Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
We saw the blueprint to success on Sunday during the Bears 27-13 victory over the Falcons. A semi-conservative offense with a few deep shots and a defense that puts enough pressure on the QB to keep him from finding the open man. It’s doubtful the Bears can pull this off every week, but it was fun to watch. The Bears were helped out by plenty of drops from the Falcons receiving core and a handful of ill-timed penalties, but the Falcons have been an excellent home team during the Mike Smith / Matt Ryan era (38-12) and the Bears beat them soundly on Sunday.
The special teams unit struggled again, which is a lingering problem that isn’t showing any sings of improvement, but it’s hard to focus on the negatives when the Bears kept their season alive with another road upset. The Bears collective backs were against the wall this week, facing a potential 2-4 record and 2 game deficit in the NFC North, but they outplayed the Falcons on both sides of the ball and are now 3-3 and just one game behind both the Lions and Packers.
There were a few problems in today’s win which I will get to in my takeaways but there were more positives than negatives for once and it feels pretty damn good to write about a Bears win after two consecutive bad losses. Even their earlier wins this season had a healthy dose of luck involved, but this is the first win all year that felt like the Bears beat a good team on both sides of the ball. Cutler played one of his most consistent games as a Bear, Forte was awesome as usual, the Bears had two 100-yard receivers (Marshall, Jeffrey), and most importantly the defense played its best overall game of the season.
1.) Jay Cutler played one of his best games as a Bear
The Bears are now 3-0 when Cutler doesn’t throw any interceptions, but turning him into a game manager just to avoid turnovers takes away Cutler’s biggest strength which is his rocket right arm. There were three throws on Sunday that Cutler launched off his back foot under duress that hit his target right in the hands 15-20 yards downfield. If Cutler can figure out when to use his cannon arm and when not to, the Bears offense will be tough to stop. There were still plenty of dump offs to Forte, but Cutler had 4 completions of over 25 yards and those were the difference in the game especially the 74-yarder to Alshon Jeffrey that set up a 6-yd Forte TD. The Bears have a distinct talent advantage at WR against almost any CB combo in the league and there is no excuse for not exploiting it with downfield throws. If the Bears can balance out the running and short passing attack with at least 1 deep ball per drive, this offense is going to be more effective. We saw a glimpse of that in the 2nd half Sunday and hopefully that will be the strategy moving forward. Cutler managed the game plan perfectly and played one of his best overall games as a Bear. He threw the ball away when he needed to, scrambled when nothing else was available and made a couple of highlight reel passes on 3rd downs to extend drives. For the day, Cutler had a 68% completion percentage and threw for 381 yards which is the most he has thrown for as a Bear.
2.) Welcome back Brandon Marshall
Marshall didn’t get in the end zone but had 6 catches for 119 yards and looked like the old Brandon Marshall for the first time since week 2. Marshall was able to get open today and was aggressive after the catch. His stiff arm of CB Robert Alford was Beast Mode quality and one of the most vicious I’ve seen.
3.) Kyle Fuller is the Bears best corner
He shut down fellow rookie Kelvin Benjamin last week, but was matched up with All-Pro WR Julio Jones this week. No problem. Fuller held Jones to 4 catches for 68 yards and also ripped the ball out of his hands for a league leading 4th forced fumble. In only his 4th week as a starting CB, the Bears were comfortable enough in Fuller’s ability to match him up with one of the best WRs in the NFL. The Bears have been giving Fuller more responsibility and tougher assignments every week and he continues to step up. Fuller has become the Bears best corner and is in the mix for defensive rookie of the year (w/ CJ Mosley).
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
4.) The unknown LB group deserves another chance to play.
The Bears were without all 3 opening day linebackers (Briggs, Williams, McClellin) and top backup Jon Bostic, but today might have been the best Bears LBs have played all season. The fact that a group of reserves including a 4th round pick last year (Khaseem Greene), an undrafted rookie (Christian Jones) and a guy they picked up off the waiver wire 3 weeks ago (Darryl Sharpton) clearly outplayed the starters the last few weeks should be an eye opener to the Bears coaching staff. As much as it hurts me to say, Lance Briggs is slow, D.J. Williams is a one-dimensional run-stopper who has a knack for dumb penalties, and Shea McClellin just isn’t that good. The new Bears LB core passed the eye test and held the Falcons to a season low 42 yards rushing. The Bears should take a long look at the tape this week and at least consider making some changes to the starting LB core. I know a veteran like Lance Briggs isn’t going to lose his starting job due to injury, but Greene, Jones and especially Sharpton all proved they at least deserve more playing time this season.
5.) The Special Teams unit still sucks
The Bears are already on their 3rd kick returner in Chris Williams and he was even worse than the last two with a 17.5 yards per return average. It is a bad sign when fans are rooting for a touchback. Luckily Devin Hester didn’t rub it in with a TD return, but he still averaged 22 ypr which is higher than any single game average by a Bear this year. The Bears were 26th in the league in return yards before the game and are probably close to the last in the league after another pathetic performance. Unfortunately, the return game was only part of the special teams problem this week: The Bears allowed a blocked extra point, had two holding penalties on fair catches(!) and rookie punter Pat O’Donnell had his worst game of the year with just a 40.2 average per punt. How many more weeks are the Bears going to give ST coach Joe DeCamillis to turn things around? There probably isn’t a quick fix out there, but after 6 weeks the Bears are moving in the wrong direction and drastic measures need to be made.
6.) Welcome back Martellus Bennett
Much has been written about Bennett’s disappearing act after week 3 the last few seasons. I didn’t mention it last week, but he was bad against the Panthers. They left him in single coverage most of the game and he couldn’t capitalize. In week 5 Bennett had a couple drops, missed a block that would have resulted in a game sealing TD by Forte and just looked apathetic for most of the game. When Bennett started this week’s game with two drops I was ready to rip him, but he caught his next one and shook a few tackles for an 11-yard first down catch. From that point on Bennett was solid and finished the day with 4 catches for 52 yards. It’s not a flashy line, but two of Bennett’s catches resulted in 1st downs, he caught a 2-point conversion and his run blocking was solid. The Bears need the Black Unicorn to stay focused all year, which would be a first for him and could result in a Pro Bowl season.