By Brad Biggs, Tribune reporter
9:35 a.m. CDT, September 10, 2012
Ten thoughts after the Chicago Bears opened the 2012 season with a 41-21 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Soldier Field.
1. If the Bears need to win shootouts this season, they have the personnel to keep up.
Sure, the offense has had its moments in three previous seasons with quarterback Jay Cutler under former coordinators Mike Martz and Ron Turner. Yes, there were moments of offensive excellence before for coach Lovie Smith with some bright spots during the 2006 Super Bowl season with Rex Grossman.
However, this team has the capability to keep pace with a team like the Green Bay Packers if Thursday’s meeting at Lambeau Field turns into a shootout. The way the Packers defense played in a 30-22 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, it sure looks like the Bears could go there and score. The Bears have not scored more than 21 points at Green Bay since ’06 and they have been held to three points in two of the last four trips.
But there will be plenty more time this week to dissect the Packers even with a short week. The Bears made four moves to balance out the offense this season and each one showed up Sunday:
**Mike Tice replaced Martz as offensive coordinator. Tice's impact was noticeable from the start. Cutler was sacked twice, both times by outside linebacker Robert Mathis. On the first play, tight end Kellen Davis flat out missed his block. Davis, who also had no catches, was praised repeatedly by Smith throughout the offseason, saying “he can do anything the good tight ends in this league can do.” The second sack came with the Bears facing third-and-13 on their own 29-yard line. A screen pass to Matt Forte was called but the Colts blitzed and the play quickly disintegrated with Cutler basically choosing to eat the play.
Gone are the seven-step drops Martz preferred that required too much time for deep-breaking routes to develop. They put too much pressure on the offensive linemen, particularly the tackles. Tice said he would move to a rhythm-based passing attack but the word he used repeatedly throughout the offseason was “explosive.” Just because the Bears were working with three- and five-step drops didn’t mean they were not able to work the ball downfield. There were nine plays of 20 or more yards. The offense totaled 61 in 16 games last season – or 3.8 per game. There was time for Cutler to throw and the line with the help of some nice blocking, particularly from rookie Evan Rodriguez, created some alleys on the perimeter. If the Packers are as soft as they were in allowing 186 yards rushing to the 49ers, that could bode well on Thurday. The offense racked up 428 yards, the fifth-highest total under Smith. The challenge for Tice is to remain explosive but the upgraded roster should make that easier to do than it has been in the past.
**The addition of Brandon Marshall made an impact instantly. Cutler completed his first pass of the season to Marshall and targeted the wide receiver with 15 of his 35 passes. That kind of reliance on one player could lead to trouble at times but Marshall delivered what No. 1 wideouts do – 119 yards on nine receptions with one touchdown. It was the 15th 100-yard game for a wide receiver under Smith and the 19th overall (Matt Forte has three and Desmond Clark had one). All of a sudden, the pressure is off Earl Bennett, who made three receptions for 50 yards. Prior to this season, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for 50 yards to be game-high for a Bears wideout. Now, that is going to be a fine complementary figure. You cannot underestimate the impact on the offense of the other wide receivers now being slotted properly in the roles they should have been in all along.
**A month after trading for Marshall, general manager Phil Emery traded up in the second round of the draft to select Alshon Jeffery. There were needs on the offensive line but the Bears didn’t want to let Jeffery get away. Emery has said he was the best boundary catcher in the draft, and the finest red-zone target. He’s going to make plays all over the field, though, and it is evident Cutler has confidence in him. The 42-yard touchdown pass to Jeffery in the fourth quarter put the game away.
**The addition of Michael Bush cannot be overlooked in completing the offense. Where the team failed with running backs Chester Taylor and Marion Barber it has succeeded with Bush, and that’s a good thing considering the pay day he received. Bush scored on two one-yard runs and that is one more one-yard touchdown than Bears running backs produced all last season. How effective the team is in short yardage remains to be seen but the Bears were 13 for 21 last season on third-and-1 and that figure probably will only go up. What’s interesting is the offense can turn to Bush from a spread look like it did once at the goal line.
“Wasn’t the best look down there and I asked him if he wanted it and he’s like, 'Give it to me,’ ” Cutler said. “He pushes through the pile and the offensive line and did a great job.”
With Bush, the running game is now balanced and there is a 1-2 combination that will be formidable.
2. The added depth the Bears have at cornerback may be needed in the starting lineup Thursday. Charles Tillman suffered a lower right leg injury in the first quarter and was removed in the second quarter. On a punt return, Colts gunner Sergio Brown shoved Tillman and he lost his balance and then collided with Sherrick McManis, who was coming over for a double team on Brown. Sources indicated the team was optimistic about Tillman’s situation after the game.
With Tillman out, Kelvin Hayden stepped in for what amounted to about three quarters of work. He tied for the team high with seven tackles (five solos) according to press box statistics and had one big pop on wide receiver Donnie Avery to jar the ball loose for a pass breakup. It was a solid debut all the way around as he also recovered the fumble forced by J.T. Thomas on a kickoff.
Hayden, who signed a one-year contract with an injury waiver and for the minimum-salary benefit, made 46 starts for the Colts from 2006 to 2010 and they made him one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL with a five-year deal on Feb. 18, 2009. It’s been a rocky road for him since, made problematic at first with a neck injury in 2010 that led to surgery. I asked Hayden if it was frustrating the last two years, knowing he’d been a high-caliber starter and struggling to find a place that would give him that opportunity.
“Not really,” Hayden said. “I am just one of those guys that asks for an opportunity. Any situation you go into, as long as you don’t have a ceiling put on you, you’re going to be fine. I came in here and got an open opportunity to be able to compete and that’s what I have done. It’s unfortunate that you have to bounce around sometimes just to find a home. Hopefully, this is my last stop. I am one of those guys that is going to take it year-by-year and keep playing the game that I love.”
Hayden bought a condo in Chicago this offseason before he joined the Bears. Maybe the new digs helped the Chicago native settle on the Bears. It certainly didn’t hurt. He was coming off a plantar plate injury and his foot was in a cast after surgery when free agency opened. The Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints called. They were interested. The Atlanta Falcons wanted him back. But these teams wanted to wait until Hayden was out of a cast and could pass a physical.
“Chicago said it was aware of the injury, ‘We feel like you are going to recover well,’ ” Hayden said. “It felt good to me.”
Hayden found limited action on the open market after the lockout ended in July 2011. He was coming off neck surgery then and was surprised when the Colts released him. The Bears had interest and passed. The Falcons brought him in but he managed to play in only eight games because of the foot injury.
He wasn't bitter about facing his former team.
“It was more of my decision to go with the surgery because I was thinking more about life after football,” Hayden said. “Just to be safe. I still wanted to play and they were saying this is something, you really don’t need the surgery but it will make things better and it will give you more precaution. If I was going to go out there I didn’t want to go out there and be timid and in the back of my mind, I didn’t want to be turning down hits and stuff like that just because of the neck. Now, I can’t even tell that I had the surgery, it was a successful surgery. I just want to keep playing, keep having fun.”
One of the last positions the Bears want to be short-handed at when they face the Packers is cornerback. But Hayden provides experience in a reserve role that the defense hasn’t had in the past.
“You go out there and compete every game, it doesn’t matter who it is,” Hayden said. “As a player, you want to compete, you want to do well. I have played the Packers before. I know what they bring to to the table.”
3. Across from Hayden, Tim Jennings turned in a big game as he intercepted Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck twice and had two more pass breakups, one that led to an interception in the end zone for free safety Chris Conte.
Luck was throwing deep for Donnie Avery on the first interception. It was play action and Avery executed a double move that got him past the defender. But Luck’s pass was underthrown and Jennings recovered to make an acrobatic pick.
Jennings gambled on the ball he deflected with his right hand in the end zone to Conte. He was on Reggie Wayne in man coverage and when Wayne broke to the middle on a post route, Jennings gambled underneath. He was able to do that knowing he had help from Conte and with a dive he batted the ball away.
It was a veteran move to bait Luck into a throw on the final interception covering one-time Bears practice squad wide receiver Kris Adams. Jennings let Adams go by him in Cover 2 with Major Wright lending help over the top. Just as Adams went by Jennings, Luck committed to him. When the ball was released, Jennings turned it on and recovered to make the play. It was a savvy move, one Luck will learn from.
Jennings’ big play is not a surprise to those that have watched him since training camp opened. He was making plays there and in preseason.
“Had an excellent training camp,” secondary coach Jon Hoke said. “Made plays on the ball. Was in position. Has stepped up his game and very pleased with the type of training camp he has had and preseason. He’s a better football player now. He’s playing smarter. Playing with better instincts, understands what we’re trying to get done. He has taken an active role in meetings, asking questions. He’s taken a big step.”
4. Brian Urlacher said he was not going to be 100 percent and he wasn’t kidding. The middle linebacker didn’t look like his old self and how could you expect him to coming off arthroscopic surgery on his left knee? Urlacher was credited with one solo tackle and one assist in 27 snaps with one pass broken up. Coach Lovie Smith removed him early in the third quarter when the Bears built a 34-14 lead. It wasn’t because Urlacher was injured, Smith just wanted to rest him.
“I was trying to get him to come back out there,” Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. “He gave me the hold-up sign, the chill-out sign. I am hoping he came out healthy. He’s a good player. He still looks like the Brian Urlacher I have always seen for years.”
The same Urlacher?
“Did he look slower?” Wayne said. “I’m not going to focus on him too much. I gotta get out of his way. I saw him out there, the times I saw him, you still have to respect him even if he is a little slower. You’re still not going to want to go across that middle and not know where he is. So, you’ve still got to respect him.”
It will be interesting to see how Urlacher responds against the Packers and in the first month of the season. The sooner he is up to full speed, the better the defense will be. But what will full speed be for him at 34? That’s a question no one can answer at this point.
5. Alshon Jeffery spiked the ball after he scored on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter and then he promptly scrambled to recover the ball as a keepsake. It was a smart move and a play that showed us a couple things. First, at 6-foot-3, 216 pounds, Jeffery is still fast enough to take the top off the defense. It was a play fake and he ran right past cornerback Vonate Davis. Cutler did his part too, looking off single-high safety Antoine Bethea, leaving him out of position to make a play. The Colts had dropped their other safety Tom Zbikowski into the box as they expected a run on the second-and-seven play.
“Where we were, you have to try to press the issue sometimes,” Zbikowski said. “They’re trying to eat up the clock so we have to load up the box. Watching tape, Cutler has been doing a good job of looking safeties off, looking the other way. That’s about as good of a pass that you can really throw.
“You’ve got to hold the middle a little longer because he’s been doing a good job of looking off.”
Jeffery admitted he was a little worried Cutler had overthrown him at first but he hauled it in just before he reached the back of the end zone. Is the second-round draft pick from South Carolina faster than people expected? At his pro day he was timed at just a fraction under 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
“That’s for you guys to decide,” Jeffery said. “Or whoever is guarding me.”
6. Shea McClellin showed up in his rookie debut. The first-round draft pick had a big hit on Luck and had a nice pass rush to break a play down that resulted in one of Henry Melton’s two sacks.
“It felt good,” he said. “I just gotta learn from the things I did bad and just continue to get better and take this one as a learning experience.”
McClellin knows what it is like to be close to a sack in college and then just miss. Chances are even more difficult to come by in the NFL.
“Things like that can be frustrating at times but you’ve got to let that go and just play the next play, don’t worry about that and think eventually you will get them,” he said.
One thing McClellin has to improve is he’s being run by the play. Offensive tackles sense him coming upfield and they will take him beyond the action. That is something he can adjust to quickly.
Most of his work, at least early in the game, came in the nickel package. Defensive end Julius Peppers moved inside in several instances to play tackle. It’s not something the Bears have done a lot of but it’s part of looking for mismatches along the line.
“I like playing inside,” Peppers said. “I am comfortable with it. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it. It’s something that we feel good about and we’re going to continue to try to work on it and get it better.”
7. Nothing Luck did surprised the Bears, but Melton said he didn’t expect the No. 1 draft pick to be quite as elusive as he was. Maybe Melton didn’t know Luck had a respectable 40-yard dash of 4.67 seconds at the scouting combine. That’s moving for a quarterback. Melton had two of the Bears’ three sacks but he found Luck to be a mobile target.
“He was kind of elusive out there,” Melton said. “We did get to him but he stepped up. He had a little more awareness in the pocket than we expected. He was stepping up a lot.”
The Bears know the next quarterback they are facing has those moves, too. Aaron Rodgers always has been slippery in the pocket. He can buy time to make a play downfield or tuck it and run. In four seasons as a starter, Rodgers has rushed for 1,136 yards.
“It’s good to see actually because those are corrections we need this week for Aaron on Thursday,” Melton said. “We will need to make those corrections.”
Those corrections involve gap discipline. Pass rushers can’t be hesitant but they also can’t freelance and leave wide open lanes for the quarterback to exploit as a passer or a rusher.
8. Gabe Carimi isn’t sure what the big fuss was about. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said last week there was concern about the right tackle’s endurance. This was Carimi’s first regular-season game since last September but he held up fine even with a no-huddle attack in the second quarter.
“He's going to take a while to be up to full speed," Tice said last week. "The endurance in his leg is going to come with game time. We're going to certainly be very careful if it appears that he's getting tried. We have other guys who can spell him. But I'm anxious to see Carimi play. He came on real well at the end of preseason, really was run-blocking well. His pass protection has gotten better, so I'm excited to see how he matures.”
We’ll see what Tice has to say later this week but Carimi likely passed the test.
“I think he was just worrying too much,” Carimi said. “That is what he does. You always have to have a plan out there, right? I don’t think he meant it like I wasn’t ready or anything like that. Well, it sounded like it did.”
Carimi iced his right knee after the game but that is precautionary and preventative, like a pitcher icing his arm following an outing.
9. Unless Adam Podlesh shows up at Halas Hall on Monday with new soreness in his hip, you figure the team will cut loose rookie Ryan Quigley, who was an insurance policy this week. Podlesh punted five times Sunday with a 41.6-yard net. He had one touchback and Colts returner LaVon Brazill returned two punts for 12 yards.
It was a quick comeback for Podlesh, who suffered a left hip flexor injury against the Redskins on Aug. 18 in the second preseason game. He didn’t practice until last week.
“As far as the hip goes, it’s not really an issue,” he said. “I don’t have any pain. I don’t feel like I have to take some off of it at all.”
Podlesh didn’t need a pain-killing injection and said, “I’m not even on Advil.”
“(Athletic trainer) Bobby (Slater) and the whole training staff did a really good job of being smart and doing the right things,” Podlesh said. “We didn’t push it too quickly in the process of getting it back and really every day we did things to test it but it never was painful and we never had a regression from going too quickly. That is the reason why this went so smoothly and I am back on the field so quickly.”
Podlesh estimated he hit 30 balls in practice during the week. That is the same number of balls he’ll kick during a week when there are no injury concerns.
10. Newcomer Blake Costanzo did what the Bears were looking for when they signed him by leading the team with two special teams tackles, according to press box statistics. But no play was bigger than the forced fumble created by linebacker J.T. Thomas, who has stepped into a key role held by Dom DeCicco a year ago. Thomas caught the eye of special teams coordinator Dave Toub early in training camp and he’s a different player than he was a year ago when a back injury in preseason derailed him. Thomas has a new focus, particularly when it comes to special teams and he credits a full offseason program with that.
10 a. The Packers got rolled by the 49ers but in the interest of seeking even money on both sides, Green Bay was installed as a 5.5-point favorite by shops in Las Vegas on Sunday night. It will be interesting to see if that number moves much this week.
10 b. You didn’t notice J’Marcus Webb much and that can only be viewed as a good thing. He played a clean game and certainly benefitted when an ankle injury sent Dwight Freeney to the sideline early in the first quarter. Still, he’s got to block the man in front of him and Webb executed.
10 c. Defensive tackle Nate Collins is eligible to come off the suspended list Monday. The Bears do not have to clear a roster spot to activate him as they currently have 52 on their roster. Collins served a one-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Collins was also fined an additional game check, meaning he’ll be playing for free this week, assuming he is promoted to the 53-man roster. His check will go into a pool of money the NFL uses to fund charities. One that has benefitted in the past is the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Foundation.
10 d. You didn’t see a lot of Cover 2 from the Bears defense, not until late in the game anyway. That didn’t surprise the Colts even though it is Lovie Smith’s signature coverage.
“They played exactly what they’ve been doing,” wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. “They played some man, they played some Cover 3, they played Cover 2. We saw nothing different that we didn’t expect. We didn’t expect them to come in and play Cover 2 all game. Especially with a young quarterback. That’s what they did.”
Last edited by short faced bear; 09-10-2012 at 11:40 AM.
Arguing on the internet is like winning the special olympics, even if you win your still messed up.
Restore the roar!
High Fives / Like - 4 BEAR DOWN!, 0 Dislikes
Excellent overview of the team's performance. I feel really good about this year's team, even though it's at the beginning of our season.
Thanks For The Memories
Considering this was his first game calling plays I thought Tice did a good job. Not once did I find myself questioning a dumb call.
I'm getting to that age where a lifetime warranty just doesn't mean as much to me anymore as an afternoon nap. Honey Badger Don't Care. Honey Badger Don't Give a Shit.
I mostly agree, but hope they don't try to get too fancy again with Hester and those blasted end-arounds or bubble screens. I think I remember seeing at least one of each and none of them worked.
Originally Posted by soulman
"Give 100%. 110% is impossible. Only idiots recommend that." - Ron Swanson