Bears Grades: OL keeps Jay Cutler upright in victory over Chargers


Bears Grades: OL keeps Jay Cutler upright in victory over Chargers

The rushing numbers were not gaudy and there was one potentially game-changing sack of Jay Cutler. But the offensive line was strong in only its second start with the five opening against the Chargers (left to right, Charles Leno-Vladimir Ducasse-Matt Slauson-Patrick Omameh-Kyle Long).

With young running backs filling in for injured Matt Forte, the offensive line opened creases that led to 26 carries for 111 yards (4.3 ypc.). Slauson handled shotgun snaps flawlessly while combing with Ducasse and Omameh to block the Chargers’ targeting of the “A” gaps to get into Cutler’s face.

Cutler was sacked just once, when left tackle Leno was beaten on a speed rush by Melvin Ingram for the sack-strip. The Chargers were credited with five hits on Cutler despite making extensive use of linebacker blitz packages.

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Slauson was ticketed for a false-start on a third down in the first quarter, which created that third-and-long on which the Chargers blitzed and sacked Cutler to force the fumble in the red zone. Long was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for protesting a no-call on a late hit of Cutler, moving the Bears out of range for a field goal in the second quarter and drew a holding penalty but the line overall was largely penalty free running 70 snaps.

But overall the protection was good against San Diego's edge speed, with Cutler making intelligent use of his mobility to extend occasional plays.

Moon's Game Grade: A-

A position group that requires cohesion and working familiarity among its five in game situations has had few opportunities to develop that continuity due to a succession of injuries.

Including center Will Montgomery, now on injured reserve, the Bears have had 10 offensive linemen this season. Eight of them have started at least one game, and only Long has started all eight games, albeit at right tackle, a position he played for the first time in a game on opening day.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Leno has been a bright spot, stepping in at left tackle when Jermon Bushrod was injured against the Seattle Seahawks and performing to the level that he has taken the No. 1 job.

Despite the personnel turnover, blocking proficiency has been such that offensive coordinator Adam Gase has been able to operate according to plan, with the Bears running no fewer than 25 times in any of the first eight games. The Bears went five straight games without rushing for 100 total yards before San Diego and had seen their rushing average idle in the range of 3.9 yards per carry.

The Bears rank in the middle of the pack in sack percentage. Overall a creditable performance under the circumstances.

Moon's Mid-year Grade: C+

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”