Safety becoming a real leader on defense
Dan Pompei On the NFL
Chris Harris wore a neck roll on his shoulder pads Sunday. It's a good thing because he needed it.
Harris ostensibly played strong safety, but really he was a fourth linebacker most of the time against his old team. A review of the tape shows Harris was lined up in the box against the Panthers 24 times, and on 61 percent of the snaps not counting nickel situations or the Panthers' final two-minute drive.
Harris led the Bears in tackles and was a force against the run. Stopping the run was critical for the Bears, because the run was the only hope the Panthers had to win this game.
After allowing Carolina 54 rushing yards on their first five carries, Harris and the Bears' defense bowed up and held DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and company to 31 ground yards on 20 carries the rest of the way.
Here is what else we learned upon further review.
Grading key: Grades are between 0 and 10 with 0 being complete failure and 10 being perfect.
All Harris and Danieal Manning did was be where they were supposed to be and make the play.
Manning broke up a deep ball that could have been a touchdown. He is really settling into the safety position and arguably is playing the best football of his career. Manning is getting to the ball quickly and making solid tackles. He has not often been out of position.
Harris' leadership in the secondary has been an underrated component of the Bears' success.
Bears coaches felt confident against the Panthers' inexperienced receivers and played a heavy dose of man-to-man. Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Zack Bowman and D.J. Moore met the challenge. Tillman continued his fine season with three pass deflections and an interception.
Now would be a good time for coaches to explain why he was moved from the right side to the left in the offseason.
Lance Briggs was a standout before he left the game with an ankle injury. His instincts and quickness in shooting gaps is amazing. He is the perfect linebacker for this scheme.
Brian Urlacher played well and added a late interception but wasn't quite as effective as he had been in previous games.
Julius Peppers may be having the best two-sack season in NFL history. Though he went another game without a sack Sunday, it should be noted that in addition to his interception he did have four quarterback pressures.
Israel Idonije doesn't always look pretty, but he sure got the job done against the Panthers with three sacks and a forced fumble. His consistency — being in the right place and doing what he was supposed to do — was just what the Bears needed
Anthony Adams had a couple of tackles for a loss, but he got crushed by a double team on DeAngelo Williams' 23-yard run.
Matt Forte was truly outstanding. He beat the Panthers every way a running back can beat a defense. He chose the right holes. He ran with power. He was elusive. He ran away from defenders. He gave tacklers a stiff arm. He caught the ball. He blocked.
One play really demonstrated his all-around game. In the second quarter he caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage at the 32. He had some space in front of him and burst forward for 8 yards, where he avoided cornerback Chris Gamble at the 40. Four yards later, he was hit by linebacker James Anderson, but he got away from him and made it three more yards before going down with a 14-yard gain.
Chester Taylor was a solid complement and seems to have finally developed a defined role as the change-of-pace back and short-yardage guy.
They didn't contribute much as wide receivers, but they did contribute as football players.
Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu and Earl Bennett all played like skinny offensive linemen, throwing big blocks. Knox also had a tackle after an interception, and he was smart enough to stay in bounds late in the fourth quarter after a 14-yard catch.
They were non-factors as receivers, but Brandon Manumaleuna was a factor as a blocker. He helped spring Forte on his 68-yard run, and he threw the lead block for Taylor on the third-and-1 conversion in the fourth quarter. Really, that play was almost all Manumaleuna because the Bears went with a weak-side run from an unbalanced look.
Manumaleuna had a couple of glitches in pass protection and run blocking, but his contributions outweighed his mistakes.
Frank Omiyale had a pair of penalties and J'Marcus Webb had a third. Olin Kreutz struggled at times and Roberto Garza was inconsistent.
But overall, the results were pretty encouraging. Edwin Williams was a pleasant surprise in his first start at right guard. Together with Webb, they got some movement in the run game.
Take away the false start and the holding and Omiyale might have played his best game of the year.
Todd Collins looked worse on tape than he did in person. And he looked really, really bad in person.
He threw an interception just about every way you can throw an interception — into double coverage, overthrow, underthrow and an apparent miscommunication. Collins held the ball too long and got himself sacked.
By comparison, Caleb Hanie looked like Otto Graham.
Manning and Devin Hester tilt the field in ball-control games and make opponents pay for mistakes. Hester is on a roll, returning punts with confidence and aggression.
Robbie Gould's leg is getting stronger as he gets older. He had a career long 53-yard field goal and two touchbacks.