Thereís no Bears game to look at this weekend, and itís too painful to simply focus on Sundayís loss against the Redskins.
So with the Bears at 4-3 on their bye week, here are some almost midseason grades for coach Lovie Smithís squad:
Worst things first. This offense has been atrocious, and the numbers prove it.
The Bears average 290 yards and 18 points a game. They rank 30th in rushing offense, averaging 89 yards a game on the ground, which is not shocking as they have displayed no real interest in running the ball despite having two talented backs in Matt Forte and Chester Taylor.
The offensive line has been a disaster, allowing a league-high 31 sacks. They rank last in the league, converting 18 percent of their third downs.
The line has been porous, the receivers have lacked discipline, and quarterback Jay Cutler still throws too many interceptions. A D-minus is going easy on this group.
Their defensive counterparts have been more than solid. They give up a little more than 300 yards a game and rank second in points allowed, yielding just 16 a game.
The hallmark of a Smith defense is creating turnovers, and the Bears are second in the league with 17 takeaways. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is back in Pro Bowl form, defensive end Julius Peppers has been as good as advertised, and the secondary has held up despite an average pass rush.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelliís guys have kept this Bears team in every game, carrying a heavy load each and every week. My only concern is that they will get worn out having to overcome the mistakes of the offense.
Special Teams: B
As expected, special teams coach Dave Toubís guys have delivered across the board.
Danieal Manning is averaging 25 yards a kick return, Devin Hester leads the league in punt return yardage, Robbie Gould is 12 of 14 kicking field goals, and Brad Maynard has dropped 15 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has a brilliant offensive mind and an impressive rťsumť, but heís lacked flexibility too often and has no real interest in running the ball despite the pass protection struggles of the offensive line.
Smith gets his guys to play hard, but he has struggled with clock management and recently mishandled his red challenge flag. If not for the defense and special teams, this grade would be much lower.
Itís hard to be too harsh when the Bears are 4-3 and share the lead in the NFC North, but a look beyond the record leaves me more than a little concerned.
The Bearsí past two losses have been disappointing. They had an opportunity to beat two inferior teams while playing at home. They could have distanced themselves from the rest of the division.
With the remaining part of the schedule about to get vicious, those two games were crucial. The manner in which they lost also was disturbing. Offensively, the players havenít delivered and the game plans have been flawed.
To get back on track, everyone needs to pick it up: Players and coaches. In total, itís been a pretty average performance so far.
ē Tom Waddle can be heard from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays on WMVP AM-1000
Off weeks are when teams take internal inventory, looking at what worked, what didn’t, who did, who didn’t. That evaluation at some level is ongoing throughout a season but less so on a broader level because of the immediate need to prepare for the next team on the schedule.
But with a handful of days to catch breath (literally and figuratively, as the Bears give quarterback Jay Cutler no-pass days to recover his arm strength and equilibrium), CSNChicago.com assesses the surprises of the first section of the season, both good and bad.
Naturally, with a team that reminds all that it is 4-3, there are four surprises to the good, and three to the not-so-good:
Four of the good
RT J’Marcus Webb: A rookie seventh-round offensive lineman makes the list because tackles who can play are a treasure in the NFL. Webb already is better than 2008 first-rounder Chris Williams, whose job Webb essentially took, given that Williams was shunted inside to guard after his hamstring injury. Webb could be an offensive-line answer the way Big Cat Williams and Keith Van Horne were for long, long times – solid, set-it-and-forget-it fixtures at an important position.
MLB Brian Urlacher: That the one-time perennial All-Pro linebacker can play is not a surprise. That a 32-year-old player at a high-impact position is back at the elite level he is constitutes a pleasant surprise. It is also a key one, because he has brought back with him not only the savvy adhesiveness that brings a defense together, but also a playmaker ability that has produced impact plays week after week after week.
DE Israel Idonije: Idonije went to camp looking up at Mark Anderson on the depth chart, regardless of coaches’ claims that it was a competition. The “other” defensive end spot was Anderson’s to lose, which he did with lackluster play. But the real story was that Idonije took the job away from him and has become what the defense was looking for – an end in the mold of Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye, a 260-pounder who can play the run and generate pass rush (team-leading 4.5 sacks).
S Danieal Manning: The former No. 2 pick is never going to be the elite deep-secondary presence that coach Lovie Smith envisioned. But Manning has gone from a liability and man in search of a job to someone who has surprised with his overall play at a position that was a decided liability for the Bears ever since the Super Bowl. Manning is a longshot to be back next year after he plays out his one-year tender but he is tied for third on a very good defense with 44 tackles and is a reason for the Bears’ defensive success.
The NFC is cooperating with the Bears while they sort out their issues; every conference team has at least two losses and no team other than the New York Giants has looked dominant for more than a short stretch. For all of the offensive struggles, the NFC and certainly the NFC North division are decidedly within reach.
But not if these three surprisingly not-so-good matters persist:
The Jay Cutler/Mike Martz axis: The offensive coordinator has not made the supposed franchise quarterback any better and an argument could be made that Cutler has regressed under Martz’s pass-heavy play-calling. Martz has not put players in optimal positions to succeed based on their actual capabilities, and Cutler has refused or been unable to avoid many of the careless ball-protection issued that cost the Bears so dearly in 2009. Martz’s unwillingness to change a losing approach and Cutler’s inability to help his offensive line have been stunning negatives in a season that is a surprise to many at 4-3.
G-T Chris Williams: The first-round pick who was to be the left tackle for a decade has not been the left tackle for even a season and is bordering on “bust” status. He effectively lost his left-tackle job to Frank Omiyale and was not good enough for coaches to place him back at right tackle because he is not as good as J’Marcus Webb. His deficiencies in training camp were attributed to going against Julius Peppers on a daily basis; that was far from the only problem.
DT Tommie Harris: All through training camp the 2004 No. 1 pick was touted as rejuvenated, healthy, ready to return to some semblance of the dominant inside force that is axiomatic to the success of Lovie Smith defenses. Harris has been nothing close to that. He lost his job and even his active status on game day for one week, and he has been consistently outplayed by free agent pickup Matt Toeaina, who qualifies as a positive surprise himself. Harris has shown signs of improvement through the second quarter of the season but signs are not what the Bears need from one of their highest-paid (for one more year) players on defense.