Bears

Bears Grades: Receivers average against poor 49ers secondary

12-6-alshon-jeffery-bears-49ers.png

Bears Grades: Receivers average against poor 49ers secondary

Bears receivers had moments but were generally just average at gaining separation against a poor secondary and did not help quarterback Jay Cutler, struggling with accuracy issues of his own, with some second-rate execution.

Alshon Jeffery’s comeback to the football on a Cutler third-down scramble late in the fourth quarter was a critical first down, netting 30 yards, followed by a 26-yard catch by Marc Mariani to get the football to the San Francisco 4.

[MORE GRADES: Quarterback ¦ Defensive backs ¦ Running backs]

Jeffery got the offense moving on the third possession with a 31-yard catch, finding a soft spot in the middle of the 49ers secondary and sharpening his angle across the field to get position underneath coverage. But those two Jeffery catches accounted for three-fourths of his 85 receiving yards and half his catch total (on 12 targets).

Josh Bellamy, who caught just one of four balls thrown to him, failed to use his body effectively to screen off a 49ers DB in the end zone, giving up a clear positioning edge and resulting in an incompletion. Bellamy also appeared to miss a block on safety Jimmie Ward, allowing Ward to break on a Cutler pass for an interception and touchdown return in the second quarter.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Jeffery also did not get his feet turned properly on what should have been a third-down conversion in the second quarter when the 49ers were matching the Bears score for score. Neither catch was particularly easy but was the kind the offense needed to take control of this game.

Bears receivers were flagged twice on the second possession of the third quarter, once for an illegal formation and then for a false start by tight end Zach Miller.

Tight end Martellus Bennett caught three of four passes thrown to him but was inconsistent in run blocking.

Moon's Grade: D+

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

NFL owners voted for sweeping changes to the kickoff play Tuesday, a decision that presents a new challenge for Bears special teams coach Chris Tabor.

Player safety was the focus of the rule change. Collisions will be reduced and the play will look more like a punt than the traditional kickoff fans have become used to. Here's a breakdown of what's coming in 2018:

With less contact and physicality in the play, Tabor's game planning will be tested. Kickoffs won't require as many power players like the ones traditionally seen in the wedge block. Skill players like receivers, running backs and tight ends could be viewed as more valuable special teams pieces, as was suggested by NFL Network's Bucky Brooks.

Tarik Cohen could become even more lethal under the new rules. If kick returners end up with more space to navigate, Cohen will improve on the 583 return yards he managed as a rookie. He'll conjure memories of the recently retired Devin Hester.

The ability to contribute on special teams is critically important for players on the roster bubble. It'll be interesting to see if the Bears apply the approach suggested by Brooks. If they do, undrafted players like Matt Fleming and John Franklin III suddenly have more value and a better chance to make the team. 

For a complete breakdown of the new kickoff rule, click here.

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. deserves a lot of credit. After starting his career as a seventh-round pick and something of a longshot to ever earn a starting job, he's become an irreplaceable fixture at the most important position along the offensive line.

The four-year, $38 million contract extension he signed last offseason is evidence of that.

Despite his value to the Bears, Leno is still somewhat underrated across league circles. That may be about to change.

Leno was recently named Chicago's best-kept secret.

Leno has consistently improved as a pass protector since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 and is now one of the team's top 10 players. If he hit the open market, Leno might be a $60 million player with the way the offensive line market is exploding. Over the next four years, the Bears should save about $20 million on the market price for their starting-caliber left tackle.

Leno has enjoyed steady improvement since his rookie season. His grades from Pro Football Focus reflect that: 53.6 (2014), 56.3 (2015), 71.2 (2016) and 80.4 (2017). 

The Bears' offensive line is poised for a big season in 2018. Leno and Bobby Massie are back as starters at tackle. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels will pair with Kyle Long at guard and third-year pro, Cody Whitehair, will get back to focusing on being the team's starting center.

If Leno's trend of improved play continues, he's a great candidate to go from best-kept secret to league star in 2018.