Chicago Bears Week 8 Report Card
Chicago Bears Week 8 Report Card
Surprisingly, yesterday’s game between the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bears came down to the last second. The Bears (6-1) looked like the underdog for the majority of the game while the Panthers (1-6) showed their dominance, only to receive their sixth loss of the season as a result.
Chicago’s defense once again carried the team throughout this battle. Despite giving up over 400 yards of offense to Carolina and allowing them to convert on 10 of 19 third downs, the Bears held the Panthers to field goals five times and only surrendered one touchdown.
When it mattered most, all three phases of Chicago’s team came up big and escaped Soldier Field with a 23-22 victory, giving them the second-best record in the NFC.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Bears’ offense found the end zone to cut Carolina’s lead to five points. On the following drive, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw an interception to Bears cornerback Tim Jennings that was returned for a touchdown.
After the Panthers regained a 22-20 lead, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler methodically marched the offense downfield to set up kicker Robbie Gould for the game-winning field goal as time expired.
The Bears have shown this season that they can win big, and now have proved that they are resilient enough to win even when their backs are against the wall.
Regardless of how the victories come, a win is a win, and after the second-place Minnesota Vikings loss this week, the Bears appear to be in the driver’s seat in the NFC North.
Even though Chicago prevailed in this Week 8 battle, a few things didn’t sit well with me as far as performance on the field and coaching. Here’s my take on how each position performed this week.
For the second week in a row, Jay Cutler didn’t put up eye-popping numbers. Cutler completed 19 of his 28 pass attempts for a modest 186 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Cutler was pressured constantly in the first half and was sacked six times. A few of the sacks was a result of him holding the ball too long. In addition, Cutler fumbled twice, and threw an ill-advised interception in triple coverage in the first quarter. Only five players were targeted by Cutler throughout the entire game, and half of his pass attempts were to wide receiver Brandon Marshall. His high dependency on one receiver may come to haunt him and the team later on in the season. However, in crunch time, Cutler engineered the game-winning drive in the final two minutes.
I can’t blame running back Matt Forte for not getting the amount of carries he should have gotten in this game. Forte carried the ball only 15 times for 70 yards and a touchdown, which comes out to be an average of 4.7 yards per carry. His first four carries of the game resulted in 44 yards. The same goes for running back Michael Bush, who touched the ball only three times. In addition to Forte’s contribution on the ground, he also had five receptions for 24 yards. I’m willing to overlook the pedestrian numbers put up by Forte, and just focus on how productive he was with the opportunities that was given to him by Chicago’s coaching staff. If there were ever a time for Forte to complain about not getting the ball enough, this would be the time.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Once again, Brandon Marshall was the clear-cut standout in the receiving corps. Marshall caught nine of the 14 passes thrown his way for 98 yards. The Pro Bowl receiver came up even bigger in the final drive of the game. Fellow receiver Earl Bennett, minus the orange shoes, jumpstarted the offense late in the third quarter with two big first down catches. Tight end Kellen Davis’ only catch was hands down his biggest catch of the season, which was a touchdown that started Chicago’s comeback. Devin Hester struggled this game, coming up with just one catch for five yards and had a dropped pass that would have extended an offensive drive for the Bears in the third quarter.
Although some of the surrendered six sacks in the first half seemed to be Cutler’s fault, the offensive line was surprisingly dominated by Carolina’s defensive front. The six sacks that were allowed were in the first 15 drop backs of the game for the Bears offense. In addition, there were a couple of costly penalties from the front line; including another false start by center Roberto Garza, (I still can’t understand how a center false starts). The only thing that helped the offensive line was the max protection help from the running backs and tight ends, which left only one receiver running routes on pass plays at times. Chicago’s offensive line problems need to be fixed quickly.
Chicago’s defensive line didn’t wreck havoc in the manner that Carolina did on Cutler, but they did get to Cam Newton a couple of times and added some pressure on the Panthers’ second-year quarterback. Defensive end Julius Peppers added two more sacks to his now team-leading 5.5 sacks, and forced a fumble as well. The rest of the defensive line did a good job in pressuring Newton into rushing his throws. One of those throws resulted in an interception near the end of the first half that could have potentially been another scoring drive for the Panthers. Chicago’s defensive front continues to prove that they are the reason why this defense is considered one of the best in the league this season.
Similar to last season, Newton rushed for 37 yards, but unlike last season was kept out of the end zone. Chicago’s linebackers did a wonderful job in containing Carolina’s quarterback for most of the game in scrambling situations. Even though a total of 119 yards was allowed by the Bears’ league-leading run defense, Panthers running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams averaged 2.5 and 3.0 yards per carry respectively. Although this is the first time since Week 4 that a Bears linebacker didn’t come up with a takeaway, this group can still be considered one of the best in the NFL. Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Nick Roach will have plenty more chances throughout the rest of the season to add to Chicago’s number of tackaways.
The player of the game has to go to Bears cornerback Tim Jennings. The seven-year veteran came up with at least three big plays in this game. The two obvious plays were his two interceptions. The first came before halftime and the other put Chicago up 20-19 in the fourth quarter. The one play that was overlooked was in the final five minutes of the first quarter when Newton connected with Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell for 62 yards. Jennings tracked him down and saved a possible touchdown. Even though Panthers veteran receiver Steve Smith did get over 100 yards receiving, Jennings did keep him out of the end zone. As for the rest of the secondary, they made sure that the rest of Carolina’s receiving corps was a nonfactor. However, Carolina did start inside their own 20-yard line numerous times, and were still able to get into field goal range.
The kicking and punting game were very crucial in this matchup. Bears kicker Robbie Gould did kick his 10th career game-winning field goal to preserve Chicago’s sixth win of the season, but missed a 33-yarder earlier in the game (the shortest miss in his career). Even though the wind was blowing, punter Adam Podlesh landed three of his four punts inside the 20-yard line and averaged 44.8 yards per punt. In the return game, Devin Hester was taken out of the game by not having the ball kicked to him at all during kickoffs. Six different Bears touched the ball on kickoffs due to the Panthers’ decision to squib kick on every kickoff.
Defensively, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli put Chicago’s defense in the right positions to make plays. The number of yards might say otherwise, but the design of the Bears’ Cover-2 scheme leaves the middle wide open, so the 400-plus yards isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise is the play calling on offense. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice didn’t even give Chicago’s running game a chance.
Tice and head coach Lovie Smith must have forgotten that last year Matt Forte ran for over 200 yards against this same Carolina Panthers team, and a year before that Forte racked up 166 yards when facing Carolina. Forte’s 70 rushing yards could have been 170 if they would have stayed committed to the run, and this win would have come much easier than it did. Also, the coaching staff failed to take advantage of the great field position that was given to them throughout the entire game.
Although Chicago has a lot of weapons on offense, they are still searching for their identity. By this time in the season, a team should know whether if they are a passing team, a running team, or an equal combination of both. The Bears better figure it out, and figure it out as soon as possible.
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