Chicago Bears: Dane Sanzenbacher

DT Paea among Bears inactives

December, 9, 2012
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Chicago Bears released their list of inactives for Sunday's NFC North showdown against the Minnesota Vikings, and the lone surprise comes in starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who was officially listed as questionable.

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Moore among Bears inactives vs. 49ers

November, 19, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO -- After failing to play a single snap last week in the Chicago Bears' 13-6 loss to the Houston Texans, former starting nickel back D.J. Moore is a healthy scratch against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday.

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Bears' Jeffery out for fifth straight game

November, 11, 2012
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears released inactives for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans, and as expected the club will play without receiver Alshon Jeffery for the fifth consecutive game.

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Bears appear covered with Sanzenbacher

October, 5, 2012
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- In hindsight, it appears the Chicago Bears made a wise decision to keep Dane Sanzenbacher on their 53-man roster as the sixth wide receiver to start the regular season.

[+] EnlargeDane Sanzenbacher
AP Photo/Ron SchwaneDane Sanzenbacher gives the Bears a relatively experienced receiver to turn to if Earl Bennett misses another game.
With Earl Bennett sidelined last week because of a lingering left hand injury, the Bears activated Sanzenbacher for the first time this season after he caught four passes for 49 yards and one touchdown in the preseason to help earn his second consecutive roster spot.

Sanzenbacher played 17 snaps and was targeted only one time in the Bears' 34-18 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. But there is a certain comfort level when a team turns to a backup that has a reasonable amount of game experience -- Sanzenbacher had 27 receptions for 276 yards and three touchdowns last season as a rookie.

"Whenever something happens you want to make sure you have a guy in there that has been though the battles and that you trust," Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake said. "A guy that is going to go in there and do the things you ask him to do. It's very comforting. Dane can play all the positions, and one thing with him, you know that whenever he's in there he's going to give it everything he's got. That's a good thing."

It's also a good thing when the starting quarterback is a fan of your work. Jay Cutler praised Sanzenbacher numerous times in the preseason, an endorsement that no doubt didn't hurt Sanzenbacher's chances of making the team when final cuts were due at end of August.

With Bennett officially listed as questionable, there is a chance Sanzenbacher could be active again Sunday in Jacksonville. If Bennett sits again in Week 5 it could be with the mindset of getting him back on the field Oct. 22 after the bye when the team hosts the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football.

Podlesh to punt vs. Colts; Paea to start

September, 9, 2012
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears announced inactives for Sunday’s season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.

No surprise players made the list, but the club did designate receiver Dane Sanzenbacher among the inactives along with punter Ryan Quigley, safety Jeremy Jones, guard Edwin Williams, defensive tackle Amobi Okoye and defensive end Cheta Ozougwu. The team's decision to make Quigley a scratch means that Adam Podlesh has recovered sufficiently enough from a hip flexor injury to punt against the Colts.

The club also announced that second-year defensive tackle Stephen Paea will start over veteran Matt Toeaina.

Indianapolis Colts inactives include: former Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, receiver Austin Collie, running back Delone Carter, linebacker Pat Angerer, offensive tackle Mike Person, and guard Joe Reitz.

Collie’s inactivity could be a blow to the Colts’ offense. He’s still recovering from his third diagnosed concussion since 2010.

Five Things We Learned: Preseason finale

August, 31, 2012
Lovie SmithEric P. Mull/US PresswireLovie Smith made a smart move by resting all of his starters in Thursday's preseason finale.
CLEVELAND -- Here are Five Things We Learned in the Chicago Bears' 28-20 win over the Cleveland Browns in the preseason finale.

1. Lovie Smith treats preseason in proper fashion: It's a shame that NFL fans have to purchase two preseason games in their season ticket package, but head coaches simply cannot afford to lose a starter or even a quality reserve in the final preseason game to an injury. Imagine the backlash if Jay Cutler or Julius Peppers got hurt in a meaningless game 10 days before the regular season opener. Heck, imagine the concern if the Bears lost a well-paid back up such as Jason Campbell or Michael Bush. That is why Smith took absolutely no chances on Thursday night when he started, in some cases, third-stringers with no shot of cracking the 53-man roster. Smith's job is to put the Bears in the best position to win games in the regular season, not the preseason season. They don't hand out championships in the summer.

2. The Bears can trust Josh McCown: If the absolute worst case scenario happens and the Bears are down to their No. 3 quarterback, at least the club can take comfort in knowing McCown can still perform at a reasonable level. The veteran had an excellent first half -- albeit vs. Cleveland's second- and third-stringers -- in the preseason finale, completing 16 of 20 passes for 137 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 128.5. Although it isn't cheap to carry a third quarterback with 10 years of NFL experience, McCown gives the Bears an extra layer of protection in the event injuries strike again at the most important position on the field. It's never a bad thing to have a quarterback with 33 career starts at the bottom of your depth chart if you can afford to carry three at the position.

[+] EnlargeDane Sanzenbacher
AP Photo/Ron SchwaneDane Sanzenbacher should be in good shape if the Bears keep six receivers.
3. Dane Sanzenbacher sticks if Bears keep six: We simply don't know if the Bears want six receivers, so if they go with five, then Sanzenbacher is in trouble. But the Toledo, Ohio native put on a show Thursday night when he made a difficult 30-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter. All preseason, Sanzenbacher has made the most of his opportunities in the passing game, while at the same time quietly improving on special teams. Of course, it's also nice when the quarterback likes you. Cutler has gone on record several times saying Sanzenbacher does enough to be on the team. The second-year wideout has made his case, now let's see how the numbers shake out.

4. No. 3 running back went down to wire: Too bad Booker left the game with a head injury because his battle with Armando Allen had been one the best in camp. Depending on the severity of Booker's injury, this could be a difficult call for the Bears to make. Booker has shined on special teams the entire preseason, not just in the return game, but also as the all-important personal protector on the punt team. He flashed some slick moves on the ground Thursday, rushing for 81 yards on 15 attempts. Allen led the Bears with 83 rushing yards and 51 receiving yards and forced a fumble on a punt. Allen fought through some late game fatigue to rip off a 49-yard run that sealed the victory for the Bears. It would be cheaper to keep Allen over Booker from a financial standpoint, but remember the Bears were willing to pay Kahlil Bell $700,000 to be their No. 3 running back, which is the same amount Booker would earn in 2012. That's why this is a great competition because there is no clear-cut winner.

5. Ryan Quigley continues to rise to occasion: Make it two straight impressive performances for the undrafted rookie punter out of Boston College who is fighting to convince Dave Toub he should be the one who fills in for Adam Podlesh the first couple of weeks of the regular season -- if necessary. Quigley might not have struck the ball as well as he did last week against the New York Giants, but he still managed to drop three of his four punts inside the 20-yard line and have a long boot of 45 yards. The Bears had done plenty of homework on the available free agent punters, but after watching Quigley in the final two preseason games, do they really need to sign a guy off the street? They could always waive Quigley on Friday and re-sign him to the practice squad on Saturday with the idea of activating him later next week to face the Indianapolis Colts. That is an option. Regardless of what the Bears decide to do, Quigley has proven that he is a legitimate NFL punter.

Sanzenbacher hopes to avoid cuts

August, 31, 2012

CLEVELAND -- Dane Sanzenbacher hopes his cell phone stays quiet on Friday as he awaits word whether or not he made the Bears final 53-man roster as the No. 6 wide receiver. That's because the worst noise an NFL bubble player can hear on cut-down day is the sound of his cell phone ringer.

[+] EnlargeDane Sanzenbacher
Eric P. Mull/US PresswireDane Sanzenbacher will know by Friday night if he made the Bears' roster.

"It's a terrible way to go about it," Sanzenbacher said. I don't know how the way it's still done. They should let you know either way. I was thinking the same thing last year, 'why don't you call me either way'. Hopefully it doesn't ring."

Sanzenbacher stated his case one final time Thursday night when he hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Josh McCown in the first quarter of the Bears 28-20 preseason victory over the Cleveland Browns.

"Dane is a good player," McCown said. "Unfortunately for Dane, he finds himself on a deep roster that's got some great players at the wide receiver position. But I'm telling you; Dane could be up there (on the depth chart) for a lot of teams. We really like what he brings to the table. He made a great catch on that (touchdown)."

It remains to be seen if Sanzenbacher's performance this summer swayed the Bears to keep a sixth receiver on the active roster, but if they do, the second-year wideout from Ohio State figures to be the guy.

"I don't know," Sanzenbacher said of his roster chances. "It's been different in the sense that last year I played a little more offense and no special teams at all, so it leaves that question out there. This year I played more special teams and a little less offense over the span of the camp. I'm not reading too much into it. I feel like I came out and don't have any regrets about the camp. I was given plenty of opportunitiesby this organization to go out and make plays. It's on me either way."

Some believed Sanzenbacher essentially made the team on Wednesday when the organization released veteran Rashied Davis, who missed practice earlier in the week due to an injury. But Sanzenbacher doesn't view it that way.

"Maybe last year I would have read more into it," Sanzenbacher said. "But being in a camp where you've seen so much shuffling around...guys retire (Devin Thomas), you never know. You can never read too much into it.'

"There is so much that goes on with personnel and stuff behind closed doors; I didn't even know Rashied was gone until we went out for our walk thru."

Bears head coach Lovie Smith praised Sanzenbacher's hands in his postgame press conference. However, both Smith and general manager Phil Emery have mentioned in the past that the team could be inclined to go with five receivers, which would leave Sanzenbacher on the outside looking in.

"Typical Dane, when we thrown him the ball he's got great hands," Smith said. "You expect him to make some plays. Whenever you have a chance to come back home, being a Buckeye, I know it's special to play in front of all the people that saw you play growing up. But Dane is a good football player. He's been like that since we brought him in last year."

Sanzenbacher hoping to land roster spot

August, 27, 2012
Dane SanzenbacherAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhDane Sanzenbacher has earned the confidence of Jay Cutler, but will it mean another roster spot?
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- If Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has a say, wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher would earn another spot on the team's 53-man roster for the second consecutive year. But since personnel decisions tend to be made by the people upstairs, Sanzebacher must continue to fight off veteran Rashied Davis for the sixth receiver spot, if in fact the Bears decide to keep that many bodies at the position.

Sanzenbacher made the club last summer as an undrafted rookie free agent and wound up catching 27 balls for 276 yards and three touchdowns. However, after the Bears upgraded at wideout in the offseason with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Eric Weems, Sanzenbacher wasn't promised a job heading into the training camp. His odds of making the team appeared to increase with Devin Thomas' sudden retirement early in camp, but the Bears went on the sign Davis, a proven commodity on special teams who spent six years in Chicago before playing for the Detroit Lions last season.

"I feel comfortable," Sanzenbacher said. "It's not something that if you stress about it's going to help the situation. You need to stay focused on what your job is and go out and execute in the games and put your best foot forward. Sitting there, up at night stressing about it is not going to help. Staying focused on everything, trying to do your job, trying to excel at practice and standing out. That's what is going to help you."

The Bears have given Sanzenbacher a long look on special teams so far in the preseason, and the reviews up to this point, have been for the most part positive. It also doesn't hurt to have the Cutler seal of approval on offense which Sanzenbacher has found a way to earn over the past year and change.

"It's always nice to have the quarterback have trust in you," Sanzenbacher said. "That's the main thing you try to do when you come into a locker room is earn the trust and respect of your teammates. I think that's in my eyes first foremost, even above the coaches. I think if you can earn the respect of the locker room it's saying much more than the respect of the guys in the film room."

Although some might consider carrying seven wide receivers a luxury, Bears head coach Lovie Smith did not rule out the possibility on Sunday. In that event, Sanzenbacher and Davis could make the team, or perhaps long-shot undrafted rookie free agent Joe Anderson who made a nice move on a touchdown reception last Friday night versus the New York Giants. Anderson would seem to have a better shot to stick on the practice squad, but all the bubble receivers are expected to get plenty of playing time in the preseason finale Thursday at Cleveland.

"It's about opportunities," Smith said. "You have to step up when you get that chance., We've seen a lot of players step up. A guy like Joe Anderson. Most of you guys don't know where he's from (Texarkana, Texas) or where he played college ball (Texas Southern), but he got an opportunity and made a couple of big plays. I like the receiving group. Whether we keep five, six or seven, I feel pretty good about."

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler notices a major difference in the talent level at receiver from when he first joined the team in 2009 to now, and credits the club’s personnel department led by new general manager Phil Emery.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJay Cutler is enjoying the Bears' newfound depth at wideout.

Upon reporting for training camp, Cutler characterized the situation with all the new offensive weaponry “like Christmas.”

And now?

“It’s like Easter,” Cutler said, smiling. “We’re still in holidays. We’ve got a lot of guys. It’s fun; got a lot of weapons. Even the (undrafted rookie) free-agent receivers we’ve got, they’re getting better and better. They’re asking questions. I think Phil Emery and the scouting department, you could definitely tell the difference in the three years I was here (before) to (now). Even the guys that didn’t get drafted can play football.”

Players such as Brittan Golden, Chris Summers, Terriun Crump and Joe Anderson fall into that category, but Cutler singled out second-year veteran Dane Sanzenbacher for what he’s done so far at training camp while acknowledging the difficulty the former Ohio State standout might have in making the roster.

It’s unknown how many receivers the club plans to keep, but it appears at least five of the potential roster spots are locked down by Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Devin Hester, Eric Weems and Earl Bennett.

“Yeah, it’s gonna be tough. I don’t know how many we’re gonna keep,” Cutler said. A lot of the guys contribute on special teams. Dane (Sanzenbacher) and Eric Weems, they’re right there with those guys. You’ll have to make a hard case to cut either one of those guys because they’re good; definitely gonna get picked up somewhere else, and they’re definitely gonna contribute somewhere else if we do let them go.”

As for Sanzenbacher specifically, Cutler says if “you watch the film on Dane, you have to keep him (from) a quarterback’s perspective.”

“I know there’s numbers, (and) he’s got to contribute with (special teams coordinator) Dave (Toub) and the special teams group,” Cutler said. “But every single day he’s come out, he’s catching balls. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. He’s gonna be hard to let go if we have to.”

Sanzenbacher jumps at new opportunity

August, 5, 2012
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A strange turn of events Sunday moved second-year receiver Dane Sanzenbacher into the starting lineup for the Chicago Bears.

He’s not complaining, though.

[+] EnlargeDane Sanzenbacher
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhDane Sanzenbacher continues to impress Bears coaches in camp.
“It’s great. I think as many reps as you can get with those guys, the better,” Sanzenbacher said. “Obviously you want to be out there getting that rhythm. It’s one thing to be on the field, but it’s different being with a different group of receivers, different quarterbacks. So the more you get with that first team and start to get that chemistry going, it helps.”

Sanzenbacher worked with the first team Sunday because starter Earl Bennett suffered a leg injury during an early portion of the workout. Earlier in the day, Bennett’s primary backup Devin Thomas announced he had decided to retire.

That meant more first-team repetitions for Sanzenbacher, while undrafted rookie Brittan Golden worked with the second team. Bears coach Lovie Smith said Sanzenbacher continues to impress the coaching staff.

“(He’s making a) big impression, the same type he made last year coming in as an undrafted free agent and earning a spot on the roster,” Smith said. He’s improved his play just in general. He picks up things pretty quickly. We’re pleased with him. He should have a good shot with our team.”

Sanzenbacher played in every game as a rookie in 2011 with one start and caught 27 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the first undrafted rookie since 1983 to post multiple TD catches. Sanzenbacher was also the franchise’s first undrafted rookie to catch touchdowns in back-to-back contests (Week 2 against New Orleans and Week 3 against Green Bay).

But despite the promising early-season showings, Sanzenbacher tied Roy Williams for the team lead in dropped passes (7).

“I have just as much to prove (as last year) I feel like,” Sanzenbacher said. “You go into the locker room on your family day and you still don’t have a guaranteed locker yet. It’s the same situation, just a year down the road.”

Day 2 minicamp observations

June, 13, 2012

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears concluded Day 2 of their mandatory veteran minicamp Wednesday at Halas Hall.

Here are some quick observations from the workout:

• Former Bears cornerback Tom Carter (1997-99), now a player advocate with the NFLPA, attended Wednesday’s session to make sure the club continued to adhere to the rules in the new collective bargaining agreement regarding contact during workouts.

CBA rules state that contact work -- live blocking, tackling pass rushing, bump-and-run coverage -- or use of pads other than helmets is prohibited at minicamps. The NFL and NFLPA can’t monitor offseason work of all 32 teams, and typically investigates if it receives a complaint from a player or comes across a media report of a physical practices or fight. Investigators are then able to review video -- because every team is required to film every drill -- to determine whether a club committed a violation. Teams are reportedly required to keep video of offseason work on file until four weeks into the season, and that video can be reviewed if complaints are made.

The Bears currently utilize four cameras at Halas Hall to monitor offseason work.

Devin Hester continued to line up as the deep man on punt returns, but free-agent addition Eric Weems and rookie Greg McCoy also lined up in that position.

• Although Chris Williams opened as the starting left tackle during Tuesday’s session, the club opened with J’Marcus Webb in that spot for Wednesday’s practice. Throughout the workout, both players alternated taking reps with the starters.

• Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite didn’t participate during Tuesday or Wednesday’s team sessions, but the club didn’t disclose a reason.

Tight end Matt Spaeth (hamstring), linebackers Patrick Trahan and Brian Urlacher (knee), and defensive end Thaddeus Gibson also didn’t participate. Rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery (lower leg) worked with the team during individual drills, but didn’t take part in team work.

Urlacher, meanwhile, continued to work with director of rehabilitation Bobby Slater away from the rest of the team performing drills. At one point, Urlacher also worked at pulling a sled.

• Hester made a leaping grab during 7-on-7 drills between D.J. Moore and Chris Conte.

• Second-year wideout Dane Sanzenbacher, who led the team in drops last season and dropped several passes during organized team activities in recent weeks, appears to have rebounded somewhat during the first two days of minicamp. Sanzenbacher didn’t drop any passes thrown his way during 7 on 7, but still might face long odds to make the team because of the arrival of free agent Devin Thomas, who gives the club value as a special teams player.

• Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman continues to hone is strip technique. Tillman punched a ball out of the hands of tight end Kellen Davis during team drills, before recovering and pitching a lateral to linebacker Nick Roach.

“He’s always been able to strip the football as well as anybody I think I’ve seen in the league,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “Of course, he followed that up today, getting the ball out.”

• Veteran long snapper Patrick Mannelly appears almost fully recovered from a 2011 season ending knee injury. Mannelly returned to action near the end of OTAs and snapped with the first team the first two days of minicamp.

• First-year tight end Evan Rodriguez made several receptions downfield in both full-team and seven-on-seven drills. Rodriguez appears to have great strides since struggling at the club's rookie minicamp held in early May.

Streaking and Slumping: Week 11

November, 22, 2011
Roy Williams and Edwin WilliamsUS Presswire, Getty ImagesWide receiver Roy Williams is starting to heat up; Edwin Williams may just need a few more reps.


Roy Williams
1. Roy Williams, WR: The receiver twirled his right hand quickly, index finger pointing out with the motion forming tiny circles. Williams explained that as the universal signal for “keep it coming.” Perhaps the fans can ask the same from the receiver, who hauled in a season-high five receptions against the San Diego Chargers after not registering one grab the week before against the Detroit Lions.

2. Johnny Knox, WR: That spinning 24-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter, that’s a catch most receivers won’t make. But somehow Knox did it on a day he averaged a whopping 32.3 yards per catch. It’s no secret the coaching staff has been extremely high on Knox in recent weeks, which is part of the reason Devin Hester is seeing less action on offense. After one-catch performances in back-to-back games, it was nice to see Knox showcase his explosive ability.

Jay Cutler
3. Jay Cutler, QB: As he’d done all season, Cutler bounced back from a rough outing in the win over Detroit to put on a quarterbacking clinic against the Chargers. What’s disappointing about Cutler’s pending absence is he seems to have perfected the art of threading the needle under duress, not to mention he’s performed a tad more consistently than he did in 2010.


Edwin Williams
1. Edwin Williams, OG: “Slumping” is a strong word here, but it was clear Williams hadn’t spent enough time with the starters when he filled in at left guard against the San Diego Chargers. Williams held up well in pass protection, but as offensive line coach Mike Tice anticipated, he was somewhat shaky in situations that called for him blocking in space. Given a little more time with the starters, Williams will get up to speed.

Dane Sanzenbacher
2. Dane Sanzenbacher, WR: Opportunities continue to dwindle for the rookie, who hasn’t caught a ball in three consecutive games now. Going into the matchup with the Chargers, he ranked fourth in the NFL in drops (5) according to ESPN Stats & Info and that could play a role in the lack of looks from the quarterback. We’ve chalked up the recent struggles to hitting the rookie wall, but he’s got to snap out of it soon. Sanzenbacher has proven he can perform at this level, and the team will need him down the stretch.

3. Amobi Okoye, DT: It wasn’t too long ago that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli indicated that Okoye could be pushing Henry Melton for the start at that under-tackle spot. But Okoye hasn’t been quite as disruptive recently as he was during a two-game stretch in Oct. in which the veteran registered a pair of sacks. Part of that is the fact Melton has performed better, which has taken away some of Okoye’s snaps.

Streaking and Slumping: Week 9

November, 9, 2011
Earl Bennett, Anthony AdamsAP Photo/US PresswireEarl Bennett had a big night in his return while Anthony Adams was inactive for the first time in three years.


1. Jay Cutler, QB: Twice in the last three games the quarterback provided a glimpse of why the Bears traded a couple of first-round picks to acquire his services. Cutler completed 56.2 percent of his passes, but did a masterful job of avoiding pressure and taking care of the ball. Cutler’s confidence seems to be growing with every step of progress the offense makes, which should bode well down the stretch.

Earl Bennett
2. Earl Bennett, WR: Bennett missed five games, but seemed to pick up right where he left off in the chemistry department with Cutler. The Bears utilize Bennett mostly in the slot, but perhaps it’s time the staff puts in more plays featuring him. Bennett caught all five of the passes thrown his way against the Eagles, and his run-after-catch skills make him by far the club’s most dangerous threat.

3. Offensive line: Offensive line coach Mike Tice said last week that the staff learned the starting five isn’t good enough to line up against opponents and win without help from tight ends and running backs chipping. That’s fine. But the starting five definitely deserves credit for Cutler suffering just three sacks in the past three games, including none against the Eagles.


Anthony Adams
1. Anthony Adams, DT: A nine-year veteran, Adams was inactive against the Eagles for the first time since November of 2008. Adams made just three tackles in games against the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and might be losing ground to other players in the rotation such as Matt Toeina and Stephen Paea. Adams still possesses the skill set to contribute significantly. But he needs to perform better moving forward.

Matt Forte
2. Matt Forte, RB: First off, Forte’s production against the Philadelphia Eagles (24 attempts for 133 yards) shouldn’t be overlooked. But he fumbled for the first time in 347 touches with both turnovers leading to Eagles touchdowns. Forte didn’t make excuses for the miscues, and likely won’t find himself in this category very long. After all, Forte is on pace to rush for 1,610 yards, which would go down as the franchise’s best one-season rushing performance since 1984 (Walter Payton rushed for 1,684 yards in 1984).

3. Dane Sanzenbacher, WR: Sanzenbacher remains a virtual no-show in the Bears’ offense. He’s caught just three passes over the past three games for 26 yards, and despite being thrown to twice against the Eagles, the rookie failed to come up with a grab. Sanzenbacher received the Cutler “look” after dropping a ball in the second quarter. Perhaps he’s hit the often-discussed rookie wall?

By the bye: Chicago Bears

October, 27, 2011
Reviewing the Chicago Bears at their bye:

Record: 4-3

Seven-game capsule: The Bears are over .500 after a tough early schedule. Five of their games have come against opponents that currently have winning records. Their offense is still working to maintain a winning formula, and coaches continue to look for their optimum defensive alignment. But Devin Hester is providing elite impact on special teams and the Bears will enter the second half of the season as a playoff contender.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiMatt Forte has rushed for 672 yards through the Bears' first seven games.
MVP: Matt Forte is on pace to produce one of the best all-around seasons for a running back in NFL history. He leads the league with 1,091 all-purpose yards, ranking third with 672 rushing and first among running backs with 419 receiving yards. He has accounted for nearly half of the Bears' total offense and is having a career year as his contract approaches expiration. Most importantly, Forte remains remarkably durable. He has now started every Bears game since he was drafted in 2008, a streak of 55 consecutive games.

Runner-up: I'm torn here between center Roberto Garza and defensive end Julius Peppers. In his 11th NFL season, Garza has made a relatively seamless shift to a more difficult position, averting a crisis following the departure of longtime starter Olin Kreutz. Garza probably won't receive any Pro Bowl votes and might not finish his career at center, but by all accounts he has made a credible showing on short notice. Peppers, meanwhile, has a modest four sacks in seven games. But close observers can measure his impact by watching what the Detroit Lions did to the Bears defense when Peppers left with a knee sprain. He wasn't on the field for Calvin Johnson's 73-yard touchdown reception or Jahvid Best's 88-yard scoring run in Week 5.

Biggest surprise: Initially I planned to suggest that the apparent decline of safety Chris Harris would qualify as the Bears' top surprise. But we covered that topic earlier Thursday after the Bears pulled off a bigger surprise by releasing him. So I'll go with the production of undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher, who ranks second among NFL rookie with three touchdown receptions. His 19 total catches ranks fifth among rookies. Sanzenbacher has limited the damage that might have occurred following the Week 2 loss of receiver Earl Bennett, a favorite of quarterback Jay Cutler.

Biggest disappointment: The Bears opened the season seemingly oblivious to the successful offensive formula that propelled them to the NFC Championship Game in 2010. Through three games, they were calling a higher percentage of pass plays than any other NFL team. Given Forte's presence and a shaky pass-blocking scheme, it's hard to fathom what offensive coordinator Mike Martz was thinking. It's especially notable that it took a public plea from Cutler to shake up Martz's thinking. The Bears' offense is at its best when it doesn't face obvious passing situations.

Stat to note: Forte ranks No. 37 in the NFL in the percentage of his total rushing yards that have come after contact (43 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's not a knock on Forte as much as it is a credit to the Bears' run blocking. It means Forte has gained 383 of his 672 total yards before a defender has touched him.

Looking ahead: If the Bears are going to challenge for a playoff spot, they should win at least two of their next three games. With matchups at the Philadelphia Eagles and then at home against the Lions and San Diego Chargers, the Bears could win all three. The NFC playoff race is wide open, but now is the time for the Bears to make their move.

Earlier: The Green Bay Packers at their bye.

Streaking and Slumping: Week 7

October, 25, 2011
Roy Williams and Aqib Talib Getty Images, AP PhotoRoy Williams and Dane Sanzenbacher have flip-flopped on the Streaking/Slumping list.


Matt Forte
1. Matt Forte, RB: The Bears need to sit down Forte and his representatives during the week off and try to strike a deal. The running back has averaged 138.2 yards rushing per game over the last month, and leads the team in rushing and receiving. Forte has tallied more runs of 20-plus yards than any running back in the league and is tied for the most 40-plus yard runs. Forte also ranks third in the NFL in rushing after Week 7.

2. Brian Urlacher, LB: Urlacher isn’t racking up his usually gaudy tackle numbers. In fact, he hasn’t put together a double-digit tackle game since Oct. 2. But tackles aren’t the lone determiner of production. Urlacher has picked off three passes -- including one Sunday against the Buccaneers -- and recovered a fumble. In the first half of this season, Urlacher has already matched his combined interception totals from the previous three seasons.

Roy Williams
3. Roy Williams, WR: Let’s not forget the crucial drop in the first half against the Buccaneers. But Williams did manage to score his first touchdown as a Chicago Bear, and also led the team in receiving for the first time this season (four catches, 59 yards). It hasn’t happened as quickly as Bears fans would have liked, but Williams seems to be developing some chemistry with Jay Cutler.


Henry Melton
1. Henry Melton, DT: Broke a two-game drought in which he didn’t make a single tackle with one stop against the Buccaneers, but didn’t register any of the team’s quarterback hits. It’s important to note here that Melton isn’t playing badly. The defensive tackle just hasn’t matched performance from the first three games of the season, in which he posted three sacks and nine quarterback pressures.

2. Jay Cutler, QB: After stringing a pair of outings in which he lit up the Lions and Vikings for three touchdowns and no interceptions, Cutler came back down to Earth with a stinker in London. Cutler threw two interceptions and one touchdown, and finished with a passer rating of 60.2 after back-to-back games of ratings of 99.6 or better. Cutler also seems to be reverting to some of the bad habits that he appeared to have eliminated earlier in the season.

3. Dane Sanzenbacher, WR: Anybody heard from him in the last two weeks? Between Weeks 2 and 5, Sanzenbacher had racked up 15 catches and two touchdowns. But over the last two weeks, the rookie has caught three passes for 26 yards. It’s worth pondering whether Sanzenbacher is in the midst of hitting that rookie wall that’s often discussed. But don’t expect the receiver to be here long. He’ll bounce back soon.