Chicago Bears: Cheta Ozougwu
Week 11 Report Card: Chicago Bears vs. Baltimore Ravens
The Bears did an OK job on the ground versus a physical Ravens defensive front that played without starting nose tackle Haloti Ngata (inactive). Matt Forte carried the ball 18 times for 83 yards, and the Alshon Jeffery end around, a staple in the Bears' offense, gained 17 yards on three attempts. Considering the opposition, the Bears shouldn't be ashamed by their hard-earned 104 rushing yards.
Taking into account the conditions on Sunday, Josh McCown's 216 passing yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions -- 92.9 quarterback rating -- look impressive on paper. McCown stepped up in overtime and delivered a 43-yard strike to Martellus Bennett that set up the eventual game-winning field goal. The veteran backup continues to display a knack for protecting the football. McCown hasn't tossed a single interception in 101 pass attempts on the season, and his poise in the pocket on Sunday was a major reason the Bears were victorious.
Baltimore entered the game averaging 73 rushing yards per contest but found success on the ground versus the Bears to the tune of 174 yards. Ray Rice, written off by many for his below-average play in 2013, carried the ball 25 times for 131 yards and one touchdown. One of the few saving graces for the Bears' defense was their goal-line stand at the end of regulation that forced the Ravens to kick a field goal and extend the game to overtime. But the rushing defense continues to be a serious problem for the Bears.
The Bears limited Joe Flacco to just 17-of-31 for 162 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The middle of the field was open for much of the game but rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic did pick off Flacco down the middle of the field, while David Bass snared a Flacco pass at the line of scrimmage and returned it for a touchdown. The Bears also sacked Flacco three times -- Julius Peppers with two and Cheta Ozougwu with one. The Ravens' longest pass play went for 17 yards.
Robbie Gould is the master of the Soldier Field kicking conditions, going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts despite the swirling winds. Adam Podlesh pinned Baltimore inside the 20 on two of his six kicks. The Ravens did little in their return game. A couple special teams penalties did hurt the Bears.
In hindsight, Marc Trestman probably needed to use his timeouts on the Ravens' final drive of regulation. That decision would have cost the Bears if the defense hadn't kept the Ravens out of the end zone and forced them to kick a game-tying field goal. But Trestman dealt with the long weather delay to the best of his abilities, and he had his team ready to play when it returned to the field. The Bears could have easily gone in the tank after the loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 10, but Trestman's group responded with a win that likely saved its season.
Jay Cutler's mobility: When the Bears host the Detroit Lions, 21 days will have passed since Jay Cutler tore a groin muscle in the team's loss to the Washington Redskins. So Cutler's potential mobility against Detroit's formidable pass rush has to be a concern, even though the quarterback and the club say otherwise.
Look for the Bears to try to help out Cutler by putting him in plenty of shotgun formations so he won't put strain on that groin muscle with constant dropbacks from under center.
Front seven's run fits: Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker attributed the team's inability to hold down Reggie Bush (139 yards and a touchdown) in the last meeting to poor tackling and improper run fits. So Tucker is stressing better tackling out in open space, which is where Bush thrives, not to mention a swarm-the-ball mentality.
"We didn't tackle him. No. 1, we didn't fit the run well, and No. 2, he played exceptionally well," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "He made people miss. We've got to do a better job this time of working this week to try to neutralize him."
The defensive line needs to stay in their gaps, and the linebackers need to make sure to fill accordingly. Rookies Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene have struggled recently with leveraging blocks, which won't help the Bears in their attempt to stop Bush. So they've spent time this week working to improve in that area. But it all starts with the club's injury-depleted front four.
"We have guys who are injured, just like everybody in the league has guys who are injured," Trestman said. "We have no excuses. We have to go out there and try to stop him. It's never easy when you're at full strength, so we have to make it a point of interest this week, and No. 1 is to neutralize Reggie and minimize his ability to get big plays in the run game."
Pass rush: Chicago's front four took a major step in the right direction with its five-sack outing Monday night at Green Bay, but there's a good chance the club's sack leader from that game won't play Sunday against the Lions. Coming off a three-sack game against the Packers, second-year defensive end Shea McClellin suffered a hamstring injury during Thursday's practice and is doubtful for the matchup with the Lions. That means the Bears need potential replacements such as David Bass and Cheta Ozougwu to step in and pick up the slack.
Julius Peppers needs to do the same.
"We have guys that have talent and [have] put a lot of hard work and effort with that, and eventually guys are going to break through. So I think that's what you saw [against the Packers]," Tucker said.
But can the Bears produce that type of performance again this week with sole possession of the division lead on the line?
Rushing attack: The last time these teams met, the Lions jumped out to a 30-10 second-quarter lead and immediately forced the Bears into passing mode, thus eliminating the prospects for Matt Forte getting into a flow. Forte rushed 14 times for 95 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown in the second quarter before the Lions erupted for three TDs in the final 3:26 of the first half. So the Bears could help themselves tremendously by using Forte to dictate the flow of the game early, which will also enable the passing attack to have success with play action.
"Anytime you see a team for the second time, you have a better feel for how much strength you have against a guy, how much technique you're going to need against someone," Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "Just as you go from the first drive of a game to the second; 'I can do this more than I thought on tape watching him against someone else.' But they're also familiar with us."
Special teams: Punter Adam Podlesh finished with a season-low 28.8-yard net average in the first matchup between these teams, and he hit a line-drive punt in that contest that Micheal Spurlock returned 57 yards to set up a Matthew Stafford touchdown run. The game nearly cost Podlesh his job.
"I think Adam's been consistent really since that time," special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "He's really picked his game up. He made some slight changes, and it's helped him. I'm glad he's going in the right direction."
That needs to continue against the Lions.
DeCamillis said the Bears played the kind of game Monday night where "we had 11 out there, but 10 guys played a lot of plays," which is unacceptable. The team's punt protection also allowed a blocked punt against the Packers.
"When you look back at the film, it wasn't just that punt," DeCamillis said. "There was kickoff return yardage that was left out there where there is one guy sitting in the hole because somebody gets beat. We've got to get all 11 going at the same time, and that was obviously critical during this past week."
It'll be the same Sunday unless the Bears resolve those issues.
Melton and Bennett attended the session inside the Walter Payton Center during the portion of practice open to the media, but it appears neither has been cleared to return to activity. Considering the starters aren’t likely to play much, if any, during the preseason finale against Cleveland on Thursday, there’s no rush for Melton and Bennett to return to the field.
“Henry is into (the) running (phase of the concussion protocol). Earl is day-to-day. I know (Bennett) was with some of the medical people this morning, I haven’t checked," Trestman said. "Henry ran today. He’s going to run tomorrow and Wednesday and pick up that running significantly. That’s where he is at this point."
The Bears have already begun preparations for the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 8, and the week leading into that outing would seem to be the target date for Melton and Bennett to rejoin the team for workouts.
As the club’s franchise player, Melton has already solidified his status as a starter. Bennett, meanwhile, is competing with Joe Anderson, Eric Weems, Terrence Toliver and rookie Marquess Wilson for one of the receiver spots behind Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Bennett hasn’t practiced with the team since suffering the concussion on Aug. 3 at Soldier Field after a hard hit from safety Chris Conte.
Melton suffered his concussion in the first game of the preseason at Carolina.
In other injury news, the team held out quarterback Matt Blanchard (hand), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee), defensive tackle (Corvey Irvin) (ankle), cornerback Zack Bowman (hamstring) and linebacker J.T. Thomas (hamstring).
The projected starter at middle linebacker, Williams hasn't yet played in a preseason game, but he's into the running phase of his rehabilitation.
"If you saw him at the (Oakland) game, he was out working at the game," Trestman said. "He's day-to-day, but we'll see where it goes. We're optimistic he's gonna be close (to fully healthy by opening day). It's still day-to-day, but there is progress."
With Williams out of action, rookie second-round pick Jonathan Bostic has filled in at middle linebacker and put together some solid performances throughout the preseason. Still, Trestman wasn't ready to declare Bostic the starter in the middle.
"I am not going to use that term "starting middle linebacker,"" Trestman said. "He has started in the last couple games, and I think he has continued to grow and get better, and (has) shown he can be a very good player in this league. I think he's getting better. He is fitting in. If he happens to be the guy who is that guy Game 1 or Game 2, or whatever it is, I think he can grow into the position and be a more than sufficient middle linebacker in this league."
In other news, fullback Harvey Unga (ribs), defensive end Cheta Ozougwu (hamstring), and long snapper Patrick Mannelly returned to the practice field Monday after missing last week’s game at Oakland.
In all, the club cut 14 players which moves the roster to 76. The moves came two days before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET NFL deadline for teams to trim their rosters to 75 players, and as often is the case around the league, done as a courtesy for players to give them the best possible chance to find work with another team as soon as possible.
Other cuts included receiver Devin Aromashodu, running back Curtis Brinkley, defensive tackles Brent Russell and Eric Foster, offensive tackle A.J. Lindeman, center P.J. Lonergan, safety Derrick Martin, tight ends Gabe Miller and Leonard Pope, linebackers Patrick Trahan and Lawrence Wilson, and punter Tress Way.
With one cut remaining, the Bears could wind up releasing another player today or in the next couple of days in advance of Tuesday’s deadline. Teams aren’t required to release players early, but this is done every season as a courtesy for veterans so they can find new work as soon as possible.
Zbikowski came into the league in 2008 as a third-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, where he played four seasons as a standout on special teams. Zbikowski played in the second half of Chicago’s exhibition win over the Oakland Raiders on Friday, and contributed three tackles. As of early Saturday, at least one general manager had expressed interest in acquiring Zbikowski. The Steelers expressed an interest in free agency, but Zbikowski chose the Bears.
As for Moore, a fourth-round pick of the Buccaneers in 2009, high numbers at defensive end might have contributed to the Bears making the decision to part ways. Moore posted a sack against the Raiders for an 11-yard loss, but he was fighting an uphill battle to win a spot at a position already stocked with players such as Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton, and Shea McClellin. Moore was competing with rookie sixth-round pick Cornelius Washington and veteran Cheta Ozougwu for one of the final spots at the position.
Moore signed for the veteran minimum in April ($715,000) with no signing bonus. The club had already invested $103,788 in a signing bonus for Washington. It’s important to remember that when a team invests money in a player, it will always give him more opportunity to make the roster than a player it didn’t spend to acquire.
In addition to the sack tallied Friday night against the Raiders, Moore had contributed three tackles in three preseason outings, meaning he’s compiled plenty of film for teams to study if they’re interested in acquiring the defensive end.
However, Melton and Bennett have still not passed the NFL concussion protocol to return to action, and therefore both continue to be off-limits to the media, per league rules.
While veteran Nate Collins has elevated his game filling in for Melton at defensive tackle, the picture at the No. 3 wide receiver spot is cloudier with Bennett out. Wideouts Joe Anderson, Marquess Wilson, Eric Weems, Terrence Toliver and Devin Aromashodu have all been given an opportunity to run with the first and second teams in recent weeks, but quarterback Jay Cutler said on Tuesday that he has no input on which specific player would fill the void left by Bennett if his absence continues to drag on.
"They don't give me an opinion so we'll see who they throw in there," Cutler said. "We'll see who Marc (Trestman), Phil (Emery) and those guys like. Whoever is out there I trust that they can get the job done."
In other injury news, quarterback Matt Blanchard (hand), fullback Harvey Unga (rib), defensive end Cheta Ozougwu (hamstring), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), long snapper Patrick Mannelly (rib), offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee) and defensive tackle Corvey Irvin (ankle) were all held out of Tuesday's practice.
The news on Blanchard is encouraging. The second-year quarterback is expected to miss about a month, but could still have a role on the team in 2013 in some capacity. Blanchard also remains eligible for the practice squad.
"Henry and Earl are getting better," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "It's still day-to-day there, and we're keeping our fingers crossed there that it will continue to improve as it has."
Melton suffered a concussion in the first quarter of the team's preseason opener at Carolina, while Bennett's head injury came due to a hit from teammate Chris Conte during an Aug. 3 night practice at Soldier Field. It's unlikely the Bears will make either player available for Friday's preseason matchup at Oakland. Neither attended the workout on Monday, as both are recovering at home.
Sidelined with knee swelling for a good portion of training camp, Scott is expected to return in the coming days after medical personnel recently drained fluid from the veteran's sore knee and after an exploratory examination found no structural damage.
"It looks like it's gotten better," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "We should see some movement in the right direction in the next few days and the next week. He was actually with the doctors today. [Head athletic trainer] Chris [Hanks] came over to tell me that, said the results were very good. I didn't get specific with him, but he was positive about Jonathan getting back to us next week."
Scott, a seven-year veteran, has experienced swelling in his knees in the past and missed some time last season, his first with the Bears.
Scott's return will be welcomed considering the team is in the heat of a competition to find its starting right tackle. Incumbent J'Marcus Webb was moved to the second team, where he'll back up Jermon Bushrod at left tackle, and rookie Jordan Mills was elevated to the first team on the right side.
Coach Marc Trestman was asked on Monday if Bennett had experienced any setbacks since he began to go through the NFL's concussion protocol in order to receive the necessary clearance to resume football-related activities.
"I think he's just in the protocol," Trestman said. "He's at home and there's been no change from Sunday. I always walk in there and check to see where he's at and I generally text him after practice so there's no change from Sunday."
Bennett suffered a concussion last season versus the Seattle Seahawks and had to miss two games.
In other injury news, offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), fullback Harvey Unga (rib), long snapper Patrick Mannelly (rib), defensive tackle Henry Melton (concussion) and running back Armando Allen (hamstring) were all held out of Monday’s session.
Allen’s hamstring injury has been classified as “week-to-week” by the Bears.
Defensive end Cheta Ozougwu also hurt his hamstring and finished practice with his right left wrapped in ice.
Wide receiver Joe Anderson returned to practice after missing time with a bad shoulder, while Corey Wootton (calf) practiced without restrictions after being limited over the weekend. Linebacker Patrick Trahan rejoined the club after being excused on Sunday.
Declared out earlier in the week because of a fracture in his hand, rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery was the most notable of the group that included defensive tackle Matt Toeaina, cornerback Sherrick McManis (hip), offensive lineman Edwin Williams, tight end Brody Eldridge, defensive tackle Nate Collins and defensive end Cheta Ozougwu.
The team's leading tackler on special teams, McManis practiced in a limited capacity all week but apparently didn't recover sufficiently enough for the Bears to feel comfortable with putting him out on the field.
Toeaina, meanwhile, made the team's active roster during an Oct. 7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars for the first time since Week 1, but it's likely he was activated because of his run-stopping prowess with the Bears expected to receive a heavy dose of Maurice Jones-Drew. Apparently the rushing attack of the Lions doesn't pose the same threat to the Bears.
Inactives for the Lions include quarterback Kellen Moore, cornerbacks Jacob Lacey and Bill Bentley, and running back Kevin Smith, in addition to offensive tackles Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard and defensive end Ronnell Lewis.
Detroit announced that second-year defensive tackle Nick Fairley will make his second consecutive start in place of Corey Williams, who missed practice on Saturday, but is among the team's actives. Rookie Jonte Green will start in place of Jacob Lacey, who continues to recover from a concussion.