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Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

9/12/2011

After the Chicago Bears' 30-12 victory Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Quarterback Jay Cutler was sharp in his 2011 debut, completing 68.8 percent of his passes for 312 yards and finishing with a 107.9 passer rating. I think all of us would be satisfied if he repeated that outing for the next 20 or so game weeks. But Cutler continues to be a case example of how Total Quarterback Rating will take a different view of quarterback play. Cutler's performance currently ranks No. 13 among Week 1 performances, with a score of 60.4. QBR downgraded him for five sacks and a fumble, neither of which are included in passer rating. A QBR score of 50 is considered average and measures a quarterback's contribution to winning (or losing) a game. Again, I'm not totally sure how we will incorporate QBR in the context of our weekly discussions, but it's always interesting to consider a different vantage point. For now, we'll chalk it up to another example of the Bears encountering skepticism at every turn.

  2. In August we wondered if Henry Melton was up to the task of playing the three-technique position in a Tampa-2 defense. Melton, after all, was a running back for part of his college career and was drafted as a defensive end. But his seven quarterback hits, including two sacks, made for a stunning debut as a starter Sunday. It obviously helps when the offense is distracted by a parallel monster performance by defensive end Julius Peppers. We don't draw any conclusions based on what we see in Week 1, but Melton put himself in position to provide a definitive answer to our original question.

  3. Last week, coach Lovie Smith indicated that Johnny Knox would take kickoff returns while Devin Hester focused on punts. But I am fine with that little bit of misdirection. Hester took kickoffs as well Sunday, something I'm all for following the departure of Danieal Manning. That's nothing against Knox. But if I'm the Bears, and I've been pretty consistent about this in recent years, I want the best returner in NFL history maximizing his chances on special teams. Then I sprinkle him into the offense whenever possible, rather than the other way around. That's what the Bears did Sunday, and Hester responded with 127 all-purpose yards -- 60 yards on three catches, 53 on three kickoff returns and 14 on one punt return. That's ideal, as far as I'm concerned.

And here is one issue I still don't get:

Based on our discussions around here, there is no secret that tailback Matt Forte is a perfect fit for Mike Martz's offense. His receiving skills mean he can impact a game even if an opponent has filled the running lanes. His 56-yard screen play Sunday was a perfect example of his open-field running ability. So I wonder if the Bears recognize that barring injury, Forte's value is only going to increase with every passing week. The team and Forte's agent haven't been able to agree on the terms of a contract extension, but his versatility (and motivation this year) makes it highly unlikely that something will happen on the field that would allow the Bears to devalue his production. Even if he isn't piling up rushing yards, it seems likely he'll have a substantive weekly contribution in the passing game.