gould has been perfect, and has displayed a strong leg on kickoffs. I wasn’t joking when I said that punter Adam Podlesh might be the Bears’ MVP, as he has been brilliant to start the season. Every time I see a team punt to Devin Hester, I scratch my head. When will teams get smart and punt the ball out-of-bounds? Hopefully they won’t, and Hester will continue to dial up advantageous field position for the Bears. Easy A for the best all around unit on the Bears.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.