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Coming off the Bears bye week, I don’t have any Cutler interceptions, special teams miscues, or dumb coaching schemes to complain about so I’m going to summarize my takeaways from the first-half of the Bears season. It’s been pretty ugly, but there have been a few bright spots which I’ll touch on below to keep this from being completely negative. I’ll also list a few things that the Bears need to do in order to be competitive in the 2nd half of the season. The Bears may be 3-5, but they aren’t completely out of it yet and they do have the talent to turn it around. Whether the coaching staff can figure out how to use the talent is another matter.
1.) Jay Cutler is off to the best statistical start of his career
Cutler set career 1st half bests in every major statistical category (comp %, yards, TD, rating). His 67.3% completion percentage is tied with Peyton Manning for 6th best in the NFL, he’s 7th in the NFL in TD passes (ahead of Drew Brees and just 2 behind Aaron Rodgers), has a career best 95.8 passer rating (11th in the league), he’s thrown less interceptions than Andrew Luck and the same amount as Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, and he’s on pace for over 4,000 passing yards. So tell me again why Cutler is the reason the Bears suck? I’m not saying Cutler isn’t part of the problem. He does force the ball into coverage too often and seems to throw the ball to nobody at least once per game, but so does every QB in the league. Cutler is averaging 1 INT per game, which is acceptable. His decision making definitely needs to improve, but so does the play calling. The Bears have a QB with one of the best arms and one of the most talented receiving cores in the league, yet Cutler is averaging just 10.6 yards per completion which is 29th in the NFL. Cutler needs to protect the ball better, but the O-line needs to protect Cutler better. He’s been sacked 20 times which is the 6th highest total in the league. Most of that is on the offensive line, but part of that is due too Cutler holding on to the ball to long and part due to wide receivers who need to do a better job of getting open. Cutler is part of the problem, but is having by far his best season as a Bear, and isn’t the main reason that the Bears are struggling at 3-5.
2.) Matt Forte is one of the three best RBs in football
Forte is averaging 5.6 yards per touch this season, which is 2nd in the NFL behind only Le’Veon Bell. Despite Forte’s dominance, there were 3 games that Forte has 13 or less rushes and less than 20 touches overall. He is the Bears most consistent weapon and needs to be getting the ball 20+ times every week. The Bears also need to do a better job of balancing Forte’s touches; even in some of the 20+ touch games, Forte would get the ball 5-6 times in a row and then not at all the next drive. At times it’s like Trestman is still trying to figure out the Bears identity. Forte is the Bears best player and shouldn’t go more than 3-4 plays with touching the ball.
3.) Brandon Marshall may be over the hill
While Cutler is on pace for his best season ever, Marshall is on pace for his worst season since his rookie year when he barely played. He was banged up early in the season, but not enough to miss any games and is pacing for only 68 catches, 768 yards and 10 TDs. The touchdown numbers are nice but 68 catches is way off his average of 109 per season with the Bears. Some local beat writers are insinuating that Marshall’s off-field commitments, like his weekly Showtime appearance, are part of the problem but I think it has more to due with the fact that Marshall is 30 years old and could be slowing down. Marshall hasn’t been able to get separation from corners this season and always seems to have a DB draped all over him forcing Cutler to make a perfect throw. Hopefully it was the early season injury slowing him down and not age. We will see what Marshall looks like in the 2nd half. The Bears need Marshall at full speed in order to draw double teams and create 1-1 match-ups for Jeffery down field and Bennett over the middle.
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4.) WR Marquess Wilson might be the key to the offense in the 2nd half.
It’s a lot of pressure to place on a 2nd year player who only played 76 snaps last year, but the Bears have a huge hole at the 3rd WR position. They haven’t gotten any production from Santonio Holmes or Josh Morgan, which has allowed teams to double up on either Marshall, Jeffery or Bennett. A 4th weapon will open up the field for everyone and give Cutler another much needed option. Wilson got a lot of buzz this off-season and has the potential to be a dangerous weapon.
5.) The Bears run defense is much better than it was last season
Last season the Bears run defense was the worst in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (161) and yards per attempt (5.3) and 2nd to last in rushing TDs allowed (22). It was the worst defensive performance in the Bears long and glorious history so it wouldn’t take much to improve, but the Bears have actually been pretty good against the run this season. The Bears are giving up 110 rushing yards per game, which is the 11th best number in the league and have only given up 5 rushing TDs which is tied for 9th best in the league. Statistically the Bears run defense is actually pretty good. A healthy Stephen Paea, a full season of Jeremiah Ratliff, the addition of run-stopper Lamarr Houston and the solid play of rookies Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson have completely turned around the run defense. There are a lot of problems with this team and Phil Emery made some mistakes this offseason, but he should be lauded for fixing a massive problem in just one off-season.