Bears Grades: Jeffery, tight ends step up in the clutch


Bears Grades: Jeffery, tight ends step up in the clutch

Zach Miller’s first TD catch since 2011, a spectacular one-handed grab of a high-sailing throw from Jay Cutler, was good for a 25-yard touchdown with a little over three minutes to play. The score capped a comeback from a deficit of 13 points in the second quarter.

“I knew going into it,” Miller said. “I saw the coverage right away and I just had to get to a spot where the throw was going to be made. I didn’t want to get pushed too wide and lose leverage on the safety. Jay made a great throw. I just had to go get it.”

Martellus Bennett had catches for 12 and 17 yards in the first quarter, but his execution as an in-line blocker on his second-quarter TD catch was outstanding. Bennett sold the play with a power run block on play action to Jeremy Langford, then drifted into the flat where he was all alone.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

“It was a play we worked on all week,” Bennett said. “I knew they were going to come down really quick once I put my hands on the end. Shed the end and get to the pylon, just the way it was drawn up.”

Bennett caught eight of the nine passes thrown to him for 57 yards while Miller’s was one of his two for the game.

After superb games against Detroit and Minnesota, Jeffery struggled early. He let a catchable third-down conversion get away in the second quarter when the Bears needed to sustain a third drive and had a second ball elude him in the first quarter.

But Cutler clearly was looking for him as the game unfolded, targeting him 16 times, of which Jeffery caught 10 to match his total from the Minnesota game. Jeffery’s total of 151 yards was the third-highest of his career.

Moon's Game Grade: A+ 

The receiver group has been hampered by injuries and occasional inconsistency, with flashes of excellence. Martellus Bennett has confirmed his place as one of the elite all-around tight ends, less visible at times than he was in the Marc Trestman offense and its throw-first philosophy.

Being without rookie Kevin White was a setback dating back before training camp, and injuries have conspired to make it that Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal have been active together for just three of the Bears’ eight games.

[MORE: MNF win over Chargers a 'starting point' for Bears playoff run?]

Jeffery’s return to the lineup has produced 28 catches and two touchdowns over the past three games.

“He’s a big-time receiver,” said coach John Fox. “This is our first year with him. It started a little slow with nagging injuries. He worked very hard to get back and he’s been a big part of our offense in the last three games. It sure helps when you have that kind of player out there.”

Marquess Wilson has failed to play up to expectations while Marc Mariani has quietly earned more playing time and more confidence from quarterback Jay Cutler.

Moon's Mid-year Grade: B

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

The Chicago Bears have a really good problem in their backfield. Both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will demand touches in 2018 and are each starting-quality running backs. Howard is the more traditional first and second-down back while Cohen offers top-tier playmaking ability.

The duo is so talented that they were recently ranked the fourth-best backfield in the NFL.

The Chicago Bears' Jordan Howard has emerged as one of the NFL's top rushers. He finished his rookie season with 1,313 yards, second-most in the NFL. Last season, he rushed for 1,122 yards and 4.1 yards per carry even though Chicago had the league's least threatening passing attack (175.7 yards per game).

Howard isn't the only standout back on the roster, though. Tarik Cohen is a supremely talented runner and receiver and a perfect complement to Howard. Last season, he amassed 370 rushing yards, 53 receptions and 353 receiving yards.

The Bears' backfield was behind only the Rams, Saints and Chiefs.

Howard set Chicago's rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016 and became the first Bears running back to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He should be the Bears' primary back, but coach Matt Nagy expressed genuine excitement over Cohen's skill set which suggests he plans on getting him the ball quite a bit this season.

Regardless of how the touches play out, the Bears will present opposing defenses with one of the most challenging ground games in the NFL.

    Tarik Cohen was NFL's best big-play RB in 2017

    Tarik Cohen was NFL's best big-play RB in 2017

    Tarik Cohen's rookie season with the Chicago Bears was an impressive blend of running, receiving and special teams play. He quickly became a household name. The combination of his diminutive frame and oversized personality made him a fan favorite, especially when he started gaining yards in chunks.

    In fact, of all running backs with a minimum of 80 carries last season, Cohen had the highest percentage of runs that went for 15 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Cohen will have a big role in new coach Matt Nagy's offense this season because of everything he offers a play-caller. He's a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield and can chew up yards on the ground like any traditional running back. He's a hold-your-breath talent who can turn a bad play into a touchdown in the blink of an eye.

    Cohen had 370 rushing yards, 353 receiving yards and three offensive touchdowns in what can be described as a limited role last year. John Fox and Dowell Loggains didn't seem to ever figure out how to best use Cohen's skill set. That should be no issue for Nagy and Mark Helfrich, the team's new offensive coordinator, who both bring a creative offensive approach to Chicago.

    Jordan Howard will be the starter and will do most of the heavy lifting. But Cohen is going to have a much bigger role than he had as a rookie, and that should result in more big plays and points on the board.