Chicago Bears Week 14: Takeaways

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3.) The ILBs, McClellin & Anderson, did not

Shea McClellin continues to be a weak point of the Bears defense. Not only is he a tentative run defender who missed three tackles on Sunday but has struggled all season to cover athletic tight ends, which was never more apparent than this week when he attempted to stay with Skins TE Jordan Reed.

McClellin wasn’t the only culprit as rookie Jonathan Anderson, who has 4.5 speed and has excelled in coverage earlier this season, couldn’t stay with Reed either. Christian Jones was also beat a few times, though he usually comes off the field in the Bears nickle packages due to deficiencies in coverage.

No one the Bears put out there at ILB could slow Reed down as he picked apart the Bears during the Redskins first two scoring drives. The Bears should have given 2nd-year ILB Lamin Barrow a shot as he couldn’t have done any worse and is one of the Bears most athletic LBs with above average 40 (4.64) and broad jump (10’3″) marks at the 2014 combine and strong coverage skills in college.

I thought it was funny that Jordan Reed mentioned in his post game comments that the Bears shouldn’t have let Jon Bostic go, even though he routinely had the worst coverage grades of any the Bears ILBs in 2014, but Bostic was Reed’s teammate at Florida. Bostic probably wouldn’t have fared any better, but it looked like the Bears biggest problem covering Reed was communication not athletic ability. With McClellin’s main job on the field to call the plays and get players in the right place, I think most of the blame falls on Shea once again.

I swear I am not trying to pick on McClellin every week, but his value is becoming less apparent and on a team all but eliminated from playoff contention and McClellin in the last year of his contract, it’s time to see what younger players like Barrow, Anderson, and even John Timu can do with significant NFL snaps.

4.) Bryce Callahan may be even better than I thought

There may not have been a bigger Bryce Callahan fan than me when the Bears signed him this year, but even I was surprised how much his absence was missed in the secondary on Sunday. He was replaced by Sherrick McManis this week, who clearly is better off sticking to special teams coverage units.

The Bears missed Callahan’s aggressive coverage in the slot and sure tackling in the flat. Hopefully Callahan’s knee injury is a minor one and he can finish the season strong enough to earn a spot in the next year’s lineup. With the majority of the team on one year deals, almost every job on both sides of the ball is up for grabs.

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5.) Jay Cutler was OK, but came up a little short in the end

Statistically Jay Cutler had a solid game completing 19/31 passes for 315 yards and 2 TDs. He did lose a fumble on a strip sack, but had little chance as RT Kyle Long was beat badly by Trent Murphy who was on Cutler before he had time to do anything. Cutler’s awareness and ball security needs to improve but it has been significantly better this season than earlier in his Bears career and it’s hard to knock Cutler for a play he was blind-sided on.

Cutler was hamstrung by his offensive line for most of the first half and routinely put in 2nd or 3rd and long situations that have low success rates for even the top NFL QBs. He was also on the run for most of the game avoiding the rush while trying to extend plays. Cutler got little-to-no help from his line or his running game and basically brought the team back from 14 points deficits on two different occasions by scrambling out of trouble and finding open receivers when they were there.

Like most weeks Cutler was dealing with inexperienced receiving options like Deonte Thompson, Marc Mariani, and Zach Miller but still kept the Bears in the game. After completing a 50-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery on the Bears final drive to get them in scoring position, he under-threw Jeffery in the end zone on the next play and then missed Eddie Royal on 3rd down which would have given Gould a somewhat easier kick.

Cutler has ranked in the top half of all NFL QBs this season despite playing behind a makeshift O-line and with a group of no-name receivers, but had he played a little better on Sunday the Bears may have pulled off a victory. It’s unfair to count on Cutler to carry the weight every week, but that is what top-tier NFL QBs do and why they are paid accordingly. Cutler had a better than average game, but the Bears needed a little more out of Cutler this week and didn’t get it.

6.) Kyle Long had a rough day

After the Packers game I wrote about how Kyle Long was playing like a Pro Bowl quality right tackle, but the last two weeks he has regressed a bit and played his worst game this week since his first start at RT in week 1 against Green Bay. Redskins OLBs Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy are both solid pass rushers, but Long has faced better before this week with much better results. Long gave up two sacks on the day and allowed a crucial strip-sack to Murphy in the first half.

To Long’s credit he was thrown into the fire at a new position a few days before week 1 of the season and at times has performed like a Pro Bowl quality RT, but was far from it on Sunday. The Bears can’t afford to lose Cutler, by far the most crucial player on the offense, and need Long to step up and play well the rest of the way to keep Cutler clean and healthy.

Unless of course the Bears brass has decided to angle for a top five pick and then it may make sense for Cutler to “develop” a late season injury, but I can’t see a coach with as much pride as John Fox even considering a tanking approach the rest of the way. As much value as a top five pick would have, I agree with Fox that it is more important that his young team learns how to win games.

7.) Penalties on offensive line stalled offense, running game

I mentioned the struggles of right tackle Kyle Long and his may have been the most glaring, but he was far from the only weak link on the O-line Sunday. Rookie center Hroniss Grasu was awful, continually overpowered inside like he has been all season, including giving up a sack to Terrance Knighton on the 3rd offensive play of the game. Guard Matt Slauson was called for a holding penalty and Patrick Omameh, who started the season deep on the depth chart, had two holds as well. Even left tackle Charles Leno Jr, who arguably has been the most positive surprise on the O-line this season, was called for a hold on Sunday.

Long and Leno may be keepers on the outside, but the Bears need to drastically improve their interior line as the Bears haven’t been able to generate any push inside since the loss of center Will Montgomery to injury earlier this year. Despite the Bears having three quality RBs (Forte, Langford, Carey), none of them are averaging 4 yards per carry this year which is generally considered the benchmark for a solid NFL RB.  The Bears need upgrades at many positions this off-season, but maybe none greater than on the interior of the offensive line.

Matt Slauson is a solid option at guard, but center Hroniss Grasu just isn’t strong enough to handle NFL DTs right now. I’m not saying he’s hopeless, but he will have to get much strong in the off-season if the Bears plan on starting him at center next year. The run game has been significantly worse statistically with Grasu at center with the Bears averaging over a yard less per carry. Guards Patrick Omameh and Vlad Ducasse were signed as bench depth and that is where they belong. At minimum the Bears need to add at least one guard if not two through the draft or free agency.

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