Chicago Bears: 2013 Stock Watch

Stock Watch: Sorting through the mess

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
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Jay CutlerAP Photo/Matt RourkeJay Cutler probably had the right idea when he said after the game that he had already put the Bears' 54-11 loss to the Eagles out of his mind.

RISING

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Gould
1. Robbie Gould, K: Gould kicked a 50-yard field goal. That's all I got.






FALLING

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Jay Cutler
1. Entire offense: The Bears had no excuse for their lackluster performance on offense. The Eagles' defense ranked No. 30 overall and No. 31 against the pass through 14 games, but they looked like the 1985 Bears on Sunday night. To recap, the Bears abandoned the run game (61 rushing yards), completed just 22-of-39 pass attempts, and failed to protect the quarterback in the pocket (five sacks). That is about as lousy of an all-around effort as we've seen from the Bears' offense under coach Marc Trestman. Burn the tape, please.

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Mel Tucker
2. Entire defense: Same old story. The Bears have a tough time keeping average offenses in-check, much less the high-powered Eagles. The Bears actually allowed two Philadelphia running backs to rush for nore than 100 yards. For the game, the Eagles had 289 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, while Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles picked the Bears apart, completing 21-of-25 passes. The Bears have no answers on defense and will continue to struggle until the entire group is overhauled in the offseason. This will be the most anticipated construction project since the Wrigley Field renovations. Hopefully without the delays.

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Devin Hester
3. Devin Hester, KR/PR: Hester's first-quarter fumble on a kickoff return forever swung the momentum in Philadelphia's favor. To call the miscue ill-timed would be an understatement. Hester began the season on a positive note with impactful games against the Minnesota Vikings (249 kickoff return yards) and the Washington Redskins (81-yard punt return touchdown), but he's been kind of quiet down the home stretch of the season. Statistically speaking, Hester is enjoying a relatively productive 2013 season. Going into Week 16, Hester averaged 28.6 yards per kickoff return and 12.2 yards on punt return, a significant jump from last season. But Hester, making $2.1 million in the final year of his contract, is a home-run hitter on special teams. The Bears need him to knock a couple out of the park before the season ends.

Stock Watch: Forte on verge of career year

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
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Matt Forte Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesWith another 39 yards rushing, Matt Forte will have a new career high.

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Matt Forte
1. Matt Forte, RB: Forte has done some of his best work of the season in the month of December. Sunday's 127-yard rushing effort against the Cleveland Browns marked the third straight week Forte topped 100 yards on the ground. Through 14 games, Forte has rushed for 1,200 yards, and is just 38 yards shy of the career-best 1,238 yards he ran for as a rookie in 2008. One of the best all-around tailbacks in the NFL, Forte has accumulated a career-high 1,722 yards from scrimmage, the highest total of any player in franchise history other than Walter Payton. While the Bears' quarterback position is receiving the bulk of the attention, the ground game led by Forte is stronger than ever.

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James Anderson
2. James Anderson, LB: The veteran strongside linebacker recorded a team-high and season-best 14 tackles in the win against the Browns. Anderson, along with rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic (eight tackles), were around the football much of the afternoon. The past couple of months have not been easy for Anderson. With veterans Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams unavailable because of injuries, Anderson was thrust into the leadership role at linebacker, playing alongside rookies Bostic and Khaseem Greene.

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Zack Bowman
3. Zack Bowman, CB: Bowman had perhaps the finest game of his six-year NFL career against the Browns when he intercepted two passes, returning the second one 43 yards for a touchdown. Although cornerback Charles Tillman is a two-time Pro Bowler and the greatest defensive back in team history, it's not as if the Bears have fallen off a cliff with Bowman in the starting lineup the past five weeks. Bowman recorded eight or more tackles in three of the four games prior to the Browns victory, and is now tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He is a relative bargain at a combined $785,425 salary in 2013.

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Alshon Jeffery
4. Alshon Jeffery, WR: Jeffery receives a weekly mention in the stock report. His remarkable 45-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter over two Browns defenders swung the momentum in the Bears' favor for good. Jeffery has caught four touchdowns in the past three weeks, and is on pace to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl with 80 catches for 1,265 yards and seven touchdowns. Jeffery joked after the game Sunday that his teammates called him a "human highlight reel." With apologies to basketball Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, that nickname is very appropriate for Jeffery.

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Stephen Paea
1. Stephen Paea, DT: Paea's problematic toe limited the nose tackle to 15 snaps in the win against Cleveland. Injuries are part of the game, but unfortunately for Paea, veteran Jeremiah Ratliff has emerged in his absence. Ratliff was on the field for 44 of the Bears' 58 defensive snaps, recording three tackles, one tackle-for-loss and three quarterback hits, according to the coaches review of the film. If Ratliff continues to produce at that level, it could make it difficult for Paea to be on the field as much as he would like in the final two regular season games.

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Shea McClellin
2. Shea McClellin, DE: McClellin played 46 snaps in Week 15 and registered zero tackles and two quarterback pressures. That means McClellin has a combined four tackles in the past four games since returning from a hamstring injury. McClellin hasn't recorded a sack since he had the hat trick (three sacks) against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 4 en route to winning NFC Defensive Player of the Week. His hit on Aaron Rodgers altered the NFC North race, but that occurred more than a month ago. It would be great for the Bears' defense -- and for McClellin's confidence -- if the former first-round pick can finish out the regular season on a high note. Pressuring the quarterback is important. McClellin can do that. But can he begin to sack the quarterback on a regular basis? That remains to be seen, as McClellin has six sacks in 26 career games.

Stock Watch: The Jeffery show continues

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
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Alshon JefferyJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesAlshon Jeffery is fifth in the NFL with 1,193 yards receiving.

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Josh McCown
1. Josh McCown, QB: He saved his best performance of the season for the Dallas Cowboys. In front of a national television audience, McCown torched the Cowboys' defense for 348 passing yards and four touchdowns (141.9 passer rating), plus a 7-yard touchdown run that electrified the Soldier Field crowd and pumped up McCown's teammates on the sideline. For the season, McCown has passed for 1,809 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception. The veteran's passer rating of 109.8 is the third-highest total in the NFL, and his 66.8 percent completion percentage is the highest in team history for a single season. McCown has positioned himself to receive a multi-year deal in free agency for above the veteran minimum. But most importantly, McCown has the Bears (7-6) in the thick of the NFC North race after the 45-28 drubbing of the Cowboys. The feel-good Chicago sports story of 2013 keeps getting better.

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Alshon Jeffery
2. Alshon Jeffery, WR: Every week Jeffery seems to make a ridiculous, highlight-reel catch. The second-year wide receiver struck again Monday night when he hauled in a deep McCown pass in the back corner of the south end zone and managed to drag both feet in as he fell out of bounds with two Dallas defenders in the area. Jeffery is on fire. He has a combined 17 catches for 333 yards and three touchdowns in the past two weeks. Already with 75 receptions for 1,193 yards and six touchdowns on the season, Jeffery is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Brandon Marshall is having another incredibly productive season (84-1,090-9), but Jeffery's emergence has been the No. 1 storyline this year in the wide receiver room. The exciting part is the best is yet to come for Jeffery, who doesn't turn 24 until February.

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Kyle Long
3. Offensive line: For a couple of weeks the Bears' offensive line sputtered at times, but Monday night the group paved the way for Matt Forte to average 5.1 yards per carry, en route to his third 100-plus yard (102) rushing game of the season. Forte also went over 1,000 rushing yards on the season. McCown got sacked only one time in 36 passing attempts, and was hit a total of just three times, according to the official NFL stat book distributed after the game. Granted, the Dallas defense is dreadful, but the Bears offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. The group surely benefited from returning home following two consecutive games on the road in dome stadiums.

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Marc Trestman
3. Marc Trestman: The Bears didn't fold after that excruciating Week 13 loss in Minnesota. That is a testament to Trestman holding the team together. NFL veterans will often shut it down late in the year if the playoffs are a pipe dream, but the Bears gave maximum effort against the Cowboys. And Trestman's play-calling Monday night was particularly effective and balanced. Now with the Bears at 7-6, Trestman has an opportunity to lead the Bears to the postseason for the first time since 2010.

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Khaseem Greene
1. Linebackers: Dallas running back DeMarco Murray had plenty of room to operate on the ground, rushing for a game-high 146 yards on 18 carries. Whenever a defense has difficulty stopping the run, a good chuck of the blame generally falls on the linebackers. Veteran James Anderson registered a sack and tackle-for-loss, but the rookies encountered their share of difficulties and finished with a combined six tackles. The return of Lance Briggs from a fractured shoulder would give the whole defense a lift. There is simply no way to ask Khaseem Greene to replicate the kind of production Briggs has provided the defense in the past 10-plus years.

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Julius Peppers
2. Julius Peppers, DE: Peppers continues to be hit or miss. One week after playing his best game of the season against the Vikings, Peppers was nowhere to be found Monday night. The veteran defender ended the game with zero tackles and failed to set the edge a handful of times while attempting to stop the run. With the final three games all scheduled to be played outdoors in cold-weather cities on natural grass, it's fair to wonder if Peppers has anything left to contribute as the Bears make their final push toward the playoffs.

Stock Watch: Jeffery catching on quickly

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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Alshon JefferyBrace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsAlshon Jeffery is fourth in the NFL with 1,109 yards receiving and tied for eighth with 70 receptions.

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Alshon Jeffery
1. Alshon Jeffery, WR: Marc Trestman's questionable decision-making in the 23-20 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings obscured Jeffery's brilliant performance in the Metrodome, in which he caught 12 passes for a team-record 249 yards and two touchdowns. In just his second year in the NFL, Jeffery is only the eighth player in NFL history to have two 200-yard receiving games in one season. On the year, Jeffery has 70 catches for 1,109 yards and five touchdowns, not bad production from a second-round pick who some viewed as a malcontent coming out of South Carolina. Jeffery and Brandon Marshall are rewriting the Bears' record book at wide receiver, and the duo has been together for less than two seasons.

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Craig Steltz
2. Craig Steltz, S: Even though Steltz started at strong safety against the Vikings, he was basically the team's best linebacker on the field. Steltz led the Bears with 12 tackles, lining up for much of the game as the Bears' eighth defender in the box to try and stop Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. Although Steltz did miss an open-field tackle on Cordarrelle Patterson's 33-yard touchdown run, the six-year veteran made several key stops during the course of the game. Granted, the Vikings didn't really possess a vertical, down-the-field passing threat that Steltz had to worry about, but in the context of that game, he did everything the Bears asked him to do in 86 snaps on the field. Steltz usually rises to the occasion when the Bears require him to fill in on defense. He had the best stretch of his career in 2011 when he started five games and recorded a career-high 48 tackles, 1.0 sack and two forced fumbles. Steltz is also one of the Bears' core special teams performers with 52 special teams tackles since he entered the league in 2008.

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Julius Peppers
3. Julius Peppers, DE: Peppers can still bring the heat in certain weeks. He recorded 2.5 sacks against the Vikings, and now has 5.5 sacks in the past five games. Peppers also finished the game with five tackles, two tackles-for-loss, three quarterback hits and one pass break up. The Bears moved Peppers inside to defensive tackle Sunday on certain snaps, and he thrived. Peppers likely also benefited from the return of nose tackle Stephen Paea and the debut of Jeremiah Ratliff. Whatever the reasons, Peppers gave the Bears defense a major lift in the first half.

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Matt Forte
4. Matt Forte, RB: Before we mention Forte's production in the ground game, it needs to be pointed out what a solid job he did picking up the blitz against the Vikings. That is an element of Forte's game that has improved over the years. Even with a sore knee, Forte carried the ball 23 times for 120 yards and caught two passes for 31 yards. Forte is now second behind only the great Walter Payton on the Bears' all-time list of yards from scrimmage with 9,068. Forte now has 1,400 from scrimmage in each of his first six years in the NFL, becoming just the third player in league history to accomplish that feat. Sunday also marked Forte's second 100-yard rushing performance of the season, and the 17th of his career.

FALLING

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Marc Trestman
1. Marc Trestman: He attempted to explain his decision to kick the field goal in overtime on second and 7 from the Vikings' 29-yard line, but I just don't believe his rationale is justified. This is a team built for offense. Let the offense, the strength of the team, pick up an extra couple of yards and give Robbie Gould a shorter kick for the game-winner. And I'm still kind of puzzled that Trestman allowed Gould to attempt a 66-yard field goal at the end of regulation with Patterson in the back of the end zone to return the short kick. Trestman said the Bears understood the risk with Patterson on the field for that play. But if Trestman was willing to accept the risk, why did the Bears sacrifice valuable field position the entire game by electing to squib kick on kickoffs in order to keep the ball out of Patterson's hands? It's almost as if Trestman did the exact opposite when the game was on the line. That doesn't make much sense. The bottom line is that if Gould hits the 47-yard field goal, Trestman's decisions on Sunday would not be as heavily scrutinized. But as much as I appreciate the way Trestman has attacked certain elements of the job since taking over in January, he had a rough day in the Metrodome.

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Jordan Mills
2. Offensive line: The Bears offensive line did not play a lousy game, but the Vikings were able to crank up their pass rush late in the game and sack Josh McCown a season-high four times. Right tackle Jordan Mills had some trouble with Minnesota defensive end Brian Robison, but on the other hand, Mills is an extremely physical player with a bunch of knockdown blocks on the season. And I particularly enjoyed the rookie mixing it up with Jared Allen after the whistle. Mills isn't going to back down and should only get better, but he's dealing with the standard rookie growing pains that affect so many in the NFL. Fellow rookie right guard Kyle Long had some issues with his run blocking on Sunday, but he also played hurt for much of the game with a sprained ankle. The Bears do need to figure out why they continue to struggle in short-yardage situations. That's a big reason why the stock of the offensive line is slightly trending downward following the overtime loss in Minnesota.

Stock Watch: As usual, Marshall recovers

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
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Brandon MarshallMichael Thomas/Getty ImagesAfter a down game against the Ravens, Brandon Marshall caught 10 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Rams.

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Josh McCown
1. Josh McCown, QB: McCown's inclusion in this category is a weekly occurrence, but the veteran quarterback continues to exceed expectations. Despite being under heavy pressure Sunday, McCown completed 36-of-47 throws for 352 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (102 passer rating). McCown did everything is his power for the Bears to win that game. For the season, McCown is 97-of-148 for 1,106 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. In the NFL, statistics usually don't tell the whole story. In this case, they do. McCown isn't just the best story on the Bears in 2013, he's one of the best stories in the NFL. If McCown can lead the Bears past the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday and get the club to 7-5 when Jay Cutler likely returns on Dec. 9 against the Dallas Cowboys, then the 34-year-old quarterback should be named team MVP at the conclusion of the season, if he hasn't locked up the award already.

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Corey Wootton
2. Corey Wootton, DE: Wootton's numbers don't jump off the stat sheet, but he is the Bears' most consistent defensive lineman even though injuries have forced him to move inside to defensive tackle. Wootton held his own in the 42-21 loss to the Rams, which is a lot more than can be said for any of the other Bears defensive linemen. Double teams are a fact of life for Wootton these days, but he still manages to be effective when others around him falter. Wootton's evolution from an injury question mark to a reliable starter over the past two seasons has been enjoyable to watch. A solid and unselfish guy in the locker room, Wootton figures to be a strong contender to receive a new deal at the end of the season.

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Brandon Marshall
Brandon Marshall, WR: Marshall generally responds after the kind of so-so performance he had two weeks ago against the Baltimore Ravens when he caught just four passes for 42 yards and had a bad drop. Last Sunday, Marshall had his way with a sub-par Rams secondary en route to 10 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. Marshall is now at 74 catches for 945 yards and nine touchdowns, numbers that were unheard of for a Bears wide receiver after 11 games until Marshall arrived in the spring of 2012. Earl Bennett also deserves mention for having his best game of the season with eight receptions for 58 yards.

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Shea McClellin
1. Shea McClellin, DE: Almost every member of the Bears' front seven on defense, with the exception of Wootton, is a candidate to be mentioned in this space, but McClellin's failures in the run game were the most glaring. Time after time, McClellin crashed down from his defensive end spot only to create massive running lanes for the Rams to bounce the ball back outside and hit the edge. There is nothing wrong with McClellin being aggressive off the snap, but at some point he needs to diagnose the play and figure out where the football is headed. McClellin potentially altered the NFC North landscape with his hit on Aaron Rodgers on Nov. 11, but he doesn't have much to show for his season besides that game.

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Bush
2. Michael Bush, RB: Marc Trestman made two comments on Monday in the aftermath of the St. Louis defeat that were rather curious. Trestman vigorously defended Bush, who finished Sunday with minus-5 yards on seven carries. Bush is averaging 1.6 yards per carry on the season. In the past three games, Bush has run the ball 11 times for zero yards. After signing a four-year, $14 million ($7 million guaranteed) deal with the Bears, Bush told reporters that he did not consider himself to be a short-yardage back. He was spot-on. Maybe Bush resurrects his career in 2014, but the odds of that happening in Chicago appear to be slim.

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Jermon Bushrod
3. Jermon Bushrod, LT: Bushrod had his hands full with Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, one of the top pass-rushing defensive ends in the NFL, from start to finish in St. Louis. In general, the offensive line had a rough day against the Rams, although Trestman felt the group did a "great" job. The Bears only surrendered one sack (Quinn) in Week 12, but much of that was due to McCown's ability to sense the pressure and move up in the pocket to deliver the ball before he got drilled. Even though he experienced a rash of problems Sunday, Bushrod has still been a massive upgrade at left tackle over J'Marcus Webb. While some suggest the Bears overpaid in free agency (five years, $35.965 million), the former Pro Bowler gives the Bears instant credibility when it comes to protecting the quarterback's blind side. It was a move the Bears had to make. Bushrod will bounce back, and so will the rest of the Bears offensive line after that shaky effort against the Rams.

Stock Watch: Pass rush makes an impact

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
8:30
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 Julius PeppersAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJulius Peppers had his best game of the season with 11 tackles, 2.0 sacks and four tackles-for-loss.

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David Bass
1. David Bass, DE: A seventh-round pick of the Raiders in 2013 out of Missouri Western State who was claimed by the Bears off waivers, Bass made the biggest play of his young professional career on Sunday, intercepting a Joe Flacco pass at the line of scrimmage and returning it 14 yards for a touchdown. Bass' pick-six changed the momentum of the game, and without it, the Bears likely don't crawl out of the 10-0 hole they dug for themselves before Sunday's lengthy weather delay. At 6-foot-4, 256 pounds, Bass isn't built like a prototypical 4-3 defensive end, but he's shown promise this season in six appearances. In addition to the interception, Bass finished the Baltimore game with four tackles and one tackle-for-loss. Expect Bass to keep himself in the mix at defensive end, especially with Shea McClellin dealing with a hamstring injury.

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Julius Peppers
2. Julius Peppers, DE: Peppers easily had his most productive game of the year with a season-high 11 tackles, 2.0 sacks and four tackles-for-loss in the 23-20 victory against Ravens. This proves that Peppers, 33, can still be a difference-maker. But these kinds of efforts from Peppers have been few and far between in 2013. Can the veteran defensive end string a bunch of these games together down the stretch as the Bears push for a postseason berth? The answer to that question is unknown. But with three sacks over the past three games, Peppers seems to be heating up at the right time for a Bears' defense ravaged by injuries.

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Gould
3. Robbie Gould, K: Gould's candid and confident demeanor can rub certain people in Chicago the wrong way, but his on-field results are indisputable. Gould was 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts on Sunday, this despite horrendous weather conditions at Soldier Field. But Gould has made a living navigating the treacherous winds of Chicago, and is 19-of-20 for the season. The most accurate kicker in franchise history and one of the most accurate in league history, Gould has now kicked 11 game-winning field goals with six of those in overtime.

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Josh McCown
4. Josh McCown, QB: All McCown does is win games and run the offense. Whenever a quarterback protects the ball and doesn't turn it over, his team has a shot to win every week. McCown's 2013 numbers are remarkable: 61-of-101 passes completed for 754 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. That's a 100.0 quarterback rating. Even if the good times don't last much longer for McCown, this has been one of the most unexpected and enjoyable stories that I've covered in quite some time. McCown always wins the news conference with his genuine, kind, intelligent and humble personality, but now he's winning important games for the Bears. McCown is 2-0. He runs the offense the correct way. There is no need for Jay Cutler to rush back from his high-ankle sprain. None.

FALLING

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Landon Cohen
1. Landon Cohen, DT: The Ravens were averaging 73 rushing yards per game entering Week 10, but Baltimore had plenty of success on the ground against the Bears. Ray Rice ran for 131 yards and one touchdown, and Baltimore finished the game with 174 rushing yards on 41 attempts. Baltimore found much of the running room up the gut of the Bears' defense, where Cohen played 59 snaps because nose tackle Stephen Paea (19 snaps) left the game early with a toe injury. Cohen hasn't been a bad addition, but Sunday wasn't his finest moment.

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Brandon Marshall
2. Brandon Marshall, WR: Marshall has been great for the Bears with a team-high 64 receptions for 828 yards and eight touchdowns, but he caught just four passes for 42 yards on 10 targets against the Ravens. Marshall more than carries his weight on offense, but he will occasionally drop catchable balls, as he did on Sunday when the wideout let a perfectly thrown pass from McCown slip through his fingers. In the rare instances when Marshall has been a non-factor for the Bears, he usually responds the following week by putting up big numbers. The smart money says Marshall finds the end zone multiple times in Week 12 when the Bears travel to St. Louis, and finishes the game as the club's leading receiver. History has shown us that Marshall generally finds a way to bounce back, regardless of the quarterback.

Stock Watch: QB not a factor for Marshall

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
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Brandon Marshall and Josh McCownNuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall and Josh McCown have hooked up on touchdown passes in each of the past two games.

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Brandon Marshall
1. Brandon Marshall, WR: Marshall is red hot. The four-time Pro Bowl selection topped 100 receiving yards (7-139-2) for the second straight week on Sunday. Over the past four games, Marshall has 29 grabs for 408 yards and five touchdowns. He leads the Bears with 60 catches for 786 yards and eight scores, and he is on-pace for 106 total receptions, barring injury. On another positive note, Marshall seems to have chemistry with Josh McCown, the Bears' new starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.

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Josh McCown
2. Josh McCown, QB: All McCown does is move the football. The veteran quarterback stepped in for Jay Cutler at the end of the fourth quarter against the Lions and promptly guided the Bears' offense on a 10-play, 74-yard scoring drive that culminated with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Marshall. On the drive, McCown went 6-of-9 for 62 yards and the score. In three appearances this season, McCown has completed 42-of-70- passes for 538 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 103.2 quarterback rating. McCown can't be perfect forever, but the Bears hope the veteran can protect the ball and lead them to a key victory Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

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Jay Cutler
3. Cutler, QB: Sorry, but I believe Cutler had a good game against Detroit despite his physical limitations caused by the groin injury and high-ankle sprain he suffered late in the second half. Despite all that, Cutler should have finished the game with three touchdown passes -- Alshon Jeffery failed to catch two potential scores. Cutler flashed the arm several times on Sunday, throwing rockets to his receivers. Of course, the quarterback did throw a costly interception in the end zone, and by the second half, was a shell of his former self in the mobility department. But the Bears failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities in Week 10 that were not Cutler-related. He did enough to help the Bears win that game. And let's not forget that Detroit has a pretty good front seven. While I think the Bears made an error not removing Cutler from the game sooner, he has nothing to be ashamed about. He played through injuries and put his team in position to win. He did his job.

FALLING

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Matt Slauson
1. Matt Slauson, LG: There is plenty of blame to go around on the Bears' offensive line, but Slauson's mistakes against the Lions garnered the most attention. With 10:57 left in the game, Slauson was called for a holding penalty that negated a Matt Forte 9-yard touchdown run. The Bears eventually had to settle for a field goal. At the end of the game, Slauson failed to help center Roberto Garza block Detroit defensive tackle Nick Fairley on the second failed two-point conversion attempt. Slauson has been a solid professional all season and certainly looks to be a candidate to receive a contract extension in the offseason, but Sunday wasn't his best effort.

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Matt Forte
2. Matt Forte, RB: Forte was a non-factor in the 21-19 defeat, rushing for just 33 yards on 17 carries (1.9 yards per attempt). Some of Forte's issues can be attributed to poor play from the Bears' offensive line, a unit that missed its share of blocks. However, Forte failed to avoid a couple of tacklers in the open field on plays that were set up to produce sizeable gains for the offense. Forte also caught four passes for 16 yards, giving him only 49 all-purpose yards in Week 10. Forte is rarely this ineffective.

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Bush
3. Michael Bush, RB: The Bears asked Bush to pick up one first down on Sunday. He failed to do it. For the season, Bush has gained 69 yards on 32 attempts (one touchdown), while catching two passes for 21 yards. There are plenty of undrafted rookie running backs who can give you that kind of production. Bush will earn $2.55 million in 2013. He's on the books for total cash payouts of $2.850 million in 2014 and $3.6 million in 2015. The Bears will have to carry $1 million worth of dead salary-cap money over the next two years to cut Bush in the offseason. In a featured role, Bush might be OK. But in his current role in this offense, Bush isn't giving the Bears much bang for their buck.

Stock Watch: McClellin breaks through

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
2:22
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Shea McClellinJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesShea McClellin won NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against the Packers.

RISING

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Shea McClellin
1. Shea McClellin, DE: This came out of left field, but McClellin had the game of his life against the Green Bay Packers with 3.0 sacks, two tackles-for-loss and the hit that knocked Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers out of the contest with a fractured left collarbone. For one night, there was no talk about the Bears missing out on Chandler Jones in the 2012 NFL draft. Give McClellin, who was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week, some credit. Lesser players would have gone into the tank after such a sluggish and disappointing start to the season, but McClellin persevered. There is no guarantee that McClellin will ever have this type of performance again, but at least now he has the confidence that he can dominate a game from the defensive end position.

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Julius Peppers
2. Julius Peppers, DE: This is what people expect from Julius Peppers. The veteran defensive end flashed his athleticism when he deflected a Seneca Wallace short pass in the air and grabbed the football with one hand to secure the interception. Later in the game, Peppers was credited with a sack, just his second of the year, and also had a tackle-for-loss and another pass defensed. Peppers seemed to be extremely active on the field and fired up on the sidelines. Peppers is a team captain. His teammates need to feed off his emotion. Valid questions have been raised this season about Peppers' motor, or lack thereof. But Peppers' motor was running on Monday night, and the hope is the perennial Pro Bowler still has plenty left in the tank for the second half of the season.

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Josh McCown
3. Josh McCown, QB: McCown will head back to the bench on Sunday if Jay Cutler returns from a torn groin muscle to face the Detroit Lions, but the veteran quarterback did his job. In fact, McCown totally exceeded expectations in both of his appearances, and really should have led the Bears to a pair of victories in relief of Cutler if not for a leaky defense in the Redskins' loss. McCown protected the football, something Cutler has been unable to do in his career versus the Packers, and passed for 272 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. This should end the debate of whether or not McCown is a viable No. 2 NFL quarterback. The Bears are lucky to have McCown, and who knows, maybe he earned himself another one-year deal from the Bears in the offseason.

FALLING

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Jordan Reed
1. Chris Conte, S: Conte seems to be taking bad angles to the football. He desperately needs a shot of confidence, like McClellin received in the 27-20 victory at Lambeau Field. Conte has talent, that is undeniable. Former general manager Jerry Angelo once remarked that Conte had the potential to be the most complete safety the Bears had drafted since 2001, and Angelo's assessment looked to be valid the past two seasons. But Conte is in a funk and the Bears need to find a way to snap him out of it. I wrote last week that maybe the Bears should consider inserting Craig Steltz or Anthony Walters into the mix at safety to push Conte. There is nothing wrong with competition, and I believe Conte would respond well to it. He just needs to break out of his slump.

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James Anderson
2. Bears linebackers: We all know the Bears are dealing with injuries at linebacker -- Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams. And we also all know the Bears have been forced to start two rookies at the position in Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene. So while the natural inclination is to cut the Bears a certain degree of slack, the linebackers overall did not have much success against the Packers. Green Bay rushed for 199 yards and two touchdowns on 29 attempts, numbers that would likely have been higher if Packers coach Mike McCarthy hadn't abandoned the run in the second half. Much of that is on the linebackers. Also, veteran James Anderson failed to catch a sure interception that would have resulted in a pick-six. Anderson is in the midst of a solid season and the future appears bright for Bostic and Greene, but Monday night was not their finest moment.

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Dante Rosario
3. Dante Rosario, TE: The reserve tight end likely earned himself a spot in the special teams' doghouse when he missed his man and allowed Green Bay to block an Adam Podlesh punt in the third quarter. Rosario has been fine since the Bears acquired him from the Dallas Cowboys, but that's a costly mistake for a player on the bottom of the 53-man roster to make. A seven-year NFL veteran, Rosario committed an uncharacteristic gaffe, that luckily didn't cost the Bears the game. But it very well could have.

Stock Watch: In McCown they now trust

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
1:25
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Josh McCownBrad Mills/USA TODAY SportsThe Bears' Josh McCown will make his 34th career NFL start on Nov. 4 at Green Bay.

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Josh McCown
1. Josh McCown, QB: Losing Jay Cutler for a minimum of four weeks because of a torn groin muscle is a tough pill to swallow, but McCown at least gives the Bears a chance on offense. McCown gave the Bears all they could ask for against the Washington Redskins with completing 14-of-20 passes for 204 yards and one touchdown. Can he do it again? That remains to be seen. But McCown is an intelligent player with 33 career NFL starts under his belt. We should all know by now that starting experience is a big factor when it comes to a No. 2 quarterback. McCown can still throw the ball reasonably well and has plenty of skill-position talent, plus a decent offensive line surrounding him. To steal a phrase from ex-Bears general manager Jerry Angelo: The Bears aren't likely to fall off the cliff with McCown at quarterback.

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Briggs
2. Lance Briggs, LB: Briggs was all over the field making plays before he suffered a small fracture in his left shoulder that will shut him down for about six weeks. Briggs had eight tackles, one tackle for loss and two passes defended before he left the game. The veteran linebacker has performed at a Pro Bowl level this season, topping the team in tackles and tackles for loss, while tying for the team lead in sacks and forced fumbles. For as bad as things were on defense before Briggs got hurt, what is it going to look like now without him? Scary.

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Devin Hester
3. Devin Hester, KR/PR: Hester is dangerous when he's confident. The hope is he can parlay his 81-yard punt return touchdown -- tying Deion Sanders for the most regular-season return scores in NFL history with 19 -- in Week 7 into more scores and long returns in the coming weeks. With the defense full of holes and Cutler on the shelf, the Bears will need points from their special teams. Hester really has a shot to help save the day -- if teams kick to him. Opponents will no doubt continue to try and avoid Hester, but as he proved in Washington, it only takes one mistake or bad kick and he can take it to the house. Also, field position will be at a premium with McCown at the helm. Hester can help in that area, too.

FALLING

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Mel Tucker
1. Mel Tucker, DC: With all due respect to Tucker, a 16-year coaching veteran and former collegiate defensive back at the University of Wisconsin, a confused and agitated fan base no longer wants to hear about the "next man up mentality," "pad level," or "the collective group effort." It's time for Tucker to start sounding like a defensive coordinator who is capable of leading the Bears out of this mess, as daunting a task it might be. Tucker doesn't personally owe the media anything, but how can reporters assigned to cover a team offer any sort of insight into Tucker's defensive philosophies or coaching style when every week during his limited media availability he talks in bland generalities and clichés? The Bears don't do Tucker any favors by preventing their assistant coaches from talking after games, but Tucker needs to use whatever opportunity he has to convince people that he is not destined to be the Terry Shea of Marc Trestman's first coaching staff. In case you need a refresher course on recent Bears history, Shea was fired after one season on the job as Lovie Smith's offensive coordinator in 2004 when his unit finished dead last in total yards, passing yards and points scored. Through seven games, Tucker's defense is ranked No. 26 in total defense and No. 28 in points allowed, with much better players than Shea ever had to work with.

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Shea McClellin
2. Shea McClellin, DE: I feel bad for McClellin. When one of the greatest linebackers of the last generation, Brian Urlacher, tells ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy Show" that McClellin is miscast as a 4-3 defensive end and better suited to be a 3-4 outside linebacker -- then you know that McClellin is out of place in the Bears' defense. McClellin's 56 snaps against the Redskins were at times painful to watch. His struggles are only heightened by the fact that the Bears really have nobody else to play the position now that Corey Wootton has been forced to move inside to defensive tackle because of injuries to Henry Melton and Nate Collins. McClellin needs to be a situational player to have any sort of impact, but injuries make that impossible. He needs to play. But mark my words: McClellin will eventually leave the Bears and sign with a team that presents him with a better defensive fit for his talents. Once that happens, McClellin will go on to be an adequate defensive starter of the next six to eight years. But the odds of that happening in Chicago seem remote, unless the Bears undergo a dramatic shift in their defensive philosophy in the offseason.

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Jordan Reed
3. Chris Conte, S: Competition brings out the best in all of us. It's probably time for the Bears to sprinkle safeties Anthony Walters or Craig Steltz into the equation to try and break Conte out of his funk. Conte is talented, but he seems to lacking somewhat in the confidence department. Conte has had several massive collisions in recent weeks trying to tackle running backs with a full head of stream in the open field. Maybe those collisions have chipped away at his confidence. Putting some pressure on Conte to keep his job could result in the safety elevating his game, a la punter Adam Podlesh who had to save his roster spot a couple of weeks ago after a rough outing against the Detroit Lions. Podlesh responded to the challenge. Perhaps Conte does the same.

Stock Watch: Marshall right on pace

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
11:50
AM ET
Brandon Marshall Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall leads the Bears with 40 catches for 465 yards and five touchdowns.

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Brandon Marshall
1. Brandon Marshall, WR: Marshall was clearly disappointed with his Week 5 effort against the New Orleans Saints (four
catches, 30 yards and one touchdown) but he rebounded against the New York Giants on Thursday with nine receptions and a pair of touchdowns. The Bears plan called for Marshall to be involved early and often, as quarterback Jay Cutler targeted the team's No. 1 wide receiver 11 times, eight of those targets came in the first half. Marshall talked about his frustration and body language in two separate press conferences following the loss to the Saints, but he still leads the Bears with 40 catches for 465 yards and five touchdowns through six games. Last year at this point of the season Marshall had caught 41 passes and four touchdowns en route to re-writing the franchise's record book in 2012 with 118 receptions for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns. Life isn't all that bad for Marshall in the Marc Trestman offense.

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Tim Jennings
2. Tim Jennings, CB: The 5-foot-8 cornerback is a turnover machine. Jennings returned an interception for a touchdown against the Giants, his second pick-six of the season and third of his career. Jennings picked off another Eli Manning pass for good measure in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. Since the start of the 2012 season, Jennings leads the NFL with 12 interceptions after picking off a combined seven passes over his first six years in the league. What a remarkable story. Jennings' 2013 salary is north of $4 million, but he seems like a solid investment. With 15 interceptions in three-plus years in Chicago, can the Bears afford to let him go in free agency? That kind of production is hard to find.

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Gould
3. Robbie Gould, K: Gould is simply automatic. The former All-Pro kicker is 10-for-10 on the season and 2-for-2 from 50-plus, a distance he's nailed 12 straight kicks from which ties the current NFL record. Going into Week 6, Gould ranked as the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history. Not bad for kicker who must deal with the windy and unpredictable conditions of Soldier Field. If Gould (948 points) remains in Chicago beyond this season he will shatter the record for most points scored in franchise history, held by Kevin Butler (1,116 points).

(Read full post)

Stock Watch: Waiting on Peppers

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
1:41
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Julius PeppersAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJulius Peppers had one tackle against the Saints and has just one sack this season.

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Alshon Jeffery
1. Alshon Jeffery, WR: Jeffery tops the list for the second straight week after catching 10 passes for a franchise-record 218 yards and one touchdown in Week 5. He now leads the team with 429 yards receiving and is second on the club in receptions (28) and touchdown catches (two). Jeffery is a steal financially with a base salary of $596,719 and salary cap number of $1,039,023. Under contract through 2015, Jeffery protects the Bears in the event the organization is unable to come to terms with Brandon Marshall on a new deal or after the 2014 season when Marshall's contract is set to expire. Jeffery has all the makings of a future NFL No. 1 wide receiver, and he's a draft pick the Bears have been able to develop.

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Briggs
2. Lance Briggs, LB: The fourth quarter neutral zone infraction nonwithstanding, Briggs had a monster game against the Saints with 15 total tackles, one sack and four tackles for loss. Briggs was all over the field in the losing effort, delivering several hard hits from his weakside linebacker position. Briggs ranks first on the Bears' defense with 55 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks (tied with middle linebacker D.J. Williams). All three Bears linebackers have played well this season, but none more so than Briggs, who appears headed to his eighth Pro Bowl berth, barring an injury.

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Shea McClellin
3. Shea McClellin, DE: The Bears continue to lack a consistent pass rush, but McClellin did have his best game of the season against New Orleans with three tackles and one tackle for loss. McClellin was able to generate pressure on Drew Brees, but failed to finish when he reached the quarterback. Still, McClellin made progress in the 26-18 loss to the Saints. McClellin is effective when he lines up in a two-point stance. The problem doesn't seem to be McClellin's athletic ability or raw talent, rather his fit in this defense as a 4-3 defensive end seems questionable at best. However, McClellin gave maximum effort on Sunday, and if he just finished some of those rushes, he would have made a major impact on the outcome.

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Julius Peppers
1. Julius Peppers, DE: With injuries piling up on the Bears defensive line, they need Peppers to dominate, but that's not happening. He had one tackle against the Saints. Yes, Brees gets rid of the ball quickly, and Peppers is a marked man heading into every game, but a player who eats up $14,387,533 of a team's salary cap space (even after the renegotiation)) is expected to be more of a factor. The Bears will continue to surrender big plays in the passing game unless they find a way to hit the quarterback. Of Peppers' 112.5 career regular season sacks, only one has come in 2013. That's not good enough. Teams need to lean on their superstars when times are tough. Peppers is the one of the highest paid players on the team. It's time for him to deliver.

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Major Wright
2. Chris Conte and Major Wright, S: Both are doing a nice job in run support, but the safeties are having problems with their pass coverage. Conte has been unable to provide adequate help over the top on deep balls for reasons unknown. The breakdowns have been rather obvious over the last couple of weeks and needs to be corrected. Conte should be able to rebound given his immense talent, but surely even he would admit that he hasn't played his best yet this season. Wright was in perfect position on a deep ball to Jimmy Graham on Sunday but he failed to make a play. Wright is very up and down. On certain plays, he looks like an above-average safety. Other times, he whiffs on tackles or gets burned in deep coverage. With Wright set to be a free agent and with Conte signed through 2014, it will be interesting to see how the Bears address the safety position in the offseason.

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Marc Trestman
3. Blitz recognition: There are too many individuals involved to narrow the list down to one player or one coach. Bears coach Marc Trestman said on Monday that his team's slow start in Week 5 was one of the main reasons the Bears came up short against the Saints. That sluggish start on offense can be directly attributed to the Bears' inability to figure out New Orleans' defensive pressure and where it was coming from. That's on the offensive line, the quarterback, Trestman and the rest of the coaching staff. The good news is the Bears made the necessary adjustments and eventually figured it out (that probably doesn't happen last season), but the damage had already been done.

Stock Watch: Jeffery continues ascension

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
11:00
AM ET
Alshon JefferyNuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesAlshon Jeffery had five catches for a career-high 107 yards against the Lions.

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Jeffery
1. Alshon Jeffery, WR: Jeffery did a little bit of everything in the Week 4 loss in Detroit. He came up with a tough touchdown catch despite blanket coverage (he dropped a sure touchdown the play before), showed the ability to beat a defense deep with a 44-yard reception, and proved he can also be a weapon in the run game with a 27-yard end-around. With the exception of the Bears' win against the Vikings on Sept. 15, Jeffery has been a reliable target for Jay Cutler the entire season. Jeffery figures to reach 60 catches in 2013 if he continues to avoid injury -- he missed six games his rookie season. Jeffery's confidence seems to be growing every week.

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Julius Peppers
2. Julius Peppers, DE: The Bears' failure to sack the quarterback is still alarming, but Peppers had his best game of the year on Sunday, by far. According to NFL statistics, Peppers finished with six tackles and the Bears' lone sack and quarterback hurry. Peppers also dropped Reggie Bush for no gain on the Lions' first offensive play from scrimmage, and overall, the defensive end appeared to be moving better than in previous weeks. With the Bears' depth on the defensive line tested due to injuries, it's vital Peppers contribute some impact plays to the defensive effort moving forward.

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Earl Bennett
3. Earl Bennett, WR: Bennett's role in the offense is expanding. The wide receiver participated in 49 plays and caught a late fourth-quarter touchdown from Cutler, Bennett's second score in the past two weeks after hauling in the Week 3 game-clincher versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bennett isn't targeted often, he has seven catches on the season, but when the ball does come his way, the wideout generally makes a play. Bennett is clearly the fifth option on offense, but he is sure-handed and dependable.

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Jay Cutler
1. Jay Cutler, QB: The Bears lost to the Lions for two reasons; (1) Cutler turned the ball over four times, and (2) the defense failed to tackle Bush. Cutler will throw interceptions. That is a fact. Sunday marked the seventh time since 2009 that Cutler tossed three or more interceptions in a game. The Bears claim Cutler's mistakes were all physical, that his decision-making was sound in the 40-32 defeat. If that's the case, then all of Cutler's miscues are correctable. But these performances are always a concern with Cutler. The Bears might be able to beat a bad Minnesota team at home when the quarterback turns the ball over three times, but on the road against a quality opponent, the Bears have no shot to win if Cutler gives the ball away at such an alarming rate.

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Mel Tucker
2. Entire defense: The whole group gets the nod for Bush rushing for 112 yards on 11 carries in the first half alone. The Lions seemed to have a solid gameplan for how they wanted to attack the Bears, but that does not excuse the poor tackling. Bush was making Bears defenders miss all over the field. The Bears have allowed way too many big plays on defense this season. The turnovers and defensive touchdowns are great, but this group is expected to produce better results. Even without Lovie Smith, Rod Marinelli, Brian Urlacher and now Henry Melton, there are enough Pro Bowl-caliber defensive players on the roster to prevent these kinds of breakdowns. And where is the pass rush? This all better improve in a hurry with Drew Brees coming to town on Sunday, otherwise the Bears' 3-0 head start to begin the season could evaporate over the next month.

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Adam Podlesh
3. Adam Podlesh, P: He had a rough afternoon at Ford Field, there is just no other way to put it. Despite punting in a controlled climate, Podlesh averaged only 40.2 yards per kick with a net average of 28.8 yards. Heading into Week 4, Podlesh had been averaging 44.6 yards per punt with a 42-yard net average. Punters will have bad games from time to time. Podlesh had a mild slump last year but finished the season exceptionally strong. The hope is he puts the Lions game behind him and bounces back against the Saints. Field position figures to be at a premium against the high-powered Saints' offense, so Podlesh pinning the Saints deep in their own territory whenever possible will be an important key to victory.

Stock Watch: D.J. Williams shakes off rust

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
12:12
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DJ WilliamsJustin K. Aller/Getty ImagesD.J. Williams had two sacks, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble against the Steelers.

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Jay Cutler
1. Jay Cutler, QB: Cutler continues to earn a spot on the list because of his penchant for late-game heroics. Cutler passed for only 159 yards against Pittsburgh, but he rallied the troops in the fourth quarter after the Steelers cut the Bears' lead to four points. Cutler's brilliant trio of third-down conversions on the fourth-quarter drive that culminated with Earl Bennett's 17-yard touchdown reception is further proof of Cutler's new-found resiliency. In the past, the Bears probably lose that game Sunday night due to a late turnover. But the 2013 version of Cutler remains poised in adverse situations, even when he makes a bad throw or takes a hit in the pocket. Calm Cutler has a 94.2 quarterback rating through three games, exactly the kind of numbers the Bears want to see.

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DJ Williams
2. D.J. Williams, LB: There were never any internal concerns that starting Williams at middle linebacker over Jon Bostic would stunt the rookie's growth. Williams' occasional rusty play in the first two weeks did make you wonder if the Bears made the right call. But Williams eased concerns Sunday night when he registered two sacks, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble despite playing his fewest snaps of the season. Bostic's time will come. The Bears view the second-round pick as a future starter and the first linebacker off the bench in the event of an injury, but Williams has solidified a spot for himself on the first team. It's hard to envision the Bears turning back to Bostic at MLB in 2013 unless Williams gets hurt.

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Briggs
3. Lance Briggs, LB: Sticking with the linebacker theme, Briggs is playing like a man possessed, even with his new-found on-field responsibilities. Briggs is a vicious hitter and a seasoned playmaker. The press box stats awarded Briggs seven tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, one pass defensed and the forced fumble that landed in the arms of Julius Peppers and returned for a touchdown to close out the game at Heinz Field. Has Briggs turned into a better player without Brian Urlacher or are we just noticing him more? Whatever the reason, Briggs is making a strong case to return to the Pro Bowl after a rare snub last year.

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Bush
1. Michael Bush, RB: Bush is a tremendous weapon in short-yardage goal-line situations and gave tremendous effort to score from 1 yard out in the first quarter. But it's been a little surprising the Bears haven't used him more in light of the hefty contract he signed in 2012 to serve as the No. 2 running back behind Matt Forte. Bush has carried the ball 16 times for just 24 yards (1.5 yards per attempt) in three games. Surely, Bush can do more for the Bears offense than simply serving as a battering ram in the red zone. Remember, Bush rushed for almost 1,000 yards for the Raiders in 2011, and once ran for 177 yards in a game against Tampa Bay. With Forte banged up after the Steelers game, Bears coach Marc Trestman hinted that Bush will have an expanded role Sunday in Detroit.

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Anthony Walters
2. Anthony Walters, S/ST: Walters is the No. 4 safety on the roster because of the niche on special teams he's carved for himself. There is nothing wrong with being aggressive and trying to block a punt, but you can't come up empty handed if you leave your feet and dive at the punter. Walters came up empty on a blocked punt attempt in the second quarter and instead got flagged 15 yards for roughing the punter. That play gave the Steelers a fresh set of downs and ultimately led to a Pittsburgh touchdown that swung the momentum back in favor of the home team. Against a better team, a special-teams error like that could end up being the difference between a win or a loss.

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Henry Melton
3. Henry Melton, DT: Injuries are a cruel part of the game. This is not meant to kick Melton while he's down, but the course of the defensive tackle's career has been altered after he tore his left ACL on Sunday night. Melton is unlikely to receive a long-term free-agent deal in the spring -- that's just the reality of the situation -- but that doesn't mean his prospects of one day signing another lucrative contract are over. One-year "prove it" deals are a common part of life for NFL veterans. Just look around the Bears locker room at all the guys with contracts set to expire. Melton's inspiration should be starting linebackers Williams and James Anderson, both of whom are betting on themselves to parlay one-year deals into something more lucrative in the future, either in Chicago or someplace else. That needs to be Melton's goal. Look at it this way: After being overpaid as the franchise player in 2013, Melton is expected to be underpaid in 2014. That's just how it goes. But Melton can go a long way toward making sure he's not underpaid in 2015 by seriously attacking his knee rehabilitation over the next eight months.

Stock Watch: Forte shows his versatility

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
2:30
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Matt ForteAP Photo/Jim PrischingMatt Forte racked up 161 yards from scrimmage in the Bears' victory over the Vikings in Week 2.

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Jay Cutler
1. Jay Cutler, QB: Cutler turned over the ball three times, including a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Instead of melting down, Cutler completed 8 of 10 (including a spike to stop the clock) passes for 76 yards on the club's game winning drive, and hit Martellus Bennett on a 16-yard scoring strike for the game-winner. Cutler has now engineered back-to-back comebacks against two 2012 playoff participants. Considering the way Cutler has been able to overcome adversity in these difficult games early on, you've got to be encouraged by his prospects later down the line in big games and possibly the postseason.

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Matt Forte
2. Matt Forte, RB: After a lackluster season opener in which he rushed for 50 yards on 19 attempts, Forte bounced back in a major way against the Vikings. Forte contributed 161 yards from scrimmage (90 yards rushing, 71 receiving), marking his 13th career game in which he's generated 150 yards or more. Forte was targeted more than any running back in the NFL in Week 2 (11 times) and caught every ball thrown his way. Forte was also a valuable contributor in pass protection. Furthermore, his yards per route run was the highest in the league of any RB and his drop pass rate was the lowest of any RB, according to Pro Football Focus.

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Devin Hester
3. Devin Hester, KR/PR: Hester seemed poised to bust a few big returns considering he's run back four returns for touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings, which is the most he's had against any team. When the Vikings returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a TD, Hester immediately responded on the ensuing kickoff with a 76-yard return. Hester broke his own 2006 record for return yards in a single game (225), by burning the Vikings for 249 yards. His 49.8 yards per return against the Vikings ranked as the third best in franchise history among players with three or more returns in a game.


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Julius Peppers
1. Julius Peppers, DE: Peppers missed practice time last week after experiencing flu-like symptoms, and Bears coach Marc Trestman said the defensive end was even more ill against the Vikings than he had been in the previous two days leading into the game. Two games into the season, Peppers has not recorded a sack, and at this time last year, he'd already racked up two. That's not to say Peppers won't produce his third consecutive season with double-digit sack totals, because more than likely he will. But the veteran is certainly off to a slow start, having graded out negatively in both games.

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Henry Melton
2. Henry Melton, DT: Melton has actually graded out worse than Peppers through the first two games. The club gave Melton the franchise designation in the offseason with the hopes that it could eventually work out a long-term deal with the defensive tackle. But at this point, the franchise might be reconsidering its intentions. Melton has contributed three tackles thus far, with no sacks or quarterback pressures. Through the first two games of the 2012 season, Melton had posted three sacks. So like Peppers, Melton is off to a slow start.

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Jermon Bushrod
3. Jermon Bushrod, LT: The prized acquisition of free agency, Bushrod signed on to be Cutler's blindside protection, and while he's been a significant upgrade over former left tackle J'Marcus Webb, there's still room for improvement. According to Pro Football Focus, Bushrod graded out as the worst of Chicago's offensive linemen against the Vikings. He surrendered a sack, a quarterback hit and three hurries against the Vikings. Through the first two games, Bushrod has given up two quarterback hits and six pressures, in addition to grading out negatively in each contest.

Stock Watch: Guards handle Atkins

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
12:22
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Kyle LongDavid Banks/Getty ImagesKyle Long and Matt Slauson helped neutralize Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins on Sunday.

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Jay Cutler
1. Jay Cutler, QB: Cutler had complete control over the Chicago Bears' offense in the Week 1 victory en route to posting a 93.2 quarterback rating. He connected with Brandon Marshall eight times for 104 yards and one touchdown, but spread around the wealth, targeting Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte and Earl Bennett in the passing game. Cutler also showcased his ability to keep plays alive with his feet when the pocket collapsed. Taking a cue from coach Marc Trestman, Cutler kept his composure the entire game and led the team back from an 11-point second-half deficit, displaying the leadership and temperament every playoff-caliber team needs from its starting quarterback.

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Stephen Paea
2. Stephen Paea, DT: The third-year nose tackle quietly had the best game of any Bears defensive linemen with six tackles. While the Bears lacked a consistent pass rush for the majority of the game, Paea disrupted several plays in the backfield, and helped the defense limit the Bengals to 63 total yards rushing on 21 attempts. Paea said at the beginning of training camp that he felt he was in the best shape of his life, and he was apparently telling the truth. The Bears will need another monster effort from Paea in the trenches to slow down Adrian Peterson on Sunday.

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Kyle Long
3. Kyle Long/Matt Slauson, G: Both of the Bears' starting guards deserve praise after handling Bengals Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Atkins wasn't credited with a single tackle and just one quarterback hurry, a far cry from the monster numbers he put up in 2012 when he led all NFL interior defensive linemen with 12.5 sacks. Although the guards did receive help at times from the Bears' offensive tackles, Slauson and Long were forced to win numerous one-on-one battles with Atkins, according to Trestman. Long's performance is especially impressive since he was making his first career NFL start.

FALLING


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Julius Peppers
1. Julius Peppers, DE: This is likely a blip on the radar, but it's hard to overlook Peppers failing to record a single tackle or quarterback hit despite facing the Bengals' second-string left tackle Anthony Collins. Peppers did battle a minor hamstring injury in camp, but his name did not appear on the injury report, so it's hard to blame health as the reason for his lack of production. Knowing the kind of competitor Peppers is, he'll probably come out with a vengeance against Minnesota. But in Week 1, he was missing in action.

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Henry Melton
2. Henry Melton, DT: Melton also disappeared up front, assisting on just one tackle despite playing the second-highest amount of snaps (46) on the Bears' defensive line behind Peppers (51). Of course, Melton missed almost the entire preseason due to a concussion, but the Bears placed the franchise tag on the Pro Bowler for a reason. Melton has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, but he has never been able to sustain success on a weekly basis. Just like with Peppers, the Bears need a bounce-back effort from Melton in Week 2.

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Major Wright
3. Major Wright, S: Wright's statistics were fine on Sunday (seven tackles), but he committed a costly mental error that led to a Bengals touchdown. With the Bears' in zone coverage, Wright bit on an Andy Dalton pump fake and was late helping out over the top on A.J. Green's 45-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Green ran past cornerback Tim Jennings on the play, but Trestman confirmed on Monday that Jennings expected the help to come from the safety. It never did. Wright has been responsible for a host of busted coverages throughout his career, although he is coming off his best NFL season in 2012 when he snagged four interceptions.

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