As I mentioned in my Rapid Reaction column, the Bears are 3-0 but have yet to play a complete football game. There were plenty of positives in their win Sunday night, but more than a few negatives as well. I’ll cover both in my takeaways below:
- Jay Cutler – Mr. 4th quarter does it again. In all three wins this year, Jay Cutler has led a clutch TD drive in the 4th quarter. Last night’s drive wasn’t technically a game winner, but the Bears were on the ropes and in danger of blowing a 21 point lead when Cutler ran over Steelers safety Robert Golden on a huge third down early in the drive and then made two great throws for a 41-yard gain to Marshall and a 17-yard TD to Earl Bennett. If the Bears don’t score on that drive, the Steelers get the ball back with a chance to take the lead. Instead, Cutler calmly led his team down the field and put the Steelers away with his perfect strike to Earl Bennett in the corner of the end zone. Hopefully the Bears won’t need Cutler’s 4th quarter heroics every week, but it’s nice to know he can produce in the clutch.
- Defensive takeaways – It’s getting to the point where I expect a defensive touchdown or two every game. As we learned last year, those defensive points could disappear at any time. Without the defensive touchdowns the Bears could easily be 0-3, so the offense needs to be more consistent and show it can win without relying on defensive scores.
- Running game struggled again: Cutler has come through when needed and the defense has scored every week, but the running game continues to be a weak spot for the Bears. Outside of Forte’s nifty 55-yarder in the first quarter, the Bears failed to convert any big plays in the run game. Both Forte & Bush were repeatedly stuffed at the line on most of their carries. In their defense, the play-calling was very predictable and didn’t do them any favors. The offensive line wasn’t opening holes either. I think the problem lies in a combination of cautious play-calling and poor run-blocking. The Bears aren’t going to stay undefeated if they can’t run the football consistently and can’t convert short yardage opportunities. Michael Bush had 9 yards on 8 carries. At 245 pounds, what good is he if he can’t consistently convert short yardage opportunities? I wouldn’t mind seeing rookie Michael Ford get a shot in short yardage if Bush continues to be ineffective.
- Julius Peppers – Good to see you again, Julius. Peppers didn’t record a sack and only had 1 tackle, but it was the first time all year he was noticeable on the field. He had a few pressures on Roethlisberger, forced a holding call, and returned a fumble for a 42-yard TD. No milk carton for Peppers this week!
- Henry Melton – Melton was still a non-factor on defense, though he did recover a fumble proving he was actually on the field. Unfortunately that is all the Bears are going to get from Melton this year as MRI results revealed a torn ACL and ended Melton’s season before it really began. Nate Collins should see most of Melton’s minutes, but look for the Bears to bring in free agents to try out this week or activate rookie DT Zach Minter who has been on the inactive list the first three weeks.
- Blitzes – Credit Mel Tucker for adjusting to the lack of pressure by the Bears D-line and devising a blitz scheme that the Steelers clearly weren’t ready for. DJ Williams & Lance Briggs blitzed often and each forced a fumble that the Bears recovered and led to touchdowns. The blitzes did open quite a few passing lanes for Roethlisberger, but also created much needed pressure which forced rushed throws on 3rd down leading to a 3-11 3rd down conversion rate for the Steelers.
- 406 passing yards for Ben Roethlisberger: The downside of blitzing interior linebackers is it leaves a hole in the middle of the secondary. The Steelers were able to capitalize on this all night as Roethlisberger repeatedly found Antonio Brown or one of his tight ends wide open between the hash marks. The secondary was also consistently fooled by Roethlisberger pump fakes (Conte in particular). I’m of the mindset that it doesn’t matter how many yards you give up as long as you win, but it’s hard not to worry about giving up 400+ yards to a team that came in averaging 221 passing yards per game.
- Rookie O-linemen: Kyle Long & Jordan Mills were playing their first NFL road game in hostile Heinz Field against the Steelers complex defensive scheme. I was worried, but shouldn’t of been. Both Long & Mills played like seasoned vets last night keeping Cutler clean for most of the game, avoiding both false-start & holding penalties, and opening a huge hole for Forte on his 55-yd first quarter run. The run game was inconsistent most of the night but the majority of the successful runs came when Forte ran to the right side behind the two rookies.
- Other Wide Receivers– Brandon Marshall & Martellus Bennett have been Cutler’s primary weapons the first two games of the season, but the Steelers were able to limit them to just 5 catches for 72 yards total and keep them both out of the end zone. They both made big catches on the Bears 4th quarter touchdown drive but were non-factors for most of the game. Alshon Jeffrey stepped up with 7 catches for 51 yards and caught everything that was thrown near him. Earl Bennett had his first two catches of the season, the second a beauty in the corner of the end zone for the game sealing TD. Most defenses the Bears face will be focusing on Marshall & Bennett, so these two need to prove they are reliable options for Cutler and they both came through last night in a tough road environment against a quality secondary (4th in passing yards allowed).
- Good as Gould – He doesn’t get a lot of attention, but Robbie Gould is one of the best kickers in the league and I have 100% faith in him every time he lines up for a kick under 50 yards. I think he’s taken for granted, but a kicker that is reliable from 50 in is a great weapon to have.
Topics: Chicago Bears