5 Things We Learned: Bears vs. Raiders
1. The Bears can still win games with Caleb Hanie: I can't sit here and ignore the three first-half interceptions. They were beyond disappointing, and the red-zone turnover was a killer. But taking that all into account, Hanie proved he can make plays. He just needs to be more consistent, which should come with time and experience. You can improve a quarterback's decision making ability, but you really can't do much with overall talent level when a guy reaches the NFL. Hanie has the talent. He showed off the arm on the 81-yard bomb to Knox, the ability to hit short routes underneath on numerous throws (including the nine-yard touchdown strike to Kellen Davis), and the presence of mind to scramble and pick up a first down. Of course, he made mistakes, but the offense did score 13 points in the fourth quarter and made a game of it until the very end. Let's see what happens when the Bears return home and face Kansas City on Sunday at Soldier Field. Just like Lovie Smith, I expect dramatic improvement out of the quarterback position. Oakland is a tough place for any quarterback to make his first start. At least Hanie didn't tap out after a tough first half. He hung in there and kept hope alive until the final snap of the game. If Hanie cuts down on the turnovers, the Bears can still win the majority of their upcoming games and remain in prime playoff position until Jay Cutler returns from a broken right thumb.
2. Knox would also benefit from consistency: In case you forgot, Knox reminded everybody he can be an explosive playmaker for the Bears both on offense and special teams. He led the Bears with 145 receiving yards, while also chipping in a 56-yard kickoff return. However, there were a few times Knox seemed to slip or drop sure catches. Those miscues came at times when Hanie was struggling and really needed a receiver to step up and make a play for the quarterback. That critique on Knox is not meant to be nitpicky. But when you stare at Knox's overall body of work, you see flashes of brilliance coupled with bouts of inconsistency. I want Knox to be elite. I believe he has the talent to be elite. He just hasn't quite put it all together. Think of it this way; what would Knox's numbers from Sunday looked like if he managed to make those plays in question? Knox left me wanting a tad more in Oakland, which is really saying something considering he finished with 278 total yards.
3. Can't blame the defense: Of course Brian Urlacher put the loss on the defense, which is what you expect from a veteran and team captain. But this wasn't on the defense. Sure, the unit forced only one turnover and if Tim Jennings had better hands he would of intercepted two or three passes. But the reality of the situation is the defense did enough to win the game. Where do you start? The secondary continues to make plays (the Louis Murphy 47-yard reception the lone exception), the pass rush improved on Sunday, Julius Peppers was a force with two sacks, and the linebackers kept performing at their usual level. The late touchdown and a breakdowns against Raiders fullback Marcel Reese on dump off passes were really the only major blemishes on an otherwise gutsy performance. Even though Oakland had a great field position for much of the game, thanks in large part to the Bears turnovers, the defense shut them out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. Urlacher can blame the defense. But I won't. If the Bears don't turn the ball over in the first half, they would currently be 8-3, not 7-4.
5. Marion Barber is becoming important figure in Bears offense: Barber's 63 rushing yards on 10 carries was a bright spot on the Bears offense. It seems as if the Bears and Mike Martz have found the perfect niche role for Barber in this offense. But I offer this warning: Don't phase Matt Forte out of the offense. After a slow start on the ground, Forte still averaged 4.9 yards per carry, but on a mere 12 attempts. That figure is great for Barber. However, Forte needs about 20-25 carries every week to reach his optimum performance level. I understand the Bears were trailing which forced them to throw the ball more in the second half, but let's not forget about Forte. He's the same player who carried the Bears offense for the first eight games of the season. Opposing defenses are keying on Forte, but he still needs to get the proper amount of touches. Barber is a complementary piece. Forte is the centerpiece. Don't mix the two up.