5 Things We Learned: Bears-Bills
November, 7, 2010
By Jeff Dickerson | ESPNChicago.com
TORONTO -- Here are five things we learned following the Bears' 22-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
1. A smart Jay Cutler wins games: So what if Cutler's passing totals weren't eye popping. The most important number with this quarterback is the amount of turnovers, and Cutler had just one on Sunday. This is the type of football Cutler is going to have to play for the remainder of the season if the Bears want to make the playoffs and maybe win a game or two in the postseason. He did make a few borderline reckless decisions with the ball against the Bills. But for the most part, he took what was available, and threw the ball away when necessary. He also displayed the most underrated part of his game -- his mobility and ability to make plays with his feet. This was easily Cutler's best game since Week 2 in Dallas. Easily.
2. Mike Martz should keep the same approach: Cutler still threw the ball 30 times, but how much better did the Bears look with Matt Forte and Chester Taylor combining for 24 carries? Again, the numbers weren't amazing for either runner (49 yards for Forte and 13 for Taylor), but you saw the Bills' defense start to wear down later in the game. Plus, this balanced approach helped the Bears convert 58 percent of their third-down conversions, quite a turnaround from the first seven games when the Bears struggled mightily to convert on third down. But here is the key: This can't be a one-time thing versus a bad Buffalo team. Martz should use Sunday as a blueprint moving forward. There will always be opportunities for Cutler to throw, but when you work in the run, you keep the backs, offensive linemen and your defense happy.
AP Photo/Mike GrollMatt Forte's value to the offense on Sunday goes beyond his 49 yards rushing.
3. Charles Tillman is struggling: I've always admired Tillman's toughness and productivity over the years, but it's been tough to overlook his struggles at cornerback the past few weeks. The veteran is still causing turnovers -- he forced and recovered a fumble against the Bills -- but Tillman is routinely allowing opposing receivers to catch the football, often for first downs. Perhaps the rotation at cornerback should continue when Zack Bowman returns from a foot injury, but instead of Bowman periodically spelling Tim Jennings, maybe he should give Tillman a few series off. Can it hurt?
4. Earl Bennett's value keeps rising: Bennett is quickly moving from the Bears' most consistent receiver -- which he is -- to their most productive. Looking for a big catch? Bennett is your guy. After an offseason and summer plagued by knee and hamstring injuries, Bennett -- inactive Week 1 against the Detroit Lions -- ranks second behind Johnny Knox in wide receiver receptions. His route on the two yard touchdown catch was textbook. Martz says many odd and sometimes misleading things on Wednesdays at Halas Hall, but his ever growing praise of Bennett is right on the money.
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesEarl Bennett had four catches for 52 yards and a touchdown against the Bills.
5. Bears should reward Brad Maynard: I realize this hasn't been Maynard's best season, but sometimes it's important to look beyond the numbers. Maynard's ability to pin teams inside the 20-yard line has been critical to the Bears' success, and no punt was bigger than his fourth-quarter kick that was downed at the Buffalo 1-yard line. Rarely, if ever, over the years have the Bears been forced to worry about their kicking game, because Maynard and Robbie Gould -- who had a rare off game against the Bills -- are so consistent. Maynard and Patrick Mannelly are set to be free agents after this season. There is no need for either to be allowed to test the open market. Despite all the labor uncertainty in 2011, awarding new deals for these two veteran leaders should be a no-brainer.