By the bye: Chicago Bears

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
12:15
PM ET
Reviewing the Chicago Bears at their bye:

Record: 4-1

Five-game capsule: The Bears are in excellent position after rebounding from a Week 2 debacle at Lambeau Field. Their defense leads the NFL in takeaways (17) and touchdowns (five), getting elite performances from stalwarts (two touchdown returns apiece for linebacker Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman) and relative newcomers (five combined sacks for defensive ends Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin) alike. Quarterback Jay Cutler has settled after throwing four interceptions and taking seven sacks in Week 2, limiting himself to two interceptions and five sacks over the next three games. Importantly, he has worked hard to keep receiver Brandon Marshall (35 receptions, 496 yards) involved in the offense. In short, the Bears have the look of the championship-caliber team they envisioned this summer.

[+] EnlargeTim Jennings
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastTim Jennings has had a surprisingly strong start to the season, leading the NFL in both interceptions and pass breakups.
MVP: Briggs and Tillman deserve the attention they've received, and defensive tackle Henry Melton (4.5 sacks) has had a nice start. But the Bears' best player over five games has been cornerback Tim Jennings, who has made teams pay dearly for targeting him over Tillman. Opponents have thrown his way an NFL-high 46 times, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), and he has responded with a league-leading four interceptions and 14 total pass breakups. Those plays have left opposing quarterbacks with a 23.4 passer rating on throws in his direction, the second-lowest rating against a qualified cornerback in the NFL. (Via PFF.) Jennings has locked down one of the few question marks the Bears had on their defense.

Biggest surprise: For as much attention as left tackle J'Marcus Webb has received since the start of training camp, culminating in the now-infamous events of Week 2, he hasn't been half-bad during the Bears' three-game winning streak. Webb gave up a sack to Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, but otherwise he has done what you'd hope for from a left tackle: Not drawn attention with his play. He has committed a modest two penalties, one false start and one for holding, and has rebounded admirably from the public embarrassment of his performance against the Green Bay Packers.

Stat to note: Offensive coordinator Mike Tice's background is in the power running game, but the most notable aspect of his scheme so far has been the frequency of deep shots down the field. Cutler has thrown 21 passes that traveled more than 20 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the second-highest total in the league. He has completed 10 of them, including four for touchdowns. For comparison, consider that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford have combined for 25 such throws.

Bonus stat to note: As productive as Marshall has been over the first five games, would you believe he is behind the pace set by former Bears receiver Marty Booker in 2002? Through five games that season, Booker had caught 37 passes for 566 yards. He finished the year with 97 receptions for 1,189 yards.

Looking ahead: The Bears will return from their bye with a Monday night game (Oct. 22) against the Lions, but they won't have another division game until Week 12 against the Minnesota Vikings. That schedule quirk, which leaves them playing NFC North opponents in four of their final six games, will make the final month of the season awfully interesting.

Bye the by series: Last week's post on the Detroit Lions.

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