INDIANAPOLIS – After a three-and-out and field-goal drive on two possessions in last week’s win over the Miami Dolphins, the No. 1 offense again opened with a three-and-out, followed by a field-goal drive. But this time the first unit was sent out twice more and came away with two more field goals.
Touchdowns will be preferred. But the result was an improvement, even if the yardage and point productions were less than Week 1's.
In another game that coaches hope with be the model for Jay Cutler ’15, the quarterback completed 8 of 9 passes for 69 yards during his four possessions of the first half. Cutler was efficient and for the second straight week went without a turnover; only six total possessions with a turnover, but after leading the league in giveaways last year, this is a clear trend that the Bears have given heightened focus to, and are seeing at least something positive in the way of an early result.
Cutler was not without pressure, being sacked once and needing to scramble away from the rush twice. But in spite of two penalties on his offensive line, Cutler maintained control of himself and the offense, producing scores on three of his four drives.
Jimmy Clausen had an apparent crossed-signals with tight end Dante Rosario on a late second-quarter throw that was intercepted in Bears territory with two minutes to play. But Clausen was crisp and on target with an underneath throw to Josh Bellamy for a third-quarter touchdown. That was part of a 5-for-5 quarter for Clausen.
The extended use of the running backs as runners continues to be a story of the offense through two preseason games. Regardless of which unit, coordinator Adam Gase has established that the Bears will attack on the ground, and do it in waves.
Matt Forte, who sat out the Miami game, was in the starting lineup and was handed or thrown the ball on four of the Bears’ first eight snaps finished with nine touches and 36 yards and a long run of 11 yards. Workmanlike.
Jacquizz Rodgers is ensconced as first-alternate to Forte, to the point of being sent in for tight red-zone situations. Rodgers netted 34 yards on his nine first-half carries and caught a pass for a two-yard gain.
But Forte and Rodgers may be hearing footsteps, literally, and that is a very good thing for the Chicago offense. Rookie Jeremy Langford broke a 46-yard run in the third quarter, setting up his blocking downfield superbly to extend the run. He topped that with a two-yard, second-effort TD run in the third quarter, starting left, bouncing off the pile and outrunning the Indianapolis defense.
“[The 46-yarder] was an inside run, the linebacker came over the top and the offensive line did a great job of walling him off,” Langford said. “I thought I should’ve scored but it’ll come with experience. But I’m mad about it.”
The line achieved some control of the front through the first half. The yards per carry on designed run plays averaged 3.4 in the first half and Cutler was sacked once, but the Bears were able to mount field-goal drives of 6:30 and 5:20 sustained over 11 and nine plays, respectively, largely because the line was able to do a passable job holding off the Indianapolis 3-4.
That said, three first-half penalties on a group that needs to be the bedrock of an offense intent on being a run-based team continued an alarming pattern from Week 1. The Bears do not want to be forced into a passing game and nothing inflicts that more on an offense than penalties.
Charles Leno Jr. took some snaps at right tackle with the No. 1 offense during practice Thursday, with Jordan Mills working briefly with the 2’s before straining a calf. This was an anticipated position battle before camp but Leno has played primarily behind Jermon Bushrod on the left side. Leno was inserted as the starter Saturday and was not dominant, drawing a hands-to-the-face penalty on his third snap, nullifying a 42-yard completion from Jay Cutler to Josh Bellamy. Bushrod was beaten with a bull rush by linebacker Jerrell Freeman to trigger a sack in the first quarter but overall the Bears were able to run left with some effectiveness early.
Kyle Long drew a holding penalty on what broke down into a Cutler scramble to just short of the end zone. But Long and the middle of the line were stout against an Indianapolis front that knew the Bears were committed to the run. Michael Ola at left tackle turned a third-and-5 into a third-and-10 with a false start that was followed by an interception of Clausen, leading to an Indianapolis field goal at the end of the first half.
Josh Bellamy and Eddie Royal were the starting wideouts as the offense was without Alshon Jeffery and will be presumably for the remainder of the preseason as the wideout gets over a calf injury suffered in the days before the Miami game. Bellamy scored on a 12-yard pass from Clausen, running a precise route breaking outside after a clear-out by the outside receiver, taking the ball and beating the defense to the pylon.
[NBC SHOP: Buy a new Bears hat]
Marquess Wilson broke a nine-yard completion on second effort. Wilson was forced to leave with a hamstring injury and his status is unclear. The third-year wideout, who caught two passes for the game, missed time last year with a broken clavicle and the Bears cannot afford both Wilson and Jeffery to be dealing with muscle injuries with rookie Kevin White out due to a shin injury.
Marc Mariani was superb on a punt and kickoff return in the first quarter and likely has secured a roster spot with his return ability on top of some sure-handedness as a receiver.
Martellus Bennett caught all three of the passes thrown to him, one for 20 yards that was the Bears’ longest completion for the game.