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Hoge’s Week 2 Rewind: Linebackers Shine, While Mills Regresses

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D.J. Williams. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

D.J. Williams. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

Every Monday during the season, Adam Hoge reviews the game from the previous day and highlights the best and worst performances while also providing some observations.

(CBS) When a team turns the ball over four times and allows both a defensive and special teams touchdown, it’s easy to think that that team played poorly.

Immediately following the 31-30 win over the Vikings Sunday, my first reaction was that the Bears had regressed from Week 1 to Week 2.

I was wrong.

Big mistakes stick out in any game, mainly because they prove to be more costly on the scoreboard. In Sunday’s case, the Vikings scored 13 points off turnovers and another seven on the opening kickoff that was returned for a touchdown by Cordarrelle Patterson. That’s 20 of the Vikings’ 30 points in the game.

The point is, four plays in Sunday’s game proved to be very costly for the Bears, but there were a total of 161 snaps played. And when taking in account all of those plays while evaluating the overall performances of individual players on the field Sunday, the conclusion is that the Bears actually improved from Week 1 to Week 2.

In fact, when my review of Sunday’s game was complete, I only had five total players with negative grades on the day. Here’s a look at what I saw:

Five Highest Grades

WR Brandon Marshall – Marshall was my highest rated Bear, making two rare-level plays, including when he fought through a really tough jam by Chris Cook on his 34-yard touchdown catch. Marc Trestman hinted Monday that it may have been a hold, but Marshall fought through it and didn’t let it affect the timing with Jay Cutler. The wide receiver’s blocking was also good and the only negative play he had was when — by his own admission — he didn’t make a play on the ball on Cutler’s fourth-quarter interception.

C Roberto Garza – The center has now posted positive grades in each of the first two games, but Sunday’s performance against the Vikings was especially good. I had him down for eight above-average plays and only one negative play. He’s anchoring strong in pass protection and consistently getting a push in the run game. He has even showed the ability to get down the field when asked to. He made a clean block five yards down field on Alshon Jeffery’s 38-yard end-around. Not bad for a 34-year-old in a contract year.

MLB D.J. Williams – Williams was much improved from Week 1 to Week 2. He was very reliable against the run and even recorded a rare-level play when he shed a block and made a diving stop of Adrian Peterson.

DT Nate Collins – Collins has carried his strong preseason into the regular season, grading out as the Bears’ best defensive lineman Sunday. He was officially credited with three combined tackles Sunday, but I had him down for a rare-level play as well and no negative marks. He only played 27 defensive snaps, but continues to give the coaching staff a reason for more playing time.

S Major Wright – Wright was very active Sunday despite missing three plays while he was being evaluated for a concussion. He made a number of big tackles and probably saved a touchdown when he knocked the ball out of Jarius Wright’s hands on a would-be catch near the goal-line on third down in the fourth quarter.  The Vikings settled for a field goal after what turned out to be a very important play by Major Wright.

Five Lowest Grades

RT Jordan Mills – The rookie right tackle was my highest rated offensive lineman in Week 1. Unfortunately, he was my lowest rated Bear in Week 2. Mills really struggled with Brian Robison for the majority of the game, but on the bright side, he only had one complete whiff and Cutler was able to get rid of the ball quickly to avoid being sacked. The quarterback still took a big hit on the play though. Credit should be given to Cutler for getting rid of the ball quickly throughout the game and it was significant that Mills’ mistakes came on the strong side, where Cutler was able to see the pressure.

DE Shea McClellin – McClellin flashed twice in the game, but even one of his positive marks came reluctantly as he missed the sack on Christian Ponder, yet still forced the incompletion. He continues to be a non-factor against the run, mainly because he struggles to get off blocks.

DE Julius Peppers – Trestman revealed Monday that Peppers was still sick Sunday after missing practice time during the week with the illness. That explains why the defensive end was so quiet, accounting for just one tackle. I had Peppers down for two positive plays and three negative plays, but it should be noted that he created the previously mentioned sack opportunity for McClellin by driving both his guy and McClellin’s guy straight backwards, opening up a free lane for the second-year defensive end.

CB Charles Tillman – Tillman didn’t have a poor game by any means, but it was a quiet one. He had two negative plays on the day, one of which was the horsecollar tackle down the sideline. The cornerback looked a step slow, which may be a result of the knee injury he suffered Week 1 that he appeared to aggravate in the first quarter Sunday.

DT Henry Melton – It’s been a quiet two weeks for the franchise-tagged three-technique. Remember, he missed most of the preseason with a concussion.

Other Observations

- If you’re wondering why Martellus Bennett (seven catches, 76 yards and two touchdowns) wasn’t mentioned among the highest grades, it’s because he still needs to clean up his blocking. Also, a number of his catches were ones I don’t consider “above average” so they didn’t receive a positive mark. He also was marked down for not going out of bounds on his 23-yard catch that helped set up his game-winning touchdown. Overall, he graded out positively, but he wasn’t among the five highest on the day.

- In addition to D.J. Williams, linebackers Lance Briggs and James Anderson played very well Sunday. Briggs is flying all over the field despite his age, while Anderson has been very good in pass coverage in each of the first two games. Briggs does seem to be missing more tackles than usual, however, and he playfully disagreed with the coaching staff Monday on a few plays that were defined as “missed tackles”.

- Defensive tackle Stephen Paea had his second straight strong game and continues to get a consistent push forward against the run.

- Wide receiver Earl Bennett saw 36 reps, up from 19 a week ago. He received two targets from Cutler, catching both passes for a total of 19 yards.

- Rookie right guard Kyle Long was much improved in Week 2, finishing with a positive grade. Matt Forte was very successful running behind Long and Garza.

- Left tackle Jermon Bushrod had an up-and-down day against Jared Allen, but ultimately graded out positively. He had a much stronger second half after struggling in the first half against Allen. He was called for holding on the final drive, however, and that could have proved to be very costly.

- You have to wonder if Alshon Jeffery’s 38-yard run on an end-around was set up by the fake end-around they showed against the Bengals in Week 1. The Bears tried it again later in Sunday’s game against the Vikings, but Allen sniffed it out immediately and dropped Jeffery for a loss of eight.

- The Bears’ offensive line had zero pre-snap penalties for the second straight week and has only allowed one sack through two weeks.

Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.

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