Chicago Bears: Michael Bush
Week 13 Report Card: Minnesota Vikings 23, Chicago Bears 20
Despite hyperextending his right knee in last week's loss to the St. Louis Rams, Matt Forte rushed for 120 yards on 23 attempts and became the Bears' second career all-time leader in yards from scrimmage. Michael Bush even made the most of his lone rushing attempt by gaining 15 yards. However, the Bears are still having a difficult time in short-yardage situations and were just 2-of-11 on third downs versus the Vikings.
Josh McCown didn't play his best game of the season, but he finished with 355 passing yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 114.9. He was lucky not to have a couple of throws picked up. Alshon Jeffery broke his own franchise record with 249 receiving yards on 12 catches, two for touchdowns. There wasn't a ton of production after Jeffery, with Brandon Marshall finishing second on the team with four receptions for 45 yards.
The Bears sold out to stop Adrian Peterson, especially safety Craig Stetlz -- who recorded a team-high 12 tackles in place of injured starter Major Wright -- but Peterson still crushed the Bears with 211 rushing yards. Bears defenders appeared to be in the correct spot for most of the game, but their tackling was subpar. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson gashed the defense for a 33-yard touchdown run, on which both Steltz and linebacker Khaseem Greene had legitimate shots to bring him down but came up empty.
Under no circumstances should Matt Cassel be allowed to enter the game and pass for 243 yards and one touchdown. The Bears had success rushing the quarterback with five sacks, but veterans Greg Jennings, John Carlson and Jerome Simpson had too much room to operate on numerous occasions. Maybe the worst thing to happen to the Bears was Christian Ponder leaving the game with a concussion.
Robbie Gould is basically automatic from almost any range, but he missed a potential game-winning, 47-yard field goal in overtime, although Marc Trestman made a curious decision to kick it on second down instead of trying to run more plays to give Gould a shorter kick. Devin Hester had an impressive 57-yard kickoff return at the end of regulation, but his decision-making was suspect for most of the afternoon. Punter Adam Podlesh had a 33.7-yard net average. The Bears kicked the ball away from Patterson the entire afternoon, a sound strategy.
Again, it's tough to understand Trestman's decision to attempt the overtime field goal on second down. Forte was averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and the Bears have the luxury of the best long snapper in the NFL, Patrick Mannelly, on the roster. The odds of the Bears screwing up on second or third downs seem remote. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker definitely set a more aggressive tone with his unit, but the results were largely the same.
1. JD, huge Devin Hester fan here. I almost cried when they took away his punt return touchdown last week. Can we expect Devin to light it up against Minnesota? -- Brendan, Peoria, Ill.
Dickerson: Brendan, Hester has torched the Vikings' special teams in 14 career games, returning three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns. Hester was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts against the Vikings in Week 2, when he set a franchise single-game record with 249 kick-return yards. However, it is important to note that Sunday's game will played inside the Metrodome. It's much tougher for a return man to get his hands on the football when the game is played in a controlled climate. Maybe Hester's best shot this weekend is to hope that Vikings rookie punter Jeff Locke kicks him a returnable ball.
2. Why are the Bears going back to Jay Cutler? Josh McCown has found the fountain of youth. Ride with him! GO BEARS! -- Chester, Cicero, Ill.
Dickerson: Cutler is the unquestioned starting quarterback. He has too much talent and is earning too much money to sit on the bench if medically cleared to play. But I believe the Bears are taking the correct approach by sitting Cutler on Sunday and letting McCown start against the Vikings. High-ankle sprains are serious injuries. Cutler needs extra time to let his ankle heal before he's ready to return. McCown is clearly capable of beating the Vikings, who own the league's 30th overall defense (allowing 401 yards per game), so there was no need to rush Cutler back, even if he is pushing hard to come back. But when Cutler is ready, likely for the Bears' Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 9, he will be back in the starting lineup.
CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears’ 21-19 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field:
What it means: The Bears missed an opportunity to seize the division lead and put some cushion between themselves and the Green Bay Packers, who lost to Philadelphia. Instead, Chicago made its road to the postseason more difficult. Quarterback Josh McCown came in and provided a spark late, nearly rallying the Bears. His entrance at the 2:17 mark was long overdue, as Jay Cutler seemed to be hurting the team by trying to play through injury.
Second-guessing fourth-down call: Bears coach Marc Trestman drew praise for his decision Monday night to go for it on fourth down against the Packers, but a similar move in the second quarter resulted in criticism. With his team holding possession at the Detroit 27-yard line, Trestman called for a Michael Bush run behind right guard Kyle Long that went for no gain. The offensive line appeared to produce adequate push, but Bush ran into the backs of his blockers.
Protecting Cutler: Just 21 days removed from tearing a groin muscle, Cutler returned to the starting lineup on Sunday, showing no residual effects from the injury -- at least initially. Cutler connected on 3 of 4 for 61 yards and a 32-yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall on Chicago’s opening drive. The team put Cutler in the shotgun for the majority of the game to minimize the risk of aggravating the injury; Chicago operated out of the shotgun on 12 of its first 13 snaps and 25 of 33 snaps in the first half. Then, late through the second quarter, Cutler started to show signs that he was in pain. That pain appeared to increase during the team’s first drive to start the second half. Looking stiff and sluggish, Cutler seemed to be in enough discomfort to leave the game. But the next time the Bears had the ball he hit Marshall for a 44-yard completion. Later in the drive, Cutler -- in tremendous pain -- actually headed toward the sideline, with McCown running onto the field. Cutler fell as he neared the sideline, but waved off McCown and walked back to the huddle.
Run D better, still needs work: Reggie Bush ran wild in the first meeting between the teams, gaining a 139 yards on 18 attempts. Chicago’s defense did a much better job defending Bush on Sunday, but the running back still made a few key plays. Bush broke a 39-yarder on Detroit’s first drive of the second half, which put the Lions in position to go ahead by seven on Calvin Johnson’s 4-yard touchdown reception. On the play, Bush shook struggling Bears safety Chris Conte; Charles Tillman making the touchdown-saving tackle.
Conte redemption? Despite the early struggles, Conte picked off a Matthew Stafford pass intended for Johnson and returned it 35 yards to set up a Robbie Gould 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Then he gave Chicago’s offense another chance when he knocked a pass out of Johnson’s hands in the end zone.
What’s next: The Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday to watch film of the loss to Detroit before taking the day off Tuesday. The club begins preparations Wednesday to host the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday at noon.
However, the Bears sent Bush on the field for just two of the team’s 72 offensive snaps in their 40-32 loss to the Detroit Lions. In stark contrast, starting tailback Matt Forte played 71 of the 72 snaps and carried the ball 14 times for 95 yards and one touchdown. Forte also caught the ball five times for 22 yards.
The Bears signed Bush to a four-year, $14 million contract in the spring of 2012 to serve as Forte’s primary backup. Bush will earn a total of $2.550 million this season ($1.5 million base salary, $1 million roster bonus and $50,000 workout bonus), but has run the ball just 16 times for 24 yards in four games.
Bears coach Marc Trestman explained that Bush’s role was limited on Sunday because the Bears fell behind by 20 points in the first half.
“I think it was the kind of game it was more than anything,” Trestman said. “It was a two-minute drill more than anything else. We want Michael to be part of our football team and hope to get him in the mix during the course of the game. We have to grow in that area. We just have to find more ways to get him out there. It’s just difficult because we don’t want to take Matt off the field, either.”
Bush appeared in 13 games for the Bears last season, carrying the ball 114 times for 411 yards and five touchdowns. He rushed for a career-high 977 yards for the Oakland Raiders in 2011.
As a unit, the Bengals’ defensive line recorded 43 sacks last season and helped the defense rank sixth in fewest yards allowed.
This should present a terrific challenge up front for the Bears, especially for the Long/Mills rookie right side of the offensive line. Atkins told the Chicago media during a conference call on Wednesday that he was impressed by Long’s performance in the preseason after the first-round pick won the starting job outright. The Atkins-Long matchup is expected to be one of the most intriguing battles on Sunday.
“He’s big and he’s physical, very aggressive and a strong player,” Atkins said. “And by watching him, you can tell he likes to get after defensive linemen. He likes to get off, be aggressive and show his strength.”
Atkins also praised Bears tailback Matt Forte, who averaged 9.9 yards per carry on 15 rushing attempts behind the offensive line in the preseason. Forte is expected to be a focal point of the Bears’ offense in Week 1.
“He’s very, I want to say, shifty,” Atkins said. “He likes to cut back, so, I mean, he’s very explosive. If you give him a cutback lane, he will take it back and make you pay. To me, that makes him a dynamic player.
They’ve got tons of playmakers like Jay Cutler, Forte and Michael Bush. The offensive line is pretty stout. They’re a big group. And Brandon Marshall. They’re already loaded, so we just have to get after them.”
But organizations need to set lofty goals. Have you ever heard of an NFL team striving for mediocrity?
So while a part of me wants to cringe when I read Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley quoted in the Detroit News saying that his team is "going to the Super Bowl”, or watch a video of Detroit running back Reggie Bush tell reporters that he signed with the Lions "to win championships," the reality is that every NFL player should feel that way about the prospects of his respective club this time of the year.
How does each NFC North team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?
Chicago Bears: If you were drawing up plans for an experienced but diverse backfield, you could do a lot worse than modeling after the Bears. Starter Matt Forte is a shifty off-tackle runner and one of the NFL's top pass-catching running backs, a collection of skills that will fit neatly into new coach Marc Trestman's offense. Forte has caught 267 passes since his career started in 2008, the third-most in the NFL by a running back over that stretch. Backup Michael Bush, meanwhile, is a bigger and stronger inside threat who gives the Bears a better option in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He produced a first down on 24.6 percent of his rushes last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the 10th-best percentage in the NFL. As long as Forte and Bush are healthy, the Bears' relatively thin depth behind them is irrelevant.
Detroit Lions: Free agent acquisition Reggie Bush figures to benefit from opponents' attention on receiver Calvin Johnson to much greater extent than the Lions' backfield did last season. Early indications are the Lions will use Bush similarly to the way the New Orleans Saints did earlier in his career. With the Saints in 2006, Bush caught 88 passes. Training camp should bring competition for the right to be the "thumper" behind Bush. Will it be 2011 second-round draft choice Mikel Leshoure, who looked slow and not very elusive after returning last season from a torn Achilles tendon? (No NFL running back had as many touches as Leshoure without at least one play of at least 20 yards.) Or will it be the lesser-known Joique Bell, who as Pro Football Focus points out, made defenders miss regularly last season. He forced 26 missed tackles in 82 carries and actually averaged more yards after contact (2.99) than Bush did with the Miami Dolphins (2.06).
Green Bay Packers: The team re-made its backfield through the draft after years of transition, throwing the situation into unknown territory. At some point, the Packers will have to thin the herd of a group that includes returnees DuJuan Harris, James Starks, Alex Green and John Kuhn, along with rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. The competition is wide open, although both Starks and Green have failed when given previous opportunities. Lacy's build and pedigree suggests he has an excellent chance to ultimately win the starting job, but Harris impressed the team late last season and could get the first shot this summer.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson. Is there much more to say? Historically, runners who put together a 2,000-yard season tend to fall back the following year. But nothing about Peterson's career suggests he will fit neatly into a trend. He has set a goal of 2,500 yards, and however unrealistic it might be, he has earned the benefit of the doubt. Backup Toby Gerhart is in his fourth and presumably last season as Peterson's understudy. While Gerhart hasn't shown much explosion in short stints in Peterson's place, you would think he'll want to look elsewhere for more carries when his contract expires after this season.
The Chicago Bears invested heavily in their ground game last offseason when they awarded lucrative contracts to Matt Forte (four years, $30.4 million, $17.1 million guaranteed) and Michael Bush (four years, $14 million, $7 million guaranteed), only to see both players have relatively modest seasons amid talk that neither was used enough.
Forte managed to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards (1,094) for the third time in his five-year NFL career, but his average yards-per-carry fell from 4.9 to 4.4, and he also set career-lows in receptions with 44 for 340 yards. However, Forte remains one of the top all-purpose backs in the league and should be one of the key offensive pieces moving forward under new Bears coach Marc Trestman.
Injuries seemed to limit Bush, who dealt with shoulder and rib issues during his first season in Chicago after a successful four-year stint with the Oakland Raiders. But even when Bush was healthy last season, he did little more than provide the Bears with an effective and powerful goal-line back.
Bush views himself as much more than simply a battering ram in the red zone, but he only carried the ball 114 times and caught nine passes in 13 games. In Bush's final year in Oakland, he ran the ball 256 times and had 37 receptions while starting nine of the Raiders' 16 regular season games. Everybody knew Bush came to Chicago to back up Forte, but Bush probably believed he would see more action in the Bears' backfield when he signed.
With Forte ($7.175) and Bush ($3.550) scheduled to eat up a combined $10.725 million in salary cap space in 2013, the Bears' only objective this offseason might be to upgrade at the No. 3 running back spot, although options do exist internally.
- Quarterback Jay Cutler said during his ESPN 1000 radio show that his stiff neck shouldn't keep him out of next Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers. Cutler allowed the Vikings to set the tone with a pass rush that prevented him from finding a rhythm. He completed only one of eight passes against the Vikings' blitz for eight yards, according to ESPN's Stats & Information. And Sunday might have been one of the few occasions when Cutler has forced the ball too often to receiver Brandon Marshall. Cutler (14) and backup Jason Campbell (one) threw 15 passes to Marshall that traveled at least 10 yards in the air. That was the highest total in one game for a wide receiver in at least the past five years. Cutler completed only two of seven such throws in the second half, one of which was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Vikings safety Harrison Smith, and the Bears couldn't close the gap created by an early deficit.ESPN.com
- Running back Michael Bush only got two snaps because of a recurring rib injury that had left him questionable for the game. That is one of an inordinate amount of injuries the Bears are dealing with for their key people. Cutler might miss some practice time this week. Bush obviously had a setback. Receiver Earl Bennett is trying to come back from a concussion. Linebacker Brian Urlacher has a hamstring injury that could keep him off the field for the rest of the regular season. The same goes for cornerback Tim Jennings' shoulder injury. Place-kicker Robbie Gould's calf strain might necessitate reinforcements. Rookie defensive end Shea McClellin suffered a knee injury Sunday that prevented his return. Two of the Bears' best special teams players, Craig Steltz and Sherrick McManis, left Sunday's game because of chest and knee injuries, respectively. That's a long list of ailments for a team that needs to win at least two of its last three games, and perhaps all of them, to make the playoffs.
- The Bears rotated Edwin Williams and James Brown at left guard, with Brown actually getting more snaps (42) than Williams (36). Offensive coordinator Mike Tice has spoken highly of Brown since training camp, and you wonder if he is considering using Brown as a starter as Chris Spencer deals with a knee injury. Brown is an undrafted rookie and the Bears have already used five different starting guards this season, but his sudden entrance into the game Sunday was worth noting.
Earlier this season, we noted the Bears hadn't established an offensive identity. Other than Cutler's connection to Marshall, it wasn't easy to come up with a long list of things the Bears do well offensively. After Week 14, that's still the case. They rank No. 18 in the NFL in yards per carry (4.2), No. 27 in passing yards per game and No. 28 in scoring. At the end of this season, whenever that comes, we'll have to ask whether the Bears' preseason plan to mesh their former scheme, Tice's philosophies and the ideas of quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates all into one offense was too complicated a task.
Which team will be at the top of the division standings at the end of the season? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears will win the NFC North.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The Bears still have to prove they can defeat Green Bay before we can anoint them NFC North champions. But with a one-game lead over the Packers in the standings, the Bears hold their own destiny heading into Sunday's home game against the Seattle Seahawks. Right now, it looks as if the Bears have a good shot to win their fourth division title under Lovie Smith, but until they can find a way to knock off Green Bay, that kind of talk is somewhat premature.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. It won't be easy to beat Minnesota at its house on Dec. 9, followed by a struggling Packers squad at home on Dec. 16. But the Bears proved in the 2011 finale they could defeat the Vikings on the road, and I’'m not sure Green Bay can fix its myriad issues sufficiently enough before its meeting with the Bears. It's somewhat concerning that Chicago plays its last two games on the road at Arizona, before finishing up at Detroit. Despite Arizona's 4-7 record, a trip to the West Coast won't be easy. But then again, by then, it's likely the Cardinals would have already given up on the season. Besides, victories in the next three games could pretty much wrap up the division for the Bears. They're certainly capable of winning the next three, but they've got to get off to a good start toward accomplishing that goal Sunday against the Seahawks.
Scott Powers: Fiction. I still think it's the Packers' division to take. They weren't too impressive against the Giants, but I could see the Packers winning out. Their remaining schedule is Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago, Tennessee and Minnesota. If the Bears defeat Seattle on Sunday, the division likely will come down to their game with the Packers on Dec. 16 at Soldier Field. The Bears have struggled against the league’'s elite teams so far, including their early-season loss to Green Bay, so the Packers have the edge as of now.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Green Bay is going to come into Soldier Field and steal a win on Dec. 16. I took a spin through ESPN.com’'s Playoff Machine, and I had the Bears and Packers going 12-4, with Green Bay taking the tiebreaker. The Bears better hope that doesn't happen, because it could mean they travel to play the New York Giants in the first round. That spells trouble for Cutler and the Bears' chances to return to the NFC championship.