Chicago Bears: Offense
“We were challenged, offensively,” Cutler said. “Defensively, they were playing really good football. They just had to sustain that. Offensively, Marc [Trestman] challenged us. The players, we challenged each other. We knew if we continued down this road, we were going to lose this game. We didn’t want that to happen.”
Asked to elaborate on how the team was challenged, Cutler said, “Verbally, we questioned guys. Made sure everyone was in this for the right reasons. Made sure when we left that locker room, everyone’s mind was right on what we wanted to accomplish.”
The Bears obviously responded well to the halftime challenges.
The offense marched 58 yards on six plays in the team’s first possession of the second half, with Cutler finding Alshon Jeffery for a 2-yard touchdown to cap the drive and put the club’s first points on the board.
Still, the Bears finished with a season-low 204 yards on offense and converted on just 25 percent of third downs. Matt Forte scored a pair of touchdowns late off turnovers forced by the defense to lift the Bears.
“To me, it was very easy,” Trestman said of his first-half assessment of the team. “Dropped balls, penalties, tipped balls, all of that. As I said to the guys at halftime, there was no one guy. We passed it around to everybody. You can’t be efficient playing football that way, especially when you are dropping footballs and you have penalties. When we get over that, we’ll move the ball effectively and efficiently, but we have to get over that. And we did.”
CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 27-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Soldier Field.
What it means: The Bears fell further out of the NFC North race with the Green Bay Packers appearing to be on the way toward extending their division lead with a win over the Carolina Panthers. The Bears now will travel to New England to face a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots squad that will have extra prep time heading into next week’s matchup at Gillette Stadium. The Bears remain winless at home, which is especially concerning since they will play five of the last seven at Soldier Field.
Stock watch: Strongside linebacker Shea McClellin returned to the lineup after missing the last four games due to a broken hand, but the defense may have fared better without him. McClellin proved to be a liability against both the run and pass. He slipped and fell trying to cover Charles Clay on the tight end's 13-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Then, on a crucial fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, McClellin failed to disengage from a block as Ryan Tannehill ran to his side for a 30-yard gain to set up Lamar Miller’s 1-yard touchdown.
Jay Cutler turnovers: Fans like to say “Cutty does it.” Well, he certainly did in the loss to the Dolphins, turning the ball over twice. It’s no coincidence the Bears have lost every game in which Cutler has committed a turnover. Cutler tossed two interceptions in each of the team’s three losses heading into Sunday’s game, and he committed two more turnovers (an interception and a fumble) against the Dolphins.
Bears coach Marc Trestman, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and Cutler have all talked extensively about turnovers being the deciding factor in all of this team’s losses, yet the quarterback continues to give away the ball. It has to stop.
Game ball: Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff racked up a career-high 3.5 sacks in the first half alone and contributed seven tackles. Ratliff’s 3.5 sacks against the Dolphins matched his 2010 season total. Ratliff hasn’t made more than two sacks in a season since 2011, which is impressive for a player who had missed three of the last four games recovering from a concussion suffered in Week 3.
What’s next: The Bears head to Halas Hall on Monday to do some light weightlifting and recovery work. They won’t begin preparation for the New England Patriots until Wednesday.
Jay Cutler has completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. He's shown more discipline and better command of the offense, but costly turnovers have been an issue. If Cutler maintains his current level of efficiency, he'll set a career high in passer rating for the second consecutive season. Cutler currently ranks third in completions (102), ninth in yards (1,006) and is tied for second in touchdowns, and his passer rating is currently 94.7. Grade: B
Matt Forte finally broke through for his first 100-yard rushing performance against the Green Bay Packers and is currently tied for eighth in rushing yards (258), first in receptions at his position (24) and third in yards from scrimmage (452). Rookie Ka'Deem Carey is becoming more of a factor in the offense as well, and the Bears have employed formations that feature both backs in the game at the same time. Both backs average at least 4 yards per attempt. Grade: B+
Injuries in the season opener to center Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson gave cause for concern, but their replacements Brian de la Puente and Michael Ola have performed well. The group has given up eight sacks through the first four games. According to Pro Football Focus, every offensive lineman graded positively in run blocking against the Packers. Grade: B-
Martellus Bennett ranks second in catches (29th) among tight ends, fourth in yards (295) and is tied for second in touchdown receptions (four). Bennett put in the work during the offseason to prepare for a more significant role, and he appears to have developed a strong rapport with Cutler. Bennett has scored a touchdown in all but one game, while averaging 7.25 receptions. Grade: A
Injuries have led to slow starts for Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, who have combined for 36 receptions and six touchdowns through four games. But the duo is gradually getting back to full speed. The club's complementary targets such as Santonio Holmes and Josh Morgan haven't received many opportunities to showcase their talent, but they're plenty capable. Grade: B-
The Bears revamped the defensive line in the offseason with the additions of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young in addition to drafting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. But the group certainly hasn't met expectations as the Bears rank 20th against the run while contributing just eight sacks (linebacker Shea McClellin is responsible for a sack as well). For the Bears to gain any level of consistency on defense with the style they play, the defensive line needs to step up its game, shut down the run and pressure the quarterback. Grade: D
The Bears are tied for fourth in the league in takeaways (eight), and rookie Kyle Fuller deserves credit for his team-high- three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Fuller became the only NFL player in the past 20 years with three interceptions and two forced fumbles in the first three games of the season. Obviously, Charles Tillman's season-ending triceps injury hurts the position. But the Bears are in decent shape with Fuller and Tim Jennings. The Bears need better play from the nickel corner spot. Grade: B-
Chris Conte gave up 46 yards on two catches and a touchdown against the Packers and missed a couple of tackles but for the most part has performed well (two interceptions). Ryan Mundy has been a solid run defender, and provided one of the team's takeaways with his pick-six Sept. 22 against the New York Jets. Overall, the safeties still need to play a little better. But they've been much more consistent than they were in 2013. Grade: C+
Shea McClellin entered the season as the starter on the strong side but has been on the shelf recently with a broken hand. Perhaps that's somewhat of a blessing in disguise as it has enabled the Bears to upgrade the overall athleticism of the starting lineup by replacing McClellin with Jonathan Bostic. The group lacks consistency in terms of gap integrity and pass coverage but is tracking positively. Grade: C-
Coach Marc Trestman caught heat for the club's clock management in the second quarter to Green Bay, and you have to admit the Bears committed a few unnecessary penalties in the defeat, not to mention the thrown challenge flag that resulted in a lost timeout. Trestman deserves credit for suspending Bennett during training camp, because the move resulted in a positive change for the tight end. And you can't deny this Bears team did manage to pull together back-to-back road wins against strong opponents. Grade: C+
The consecutive road wins at San Francisco and New York followed by the stinker at home against Green Bay point to a lack of consistency in every facet of the game, and while injuries at key positions have been an issue, Chicago's situation plays out every week all over the league. So there are no excuses here. Ultimately, the Bears will be in decent shape in the second half of the season if they can finish the second quarter headed into the bye with a record of .500 or better.
In the grouping of players ranked from Nos. 91 through 100, Cutler was the lone quarterback, ranked one spot above Minnesota offensive tackle Matt Kalil, and one slot below Cincinnati offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, and two places below Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray. Interestingly, Cutler's ranking likely means multiple Chicago Bears offensive players register higher rankings than the quarterback.
None of Chicago’s defenders were ranked 91 through 100.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cutler comes off a season in which he put together his best total QBR (66.4) over five seasons with the Bears. Cutler’s 92.5 total QBR in the fourth quarter ranked as No. 1 in the NFL.
Bears fans probably won’t be pleased with Cutler’s ranking, but from this vantage point, the quarterback’s place is just about right. The truth is it’s probably better for Cutler to fly under the radar than to go into the season overhyped anyway.
Based on what we’ve seen from Cutler so far this preseason (123.3 passer rating and a completion percentage of 72.7), he figures to take a major step forward operating in Year 2 of Marc Trestman’s system.
That should mean more victories in 2014, and naturally a better ranking going into the 2015 season.
Where do you think Cutler should be ranked?
“It’s obvious in practice that Jay is taking more and more control by the day,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “Not that he didn’t before; he did. But with his comfort level with all the things we’re trying to get done, he’s able to solve some of his own problems on the field, even when he didn’t maybe have that answer taught to him yet. It’s really helped that Jay has studied really hard all offseason. He’s worked on technique. He’s been one of the hardest-working guys on the team this offseason.”
You know the numbers. The Bears set records last season in net yardage (6,109 yards), passing yards (4,281), completion percentage (64.4), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (96.9) in addition to achieving a franchise-best 344 first downs while scoring the second-most points in franchise history (445).
Cutler’s 63.1 completion percentage ranked second in franchise history, as he churned out a career-best passer rating of 89.2.
Cutler has long held a reputation for surliness, and the outside perception is he’s aloof with teammates. Yet within the organization, the quarterback didn’t display such qualities, according to the coaches. Actually, he’s quite the opposite, they say.
“I didn’t know him before last year, and to be honest with you, since I’ve been around him I’ve been nothing but impressed,” quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh said. “I think he’s got a real sincere attitude about this organization, his teammates, the coaching staff and what we’re trying to get done. He believes in it.
“He does things that will never, ever get reported, and you just say, ‘Wow, that’s unselfish.' I admire that in him.”
What went largely unreported during last year’s camp was Cutler’s penchant for gathering the players late at night to go through walkthroughs of what the offense might be working on the next day.
Evidence of Cutler’s growth also manifested itself Saturday on the field after the club’s second workout of camp. Earlier that day, Cutler and tight end Martellus Bennett squandered what should have been a touchdown in the red zone when linebacker Jonathan Bostic broke up the quarterback’s pass.
As the rest of the team walked off the field after practice, Cutler walked over to an adjacent field with Bennett to talk about ways they could be more effective in the red zone. The conversation wasn’t combative, and the duo walked away smiling, having gained a better understanding of how to capitalize on the next red-zone opportunity.
“In certain situations [Bennett is] really hard to cover,” Cutler later explained. “He’s such a big guy that even some of the intermediate stuff over the middle, he’s able to bring guys and get separation. He played basketball, so he knows how to high point the ball down in the red zone. We’ve just got to keep throwing different stuff at him and incorporating him in different ways.”
Cutler hasn’t been perfect, nor has anyone else on the offense thus far at camp. But everyone recognizes the deficiencies, and Cutler seems to be taking the lead in cleaning up things.
Cutler admitted “there’s been some sloppy stuff out there,” thus far at camp, which he said “is to be expected.”
That’s part of the reason Cutler is sometimes taking repetitions with the second-team offense. The staff wants Cutler to take as many snaps as possible to strengthen his command of the offense, while also working with different personnel that might become more involved in the scheme if there’s an injury to a key contributor.
Trestman agreed with Kromer's assessment that Cutler is more of a problem-solver in Year 2 of the offense.
“It happens both in the protection game because of his acumen. He’s seein' it all. He’s also doing it within the framework of our passing game as well,” Trestman said. “He’s able to get guys in the right position, change routes quickly and get the best and most out of each and every play. That’s kind of where he is. He’s kind of fixing it at the line of scrimmage when he needs to get that done.”
Cavanaugh called Cutler “a great example” for the offense.
“He just wants to be the best he can be every day, and he wants to make the people around him better, too,” Cavanaugh said. “That’ what you want in your leader. You want a guy who can make people around him better and be an example for them and make them better.”
“Our personal opinion is that ball control’s important any time you’re playing another good offense,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “So yeah, we’d like to keep the ball. But if we can score, we’re going to score. We’re not going to hold our team back from scoring. We’re not going to not throw it deep because we don’t want to score too quickly.”
In other words, the Bears don’t plan to get too far outside their own style of offense. The Packers average 30.3 points per game, which ranks as No. 3 in the NFL. But Chicago is a notch above Green Bay in that category, averaging 30.4 for second-best in the league.
Josh McCown, who will start in place of Jay Cutler, admitted he might need to resist the temptation to try to match the production of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“You know that Aaron Rodgers is on the other side,” McCown said. “There can be a sense of, ‘Man, how are we going to do this?’ It’s just taking it a play at a time and focusing on what you have to do (on) that play.”
The change from Cutler to McCown won’t make a significant difference in how the team plays offense either, according to Kromer, head coach Marc Trestman and receiver Brandon Marshall.
“Our football stays the same. The science of it doesn’t change,” Marshall said. “I think Josh showed what he was capable of in this offense against Washington.”
The Bears can help, obviously, by establishing the run with Matt Forte to eat away some clock and keep the ball out of the hands of Green Bay’s offense. Kromer called the running game “every quarterback’s best friend,” on Friday after practice inside the Walter Payton Center.
“We’re going to do what’s best for our offense at that time, and then, obviously clock management at some point in the game is important,” Kromer said.
If Jay Cutler left the Bears in a tight spot on offense because of the torn groin muscle that will keep him out at least four weeks, then Lance Briggs gave the defense a near-insurmountable task: to somehow improve without him on the field.
That’s right. The loss of Briggs weighs more heavily because at this point, he means more to the defense than the quarterback does to the offense. It sounds silly, but that’s simply the state of affairs these days at Halas Hall.
We expected the defense to fall off a notch this season, with the loss of linebacker Brian Urlacher and the acquisition of two new faces (James Anderson and D.J. Williams) and the hiring of a new coordinator in Mel Tucker. But what we’re seeing is an injury-induced dive off a cliff.
"There’s no simple answers. There are a lot of teams in our position in the National Football League,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Defensively, we’ve got to improve our fits, our assignments. We’ve been completely inconsistent. At times we’ve been outstanding, and at times we just haven’t done the right things.”
That’s what comes with thrusting young, inexperienced players into key roles. It’s a situation not likely to improve soon. The team still hasn’t decided who will call defensive signals in Briggs’ place. Right now, Jonathan Bostic and James Anderson are the likely candidates.
Bostic made the calls in the loss at Washington on Sunday after Briggs left the game in the third quarter.
The club also will choose between rookie Khaseem Greene and veteran Blake Costanzo as Briggs’ replacement.
“We’re losing a great leader in Lance,” Trestman said. “Arguably we’re going to have to work very, very hard to recover, but that doesn’t say we can’t. It’s been done before, we’ve got time to work through it and there’s no reason why as a football team that we can’t be confident we can rally around that position, find a way to win games.”
On the offensive side of the ball, that’s an easier proposition due to the quality of the replacement, the club’s revamped protection, not to mention all of the weapons surrounding him, with running back Matt Forte, tight end Martellus Bennett and receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Cutler’s replacement, Josh McCown, demonstrated as much Sunday when he completed 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown to Bennett before finishing the game with a passer rating of 119.6 as the offense put up 34 points.
A 10-year veteran, McCown has logged 20 starts in the NFL and is considered “a glue guy” by general manager Phil Emery, and “a captain,” by Marshall “without the 'C' on his chest.”
Emery called McCown’s “ability to play the position” the backup’s greatest asset in his bid to replace Cutler without the offense skipping a beat.
“And probably foremost, just in terms of Josh and the person and the leader he is, the buy-in he has from his team in terms of being able to be a positive part of winning football on Sundays,” Emery said. “I didn’t notice it because I don't always watch the huddles, but Josh McCown is in every special teams break before they go out on the field. That to me signals to everybody what type of person this guy is. He could be content staying over on the sidelines with the headset and a clipboard, literally, but he's not. He's a big part of this team. He's a big part of the leadership group of this team.”
Left tackle Jermon Bushrod said he has “all the confidence in the world” in McCown because “he came in yesterday, and he did his thing. He spread the ball around. He got us in good positions, and we had a chance to win the game.”
McCown, meanwhile, says the structure in place gives him a leg up from where he was two years ago, when the Bears first asked the veteran to start a game. It was 2011, he had been coaching high school football just before the Bears signed him, and he basically went in cold for his first start at Green Bay. McCown helped the Bears put up 21 points in a loss to the Packers, but helped the club break its five-game losing streak the next week in the season finale at Minnesota.
McCown says “I’m in a better spot right now,” having learned Trestman’s system from the ground up from Day 1 of the coach’s tenure in Chicago.
“The structure is in place and the emphasis has been put on individuals to do their job and do their part,” McCown said. “If we continue to get that, and we felt like we got that yesterday, it allows the quarterback to step in there, whether it’s Jay or myself, to function and play, because guys are going to be coached to be where they are supposed to be and do what they’re supposed to do. It’s going to look different between Jay and I; our skill sets are different.”
On offense, the highly productive results likely won't change, either. The same can’t be said for an already reeling Bears defense without Briggs.
Run defense: The Redskins kept the Bears off balance all game with their ability to run the football. Alfred Morris averaged 5 yards per carry, while Robert Griffin III averaged 7.6. By establishing the run, the Redskins kept the Bears on their heels, thus opening up other facets of the game. Typically, the Bears shut down the run, making opponents one dimensional. But Chicago hasn’t been able to accomplish that objective consistently this season. Certainly, injuries along the front four contribute to the problem, but until the Bears solve the issue, teams will continue to gash them on the ground before taking chunks through the air via play action.
Feeding Forte: They don’t seem to be involving Matt Forte enough early on, and that’s diminished Chicago’s ability to find a rhythm. In six first-half drives, the Bears handed off to Forte just four times, including only once in each of the first two possession. Forte didn’t receive back-to-back attempts until the team’s second drive of the second quarter. By then, Washington held a 17-10 lead. Forte carried four times for nine yards and a score in the first half, yet finished the game with 91 yards and three TDs on 16 attempts. The offense should run through Forte from the onset.
Veterans on the front four: Given the injuries, inexperience and inconsistency on the defensive line, veterans Julius Peppers, Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton need to step up and start carrying the group. Peppers finally showed up on the stat sheet with seven tackles, while Paea and Wootton contributed two tackles apiece. Still, that’s not enough. The team needs even more, especial in the pass-rushing department. One of the best to play the game at his position, Peppers hasn’t contributed a sack since September.
Chicago killed itself on the first play from scrimmage when Matt Forte doomed a drive with a fumble for a 10-yard loss, and New Orleans responded with a field goal to put the Bears at a disadvantage early. On Chicago’s next drive, ineptitude in blitz pickup resulted in another fumble that the Saints turned into another field goal. By the time the Bears started playing productive football, they were trailing 13-0 with 5:57 left in the first half. That’s too late.
Injuries to front four: With Henry Melton out for the season and Stephen Paea missing Sunday’s game because of a turf toe injury, the front four suffered another blow when Nate Collins left with a knee injury. That’s two starters and a backup ailing from injuries. Unheralded players such as undrafted rookie Zach Minter and Landon Cohen need to step up, along with players such as defensive end Corey Wootton, who is now being forced to play out of position. The personnel department needs to help in this area, too, by beating the streets for suitable talent to acquire, and that will be a difficult proposition.
Podlesh rebounds: The Bears brought in six punters for workouts Tuesday after Adam Podlesh produced a rancid performance against the Lions in Week 4, finishing with a net average of 28.8 yards. But Podlesh bounced back with a decent outing against the Saints. He finished with a net average of 44.8 yards, including a 54-yard effort in the first half, his best outing since Nov. 19 of last season.
Rush improved, but not enough: With the injuries mounting, it’s likely the pass rush will continue to be an issue for this team. The Bears sacked Drew Brees twice and have registered six sacks over the past three games. But the club needs to apply even more pressure. There’s no way Brees should be allowed enough time to complete nearly 83 percent of his passes.
Don’t ring the alarm regarding recent concerns expressed by Bears receiver Brandon Marshall about his place in the offense, level of conditioning and recovery from a January arthroscopic hip surgery.
Marshall dropped two passes and had another knocked away against the Raiders. But the week before, he caught four of the five passes thrown his way, including one grab for a 5-yard touchdown. Despite the limited action we’ve seen thus far from Marshall, would any of the few snaps we’ve seen (50 by my count) suggest the Bears should be worried?
That’s the mentality of an elite player: hypercritical. It’s simply Marshall digesting the reality that with less than two weeks before the start of the regular season, with the team learning a new offense, he’s still got a ways to go if he plans on matching his record-setting production from 2012.
Against the Raiders, Jay Cutler targeted second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery eight times for seven completions; twice the number of passes thrown to Marshall. But let’s not forget Marshall accounted for close to half of the team’s receiving yardage in 2012, and while that number will fall off some in 2013 in Marc Trestman’s new offense, he’ll still catch his fair share of balls. So Marshall, at this point, shouldn’t be worried that he’s “still trying to figure out my role and my place in this offense.”
Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett will see plenty of passes thrown their way. But ultimately, the success of Chicago’s passing game this season will hinge on Marshall, who at this point says “it’s [now about] getting a feel for [the new offense], and having more experience in the offense.”
Trestman made that clear Monday, saying the receiver is “going to have a lot of catches and certainly be instrumental in the success of our offense, and ultimately our team.”
“It’s B,"" Cutler said. “He’s going to take it hard for a couple of days, and then he’ll snap out of it and he’ll be the guy we need next week. This week we don’t need him. So he can stay on the ledge for a couple more days, and then come back next week. Conditioning-wise, he’s a little behind. He knows where he needs to be. It’s just a matter of him pushing his hip through things when it gets tight a little bit. Once we start getting into a routine in a game week, and we shorten some of these reps, we’ll really figure out exactly what routes we want him on, and where we want him on the field. Hopefully things will sharpen us for his hip, and he’ll be able to make it go.”
Given the limited amount of snaps played by Marshall throughout the offseason, training camp and the preseason, he can’t yet fully visualize the role Trestman envisions for him because he simply hasn’t been on the field enough to become immersed in it. As for Marshall’s implication the club might be rushing him back too soon, perhaps there’s some truth to that. But he should know and understand the balancing act the team is performing in its attempt to keep him healthy, while also getting him the necessary reps to fully digest the offense which, eventually, will work the receiver into playing shape.
Coming into training camp, it appeared Marshall and Trestman weren’t necessarily on the same page. On the day the club reported, Marshall said he needed to “listen to his body” and expected (and also eventually received) a few days off here and there as he continued to recover. That same day, Trestman spoke about how teams could no longer be liberal in granting days off for veterans because of the limited practices allotted in the new collective bargaining agreement.
When Marshall first underwent the surgery, a source close to him said he expected the receiver to be back “playing basketball in two weeks.” Surely, Marshall expected the same.
Now that things haven’t gone the way he expected, Marshall's a little concerned, and rightfully so, because only the receiver truly knows what’s going on in his body. Still, it’s worth it to remember the type of athlete Marshall is, and his sky-high expectations for the season.
“Brandon is working his tail off to get himself ready,” Trestman said. “He feels a sense of urgency. He’s a highly competitive man. He can only comment on how he feels. You saw him on the field at Soldier Field. You saw that he does have those moments where he can practice and work at a very high level. There have been days that haven’t gone so well for him, and then he will bounce back.”
So now isn’t the time to get overly worked up about Marshall. Oakland might have been the setback, but my guess is Cincinnati on Sept. 8 is the bounce back.
Here's a couple of links to Bears news:
-- ESPN The Magazine columnist Chris Jones loves him some Jay Cutler.
-- Adam Jahns would be surprised if the Bears cut Devin Hester.
-- John “Moon” Mullin looks at the battle at swing tackle between Jonathan Scott and J’Marcus Webb.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was not shy about admitting Tuesday that he might not know the breadth of the team’s new offense by the end of the season, much less the start.
“It will extend to Week 15,” Cutler said of the learning curve. “It’s going to be a process throughout the entire year of us staying on top of things and knowing exactly what (coach Marc Trestman) wants us to do out there. It’s a week-by-week thing. It’s never going to be perfect.”
Cutler isn’t just an experienced NFL quarterback, he is also a veteran of learning new offenses. And it’s quite possible that Cutler has never fully grasped the full scope of any of the offenses he has been required to learn before moving on to the next.
Despite what he doesn’t know by the season opener, though, that shouldn’t mean the Bears will be limited offensively when they take the field Sept. 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- With every attempt, Matt Forte’s confidence grows in his club’s zone-blocking schemes, which allow the running back to showcase some of his best attributes.
Over his past four quarters, Forte has averaged 10.7 yards per attempt, and he finished with 76 yards on six attempts Friday in the Chicago Bears' 34-26 win over the Oakland Raiders.
“What makes the zone blocking good is those linemen get push off the ball,” Forte said. “When they can do that, I can be patient and just sit back and read the blocking. So [while] there’s a place where the play is designed to go, you can just use your vision. If I want to, I can cut it all the way back. Or I can just pick a hole. That’s what makes it so nice.”
That resulted in Chicago’s first-team offense putting up 27 points on the Oakland Raiders over two quarters, while scoring on five of six first-half drives. The showing provided “signals of the kind of team we can be,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said after the 34-26 win, “but we’re certainly not going to get ahead of ourselves, either.”
Jay Cutler spoke a similar message.
“It is the preseason,” he cautioned. “You can’t get caught up in that. We start out the season 0-0 like everybody else, and we’ve got to get back to work. I wouldn’t get too high on this game. Obviously, we made some mistakes. We need to go back and look at them. But it’s a good barometer of where we’re at and where we can go.”
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Through two and a half weeks of camp and one preseason game, the Bears should be concerned about their offensive execution.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact: Whenever a new offense is installed there are naturally going to be concerns, especially coming off a disastrous 2012 season on offense. There is ample skill-position talent on the roster for Jay Cutler to spread the ball around to, but for whatever reason, the offense hasn’t looked all that sharp in practice since camp opened up in late July. Far too often Cutler has been intercepted, either due to his error or a miscue by the intended receiver. The Bears can’t turn the ball over if they expect to win. There is also the uncertainty on the offensive line, which will continue to be a cause for concern until the final starting five is set sometime around the third preseason game. And even when the No. 1 line is penciled in, are the Bears comfortable starting two rookies on the right side in the event Jordan Mills hangs onto the job? To be fair, the Bears haven’t really been able to run the ball in the preseason. If the ground game can get cooking with Matt Forte and Michael Bush, then no matter what happens with the other stuff, the Bears will have a chance to be decent on offense. But simply based on what we’ve seen so far, the offense has a long way to go before it will be ready to handle whatever the Cincinnati Bengals offense throws at them in Week 1.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Not any more concerned than anyone else around the league is at this point of the year. It's important to remember that the Bears are executing a brand new offense, and the truth is the first-teamers executed fairly well against the Carolina Panthers. In 10 snaps, Cutler completed 6 of 8 for 56 yards with a passer rating of 54.2, which was knocked down quite a few points due to the interception he threw on the first play of the game. Of those 10 plays, nine of them turned out to be passes, although Bears coach Marc Trestman later revealed that he called more runs than what was actually executed. This could be viewed as a positive. Cutler checked out of some of the runs to put the Bears in more advantageous situations to throw the ball, based on several factors. Judging from his completion percentage (75), Cutler was making the correct checks. So signs indicate Cutler is figuring out things, and that's exactly what the Bears want from their quarterback at this point in the preseason.
Bostic drew positive reviews for his first day making the calls.
"He did very very well," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We're going to need him. We hope Lance doesn't go down, but he could. All of us could go down. So whenever somebody goes down, the next player has to be up. So we've got to get him ready because we might need him one of those games."
The Bears could wind up needing Bostic sooner than originally anticipated. The club drafted Bostic with the expectation he would spend 2013 learning behind Williams, a 10-year veteran, who at one time was considered one of the NFL's most talented middle linebackers. Williams suffered a strained right calf on Wednesday, and the prognosis given by the team has been "week to week," which means the injury could linger.
"I really don't look at it as getting thrown in the fire," Bostic said. "I'm out there with a lot of guys I've pretty much watched on TV the last 10 or 12 years, however long I’ve been watching football. To be in there with them, I’ve got to pick it up. I've got to go out there and make sure I'm in my playbook off the field so I'm not making any mistakes when I'm out there."