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Monday, August 30, 2010
Is it time to panic in Chicago?

By Kevin Seifert

Cutler
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has been under pressure during much of the preseason.
As the Chicago Bears have stumbled through a 0-3 preseason, panic has remained trapped beneath the surface. We've only seen a few warning signs, most notably quarterback Jay Cutler's admission Saturday night that pass protection issues has made it difficult "just trusting guys" on the offensive line.

No one should have expected a sterling preseason. The Bears are installing a new offense, have new starters sprinkled throughout their defense and have endured more than their share of training camp injuries. But the near-total infestation raises a fair question: Can the Bears get it together before they open the regular season against the Detroit Lions in 13 days?

As another week of practice begins, let's consider three reasons to panic and three reasons to remain calm. How fun: We can be alarmists and flight attendants all at once.

This is bad -- really bad.
  1. It's one thing if the offense needs some fine-tuning. But to this point, it's hardly functioned. The Bears' average of 12 points per game this preseason is tied for second-worst in the NFL. In a little more than four quarters of play, Cutler has taken 10 sacks, completed 51.4 percent of his passes and thrown two interceptions. If he doesn't trust his offensive linemen, there's nothing that can happen between now and Sept. 12 to fix that.
  2. Attention on the offense might have softened concerns about the defense. Most notably, the Bears have allowed opponents to convert 45.6 percent of third-down opportunities. Usually, preseason statistics are mildly relevant at best. But if you consider it a carryover from last season, when the Bears ranked No. 27 among NFL teams in third-down defense (41 percent), then you could conclude the problems haven't been solved.
  3. It's been psychologically jarring to see the Bears' usually pristine special teams in such disarray. Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly's neck injury rendered the Aug. 21 game against the Oakland Raiders moot. Opponents have blocked two punts and one field goal. Meanwhile, the Bears' longest special-teams play has been a 32-yard kickoff return from Danieal Manning. Taken individually, none of these issues would be alarming. But it's jarring when you consider the Bears normally have been explosive and impenetrable under coordinator Dave Toub.
Peppers
Julius Peppers has recorded a pair of sacks in limited preseason action.
Take a deep breath
  1. If the line can come together and Cutler can calm his nerves, the Bears have demonstrated they have some explosive parts to this offense. Receiver Johnny Knox is averaging 21 yards per reception. Tailback Matt Forte has an 89-yard touchdown run to his credit, and backup Chester Taylor produced a nifty 34-yard run the other night. And we're only being honest in noting that the first defense the Bears will face this season, the Lions, has struggled equally as much in the preseason.
  2. The defense hasn't been close to full strength this summer, considering injuries to linebackers Nick Roach (knee), Brian Urlacher (calf) and Lance Briggs (ankle). Safety Major Wright broke a finger during a promising preseason debut, leaving us unable to evaluate the expected pairing of Wright at free safety and Chris Harris at strong. Finally, defensive end Julius Peppers has shown up with two sacks in limited playing time. Don't forget about him.
  3. Toub and the rest of the Bears' special teams deserve some benefit of the doubt based on history. Mannelly's return has restored some order, and not all of the players who have made blocking and coverage mistakes will earn spots on the final roster. And don't forget the team has three returners with histories of explosiveness to choose from in Manning, Knox and Devin Hester.

Those are my first-blush thoughts on a Monday morning. Feel free to pass along yours.