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.

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

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USA Today

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

The Bears battle for the 53-man roster doesn’t have many contentious positions entering training camp.

Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy brought back largely the same roster from their breakout 2018 season, finding replacements for the few players gone in free agency.

Outside of kicker, the entire starting lineup is pretty much set for Week 1, and the main competitions to stick with the team are at the bottom of the depth chart.

It leaves the roster with no notable veterans that stand out as candidates to be cut. ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson was asked to name one for an article, and he couldn’t come up with any.

He mentioned Taquan Mizzell, who made the move from running back to wide receiver this offseason, but as Dickerson pointed out “Mizzell is hardly a well-known commodity around the league.”

Former third-round pick Jonathan Bullard hasn’t lived up to his draft status, but the Bears have seemed comfortable keeping him around in a backup role.

The Bears roster has very little fat to trim. The only other player who could potentially qualify is cornerback Sherrick McManis, since the team has so many young players at his position, but he’s been working at safety to increase his value, and he’s one of the team’s best special teams contributors.

The trim down from the 90-man roster shouldn’t have too many significant surprises, which is why so much of the attention this offseason continues to go to the kicker position.

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

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USA Today

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

Alex Bars was cleared to practice last week, allowing him his first chance to put on a helmet since tearing his ACL and MCL Sept. 29 while playing for Notre Dame. The undrafted guard was able to participate in veteran minicamp, allowing him to shake off some rust before his real push for a roster spot begins in training camp next month. 

Many speculated Bars would’ve been as high as a mid-round draft pick if not for that devastating knee injury. It didn’t take the 6-foot-6, 312 pound Bars long, though, to decide where he wanted to go after not being picked in April’s draft. Call it the Harry Hiestand effect. 

Bars played under Hiestand’s tutelage at Notre Dame from 2014-2017, and said he always wanted to wind up with the Bears to work with his former coach — just as 2018 top-10 picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey hoped to as well. 

“I remember talking about that, because they both wanted to play for him,” Bars said. “They understand where he can take you and how phenomenal a coach he is, so they both wanted that. And I’m just the same way.”

While Nelson transformed the Indianapolis Colts’ playoff-bound offensive line and McGlinchey showed plenty of promise with the San Francisco 49ers, the reunion of Bars and Hiestand carries some intriguing possibilities for the Bears. Bars has always had upside — he was a four-star recruit out of Nashville in 2014 — and getting to work with Hiestand may be the best way to tap into that potential. 

“He knows me very well, I understand his technique very well,” Bars said. “So having that connection, that player-coach connection all four years through college is huge.”

Hiestand called Bars after his injury last fall and offered some words of encouragement, which only furthered Bars' wish to play for his former college coach in the NFL. 

"That meant everything," Bars said. "He cares so much off the field as well as on the field. That’s who he is."  

Bars wasn’t able to participate in OTAs or rookie minicamp, but Hiestand doesn’t see that as putting him in a tough spot to make the Bears' 53-man roster. And there will very much be an opportunity for Bars to make a push during training camp, given 10-year veteran Ted Larsen only has $90,000 in guaranteed money on his one-year contract. 

It may not be the more eye-catching roster battle during training camp, but the Bears hope they can find interior offensive line depth through competition in Bourbonnais. And Bars, now cleared to practice, will get his shot. 

“He’ll have the chance because he’s smart, he understands the technique, he knows what to do,” Hiestand said during OTAs, when Bars hadn’t practiced yet. “He’s learning the offense even though he’s not doing it. But when we put the pads on that’s when you make or don’t make the team.” 

It’s often unfair — yet far too easy — to place high expectations on undrafted free agents. For every Cameron Meredith or Bryce Callahan who gets unearthed, there are dozens of anonymous players who struggle to stick on an NFL practice squad. 

But Bars is among the more important undrafted free agents on the Bears given his connection with Hiestand and the position he plays. While Kyle Long is healthy, he hasn’t played a full season since 2015, underscoring the Bears’ need for depth on the interior of their offensive line in the immediate future. 

And the Bears would save a little over $8 million against their 2020 cap if they were to make the difficult decision to cut Long in a year. If Bars develops into the kind of player plenty in the NFL thought he could be before his knee injury, that would make releasing Long a little easier to swallow at Halas Hall. 

For now, though, Bars is just hoping to make the Bears. Anything else is a long ways away.

“I’m excited to be here, thrilled for this opportunity and it’s all about productivity,” Bars said. “Just need to be productive and prove you belong on this team.”

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