By Adam Hoge-
CHARLOTTE (CBS) — Friday night’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers opened exactly like a number of the Bears’ training camp practices have.
With an interception.
Jay Cutler dropped back on the Bears’ first offensive play from scrimmage, looked to his left and fired a dart in the direction of Alshon Jeffery. The problem is, Panthers cornerback Josh Norman jumped the route and took the ball right out of Jeffery’s hands for the interception.
“Wrong shoulder, bad ball, it was an unfortunate start for the preseason, first drive like that,” Cutler said.
First off, it’s nice to see Cutler take all the responsibility on the play, especially considering some questioned whether or not Jeffery broke off his route. Even head coach Marc Trestman seemed to talk about Cutler’s explanation with some skepticism, saying he needed to look at the tape.
And after looking at the replay a number of times, it appears Jeffery did indeed stop his route.
But it also looked liked he was supposed to.
Jeffery appeared to be a running a route Brandon Marshall has run often in training camp (and remember, Jeffery took Marshall’s spot on the field Friday night as Marshall sat out). The route is basically a button hook out of a slant. In other words, the receiver runs a slant, but he stops and turns his hips to run back to the outside once he catches the ball. The timing needs to be perfect, as the ball needs to arrive on the outside shoulder right as the receiver’s hips are turned to help carry the momentum back to the outside of the field. If the pass is delivered on time and in the right spot, the cornerback has almost no chance to change his direction as he covers the slant, and it leaves a good amount of running room for the receiver.
Of course, we saw Friday night what happens when the ball is not delivered in the right spot. By throwing to the inside shoulder, it’s going against the momentum created by the receiver as he stops to change direction and it’s playing right into the momentum of the corner playing the slant.
But these are the things you work out in the preseason. And to Cutler’s credit, he bounced back nicely, completing six of his last seven passes for 56 yards. Even his last pass of the night went for an 11-yard gain to Eric Weems and the only reason the drive ended was because right tackle J’Marcus Webb put the Bears in a 2nd-and-16 by allowing a sack on first down (by the way, that’s something to worried about — the right tackle position, not Jay Cutler’s interception).
What’s interesting is that the Bears ran nine passing plays in 10 snaps with the first-team offense Friday night, but Trestman said that pass-to-run ratio is misleading because Cutler (correctly) checked out of some runs because of the number of Panthers in the box.
“The number of runs that were called and the number that were run are two different things and that’s what doesn’t show up at times,” Trestman said.
That’s a pretty significant revelation because it shows the freedom Cutler is going to have in this offense. He’s essentially going to the line scrimmage with two or three different plays to choose from and has to make the right calls. Trestman said Friday night that they had “great success” on the plays Cutler checked out of a run, but there will certainly be critics who doubt the quarterback’s ability to make the proper reads at the line of scrimmage.
At least on Friday in Charlotte, however, it appears Cutler actually handled the responsibility quite well.
Of course, the offense still wasn’t all that efficient and there were more interceptions thrown by the first-team offense than there were points put on the board.
Ultimately, that’s the problem Marc Trestman was brought to Chicago to fix. The problem is, that’s not going to be an easy resolution if the right side of the offensive line is still an issue.
Right tackle J’Marcus Webb is not having a good training camp and he allowed a sack Friday night in which he got beat twice (first to the outside and then back on the inside).
“He’s in a competition,” Trestman said. “We’ve told him that he is. As I said earlier in the week, I didn’t hide from the fact that he’s had very good days and not so good days. He hasn’t been as consistent as we’d like and we’ve told him that.”
The problem is, it’s a little unclear who could realistically challenge Webb for his job. Jonathan Scott hasn’t practiced in over a week and a half and Eben Britton has been working mostly at left tackle with Jermon Bushrod missing some time. Britton has looked good in camp, but he also struggled and allowed a sack Friday night too. Meanwhile, fifth-round draft pick Jordan Mills is still a project and has a ways to go.
As you can tell, many of the same issues still exist with the Bears’ offense, but that’s expected this early in the preseason. There were signs of life with Cutler in Trestman’s offense Friday night, but there were also signs of old habits, like throwing to the wrong shoulder. The same goes with the offensive line, which at times was adequate, but at other times put the quarterback in harms way.
This preseason continues to be about the old vs the new. It’s just a matter of which wins out.
And remember, there are few winners in the preseason.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.