Bears

Bears grades: Forte, Hester receive highest mark

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Bears grades: Forte, Hester receive highest mark

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011
Posted: 5:45 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
The Cam Newton Experience was overshadowed by a Bears game plan that featured 18 pass plays and 30 runs by backs. The Bears failed to pick up at least one first down on only two of 10 possessions and made the most out of possessions in a game that saw the defense and special teams each score touchdowns and send the Carolina offense back onto the field.
QUARTERBACK: B-

The numbers arent the whole story. Jay Cutler was a game manager. Period. He was asked to throw just 18 passes (17 he got off, plus one sack). He completed a pedestrian nine passes for 102 yards, second-lowest of his career for a full game and his rating of 46.7 was the lowest in his career for a victory. Cutler threw too high to reserve tight end Kyle Adams in the fourth quarter and was intercepted in the Chicago end of the field. But Cutler handled occasional pressure well and controlled the game for his offense.
RUNNING BACKS: A

Matt Forte ran for 205 yards, a career high, on 25 carries and caught four of five passes thrown to him for another 23 and was handed the ball as many times in the first half nine as he was during the entire Green Bay game and one short of his carry total against New Orleans. Forte responded with 94 yards and a TD. Forte made this a statement game for elite status and now has had 158 or more total yards in three of four games this year and his rushing touchdown was the Bears first this season.

Marion Barber was a welcome addition to the backfield, giving Forte relief in the first quarter with a first-down burst and putting the game out of reach with a 3-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.

Forte also provided support for Cutler in pass protection, contributing with several blitz pickups and support on double-teams where needed. Fullback Tyler Clutts did not touch the ball but was effective as a lead blocker.
RECEIVERS: B-

The offense only threw the ball four times in the first half but Dane Sanzenbacher and Roy Williams converted catches into first downs. Sanzenbacher had a drop on a third-down but the receivers delivered downfield blocking that occupied defensive backs and helped extend Forte runs.

Forte had five runs of longer than 10 yards; four of them 17 or longer. Those do not happen without receivers and tight ends making blocks downfield.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A

Frank Omiyale did a respectable job early, sealing the right side for Fortes 45-yard run in the first quarter. Chris Williams cleared the way for Fortes 17-yard TD jaunt in the second quarter, aided by effective back-side protection from center Roberto Garza. Chris Spencer started again for Lance Louis at RG but went out in the first quarter with a hand injury and Louis came on and played well, possibly winning his starting job back.

But Omiyale gave up a first-down sack in the second quarter and did not play well going into halftime, and Garza was flagged a play later for being downfield too soon. Spencer returned to start the second half and Omiyale was benched with Louis moving out to right tackle, a position he had never played previously.

Louis played three different positions right guard, right tackle, tight end. The line gave Cutler adequate protection and was the key to Fortes 205 rushing yards.
COACHING: A

The Bears set up their passing game with throw-back football, running the ball on all eight plays of their opening drive and two out of three on their second. The game plan extended to running the ball on 13 of the first 14 plays and resisted the Mike Martz inclination to throw even though the Carolina pass defense has been one of the NFLs worst at allowing yardage and was without starting cornerback Chris Gamble.

More impressive perhaps, players talked afterwards about the adjustments coaches were making between each series to counteract Carolina scheming and also to maximize what they knew they would be able to do against the Panthers.

Newton played up to his reputation and stats, putting 543 total yards and 29 points on the Bears in their own house. It was a game the defense will take but cannot afford to repeat as a punt return and interception return saved the Bears, who gave up 10 plays of 20 yards or longer.

DEFENSIVE LINE: F

The front got barely any pressure on Newton and too often lost containment both of Newton and Carolina running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Carolina backs averaged 7.4 yards per carry and too often were getting to the second level, while Newton was rarely hurried and never sacked.
LINEBACKERS: D-

Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher each were credited initially with eight tackles and each made solid individual stops at crucial points. Their combination hit on Legedu Naanee resulted in a tipped ball that was grabbed and returned for a TD by D.J. Moore. Briggs provided some blitz pressure but backs were too frequently getting shoulders turned before linebackers were able to fill run gaps.

SECONDARY: D

Moore's interception return was one of the few big plays by the secondary. The defensive backs were embarrassed for 374 passing yards and 9 plays of 20 yards or longer by a rookie quarterback and receivers who clearly were ramped up to stick it to the Bears. Brandon Meriweather was burned by Steve Smith in deep coverage as Smith finished with 181 yards on eight catches. The Bears limited the receivers to a late TD by ex-Bear Greg Olsen but too many times were beaten for big plays.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Devin Hester exploded a 73-yard KOR from nine yards deep in the end zone with excellent blocking to set up the Bears second TD. He topped that with 69-yard punt return for a touchdown to set an NFL record of 11 punt returns for touchdowns.

Julius Peppers blocked a short third-quarter field goal try by Olindo Mare. But Zackary Bowman cost the Bears field position by failing to locate the ball on a fourth-quarter punt that went for a touchback instead of giving Carolina the ball inside its 10.

Hester, Johnny Knox and Kahlil Bell returned three kickoffs an average of 31.3 yards, Knoxs one for 32 yards and Bell 20.

Adam Podlesh punted for a modest 39.3 average but dropped two of four inside the 20 and another for a touchback. Robbie Gould converted from 20 and 24 yards in his only two attempts.

COACHING: B

For the second straight week the Bears appeared ill-prepared for the intensity of an opponents opening drive. The defense rallied after a coverage breakdown on Carolinas second possession but rarely stopped the Panthers all afternoon. The decision was made not to spy Newton but the lack of pressure called for some adjustment somewhere to cut down on his time to throw.

Special teams preparation gave Hester decision-making authority on kickoff returns, the reason he brought one out from deep in the end zone.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

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USA Today

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

Since the Bears inserted Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback, they've had 12 drives end with a field goal — an average of two per game. Connor Barth hit nine of those dozen kicks, which had an average distance of 38.4 yards, but all three of Barth’s misses came from 45 yards or longer. 

Barth’s missed game-tying 46-yarder in the final seconds Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the last straw for someone who hadn’t been consistent in his one and a half years in Chicago. So enter Cairo Santos, who made 89 of 105 field goals (85 percent) from 2014-2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly: Santos has made 73 percent of his career field goals from 40 or more yards; Barth made 52 percent of his kicks from the same distance with the Bears. 

(73 percent from long range isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either: Philadelphia Eagles kicker and Lyons Township High School alum Jake Elliott has made 88 percent of his 40-plus-yard kicks; Harrison Butker, who replaced Santos in Kansas City, has made 90 percent of his kicks from that distance. Both players are rookies who were drafted and cut prior to the season.)

Santos was released by the Chiefs in late September after a groin injury landed him on injured reserve (he played in three games prior to being released). The injury wasn’t expected to be season-ending, and Santos said he’s felt 100 percent for about two weeks before joining the Bears on Monday. 

“It was a long and difficult battle, but I was confident that it wasn’t going to be a serious injury, I just needed time,” Santos said. “I dealt with it in training camp, I was kicking really well, I was the only kicker in KC, and I didn’t have the appropriate time to heal. I tried to play the first three games and it got worse, so my main goal was to get 100 percent. I’ve been kicking for about a month now and finally the last week been able to come here and visit with the Bears. The muscle is in good shape to come and take a full load of a week’s practice and games, so thankful the opportunity worked out.”

For Santos, these next six weeks can be an audition for him to stick in Chicago next year. If the Bears can look optimistically at the improvements made by the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams with second-year top-drafted quarterbacks, they’ll need to figure out their kicking situation sooner rather than later. Bringing in Santos provides a good opportunity for that down the stretch. 

“He’s kicked in Kansas City, which is a similar climate,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “Their field is similar to Soldier Field. He’s played in some big games, played in some important situations and he’s, by and large, been successful in those situations.”

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

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USA TODAY

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

I’ve always placed great stock in the drama tenet, “Action is character.” What an actor/person does in significant part defines their character, or lack of same.

Conversely, in some situations, what someone doesn’t do can be equally defining or revealing. A couple of those involving the Bears are worth noting, because they suggest things about John Fox and and his staff, and perhaps a bit of what players think of them.

Nothing stunning, just a case of when you pull the camera back for a little wider angle, a broader picture forms out of seemingly separate or isolated incidents. Fox has never lost his teams through three generally miserable seasons, those teams consistently played hard through bad times. A handful of specific situations offer some insight into perhaps why:

The Cohen conundrum

Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains came in for scalding criticism for their recent seeming under-utilization of running back Tarik Cohen. The closest either came to laying out the real reason was a reference to concerns about the rookie’s pass-protection capabilities, no small issue against Green Bay and coordinator Dom Capers’ blitz proclivities; coaches want to see Mitch Trubisky wearing a Bears uniform, not Clay Matthews.

Cohen may be the Bears’ leading receiver, but if a back can’t present the viable option of pass protection, the offense is limited even more than it already is anyway with a rookie quarterback.

Come forward a week: Overlooked in the aftermath of the loss to Detroit, in which Cohen was not part of the hurry-up offense driving for a winning or tying score, was the fact that Cohen simply didn’t know the plays well enough in that situation. Fox didn’t say so. Neither did Loggains.

Cohen did.

Asked afterwards what he wasn’t solid with, Cohen owned it: "Probably the hurry-up plays at those positions. I know certain plays at those positions, but to open up the whole playbook with me, I’ll have to learn all of those plays.”

Should he have been up to a faster speed in week 10? That’s another discussion. But like it or not, his coaches were not going to be the ones to out him.

The Howard hassle

Jordan Howard finished 2016 second to only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in rushing yardage. He began the year inactive for game one and lightly used in games two and three. The reason Loggains gave from the podium was that coaches didn’t really know what they had in Howard.

Yes. They did. But Loggains didn’t cite Howard for not being in shape to carry the load the offense needed. Neither did Fox.

Howard did.

“I should’ve been in better shape,” Howard said at the outset of training camp last July. “I should’ve been playing earlier if I would’ve handled what I had to do.”

Some very effective coaches have used public embarrassment for motivation; Mike Ditka assessed that he wasn’t sure Donnell Woolford could cover anybody, and Buddy Ryan summarized that “No. 55 [Otis Wilson] killed us,” for instance.

Fox and his staff don’t do that and they’ve have taken the heat for their players, which does frustrate those tasked with accurately reporting sometimes hard information.

Medical restraint

Fox’s tenure has been awash in major injuries to pivotal players. He has made points in his locker room by shielding those players and their issues whether outsiders like it or not.

That started back with Kevin White and the infamous stress fracture that Fox was accused of knowing about and lying that he didn’t. The real situation was that medical opinions (and the Bears had gotten a bunch) were divided to the point where the Bears opted against surgery until it was conclusive that the shadow on an x-ray was indeed a fracture. Fox refused to call the injury a stress fracture with the doctors so divided, and he was pilloried for it. But not in his locker room.

The organization very much needed Pro Bowl lineman Kyle Long this season for an offense that certainly wasn’t going to live on the arm of Mike Glennon. Long was testy and combative during training camp, and “honestly I’ve been champing at the bit to get back,” he conceded, “but they’ve done a good job of pulling the reins a little bit and making sure that I understand that it’s a long season.”

Small things, not necessarily connected, but as Fox’s third season winds down, what his team shows will factor into decisions on his future. The Bears right now, after the Green Bay and Detroit losses effectively ended the “hope” part of their season, are entering that dreary phase of a year when effort will be critiqued as critically as performance.

The on-field results now will say something about character, Fox’s own and the collective one he has worked to instill since January 2015.