The Chicago Bears (7-1) dominated the Tennessee Titans (3-6) from the first play of the game, ultimately winning in historic fashion 51-20. Charles Tillman’s forced fumble on the Titans first offensive play started what would be a career day for him and the Bears as a whole. He forced four total fumbles, Brian Urlacher rumbled 46 yards for the Bears seventh pick-six of the season, and Brandon Marshall caught a career-high three touchdowns. The Titans never had a chance.
Jay Cutler once again started off slow, but hammered the final nails in the coffin with two more fourth quarter touchdown passes. He now has eight on the year and a league best 135.0 QB rating in the final quarter. He made some nice adjustment during the game and found open receivers, completing 73.1 percent of his throws.
The Bears defense finished the day with five turnovers, two sacks and a blocked punt return for a touchdown to boot. They are clearly the class of current NFL defenses and will need to keep up the pace if the Bears want to make a Super Bowl run.
Let hand out some grades for, what I like to call, the Nashville Knockout.
Quarterback – B+
Cutler refuses to make anything look easy. He started off slow once again, but bounced back in the second half, going 11-for-13 for 145 yards and two touchdowns. He only turned the ball over once, which is going to be key moving forward. It’s hard to really judge Cutler on this performance, since the Bears had a big lead throughout most of the game. That being said, he seems to be making smarter throws and playing conservative when he needs to. Having Marshall makes his job a lot easier as well.
Wide Receivers – B
It’s hard to tell if Marshall is the only guy who can get open or if Cutler just prefers to throw to him. Earl Bennett had eight targets, but only hauled in four for 22 yards, while Devin Hester caught the only two passes thrown to him for 19 yards. We can assume that Marshall is going to get the bulk of the targets, but the other guys need to prove that they are capable of big games when Marshall is double/triple covered by top tier defenses (like the Texans and Niners in Weeks 10 and 11). Marshall made it look very easy this week catching nine passes for 122 yards and a career high three touchdowns. He may be the best receiver in the league through Week 9.
Running Backs – A-
How Matt Forte only receives 12 carries in a blowout is beyond me. His 8.58 yards per carry was the second best game of his career, and he looked to be unstoppable from the get-go finishing the game with 148 yards from scrimmage (103 rushing, 45 receiving). The screen pass is going to be very important moving forward. I sure hope Tice recognizes that.
Michael Bush didn’t have a very productive game, rushing 10 times for just 16 yards (six rushes for one or less yards). Armando Allen played some garbage minutes late in the game but had some nice runs, finishing with 10 carries for 32 yards. They will both need to step up if the Bears try to exploit the run against the very good run defenses of the Texans and Niners.
Tight Ends/Fullback – D
It was nice to see rookie FB Evan Rodriguez back on the field. He is a very capable blocker and will be useful in the passing game. Kellen Davis is still underachieving (another holding penalty) and has clearly proven that he has reached his mediocre potential. Matt Spaeth always makes a few nice blocks, but is also mediocre at best. Kyle Adams deserves more than just garbage time, especially since he is a threat to catch the ball. Word on the street is that offensive linemen Lance Louis (who had one catch on a tipped ball for a four yard gain) is campaigning to show off his versatility as a tight end, which he played his sophomore year at San Diego State.
Offensive Line – C
Just when you think J’Marcus Webb is improving, he takes a giant leap backwards. He was called for two penalties inside the Bears own 20-yard line, one of which resulted in a safety. The rest of the line did a decent job, but still allowed three sacks. This group needs to be much more consistent if the Bears want to contend in the playoffs. These next two weeks will be a big test. Gabe Carimi needs to string together consecutive solid performances to give himself some confidence. Don’t forget, he only played one full game last season.
Defensive Line – B+
Anyone who Rod Marinelli puts onto the field seems to step up big these days. DT Nate Collins was given a chance to play and proceeded to show his value, recording three tackles and a pass deflection. Corey Wooton seems to be raising the bar every week. He had a sack and recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown. Israel Idonije and Stephen Paea also got to the quarterback for a half sack each. The only blemish was an 80-yard touchdown run by the Titans when the game was already out of reach.
Linebackers – A
He may not run down as many wide receivers and running backs as he has in the past, but Brian Urlacher still has all his football smarts. He made a great play to intercept Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the first quarter, and then showed off some nice moves to return it 46 yards for a touchdown. Enough cannot be said about the leadership of Urlacher and Lance Briggs. They make plays and put other guys in positions to make plays. Urlacher also had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against the Titans. I think it’s safe to say that his knee is just fine.
Secondary – A+
Charles Tillman was the smartest man on the field this Sunday. He found a weakness and punched the heck out of it, leading to four forced fumbles. The record for an entire season is 10 (Osi Umenyiora, 2010), and Tillman already has seven through eight games. As long as he can make a fist, he should break that mark. The rest of the crew also played well. Tim Jennings had two deflections, Chris Conte had 3 deflections and a fumble recovery, and Kelvin Hayden covered up two fumble as well. The 80-yard run late in the game was bad, but backups Anthony Walters and Craig Steltz were the safeties who were to blame. Overall, the secondary did just about everything right on Sunday, including holding the Titans to 194 yards passing.
Special Teams – A
You could argue that the Bears special teams unit were the guys who really got the Bears going. In the first quarter, all-around special teams ace Sherrick McManis blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown and Devin Hester exploded for a 44-yard return that set up a touchdown. It was just maintenance after that.
Robbie Gould nailed six extra points and three field goals. He now ranks fifth in the league in scoring with 16 field goals and 26 extra points. Adam Podlesh only averaged 31.7 net yards on three punts. He will be very important over the next few weeks, which should be games won by whomever wins the field position battle.
Coaching – B
If you look at the scoreboard, it would appear that these guys are geniuses. However, I’m not ready to anoint them that yet. Mike Tice still worries me with his lack of calling running plays early in the game. Before the last two drives of the game, the Bears called 27 passing plays and 22 running plays. That seems like a little too much passing when you are up by 26 points after the first quarter.
Lovie Smith deserves credit for once again motivating his guys to start fast after their lackluster performance last week. The next two weeks against the Texans and Niners will show what Lovie is really made of. If he can win at least one of the two games, I will buy into his ability to lead this team to the Super Bowl.
Overall – B+