Posted by Matt Clapp | 10/28/2013 09:07:00 PM | Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Jay Cutler, Joe DeCamillis, Marc Trestman, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, Mel Tucker, Robbie Gould, Tim Jennings
I meant to have this post up for you guys a few days ago since the Chicago Bears' bye week is on its final hours, but better late than never, and I figured you'd all have fun with this post to tell me how wrong I am (as always, feel free to post away in the comments).
Anyway, here's our take on the Bears position-by-position through seven weeks of the season...
Aside from one brutal half (vs the Detroit Lions in week four) the quarterback play from the Bears has been terrific. Jay Cutler has played approximately six and a half of the Bears' seven games, after he left the Bears' week seven contest against the Redskins in the second quarter with a torn groin. You just maybe have heard about that.
On the season, Cutler has 12 touchdown passes, seven interceptions, 1,658 passing yards (7.37 AVG) and currently has a better completion percentage (64.9; 146-225) and Quarterback Rating (91.7) than any season over his eight-year career. Cutler ranks top-10 in the NFL in completion percentage and touchdown passes, and is No. 5 in Pro Football Focus' QB Rating (93.38). He has only taken 10 sacks, ranking him 26th in the league in that category, and behind an offensive line that PFF has cumulatively graded 31st in pass-blocking. Marc Trestman's impact on Cutler has been very noticeable to anyone that's watched much of the quarterback over the years.
In relief of Cutler against the Redskins, 34-year-old quarterback Josh McCown was excellent. The nine-year NFL veteran completed 14 of 20 passes, for 204 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions, for a 119.6 QB Rating. He even brought the Bears from behind to take the lead in the final minutes. And he did that all without spending much time at all with the first-team offensive unit since training camp. So, all things considered, you couldn't have expected anything more out of McCown in that game.
Running Back: B
Matt Forte is having a tremendous all-around season (ho-hum). He's carried the ball 116 times for 533 yards (4.6 AVG), and six touchdowns, while also reeling in 35 receptions for 262 yards (7.5 AVG). Forte ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yardage, eighth in rushing yards/attempt, eighth in rushing yards/game, and fifth in rushing first downs (27). He also ranks second among running backs in receptions, and seventh in receiving yardage for running backs.
The 27-year-old Forte is on pace to finish with his second-best season in rushing yards (1,218), and is on pace to nearly double his best season in rushing touchdowns (on pace for 14, highest total is eight). He's also on pace for the most receptions (80) and receiving yards (599) of any season in his impressive career. He's been a perfect fit in Trestman's offense, and has been effective at the goal line, an issue he's struggled in the past.
So Forte's been great, but his backup, Michael Bush, has been a disappointment. Bush is averaging just 1.8 yards per carry, though it's been a small sample size (24 carries), and most of his carries have come in short-yardage situations. Still, his longest run has only been seven yards. Additionally, Bush has the worst PFF grade this season among Bears skill position players, at -4.1.
I was a big backer of the Bush signing before the 2012 season, really thinking the Bears got essentially a second starting running back, and at worst, a gold mine in short-yardage situations. But the production hasn't been there. I do think the Bears need to try to get him more involved, though, and perhaps he'd get in a bit of a rhythm and play better as a result.
Wide Receiver: B+
If we were going solely by the top two Bears receivers, this is an easy 'A'. Brandon Marshall is having another fantastic season, with 46 receptions (10th in NFL), 540 receiving yards, and five touchdowns. Marshall is the Bears' highest-graded player on the season by PFF at +12.3, and is PFF's No.3-graded wide receiver. PFF grades Marshall eighth in terms of pass-catching alone, and is their top-graded blocker at the wide receiver position, at +3.8. Jay Cutler has a 108.8 QB rating when throwing Marshall's way.
And then there's second-year wideout, Alshon Jeffery, who is showing why he should've been a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft (thankfully, he fell to the second round where the Bears traded up to snag him). Jeffery has burst onto the NFL receiver scene, reeling in 33 receptions for 561 yards (17.0 AVG, eighth in NFL) and two touchdowns. Like Marshall, Jeffery has been graded highly by PFF, currently ranking as their No. 12 overall receiver in 2013 with a +7.7 grade, and is their No. 10 receiver in yards per route run (2.21). And like Marshall, Jeffery's been fantastic as a blocker, with a +1.9 grade (sixth for receivers). Jeffery also has six carries for 88 yards, grading as PFF's top wide receiver so far in the rushing department (+1.6). His long arms and ability to go up and turn passes that look incomplete, into big plays, has been eye-opening.
However, after Marshall and Jeffery, no wide receivers have even a dozen receptions. Yeah, Forte is a huge part of the receiving game, as is tight end Martellus Bennett (more on him below), but it would be nice to see more production out of Earl Bennett for example. The Bears' slot receiver has 11 catches for 119 yards, and had a killer drop on what should've been an easy fourth down conversion in the fourth quarter of the Bears' loss to the New Orleans Saints. He at least has two touchdowns, with one of those being a circus catch that may have been a game-saver in the Bears' win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Bennett, who is in the third year of a five-year, $18 million deal , certainly isn't living up to his contract (blame former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo more for that, though), and at this point, it would be a surprise to see him in a Bears uniform in 2014, when his annual salary only escalates.
Rookie Marquess Wilson is the only other wide receiver with a reception... and just a single reception at that. Look for him to get more involved as the season goes on.
Tight End/Fullback: B-
Martellus Bennett has been an absolutely tremendous offseason addition by Phil Emery, as the tight end has 32 receptions for 356 yards and four touchdowns (second on the team in touchdown receptions). He has 22 first down receptions, ranking him second among Bears. Last season, Kellen Davis was the Bears' No. 1 tight end, and had fewer receptions (19) than Bennett has first downs through seven games. Bennett grades as PFF's No. 6 receiving tight end this season with a +6.7 grade.
Bennett, however, has struggled in an area he's usually very good- Blocking. He's been graded as PFF's worst pass-blocking tight end (-3.1), and their 46th run-blocking tight end (-5.1). However, he's played much of the season with a banged-up shoulder, and graded positively in every blocking department over the Bears' last three games (he was particularly impressive as a run-blocker vs the Redskins).
Veteran tight end Steve Maneri was signed in the offseason to be the primary blocking tight end (essentially replacing Matt Spaeth), and was released in the last week. He had no receptions on the season and wasn't all that impressive as a blocker too boot.
At fullback, Tony Fiammetta has been solid as a blocker and even had an unexpected, key 30-yard reception in the Bears' win over the New York Giants.
Offensive Tackle: C
Jay Cutler has only been sacked 10 times, so the general view has been that the offensive tackles have done a great job, but the reality is that Cutler and Marc Trestman/Aaron Kromer have done a great job masking some issues at the position.
Jermon Bushrod has been solid, and certainly a nice upgrade over J'Marcus Webb at left tackle. He's only been responsible for two sacks and five quarterback hits allowed, and that's while going up against some great defensive ends/pass rushers.
But Jordan Mills has had his struggles at right tackle, and that's to be expected with a rookie fifth-round pick being thrown into the fire of starting NFL games at offensive tackle from the get-go. Cutler and the offensive scheming thanks to Trestman have made Mills look quite a bit better than he's actually been. At the moment, Mills is PFF's second-worst-graded offensive tackle this season (-18.5), and grades as their worst pass-blocker (-19.3). He's only been responsible for one sack allowed, but a league-leading 30 quarterback hurries. The fact Mills is only responsible for one sack is because of Cutler getting rid of the ball quickly (thanks in large part to the tutelage and system of Trestman) and feeling the pressure.
To summarize: The play of the offensive tackles certainly hasn't negatively stood out, but the quarterback and coaching have made the offensive tackle play look better than it has. Whatever the case, it's still an upgrade from last year and should get much better with Mills's likely growth at right tackle
Veteran guard Matt Slauson signed a one-year deal for under $1 million with the Bears over the offseason, and he's currently PFF's No. 18 graded guard, grading positively in each the pass and run game. So far, that's been a great value signing by Phil Emery, and look for Slauson to get a more lucrative offer to remain a Bear in a few months.
Kyle Long, the Bears' first-round pick in April, has looked exceptional at times in the run game (PFF's No. 10 run blocker). Long's athleticism and strength absolutely stand out, and he looks like a very exciting prospect with the ability to possibly move to tackle in the future if the Bears so wish. His upside is as good as any interior lineman in the NFL.
34-year-old center Roberto Garza has had a resurgent season of sorts after looking to be on a steep decline over the previous couple of seasons. He's done a nice job in every department, and keep in mind that he's the only returning member of the Bears' 2012 offensive line, so his leadership and effect on the newcomers cannot be understated. Coming into the season, I would've basically written him off as a starting option at center for 2014, but now I'd be fine with giving him a short-term deal, and ideally grooming his successor.
Offense Overall: B+
Marc Trestman's effect on the offense through less than half a season has been extremely impressive, and the offense was progressing towards being a part of the top-tier group in the NFL before Cutler's injury. In an offensive, quarterback-focused modern-day NFL, you have to like how things are looking for the Bears' offense going forward. Can you remember a time when the Bears didn't have at least one glaring, position-specific hole on the offensive side of the ball?
Defensive End: F
Of 46 defensive ends among the PFF grading this season, the Bears' three main defensive ends all rank 27th or worse. They have accounted for a combined 2.5 sacks. To put that into perspective, 29 NFL defensive ends currently have at least three sacks.
The three Bears players I'm referring to are Julius Peppers, Shea McClellin, and Corey Wootton.
Peppers, frankly, looks old. Maybe he's hurt, but the Bears have shot down that idea more than a few times. Weeks three and four, he looked like the beastly Peppers we're used to, recording a sack and six quarterback hurries. But the rest of the time? Not good. He's been dominated at the line of scrimmage and the explosion football fans have seen for so many years from one of the best defensive ends of all-time has been nearly non-existent.
McClellin, Phil Emery's first selection as Bears general manager, looks like a bust. He is borderline useless against the run, and even his pass rushing has been below average. To be valuable, he needs to be a plus pass rusher. On the season, McClellin has a -11.7 grade from PFF, fourth-worst among their graded defensive ends.
Wootton has looked great at defensive tackle (more on that later), a position he's been forced into with injuries to Henry Melton and Nate Collins. But he disappointed in his four games at defensive end after getting the starting job to replace offseason departure Israel Idonije. Just one sack, and little overall pressure on the quarterback. He played well against the run, though.
Overall, it's been an unpredictably awful season from the defensive ends. There's no sugarcoating it.
Defensive Tackle: C
As I alluded to, injuries to Henry Melton and Nate Collins have made the defensive tackle situation a mess. Losing two of the team's top three defensive tackles to injuries has to be taken into account when grading the position. Neither of them played enough to really evaluate on the season, but we know from the past they're valuable contributors (with Melton looking like an All-Pro at times).
Stephen Paea has been banged-up himself, but overall has put together a solid season, and really, he's the only member of the starting defensive line and safeties to be a safe bet to enter 2014 with a starting job on the Bears.
Landon Cohen, a veteran signed off the street in-season has looked the part, with a -3.7 grade from PFF through 107 snaps. Same goes for undrafted free agent Zach Minter, who has a -3.1 PFF grade in 27 snaps.
Really, the best player at defensive tackle so far has been Corey Wootton, and he was the starting right defensive end through the first four weeks. PFF graded Wootton as a top-10 defensive tackle in weeks six and seven, which is pretty remarkable given that he's playing out of position (or so we thought). Is this position the better fit for Wootton? Far too early to say, but the results from his play there thus far are certainly impressive.
Another position currently decimated by injuries. Seven-time Pro Bowler Lance Briggs is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks with a fractured shoulder, and in week six, veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams was lost for the season with a torn pectoral tendon. Briggs looked like he was on his way to another Pro Bowl selection, and Williams made some impact plays at middle linebacker, including two sacks (tied for the team lead, sadly).
James Anderson has looked like another nice value signing over the offseason by Phil Emery, and with Briggs and Williams out, he'll have to keep up his level of play and be a leader out there as well, with the Bears likely to start two rookies in Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene next to him at linebacker. Bostic's talent has been evident, but it's been equally as evident how raw the rookie (understandably) still is.
After leading the NFL in interceptions in 2013, Tim Jennings has kept up his incredible ballhawking ways, with three interceptions and two touchdowns already. He's made a few mistakes in coverage, however, and has graded as one of PFF's worst cornerbacks against the run (-2.6).
Charles Tillman is so hard to assess this season, given that he's been banged-up in every single game he's played, and finally got a game off against the Giants. He clearly hasn't been himself in coverage, but still has three interceptions and has been his usual great self still against the run.
Second-year player Isaiah Frey has shown some nice things at nickel back in coverage and on the blitz. I'm not sure he'll ever be able to be a starter on the outside, but he looks like a nice piece for the Bears at nickel, at least.
Coming into the season, Chris Conte and Major Wright were two popular choices for breakout seasons on the Bears (myself included for both of them). But... they've each been terrible so far in 2013.
PFF has Conte as their No. 77 safety this season and Major Wright No. 84. That's out of 85 safeties. Each have been late in cover-2 coverage and out of place frequently, and each have missed seemingly a bazillion tackles.
It's fair to assume that consistent pressure from the front-four made Conte and Wright look quite a bit better, right? In my opinion, at least Wright will be gone after the upcoming offseason, and Conte may not have a starting Bears job in 2014 either. This is absolutely a position of need for the Bears when the offseason comes, unless Conte and Wright really pick up their play in the second half of the season.
Defense Overall: D-
There's no doubt the injuries have been a major factor, but no matter how you slice it, the bottom line is the defensive play has been a gigantic disappointment through seven games. In PFF's cumulative grading, the Bears' defense ranks only ahead of the putrid Jacksonville Jaguars' defense. They can't generate a pass rush, they can't stop the run... outside of the turnovers (which are frequently dependent on the other team simply screwing up), it's been awful.
How much of the blame should fall on defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is too early to assess, and regardless, the players are just flat-out missing tackles and showing no explosion on the defensive line. But if things don't get much better as the year goes on (and it's hard to believe things will given the injuries), Phil Emery has to take a long look at the impact Tucker has on the struggles. Either way, a major rehaul of the defense in terms of the players on it, is likely coming over the offseason.
Special Teams Grades
Robbie Gould may really be the best kicker in football. He's 12 of 13 on the season, and hit the longest field goal (59 yards) in Soldier Field history. With the game on the line, you trust this guy.
Gould will be a free agent this upcoming offseason, and while I'm very much against paying kickers and punters much money, I'd be pretty damn pissed to lose Gould.
Adam Podlesh is PFF's second-worst punter this season, and has had a number of punts that make you shake your head. And at least a few of this punts that ended up working out well for the Bears were duds that got fortunate bounces. The Bears even held a tryout at Halas Hall in recent weeks to put Podlesh on notice.
Kick/Punt Returner: B+
Devin Hester may not be quite as electric as he was a few years ago, but he's still very dangerous and has very good overall numbers this season. Hester has 21 returns for 615 yards (29.3 AVG) on kickoffs, and nine returns for 120 yards (13.3 AVG) and a touchdown on punts. He ranks in the top-10 in average return yards on each kickoffs and punts, and he's forced keeps to kick short or out of bounds more than a few times already.
Coverage Unit: D+
Veterans Blake Costanzo and Eric Weems have been very good in this department as usual, but the rest of the unit has been a disappointment. The unit has featured plenty of missed tackles and has allowed far too many big plays in the return game.
Special Teams Overall: C-
I miss Dave Toub. Toub is the best at coaching special teams in the business and the Bears were perennially one of the top special teams units in the NFL under his guidance and scheming. Not anymore. It's possible some of the players are just not doing their jobs on special teams, and new Bears special teams coach Joe DeCamillis is highly respected (he's long been considered a potential head coach too). But this unit is performing so much worse than we're used to seeing, and you have to think at least some of it has to do with the Toub-to-DeCamillis switch.
The Bears are 4-3, and still right in the thick of things in the NFC playoff race, but they only have one win over a quality opponent (the Cincinnati Bengals in week one), and the defense has been awful.
You'll take 4-3 at this point of the year of course, but things aren't looking very promising with all of the injuries to key players, and the defense only looking worse every week. However, you definitely have to like how the offense is progressing under a first-year head coach in Marc Trestman, and how things look there for the future.
I keep telling myself 'C' with this grade, but given that the team is a game over .500, we'll give them a slight bump.
Overall Grade: C+
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