By Dan Durkin–
(CBS) Never mind the fact the Bears upped their preseason record to 2-0 after beating the Colts, 23-11, in Indianapolis on Saturday night. Keep your focus centered on overall progress, developing a team identity and staying healthy.
What does the team do well? Which vulnerabilities will opponents look to exploit? It’s still early, but answers to these questions are starting to surface.
The Bears’ pass rush took a big step forward against the Colts. Undoubtedly, Indianapolis has offensive line issues, but that doesn’t minimize the fact that multiple Chicago edge rushers — particularly outside linebackers Pernell McPhee, Jared Allen and Sam Acho — won individual matchups, which is what nearly every play comes down to.
In the Bears’ preseason opener against the Dolphins, Ryan Tannehill operated comfortably from clean pockets. However, that wasn’t the case for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who was routinely moved off of his launch point and rushed through reads and progressions.
On his first pass of the game, Luck took a shotgun snap and was barely able to get his third step into the ground before McPhee was on top of him. McPhee flashed explosiveness and converted speed to power with a touch-and-go move to win an inside rush lane and drop Luck for a sack. He then followed it up on the very next play, flushing Luck out of the pocket and forcing an incompletion on third down.
Competition level aside, those are the types of impact plays the Bears need from their top free-agent signee.
Even though Allen will be standing on his feet in base packages, he will rush from his more familiar three-point stance when the team goes to sub packages, which he did against the Colts. From that customary stance, he won with a pure speed rush, dipping his shoulder to bend the edge, get to Luck and get the defense off the field on third down.
For the second straight week, Acho made a flash play and forced a turnover. In the third quarter, he showed flexibility and balance to turn the corner for a strip sack, which rookie Eddie Goldman recovered. This play set the offense up with a short field, which it converted into a touchdown.
The ability to get off the field on third down by pressuring the quarterback was the biggest win for the Bears defense against the Colts. The special teams units complemented the defense with strong punt returns by Marc Mariani to win the field-position battle and give the offense shorter fields.
Successful defense is predicated on rush and coverage units working in tandem. The Bears need to be able to consistently pressure the quarterback to protect what looks to be a very vulnerable secondary.
Prior to the game, Kyle Fuller was singled out as a player who needed to take a step forward against the Colts. He didn’t.
Just as it was against the Dolphins, every pass that targeted Fuller was completed (three for 61 yards), with the biggest being a 45-yard post route to T.Y. Hilton. Fuller compounded a physical error — turning his back to the quarterback at the top of the route stem — on the deep completion to Hilton with a mental error, getting a personal foul for taunting on the same play.
Fuller hasn’t shown the second-year development you should expect from a first-round pick, which is a troubling sign for a team short on viable alternatives at cornerback.
There were some noteworthy individual performances on defense.
Defensive lineman Will Sutton has emerged as one of the team’s top-four down-linemen. He’s been physical at the point of attack and is playing with vision and lateral quickness. He’s made flash plays in both preseason games, which is a boon for a team seeking reliable, potential three-down players in the defensive line rotation.
Cornerback Terrance Mitchell climbed the ladder to make a highlight-reel interception of Matt Hasselbeck on a deep-post intended for Donte Moncrief. The technique and athleticism Mitchell showed on that play were exemplary. The Bears are seeking answers every cornerback position, so his performance in camp and the preseason should earn more snaps.
Offensively, the Bears’ first-team offense is still seeking its first touchdown of the preseason. Twice they made it into the red zone but settled for field goals on both trips.
Throwing to a thinning wide receiver group (Marquess Wilson tweaked a hamstring, and Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White were both already out), quarterback Jay Cutler was efficient with his reads and decision-making. He only had one incompletion, but his yardage totals could’ve been higher if he was more accurate on a few passes. As he’s wont to do, he didn’t settle his feet and drive into a few throws (two to Martellus Bennett and one to Jacquizz Rodgers), which led to off-target ball placement.
But in the end, Cutler directed Adam Gase’s offense on time and in rhythm. He moved well in the pocket and tucked the ball and ran instead of forcing the ball, which has gotten him into trouble in the past.
Chicago’s offensive tackles had a poor showing in pass protection against Miami and struggled once again against Indianapolis.
Left tackle Jermon Bushrod gave up the edge a few times and was beaten on a bull rush for a sack deep inside Colts’ territory. His struggles go back to last season, which is a major concern given the existing issues on the right side.
Opposite Bushrod, the Bears turned to second-year prospect Charles Leno over Jordan Mills. Leno lost the edge in his first protection set on a speed rush outside, got his hands up too high and committed a penalty. Leno went on to rebound from this play, but the Bears’ tackle situation isn’t ideal halfway through the preseason.
Once the starters were pulled, the Bears’ second- and third-team offense ground the game away, piling up 141 yards on 28 carries (5.0 ypc average). Rookie Jeremy Langford stole the show with a series of runs that showcased balance, vision and open-field speed.
On the Bears’ first touchdown drive, he accounted for 58 of the 88 yards, highlighted by a 46-yard run on which he made a decisive cut in the middle of the field and nearly took it to the house. On the Bears’ next drive, he went against the grain at the goal line and beat the defense to the perimeter on a two-yard touchdown plunge.
The Bears’ running back situation has emerged as a strength of the team. Heading into camp, it looked like the wide receivers were the deepest position group, but injuries have decimated that unit. They have multiple running backs of varying styles who may may allow the Bears to deploy a balanced attack and set up play-action and bootleg passes.
Through two games, the Bears have protected the ball, and their rookie class is making an impact, which are encouraging signs. However, the recurrent issues along the offensive line and in the defensive secondary are troubling, as depth is an issue in both position groups.
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @djdurkin.