Chicago Bears: Earl Bennett

Bears release WR Earl Bennett

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
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Chicago Bears receiver Earl Bennett had his contract terminated, the team announced.

ESPNChicago.com reported earlier Tuesday that Bennett was expected to be released after he refused to trim his salary for a second consecutive year, according to a source.

Bennett
Bennett took a pay cut in 2013 and lowered his salary by $1 million.

Bennett had a cap number of $1.35 million (after the reduction) last year, but was scheduled to count $2.45 million against the Bears' cap in 2014 and earn a total of $2.45 million (that included a $100,000 roster bonus).

Bennett finished 2013 with 32 receptions for 243 yards and four touchdowns, but he had to miss the final game of the year versus the Green Bay Packers to be with his ailing brother who tragically died in the offseason.

When healthy, Bennett was a reliable target throughout his Bears career. After not catching a single pass his rookie year (2008), Bennett had 185 receptions for 2,277 yards and 12 touchdowns over the past five seasons in just 78 regular-season games.

Bennett is now free to sign with another team.

The Bears also have asked veteran kick returner/wide receiver Eric Weems to take a pay cut from the $1.1 million total salary he is scheduled to earn in 2014, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Weems is expected to be released if he declines the proposed salary reduction, per the source.

Source: Bears ask Weems to take pay cut

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears have asked veteran kick returner/wide receiver Eric Weems to take a pay cut from the $1.1 million total salary he is scheduled to earn in 2014, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Weems
Weems is expected to be released if he declines the proposed salary reduction, per the source.

Weems signed a three-year deal, $4.25 million that included a $1.5 million bonus. His salary cap number for the upcoming season is $1.6 million, but the Bears would have to carry $500,000 worth of dead money if Weems is released, making the total salary cap savings $1.1 million.

It’s believed the Bears want Weems’ contract to mirror the deal Domenik Hixon signed last week. Hixon inked a one-year, $730,000 deal that included $100,000 worth of roster bonuses if Hixon is active on game days (6.25K per game active).

Weems, a seven-year NFL veteran, made 13 special teams tackles and caught one pass for eight yards last season. He made the Pro Bowl in 2010 while a member of the Atlanta Falcons.

Weems is not the only wide receiver being asked to accept a salary reduction. Although it hasn’t happened yet, the Bears are expected to approach Earl Bennett about taking another pay cut after the veteran lowered his salary by $1 million in 2013.

Bennett had a cap number of $1.35 million (after the reduction) last year, but is scheduled to count $2.45 million against the Bears' cap in 2014 and earn a total of $2.45 million (that includes a $100,000 roster bonus).

The Bears could offer to allow Bennett to earn back the money in the form of incentives as the club did last year. Bennett finished 2013 with 32 receptions for 243 yards and four touchdowns, but had to miss the final game of the year versus the Green Bay Packers to be with his ailing brother who tragically passed away in the offseason.

Bennett has been a reliable target throughout his Bears' career when healthy. After not catching a single pass his rookie year of 2008, Bennett has 185 receptions for 2,277 yards and 12 touchdowns over the last five seasons in just 78 regular season games. Bennett is also a capable punt returner and could be in the mix to land the job with Devin Hester departing via free agency.
At first glance, it seemed Chicago’s signing Thursday of receiver Domenik Hixon might spell the end for players such as Eric Weems or Earl Bennett, which might eventually be the case.

But from the looks of Hixon’s one-year deal worth $823,750, it appears he’ll have to beat out Weems and Bennett to stick as a special-teamer and possible No. 3 receiver.

Hixon
“We’re bringing him in to compete, to find a spot on our roster,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “Obviously we like his size. I always like receivers that come in and they’re about an inch and a half taller than me. He’s got huge hands, great straight-line speed. He’s been a good [special] teams player. He’s returned kicks. So it’s up to him to find his spot on the squad, and that opportunity is there. That’s what we’re trying to create: competition. Best man wins.”

Listed at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Hixon, 29, definitely holds an advantage over Weems and Bennett in the size department. But statistically, Hixon, Bennett and Weems have posted comparable numbers with the new addition besting his counterparts in punt return average (10.7 yards per return) and kickoff return average (24.6).

But as a receiver, Hixon isn’t as accomplished as Bennett. While both have spent the same amount of time in the league, Bennett has caught 76 more passes for 817 more yards, but he could find a tough time in training camp holding off rising second-year man Marquess Wilson for the No. 3 receiver spot. Besides that, Bennett hasn’t been asked to contribute much as a return man throughout his career (22 combined returns).

Hixon caught just seven passes last season for the Carolina Panthers in 15 games, and despite plenty of experience as a return man, he wasn’t asked to perform such duties with his former team.

Weems, meanwhile, played a similar role to the one filled last season in Carolina by Hixon. Weems caught one pass for 8 yards in 2013, and returned three kickoffs for 42 yards, in addition to playing a key role on the club’s kick coverage units (13 special-teams tackles). Weems carries a $1.6 million salary-cap figure into 2014, while Bennett will count $2.45 million against the cap.

Given the players’ prior contributions and their respective salaries, it appears Weems could be affected the most by the addition of Hixon. But either way, the acquisition could make for an interesting battle between the three at training camp, provided the Bears don’t cut ties with one of the players prior to that time.

“We’re certainly going to give [Hixon] an opportunity to return some kicks in practice, and see what it looks like in preseason,” Emery said.
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Enjoy your weekend.

 

Rookie review: WR Marquess Wilson

February, 8, 2014
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Stats: Marquess Wilson, who turned 21 during the season, appeared in 10 games and caught two passes for 13 yards. He was inactive for five games. Wilson got an extended look with the first team in the preseason, when he had five receptions for 96 yards.

Wilson
2013 Role: Wilson, the Chicago Bears' 2013 seventh-round draft choice out of Washington State, spent the majority of the season as the team’s fourth wide receiver. The 6-foot-4, 184 pound wideout fell to the Bears in the seventh round because he quit his college team, Washington State, nine games into his junior season. Wilson finished his collegiate career with 189 catches for 3,207 and 23 touchdowns, despite playing only 33 games. Wilson’s production at Washington State, coupled with his age and height, convinced the Bears to keep Wilson on the 53-man roster for all of 2013, instead of attempting to stash him on the practice squad where he would have been forced to clear waivers in order to return.

The good: Wilson is talented. He hauled in 82 passes for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns during his sophomore year at Washington State. His height (6-foot-4) fits the mold of what the Bears are looking for at wide receiver alongside Brandon Marshall (6-foot-4) and Alshon Jeffery (6-foot-3). The coaching staff’s willingness to sprinkle him into the offense as a rookie signals the organization likely has big plans for Wilson.

The bad: Wilson needs to bulk up. It’s difficult to envision him holding up for an entire season at under 200 pounds, much less be effective. Jeffery weighs 216 pounds. Marshall tips the scales at 230. Wilson won’t reach that weight overnight, but he needs to commit to the offseason strength program. Wilson hasn’t proven anything yet at the NFL level. He is still an unknown, albeit a potentially talented one.

Looking ahead: No. 3 wide receiver Earl Bennett plays winning football. His issue is staying healthy, but Bennett did play in 15 games last season until he had to miss the regular-season finale to deal with a family matter. Unless Bennett’s contract gets in the way (he had to take a pay cut in 2013), Wilson is going to have to light it up in the offseason/preseason to unseat Bennett in the slot, or slide past him on the depth chart. However, Bears general manager Phil Emery clearly envisions a role for Wilson in the offense moving forward. The belief is that Wilson will be given an opportunity to earn increased playing time in his second season. What he does with those opportunities is entirely up to him.
2014 free agents: None.

The good: On the way to making it to the Pro Bowl, receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall racked up 1,421 and 1,295 yards, respectively, to finish sixth and 11th in the NFL in receiving yardage. Their combined 2,716 yards ranked as the second most of any receiver duo in the NFL, behind only Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker (2,718). Marshall and Jeffery’s combined yardage total represents the most by a duo in Bears franchise history. When teams focused on Marshall, Jeffery often took advantage of single coverage, which helped him to become the only receiver in Bears history to produce two 200-yard receiving games in a season. That production moving forward will likely change the way teams defend Marshall and Jeffery.

The bad: Because of all the weaponry at the offense’s disposal, the Bears weren’t able to utilize much of the receiving corps outside of Marshall and Jeffery. Running back Matt Forte finished third in receptions (74), with tight end Martellus Bennett right behind with 65 grabs. So as difficult as it may be moving forward, the Bears would probably like to get their No. 3 and No.4 receivers more involved. No. 3 receiver Earl Bennett played in 15 games, but finished with a 243 yards receiving, his lowest total since 2009. Rookie Marquess Wilson played the No. 4 role, but caught just two balls for 13 yards as he was inactive or didn’t play in six contests.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Marshall ($9.3 million), Earl Bennett ($2.45 million), Eric Weems ($1.6 million), Jeffery ($1,240,317), Wilson ($506,787), Chris Williams ($495,000), Terrence Toliver ($420,000).

Draft priority: Low. The Bears appear to be set going into 2014 with the receivers currently on the roster. But they might consider trying to extend Marshall prior to the season to try to lower his cap figure and prevent him from hitting free agency. Bennett took a pay cut in 2013, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the club asked him to take another going into the season. If Williams makes it to training camp, he could challenge for one of the auxiliary receiving spots as well as the job of primary return man.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 15
Preseason power ranking: 13

Biggest surprise: The Chicago Bears' offensive line didn't exactly set the world on fire, but for the first time in recent memory the group wasn't the weak link of the team. The Bears revamped the offensive line by adding four new starters: Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson. The group's efforts, combined with a more quick-hitting passing game, resulted in just 19 sacks for QB Jay Cutler, his lowest total since 11 with Denver in 2008. The offensive line in 2013 displayed more consistency than any at other time in Cutler's time in Chicago, but the group struggled at inopportune times and often was aided by Cutler and Josh McCown getting rid of the ball quickly. Still, this year's group laid a foundation it can build on.

Biggest disappointment: New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will unfairly take criticism for the defense's failures in 2013. Coming off a 2012 campaign in which the defense ranked No. 5 overall and in the top 10 against the run and the pass, the unit in 2013 surrendered the most rushing yards (2,583) and points (478) in franchise history. Injuries played a major role. They cost the team a combined 72 missed games, 43 among starters alone. In recent history, the defense was the one facet that Chicago could always count on. But that wasn't the case in 2013. What's most surprising is how quickly the defense's decline came after being the team's backbone for so many years.

Biggest need: The defense is badly in need of a total makeover, and the bulk of that work should be done on the defensive line. It's safe to say now that former first-round defensive end Shea McClellin hasn't lived up to expectations and franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton is overrated. The Bears also have to decide whether to move forward with Julius Peppers, who is expensive and starting to show his age (will be 33 on Jan. 18), while finding a way to bring back Corey Wootton. The back end needs help, too. The deals for cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are up, as is the contract for safety Major Wright. The Bears also need to bring in competition to push underperforming safety Chris Conte.

Team MVP: Running back Matt Forte quietly put together his best season as a pro, accounting for nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage (1,933) and career highs in rushing (1,339 yards) and receiving (74 catches, 594 yards). Receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery may have made flashier plays, but make no mistake: Forte is what makes the offense go. Cutler called Forte the best all-around back in the league, and he definitely made a strong case for it in 2013. A true three-down back, Forte threatened defenses as a runner and a receiver. On passing downs, Forte was also key in the team's protection schemes.


Earl Bennett out for Chicago Bears

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman called the likelihood of Earl Bennett's availability “questionable at best” on Friday, and the scenario played out Sunday as the team listed the receiver among its inactives for the matchup against the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North title.

Bennett missed practice all week leading into Sunday’s game, and another workout last week as he’s currently out of town dealing with a personal family issue.

Trestman plans to divvy up Bennett’s repetitions against the Packers between veteran Eric Weems and rookie Marquess Wilson. Wilson was inactive last week, and has caught only one pass this season for 3 yards. Weems, meanwhile, is mainly a special-teams contributor who has logged one reception for 8 yards.

A sixth-year veteran, Bennett is the club’s No. 3 receiver, and possesses chemistry with quarterback Jay Cutler because they played ball together in college at Vanderbilt. Bennett has caught 32 passes this season for 243 yards and four touchdowns.

Other Bears inactives included quarterback Jordan Palmer, offensive tackles Joe Long, Jonathan Scott, and James Brown as well as defensive end Cornelius Washington and receiver Chris Williams, who was recently added to the active roster.

Packers inactives included receiver Chris Harper, cornerback Jumal Rolle, linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones, along with guard Lane Taylor, center/guard JC Tretter and defensive end C.J. Wilson.

With starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers returning from a broken collarbone, the Packers made all three of the quarterbacks on their roster active for the matchup against the Bears.

WR Earl Bennett could miss finale

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The availability of receiver Earl Bennett remains in doubt with the team prepping for the season finale Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

Bennett
Bennett missed another day of practice Friday as he deals with a personal family issue, and Bears coach Marc Trestman said "it's questionable right now at best" that the receiver will play after missing an entire week of practice.

"The fact he hasn't practiced is evidence of where we're going to have to go on this," Trestman said. "We just want to leave ourselves open [to the possibility that Bennett will return]. We don't want to close the door on it yet."

The team excused Bennett on Friday of last week to tend to the personal matter, and he returned to play in Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Bennett caught two passes in that outing for 12 yards.

But when the team returned to Halas Hall to begin preparations for Green Bay, the Bears excused Bennett again.

Officially, Bennett is listed on Chicago's injury report as questionable while linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) is probable.

If Bennett is unable to play, Trestman plans to divvy up the receiver's repetitions between veteran Eric Weems and rookie Marquess Wilson. Wilson was inactive last week and has caught only one pass this season for 3 yards. Meanwhile, Weems is mainly a special teams contributor who has logged one reception for 8 yards.

"Eric and Marquess both would be in position to get more work if Earl doesn't get back," Trestman said. "They've got to know where to line up. They've got to know what to do, and we assume they are capable of doing that. We're excited for both of them to play. They've done very well at practice. We can count on them, and we think they'll do well and fit in. If Earl's not with us, we're certainly going to miss that in the locker room and on the field. But we feel very confident in those two guys."

A sixth-year veteran, Bennett is the club's No. 3 receiver. He possesses chemistry with quarterback Jay Cutler because they played ball together in college at Vanderbilt. Bennett has caught 32 passes this season for 243 yards and four touchdowns.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears excused receiver Earl Bennett from Thursday’s workout at Halas Hall to deal what the team describes as a personal issue.

Bennett was also excused from a practice last week to deal the same matter.

Bennett
“The best I can do in respect to Earl, he’s got a family issue back home,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “It’s day-to-day, and we’re leaving it up to him how he wants to handle it. It’s a very personal issue. So I’ll leave it at that.”

Chicago started its session on Thursday outside before heavy snowfall forced the team to move inside the Walter Payton Center. Bennett and linebacker Lance Briggs (Briggs) were the only Bears listed on the injury report. Briggs participated fully in practice.

For the Green Bay Packers, linebacker Clay Matthews has been ruled out (thumb), while linebacker Brad Jones (ankle), running back Eddie Lacy (ankle) and tight end Ryan Taylor (illness) were held out of practice. Defensive end/linebacker Mike Neal (ankle), linebacker Nick Perry (foot) and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett (knee) were limited.”

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) participated fully, and will start on Sunday.

In other Bears news, the team signed receiver Chris Williams from the Saints' practice squad and waived defensive tackle Christian Tupou. Williams entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Dolphins in 2009 out of New Mexico State.

As a rookie, Williams spent time on the Browns' practice squad before signing in 2010 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. Williams set a CFL record in 2012 with six return touchdowns, while gaining 1,117 yards on punt returns and catching 83 passes for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Double Coverage: Bears at Eagles

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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The Philadelphia Eagles have found themselves in the middle of the NFC North race as much as the NFC East race over the past month. Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears is their third game in a row against an opponent from the North.

Two weeks ago, the Eagles and Bears helped each other out. Chicago defeated the Dallas Cowboys, pushing the Eagles into first place in the East. The Eagles beat the Detroit Lions, opening the door for the Bears in the North.

They won’t be helping each other this week. ESPN.com Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan discuss some of the issues facing both teams.

Sheridan: Like the Eagles, the Bears survived this season when a backup quarterback took over and played unexpectedly well. Unlike the Eagles, who stayed with Nick Foles, Chicago went back to Jay Cutler and sent Josh McCown to the sideline. So, Michael, how is that scenario playing out in the locker room, on the field and among the fans?

Wright: The reaction is quite a bit different between the fans and the players, obviously. In the immediate aftermath of Cutler’s ankle injury on Nov. 10 against Detroit, Bears coach Marc Trestman told the team and the media that Cutler would be the starter again as soon as he was medically cleared to play. The coach never wavered on that declaration, and that was apparent even among the players during McCown’s incredible four-game run. In answering questions about McCown during that stretch, Trestman and the players seemed to temper the compliments regarding the backup, making it a point to state that Cutler was still the starter once he would be able to return to action. So within the locker room, the message was always that Cutler would return, but among the fan base, as McCown flourished, the call to make him the permanent starter grew louder regardless of what Trestman and the players said on the record. Cutler certainly helped himself by bouncing back from a bad start at Cleveland to throw for three touchdowns in a win, but there’s certainly a segment of the Chicago fan base still calling for McCown to be the man under center.

Phil, Chicago’s defense simply can’t stop the run, so LeSean McCoy is poised to have a pretty big game if the Eagles decide to feature him. What was the deal with McCoy running the ball just eight times against the Vikings?

Sheridan: That was one of the head-scratching strategies Chip Kelly deployed Sunday. It was like stepping into a time machine and watching an Andy Reid-coached game. Kelly’s explanation was simple enough: The Vikings were missing four cornerbacks and the Eagles thought they could exploit the inexperienced backups. Then, he said, the Eagles fell behind and had to throw, but McCoy had run for 217 yards the week before, mostly in the second half as the Eagles staged a comeback win. Ultimately, there is no explanation or excuse for eliminating a weapon as dangerous as McCoy from your offense. That’s supposed to be the defense’s job.

The Eagles did a better job against Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson in recent weeks than against the Vikings’ deeper, less star-studded receiving corps. How much more dangerous are the Bears now that Alshon Jeffery has emerged alongside Brandon Marshall? Is Jeffery even better at this point?

Wright: In the past, teams focused most of their game plan on shutting down Marshall. That involved double-teams and shading coverage over to his side. Teams are now finding they can’t do that anymore because if you double Marshall, you put Jeffery in one-on-one matchups that he’s going to win the majority of the time. The Bears say teams are now starting to mix it up against those receivers, which makes it important for Cutler to be able to quickly recognize the coverage and distribute the ball accordingly. I wouldn’t say Jeffery is the better receiver overall at this point, but I will say that he tracks the ball in the air better than anybody else on Chicago’s roster, which has allowed him to make some unbelievable grabs in contested situations. I’d say one player to watch is No. 3 receiver Earl Bennett. With all the focus on Marshall and Jeffery, the Bears have made it a point in recent weeks to involve Bennett more in the offense. Remember, Bennett played college football with Cutler at Vanderbilt, so there’s chemistry. Bennett has hauled in a touchdown in each of the past two games.

How will Philadelphia’s secondary look on Sunday? I know the Eagles are banged up, causing something of a musical-chairs effect in the secondary. At this point, do you know which guys the Eagles will have available to face Marshall, Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett?

Sheridan: We don’t know yet, Michael. The larger problem is that, even when everyone is healthy, the Eagles' secondary isn’t equipped to handle a receiving corps as deep and talented as the Bears’ is. The Eagles have the 31st-ranked pass defense for a reason. During their five-game winning streak, they were able to give yards but minimize points allowed by forcing turnovers and playing well in the red zone. That formula fell apart in Minnesota. As for the injuries, the biggest loss would be nickel corner Brandon Boykin, who leads the team in interceptions and is a very good cover guy. It looks like rookie safety Earl Wolff will be back after missing four games with a knee injury, but it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be after missing that much time. If the Bears go three or four wide, the Eagles will be hard-pressed to match up with all those weapons. Their best hope would be to pressure Cutler, but they have struggled against guys who get the ball out as quickly as he does.

There’s a chance linebacker Lance Briggs returns Sunday night. What impact would that have on Chicago’s defense? Can the Bears clamp down on the Eagles or is this thing destined to be a shootout like their win over Dallas two weeks back?

Wright: I see this one being a shootout. I think Briggs will have an impact on the defense in terms of making sure the calls get in quickly and the defense is lined up correctly. Briggs should also be an upgrade over rookie Khaseem Greene, who has filled in on the weak side over the past seven games. But Briggs has been on the shelf for a month and a half, and there’s no way he’s in football shape yet. So you have to wonder how much he will actually be able to contribute from a physical standpoint. If Briggs plays like the Briggs we all know, then Chicago will have a much better shot at controlling Philadelphia’s rushing attack, but I’m not sure he’ll return as that guy. So let’s count on a shootout. The team with the defense that gets that one or two key stops down the stretch will be the team that comes out on top.

Early in the season, Philadelphia’s frenetic pace seemed to be the next new thing, the revolution. Now that the Eagles have basically an entire season under their belts, how have teams adjusted to their pace on offense? Is it still as big an advantage as it seemed to be early in the season?

Sheridan: It has been an effective tactic at times. The up-tempo approach is one of the reasons Foles replaced Michael Vick as the No. 1 quarterback. Vick is obviously a bigger threat in the read-option, but Foles is more comfortable with the pace Kelly likes. Hard to blame Vick, who had a career’s worth of offensive football to unlearn. But the pace can hurt the Eagles, too. When they have a couple of three-and-outs in a row, as they did against the Vikings, their defense is back on the field way too quickly. And when a team moves the ball as well as the Vikings did, the defense wears down. It was useless by the fourth quarter. The Eagles defense has been on the field for more plays than any team in the NFL. That is partly a side effect of Kelly’s up-tempo offense.

BE: Anderson's stock is up

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
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Here are some Bears Essentials to get you going today with Chicago beginning preparations for its matchup Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

-- ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson puts out his latest edition of Stock Watch, and finally a Bears defensive player makes the cut in linebacker James Anderson.

Dickerson writes this about Anderson: The veteran strongside linebacker recorded a team-high and season-best 14 tackles in the win against the Browns. Anderson, along with rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic (eight tackles), were around the football much of the afternoon. The past couple of months have not been easy for Anderson. With veterans Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams unavailable because of injuries, Anderson was thrust into the leadership role at linebacker, playing alongside rookies Bostic and Khaseem Greene.

-- Want an idea of how the playoffs will pan out? Well, you can plug in your scenarios in the ESPN.com Playoffs Machine and get all the information you’re looking for. Check it out here.

-- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune outlines how Bears receiver Earl Bennett can earn back some of the money he lost from taking a $1 million pay cut earlier in the season. Bennett has caught touchdown passes in back-to-back games, and has a legitimate chance to make back all the money he was scheduled to earn if he comes up with 10 more catches over the next two games.

-- CSNChicago.com took the time to run down the tweets of Bears players reacting to the 61-yard field goal nailed by Justin Tucker that knocked Detroit out of first place in the NFC North and gave Chicago control of its own postseason destiny.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman said on Monday quarterback Jay Cutler was responsible for a critical red zone penalty that backed up an important drive with New Orleans up 23-7 with 5:03 left in the third quarter.

With the Bears facing first-and-goal from the Saints’ four-yard line, Cutler attempted a pass to wide receiver Earl Bennett that fell incomplete. But during the play right guard Kyle Long was penalized five yards for being an ineligible man downfield, which pushed the Bears back to the Saints’ nine-yard line. The drive fell apart from there as Cutler missed on his next three throws and the Bears had to settle for a Robbie Gould 27-yard field goal.

Trestman explained that Long was down the field blocking because the Bears called a run play in the huddle and Cutler “pulled the ball” away from the tailback upon receiving the snap without ever changing the call at the line of scrimmage.

“Jay saw a safety come down into the gap, and looking back he should have handed the ball off and stayed with the play or changed it, but he pulled the ball thinking he could get rid of the ball before Kyle went downfield,” Trestman said.

“He pulled the ball twice yesterday. He pulled the ball on another run and got some yards. He pulled the ball here and Kyle goes down the field and we got the penalty because Kyle is blocking the run. He has no idea that Jay is going to pull the ball and throw it in that situation.”

However, Trestman accepted his share of the blame for the Bears’ 26-18 loss, specifically in the first quarter when New Orleans linebacker David Hawthorne sacked Cutler for a seven yard loss. Cutler had already taken one sack and fumbled twice before the Hawthorn hit. Trestman pointed to his team’s slow start on offense as one of the biggest reasons the Bears came up short against the undefeated Saints.

“That was on me,” Trestman said. “I could’ve helped Jay with a call. We had a unique front and I accept accountability for that. I could’ve helped Jay in the headsets with a call and I didn’t do that. That caused a sack there.”
CHICAGO -- Jay Cutler experienced a rarity Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. He posted a passer rating of 100 or better, and his team lost.

“Overall, when we look at the tape and we ask ourselves, was it the play or the player, was it us or them, we’ve found it’s on us to clean up our football and become more efficient doing it on a play-by-play basis,” Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

Cutler
Cutler’s statistical anomaly served as proof of that. Before the Bears' 26-18 loss on Sunday, Cutler had lost only one of 27 games as a starter (including the postseason) in which he finished with a passer rating of 100 or better. That loss came courtesy of Seattle last December, when the Seahawks marched 97 yards at the end of regulation and 80 yards in overtime to best the Bears 23-17.

Against the Saints, Cutler completed 24 of 33 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, for a passer rating of 128.1.

But mistakes still doomed the Bears. In the first quarter, the offensive line struggled to pick up the New Orleans blitz, resulting in three sacks and a Cutler fumble that the Saints turned into a 19-yard field goal. But even before that, running back Matt Forte short-circuited the team’s opening drive when he fumbled a pitch on the first play from scrimmage.

“There were a few downs that we missed. There was a big fourth down going in that we missed. We weren’t as efficient in the red zone,” Cutler said. “A few plays here and there against a team like that, the way they played offensively and ate up the clock, it’s hard to rebound if you miss three or four plays.”

Earl Bennett demonstrated that in the fourth quarter on the final play of a drive that started at the Chicago 4-yard line and ended at the New Orleans 25. With 8:45 left to play and the Bears behind 23-10, Bennett dropped an almost perfectly thrown pass on fourth-and-2.

Stock Watch: Jeffery continues ascension

October, 1, 2013
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Alshon JefferyNuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesAlshon Jeffery had five catches for a career-high 107 yards against the Lions.

RISING

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Jeffery
1. Alshon Jeffery, WR: Jeffery did a little bit of everything in the Week 4 loss in Detroit. He came up with a tough touchdown catch despite blanket coverage (he dropped a sure touchdown the play before), showed the ability to beat a defense deep with a 44-yard reception, and proved he can also be a weapon in the run game with a 27-yard end-around. With the exception of the Bears' win against the Vikings on Sept. 15, Jeffery has been a reliable target for Jay Cutler the entire season. Jeffery figures to reach 60 catches in 2013 if he continues to avoid injury -- he missed six games his rookie season. Jeffery's confidence seems to be growing every week.

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Julius Peppers
2. Julius Peppers, DE: The Bears' failure to sack the quarterback is still alarming, but Peppers had his best game of the year on Sunday, by far. According to NFL statistics, Peppers finished with six tackles and the Bears' lone sack and quarterback hurry. Peppers also dropped Reggie Bush for no gain on the Lions' first offensive play from scrimmage, and overall, the defensive end appeared to be moving better than in previous weeks. With the Bears' depth on the defensive line tested due to injuries, it's vital Peppers contribute some impact plays to the defensive effort moving forward.

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Earl Bennett
3. Earl Bennett, WR: Bennett's role in the offense is expanding. The wide receiver participated in 49 plays and caught a late fourth-quarter touchdown from Cutler, Bennett's second score in the past two weeks after hauling in the Week 3 game-clincher versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bennett isn't targeted often, he has seven catches on the season, but when the ball does come his way, the wideout generally makes a play. Bennett is clearly the fifth option on offense, but he is sure-handed and dependable.

FALLING

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Jay Cutler
1. Jay Cutler, QB: The Bears lost to the Lions for two reasons; (1) Cutler turned the ball over four times, and (2) the defense failed to tackle Bush. Cutler will throw interceptions. That is a fact. Sunday marked the seventh time since 2009 that Cutler tossed three or more interceptions in a game. The Bears claim Cutler's mistakes were all physical, that his decision-making was sound in the 40-32 defeat. If that's the case, then all of Cutler's miscues are correctable. But these performances are always a concern with Cutler. The Bears might be able to beat a bad Minnesota team at home when the quarterback turns the ball over three times, but on the road against a quality opponent, the Bears have no shot to win if Cutler gives the ball away at such an alarming rate.

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Mel Tucker
2. Entire defense: The whole group gets the nod for Bush rushing for 112 yards on 11 carries in the first half alone. The Lions seemed to have a solid gameplan for how they wanted to attack the Bears, but that does not excuse the poor tackling. Bush was making Bears defenders miss all over the field. The Bears have allowed way too many big plays on defense this season. The turnovers and defensive touchdowns are great, but this group is expected to produce better results. Even without Lovie Smith, Rod Marinelli, Brian Urlacher and now Henry Melton, there are enough Pro Bowl-caliber defensive players on the roster to prevent these kinds of breakdowns. And where is the pass rush? This all better improve in a hurry with Drew Brees coming to town on Sunday, otherwise the Bears' 3-0 head start to begin the season could evaporate over the next month.

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Adam Podlesh
3. Adam Podlesh, P: He had a rough afternoon at Ford Field, there is just no other way to put it. Despite punting in a controlled climate, Podlesh averaged only 40.2 yards per kick with a net average of 28.8 yards. Heading into Week 4, Podlesh had been averaging 44.6 yards per punt with a 42-yard net average. Punters will have bad games from time to time. Podlesh had a mild slump last year but finished the season exceptionally strong. The hope is he puts the Lions game behind him and bounces back against the Saints. Field position figures to be at a premium against the high-powered Saints' offense, so Podlesh pinning the Saints deep in their own territory whenever possible will be an important key to victory.

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