Bears

Bears grades: Unsatisfactory marks all around

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Bears grades: Unsatisfactory marks all around

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011Posted: 9:05 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
The offense cut its sacks-allowed total in half but also saw its rushing yardage slashed by nearly 80 percent in a game that was there to be won but was never in the Bears control primarily because of offensive issues.

Of the Bears 14 possessions, they had zero or only one first down on 12 of them.

QUARTERBACK: C-

The numbers were average but too many details were poor. Jay Cutler helped his offensive line initially with mobility in the pocket and quicker releases than in the New Orleans game. He finished with 21 completions in 37 attempts for 302 yards and two touchdowns, respectable enough in a game where he had zero support from any running game.

But Cutler was too often inaccurate with throws, resulting in two interceptions and also in some missed opportunities down the field. He continues to hold onto balls under pressure, although whether it is his receivers failing to gain separation or simply waiting too long looking for a big play is a matter of speculation.

RUNNING BACKS: D

Matt Forte was completely shackled, with 2 total rushing yards in 9 attempts. He caught 7 of 8 passes thrown to him and managed to turn one into a 28-yard gain. The lack of rushing offense remains a deadly noose around the offense and it is far from the fault of Forte, who was being hit too often before reaching the line of scrimmage.

RECEIVERS: D-

Johnny Knox may have established himself clearly as a starter even with Roy Williams back from injury and Dane Sanzenbacher is appearing more adept at hanging onto key passes than Williams or any of the receivers. Sanzenbacher caught his second TD pass in as many weeks with a third-down catch in the second quarter to stop some gathering Green Bay momentum. Knox caught a 24-yarder to created the first-and-goal that preceded Sanzenbachers TD.

Williams returned to the starting lineup, did not play well early and was a non-factor, used only sporadically as the game went on. The first-quarter Cutler INT was not a good pass but Williams did not alter his route on a long throw and should have been in position to challenge for the catch. Williams also dropped a TD pass in the second quarter that was redeemed by Sanzenbachers catch.

Devin Hester gave the offense a desperately needed boost in the second quarter with a 37-yard catch-and-run that set up the Bears first TD. But Hester also was guilty of a stupid dead-ball personal foul in the fourth quarter to cost the offense desperately needed field position.

Tight end Kellen Davis dropped a third-down pass in the third quarter but caught a TD pass in the fourth quarter to give the offense a lift that turned out to be its last gasp.

Receivers continue to drop too many passes, however. Cutlers accuracy is suspect to this point of the season but few of his receivers are establishing themselves as capable of making difficult catches to help him out.

OFFENSIVE LINE: F

The concerning overall is that the Packers do not present the bizarre scheming that the New Orleans Saints did and yet the Bears, even with familiarity, were unable to establish any sort of offensive momentum or continuity. Three different linemen (Frank Omiyale, Roberto Garza, Chris Spencer) were flagged for penalties on successive plays after a Brian Urlacher interception created a game-changing opportunity in the fourth quarter.

Despite missing two starters, the line gave Cutler time to let plays develop deep in the first half. But almost to a man the linemen stated that the team has a back the caliber of Forte but they are not doing what needs to be accomplished to get him any running room.

Cutler was sacked three times and hit unofficially just two times. But the line has yet to establish a shred of dominance through three games against good teams, and until the Bears do, they will not be one of them.

The evidence was there on the scoreboard: 27 Green Bay points. The Bears admitted to being flat to begin the game, inexcusable in a contest of this importance. Two opponents in succession now have put 27 or more points on the Bears.

DEFENSIVE LINE: D

Julius Peppers ended a first-quarter Green Bay possession with a third-down sack but he was offsides twice, once giving the Packers a first down in the second quarter. Peppers more than made up for that by inducing LT Chad Clifton into three false starts. Henry Melton recovered from a poor showing in New Orleans to post a first-half sack.

Melton, who had 3 tackles for loss, and Peppers each had a hit on Aaron Rodgers, the only two hits initially credited against the Green Bay quarterback.

But the interior defense was repeatedly caved in on run plays and the Packers became the third straight team to rush for 100 or more yards on the Bears. Ryan Grant got into the linebackers and secondary repeatedly on his 17 runs (for 92 yards). The Bears expected Green Bay to run and still couldnt stop it.

LINEBACKERS: D

Lance Briggs was initially credited with a game-high 14 tackles, two for losses, but he nullified a first-drive interception with an offsides penalty that allowed the Packers to retain possession on what would be a touchdown drive. Urlacher had an interception at the Chicago 45 in the fourth quarter that the offense wasted and he also broke up a pass.

But none of the linebackers provided any consistent run support and too often were out of position on Grant cutbacks. Nick Roach finished with two tackles but was used sparingly because of Green Bay's offense forced the use of nickel packages.

SECONDARY: D-

Charles Tillman made an end-zone interception that was nullified by a penalty in the first quarter, one of the few plays where the Bears truly beat Rodgers. The Green Bay quarterback completed 28 of 38 passes for 297 yards and a rating of 111.4, the second of three quarterbacks to put up a passer rating above 110.0 on the Bears already this season.

Injuries shook up the safety tandem; Craig Steltz started but was in poor tackling position on Green Bays first-quarter TD drive and was beaten badly on a third-down conversion in the second quarter. The DBs were no match for tight end Jermichael Finley, who caught three TD passes, and wideout Greg Jennings caught nine of the 10 passes thrown his way.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

A creative touchdown punt return by Knox was nullified by a holding penalty by Corey Graham completely on the other side of the field. The call was bad; the play was worse. Robbie Gould ran his successful field goal string to five and forced touchbacks with all 4 of his kickoffs. Adam Podlesh continued to punt effectively with an average of 42.6 yards on 7 punts.

The return game continues to produce virtually nothing of impact, however. Hester had one return of 21 yards. But no Bears possession started any farther upfield than the Chicago 32 after a kickoff or punt return.
COACHING: F

The Bears called 17 pass plays to six runs in the first half, not running particularly well but effectively taking away a chance at establishing a ball-control offense. Matters played out pretty much as they did in New Orleans and the offense finished with nine rushes by Forte, for a paltry two yards, vs. 43 pass plays (37 attempts, three sacks, three Cutler scrambles). The Green Bay defense had struggled in the first two Packers wins but was never challenged in this one.

The Packers offense was too effective running the ball inside and was only forced into three-and-outs four times.

Special teams planning of the trick punt return was exquisite, well-scouted and executed except for a stupid penalty.

The Bears also were admittedly flat early in the game. If this team could not get up for this game

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.

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 grade: C+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Josh Sitton (contract), Eric Kush (contract), Hroniss Grasu (contract), Bobby Massie (contract), Tom Compton (free agent), Bradley Sowell (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Andrew Norwell, D.J. Fluker, Justin Pugh, Josh Kline, Jonathan Cooper

How the Bears’ offensive line will shape up in 2018 begins with a decision on which the Bears are already on the clock. The team has until March 9 to pick up Josh Sitton’s 2018 option -- or, to put it another way, they have until March 9 to determine if Sitton was/is/will be good enough to justify keeping him and not netting about $8 million in cap savings, per Spotrac. 

For what it’s worth, Bleacher Report ranked Sitton as the league’s sixth-best guard in 2017. If the Bears’ grades of Sitton match those outside ones, then the team probably won’t cut him -- not destabilizing Mitchell Trubisky’s offensive line would be well worth the money in that case. While Sitton turns 32 in June, cutting him would put a lot of pressure on Kyle Long, who hasn’t been fully healthy since 2016. The Bears are hopeful that Long will be back to full strength after multiple offseason surgeries, but releasing Sitton and then signing/drafting his replacement would be a gamble on Long’s health. 

Sitton’s status is the first part of the Bears’ 2018 offensive line equation. There’s also a decision to be made on Bobby Massie, who Bleacher Report ranked as the NFL’s 14th-best right tackle last year but could be cut for about $5.5 million in cap savings, according to Spotrac. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Bears cut or kept both Sitton and Massie for now, then drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (like Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson or Texas tackle Connor Williams) and released one of them. Or they could keep both through the end of the 2018 season. All those options would make sense on some level.

What wouldn’t seem to make sense is the Bears cutting Sitton or Massie and replacing them with a free agent. This year’s offensive line free agent class, without adding any potential cap casualties to it, isn’t particularly strong. By Bleacher Report’s rankings, the best free agent right tackle is Houston’s Breno Giancomi, who’s 27th in that list -- 13 spots behind Massie. At left tackle, New England’s Nate Solder (No. 22) isn’t rated as highly as Charles Leno (No. 20), who we'll talk about in a bit here. 

The only potential upgrade available via free agency would be Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell (No. 2 in B/R’s rankings), who’s 26 and is in line for a big payday this spring -- but that would seemingly be counter-intuitive to releasing Sitton and then potentially paying more money to a different guard, even if he’s younger and has more long-term upside. The Bears could opt for a cheaper guard in free agency who could have some potential working with respected O-line coach Harry Hiestand -- the Giants’ D.J. Fluker (57th in B/R’s rankings) or Justin Pugh (42nd) fit that mold, as would the Titans’ Josh Kline (37th) or Cowboys’ Jonathan Cooper (38th). Or the Bears could keep Sitton and still sign one of those guys as insurance in case Long and/or Eric Kush, who tore his ACL last training camp, isn’t ready to start the season. 

Tom Compton and Bradley Sowell proved to be serviceable backups last year and could be an option to return, even with a new coaching staff in place. The health of Kush, who was missed as a reliable backup in 2017, will be important in figuring out what the Bears' O-line depth looks like. Hroniss Grasu struggled when he was on the field and missed time due to a hand injury, and despite playing for offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich at Oregon could be on the chopping block before/during training camp. 

We’ll finish here with some thoughts on Leno and Cody Whitehair. Could the Bears upgrade at left tackle and displace Leno to the right side of the offensive line? Possibly, especially if Hiestand believes he can make that move work. But it’d be odd if the Bears shifted Leno off left tackle and then signed someone who’s older and, depending on the evaluator, not even as good as him. 

This is all probably a moot point, since the Bears’ internal evaluation of Leno is what matters here. Leno is 26 and the Bears believe he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, so more than likely, he’s sticking where he is. At the very least, he’ll enter 2018 with a starting job on the Bears’ offensive line. 

One other offseason objective for Hiestand and the new coaching staff: Keeping Whitehair at the same position. Whitehair’s versatility felt like it worked against him at times last year, with the former regime opting to shift him between guard and center quite a bit from the start of training camp through the early part of the season. That instability seemed to affect Whitehair’s play, as he went through a bizarre patch of snapping issues after moving back to center and struggled to be as consistent as he was in 2016. But Whitehair finished 2017 strong, and keeping him at center for the entirety of 2018 could get him back on track to make his first Pro Bowl. 

2017 Bears position grades: Wide receivers

2017 Bears position grades: Wide receivers

2017 grade: D-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Markus Wheaton (contract), Dontrelle Inman (free agent), Kendall Wright (free agent), Josh Bellamy (free agent), Kevin White (fifth-year option)

Possible free agent targets: All of them? (But more specifically Jarvis Landry, Mike Wallace, Paul Richardson, Marqise Lee, Ryan Grant, Eric Decker, Albert Wilson, Donte Moncrief, Jaron Brown, Taylor Garbriel, Terrelle Pryor, John Brown, Allen Robinson)

The Bears cannot go into 2018 with a wide receiver core as weak as the one with which Mitchell Trubisky had to work in 2017. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to go out and sign Jarvis Landry for huge money and then draft, say, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, but adding multiple reliable wide receivers is a massive need for the offseason. A blend of free agents and draft picks seems like the most likely route.

Before we look at this year’s free agent class, a word on Cameron Meredith, who said this on locker cleanout day Jan. 1: “Training camp for sure I’ll be back. Right now it’s staying on pace so that I can do that. Yes, full recovery.”

The Bears shouldn’t count on Meredith to improve off his 66-catch, 888-yard 2016 season by virtue of him coming back from a torn ACL suffered last August. But it’s also not like any production from Meredith will be a bonus; if he’s even close to the player he was two years ago, he’ll be a significant part of the Bears’ offense.

So if the Bears are counting on Meredith to play in 2018, do they absolutely need to go out and splurge for the best receiver on the market in Jarvis Landry? Not necessarily. Landry reportedly wants Davante Adams money (four years, $58 million, with $32 million guaranteed) and might get more than that if a bidding war develops on the open market.

Would Landry be worth it? He followed consecutive 1,100-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016 with a league-leading 112 receptions in 2017, and won’t turn 26 until next November, so yeah, he very well could be. The Bears should have enough cap space to chase Landry, too.

But for a few reasons, Ryan Pace has either never landed nor pursued the priciest free agents in his three cycles as general manager. He splashed $38.75 million for Pernell McPhee in 2015; that was the 10th-largest free agent contract signed that year and has the 13th-highest amount of guaranteed money, per Spotrac. Danny Trevathan got $28 million in 2016 (22nd among free agents), and Mike Glennon’s ill-fated $45 million contract ranked 11th last year (with significantly less guaranteed money).

The other part of Pace’s free agency strategy hasn’t been under his control: The Bears just haven’t been an enticing destination lately. Cornerback A.J. Bouye -- 2017’s highest-paid free agent -- turned down more money from the Bears to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, for example.

The Bears hope that’s changing, with a promising franchise quarterback, a young and affable head coach and a major renovation to Halas Hall. For all the losing, and for all the gripes outside Lake Forest about John Fox, the Bears did have a good culture in their locker room. Selling the future of this franchise should be a lot easier in 2018 than it was in 2017.

Will that all add up to the Bears signing Landry to a huge contract? Not necessarily. The Bears could make a strong pitch and sizable offer, but he could be lured by another team that’s had more recent success (like the Oakland Raiders). Or Pace could continue to look for bargains in free agency, which hasn’t particularly worked out for him in the past, but then take a receiver with the Bears’ first-round pick.

But perhaps Pace will see his long-term vision coming together, and will see a big-ticket free agent like Landry being the guy who puts the Bears over the hump from winning to losing. He could be the franchise’s Jon Lester, or if you’re a hopeful White Sox fan, Manny Machado.

But here’s a counter to the argument for signing Landry: Kansas City’s offense last year didn’t have a big-time outside target. Tyreek Hill’s versatility and explosive playmaking ability made him the Chiefs’ best wide receiver, but he was able to line up at almost any position on the field. Albert Wilson (who’s a free agent) had the second-most targets of among Chiefs receivers with 62; tight end Travis Kelce was targeted a team-high 122 times.

The Bears don’t have a Hill or a Kelce on their roster. Tarik Cohen and Adam Shaheen could be the “light” versions of both, which may necessitate a need for better “traditional” wide receivers. That doesn’t necessarily mean Landry, to be fair.

Mike Wallace is 31 but showed he still has something in the tank, missing only one game the last two years while racking up 1,765 yards and eight touchdowns for the Baltimore Ravens. Paul Richardson had a breakout 2017 with the Seattle Seahawks, catching 44 passes for 703 yards with six touchdowns as an effective deep threat. Marqise Lee had 119 catches for 1,553 yards in the vertically-challenged Jaguars offense the last two years. Ryan Grant has never missed a game in his four-year career and is coming off a career best 45-catch, 573-yard season with Washington. The aforementioned Wilson caught 42 passes for 554 yards with the Chiefs last year, both career highs.

Perhaps no free agent receivers have as much to prove than Terrelle Pryor and Donte Moncrief. Pryor, like Alshon Jeffery, found the free agent market weak in 2017 and took a one-year prove-it deal, but instead turning it into an extension and Super Bowl ring, he bombed with only 20 catches for 240 yards with Washington. It’d be a risk, but if he can get the stink of 2017 off him and flash the talent that got him 77 receptions and over 1,000 yards with the Cleveland Browns in 2016, he’d be worth it.

Moncrief is another interesting name out there. He was targeted over 100 times in 2015 and caught 64 passes for 733 yards and six touchdowns as the big-bodied complement to T.Y. Hilton in Indianapolis, but struggled to stay healthy the last two years, only playing 21 games and totaling 56 receptions for 698 yards.

One other guy to highlight: Allen Robinson. The Jaguars probably won’t let him get away, but even if they do, would the Bears really want to sign him and then have three wide receivers coming off season-ending injuries (Meredith and Kevin White being the other two; Robinson tore his ACL in Week 1 last year). The Rams’ Sammy Watkins is also an impending free agent, but it’d be a huge surprise if Los Angeles let him hit the open market, so he’s not worth considering for the Bears right now.

We’ll see what direction Pace takes next month with free agency. But expect the Bears to return no more than one receiver from their Week 2 lineup -- Kendall Wright (59 receptions, 614 yards) is probably the only guy who could be back, if the two parties want to re-unite. Wright, as it stands for my grade, was the only guy keeping this unit from an “F,” as in a total failure.

Markus Wheaton, who became only one of nine players since 1992 to be targeted at least 15 times and catch fewer than 20 percent of those targets (he caught two passes), is likely to be cut. It’s unlikely Josh Bellamy or Dontrelle Inman will be re-signed (slight chance for Inman, but he disappeared in December). And the Bears probably will decline Kevin White’s fifth-year option, making 2018 a prove-it year for the former first-round pick.