Chicago Bears: Week 1 Free Head Exam 2012

Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

September, 10, 2012
9/10/12
5:48
PM ET
After the Green Bay Packers' 30-22 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    Results were inconclusive, at best, on the Packers' primary offseason thrust. On the positive side, press box statistics show their pass rush got to 49ers quarterback Alex Smith for four sacks and two other post-throw hits. Linebacker Clay Matthews was credited with 2.5 sacks and defensive back Charles Woodson got the other 1.5. And two of Smith's biggest throws -- 29 yards to tight end Vernon Davis and 14 yards for a touchdown to Randy Moss -- were the fault of busted coverages. Smith threw plenty of quick-release passes, but in the end he had enough time to connect on nearly three-quarters of his throws. So to me it was a mixed bag. And for what it's worth, the Packers were blitzing heavily for a good portion of the game to ratchet up their pressure. They sent at least one extra rusher on 10 of Smith's first 21 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Woodson insisted the Packers' pass defense is "nowhere close to where it was last year" and said he liked the energy he saw. We'll see.
  2. Tight end Jermichael Finley was targeted a team-high 11 times and caught seven passes for 47 yards and a score. He also had one clear drop, another that could have been called one if you're a tough grader and a third play where he had enough trouble controlling the ball that the 49ers challenged the ruling of a completion. Afterwards, it was interesting to note how Finley responded when asked about the Packers "dropping" their first game. He misunderstood the question and belied his insistence that he isn't going to mourn drops this season. Here's what he said: "I thought about it all last year. I let it stress me. But this year, a drop is a drop. An interception is an interception, and we've got to move on from it. And go to the next play."
  3. If there was any doubt before, it's clear now: Veteran Donald Driver ranks no better than fifth on the Packers' receiver depth chart. He doesn't play on special teams, so the blunt truth was that he was active Sunday for insurance purposes. He didn't play until the final three snaps of the game, when starter Greg Jennings waved himself off the field. Before that, Driver did not get a snap. As we noted Sunday, second-year receiver Randall Cobb was a key part of the primary set the Packers used Sunday: Four receivers with Cobb lined up, initially, in the backfield. They used a variation of that formation on 31 of their 61 plays. Still, I actually think it makes sense to keep Driver on the roster as injury protection. If the Packers lose Jennings, Cobb, Jordy Nelson or James Jones, they could plug in Driver and not lose any formational versatility. Without him, they would be limited to three-receiver sets if someone were injured. It's worth a September roster spot.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Who did officials initially believe had committed an illegal block on Cobb's 75-yard punt return? I hope it was linebacker Brad Jones, whose block seemed questionable at best, and not linebacker Terrell Manning -- who blatantly hit Anthony Dixon in the back. The officials eventually picked up the flag, allowing the touchdown to stand. Such plays aren't reviewable, but Manning's illegal block was clear and undeniable. For the sake of the integrity of this replacement experiment, I hope they simply missed it altogether and didn't actually judge Manning's block to be legal upon further consideration.

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

September, 10, 2012
9/10/12
5:47
PM ET
After the Chicago Bears' 41-21 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    After so much preseason talk about quarterback Jay Cutler's reunion with receiver Brandon Marshall, it's pretty amazing that Cutler was able to target Marshall on 15 passes. (He caught nine for 119 yards and a touchdown.) None went for longer than 24 yards, but you would imagine that any opponent's first priority will be to limit Marshall's touches. That seems to me an early commentary on the Bears' offensive diversity and balance. Too much attention on Marshall leaves some dangerous playmakers unattended, be it Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester or Matt Forte. Many of Marshall's routes were of the shorter, quick-hitting variety. You wonder if defenses ultimately will choose to give the Bears those plays to guard against bigger downfield passes.
  2. The 2012 draft paid immediate Week 1 dividends. Defensive end Shea McClellin broke free on a first-quarter spin move to rush Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who overthrew the ensuing pass. Jeffery caught three passes for 80 yards, including a 42-yard score on a post route that sealed the game in the fourth quarter. And tight end/fullback Evan Rodriguez proved a devastating blocker out of the H-back/fullback position, setting up a number of early plays. His kickout block in the first quarter set up Forte's 32-yard run down the left hashmarks. Rodriguez showed during training camp that he could be an intriguing target in the passing game, but I'm not sure if anyone realized how competent he could be as a blocker in space.
  3. Linebacker Brian Urlacher sat out the final 1 1/2 quarters to preserve his knee and cornerback Charles Tillman missed a good portion of the game because of a leg injury that isn't believed to be severe. But a number of defensive players stepped up in their absences. Cornerback Tim Jennings had two interceptions, and his leaping grab of an underthrown Luck pass reminded me of our discussion on the importance of the vertical jump for short cornerbacks. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Henry Melton recorded two sacks and had an additional tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
We noted that the Colts' outside linebacker duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis would prove a test for the Bears' recalibrated offensive line, and the early going was not encouraging. On the first drive alone, Mathis had a sack and right tackle Gabe Carimi was called for a false start. Cutler was less harried as the game went on, but it's worth asking how much of that was due to better pass protection and how much can be attributed to Freeney's ankle injury. It's a lot easier to protect against one elite pass-rusher. The jury is still out on that one.

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