By Greg Gabriel-

(CBS) Starting today and through the entire 2014 NFL season, I’ll have a weekly piece focusing on the positives and negatives of each Bears game. After spending 30 years as a member of NFL personnel departments, including with the Bears, I will be looking at the game through the eyes of an evaluator, not a journalist. It will be from a different perspective and my hope is that it adds to your experience of reading about the Bears here at

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Here’s what was on my mind after Buffalo topped Chicago, 23-20, in overtime in the season opener at Soldier Field on Sunday.

Bears Up

Matt Forte

In the 2008 NFL Draft, we went into the draft with the idea of selecting an offensive lineman with our first pick and a running back with our second selection. We got the offensive lineman with the selection of Chris Williams in the first round, but when five running backs got selected in that round we were nervous.

Going into the draft we wanted either Forte or Ray Rice, with Forte being our first choice. Needless to say, he has more than lived up to his second-round status running for more than 6,700 yards and adding 349 receptions through the first game of his seventh season.

Yesterday was a typical Matt Forte game. He had 17 carries for 82 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and eight receptions for 87 yards. Forte is the model of consistency, and he’s one of the best overall running backs in the NFL. While he isn’t as explosive as an Adrian Peterson, his ability to run, catch and block is tough to beat.

The opening drive

After the Bears’ opening drive, there couldn’t have been a fan in the stands who didn’t feel this game was going to be a blowout. With the Bills going three-and-out on their first possession, the Bears got the ball on their own 34-yard line. It took all of four plays and fewer than two minutes for the Bears to score. Jay Cutler was perfect, going 3-for-3, including the touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett.

The highlight of the drive was a 44 -yard pass to Alshon Jeffery, who made a nice adjustment to the ball on a deep flag route. The Bears played with good tempo in that opening drive, getting the ball snapped quickly and keeping the Bills off balance.

On the touchdown pass, there had to be a blown coverage on the Bills’ part, as Bennett was all alone.

The comeback

The Bears were down 17-7 at the half. They came out of halftime to score 10 points and were gaining control of the game.

On the Bears’ opening possession of the third quarter, they went 57 yards in 11 plays, with Robbie Gould kicking a 41-yard field goal to get the game within a possession.

The Bills followed with a short possession, and when the Bears got the ball back, they went 56 yards in five plays, with Cutler throwing an 11-yard pass to Brandon Marshall for the touchdown.

What was nice about those two drives is that the Bears stayed “on schedule,” meaning they kept the down and distance situations in their favor. In the opening two drives of the second half, the Bears had only one play that was longer than a third-and-5. When that happens, the defense is off-balance and is a huge advantage to the offense.

The final game-tying drive

With the Bears down 20-17 and with 4:02 left on the clock, the Bears went on a 12-play drive that culminated with a 37-yard field goal by Gould to tie the game.

The Bears used 3:32 of clock on that drive, with excellent play-calling and as they again stayed “on schedule.” They only had one play where the down and distance was more than third-and-5.

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The only negative to the drive was that they didn’t get a touchdown to win the game.

Bears Down

Jay Cutler

Like almost every game he plays, Cutler had moments of brilliance. He was 3-for-3 on the opening drive and completed his first five passes of the game. His stats for the game were a respectable 34-of-49 for 349 yards and two touchdowns. Like he always does, he made some great throws with his strong arm and lightning release.

On the down side, Cutler threw two interceptions and couldn’t get a drive going with the Bears’ only possession in overtime.

I can forgive the first interception and blame it on Bennett for running a lazy route and not looking for the ball. The second interception was typical of what Cutler has done since becoming a Bear.

Midway through the fourth quarter, after a Bills punt, the Bears got the ball on their own 6-yard line. They then proceeded to go 60 yards on the next six plays, using 3:48 of clock. The play-calling was excellent, and Cutler completed three out of four passes. On third-and-1 from the Bills’ 34-yard line, Cutler rolled right and when he couldn’t find an open receiver, he forced a pass by throwing across his body into coverage. The ball was intercepted by Buffalo defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

Plain and simple, it was a dumb throw, one that a nine-year veteran should never make. In that type of situation, you can’t force anything. The score was tied 17-17 and the Bears were in field goal position. Most quarterbacks would throw the ball away and take the field goal. The field goal could’ve given Chicago the lead and changed the outcome of the game.

Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston

The Bears spent a lot of money during the off season in free agency to strengthen the defensive line and pass rush. The bulk of that money went to Allen and Houston. Yesterday, they were non-factors. Between the two of them, they had two tackles, and neither one got anywhere near the quarterback.

I thought Allen was manhandled all afternoon. He was overpowered at the point of attack and was a non-factor in the run defense. Houston went up against rookie Seantrel Henderson, the Bills’ seventh-round draft choice. The book on Henderson was that he was talented but the consummate underachiever. In yesterday’s game, Henderson played like a high pick, not a seventh-rounder. The play of both Allen and Houston was quite disappointing.

Run defense

In 2013, the Bears couldn’t stop the run. As I mentioned above, they spent a lot of money in free agency and drafted two defensive linemen high to correct the problem. It didn’t work.

The Bears gave up 193 yards on the ground and an astounding 5.0 yards per carry. That included runs of 47, 38 and 13 yards. The 38-yarder by 34-year-old Fred Jackson basically sealed the game, putting the Bills at the Bears’ 1-yard line to set up the easy field goal to win the game.

What was disappointing was that the Bears didn’t play disciplined run defense. In their scheme, each player has to hold true to his assignment. On each of the big runs, an assignment was busted, creating huge holes. With San Francisco having an outstanding power running game, things don’t look good for Week 2.


The key to success in the NFL is keeping key players healthy. In yesterday’s game, the Bears lost three key players before the first half was finished. Offensive linemen Matt Slauson and Roberto Garza both went down with ankle injuries and Pro Bowl receiver Alshon Jeffery pulled a hamstring.

If Slauson and Garza are going to miss extended time, it will really hurt the Bears. The five offensive linemen started every game together last season, and having that continuity is important. It was said that Jeffery was probable to return in yesterday’s game but didn’t. We should find out the extent of the injuries later today. If the three are going to miss extended time, the Bears are in trouble. Look for Eben Britton to be brought back if that is the case. The Bears will need another veteran lineman.

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Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who has been an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.