Stock Watch: Jeffery catching on quickly
December, 3, 2013
By Jeff Dickerson | ESPNChicago.com
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsAlshon Jeffery is fourth in the NFL with 1,109 yards receiving and tied for eighth with 70 receptions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.