Chicago Bears: Highs, Lows and Question Marks at the Quarter Pole
The Bears are not a boring franchise. They aren't as lunatic-fringe as the New York Jets, but they have their moments.
Things aren't perfect by any means, though, and as we're a fourth of the way through the season, it seemed time to take a look at the team, the highs, the lows and the remaining questions at this nascent point in the year.
The defense is still potent
For all the talk that the defense was aging and unable to play to the level it had in the past, we're actually looking at what may be shaping into one of the better versions of the defenses of Lovie Smith's tenure.
The pass defense continues to bend but not break, allowing a middle-of-the-road 249 yards a game as well as just five touchdowns total. You can move the ball on the Bears, but you aren't getting a touchdown often.
You're also playing with fire, as the secondary has lit up opposing quarterbacks to the tune of 11 interceptions so far. Sure, five were on Tony Romo, but the other six would still put them firmly in the top 10 and tied with five other teams for fourth overall in total interceptions.
They've also sacked opposing quarterbacks 15 times, third highest total in the NFL.
Even with a nagging injury slowing down Brian Urlacher, this defense is incredibly productive.
While the offense has struggled to get off the starting block, the defense came to play and has, as they often do, carried the team through the beginning of the year.
Pretty good for an "aging, over the hill" group.
Michael Bush has paid off
When Matt Forte was unhappy, the thought was that the Bears were lucky to have Michael Bush as insurance in case Forte held out into the season. Once Forte signed, it was just nice to have two potent backs who complimented each other.
When Matt Forte got hurt, we saw that the signing had reaped so much more.
A lot has been said about the move to get Jay Cutler a worthy backup, but the injury to Forte was a big factor in the demise of the 2011 Chicago Bears as well.
Adding Bush gives the Bears the safety net of a second running back who can be trusted to play in the absence of the lead back, and it's already had an impact for that alone. The fact that he is a great addition to the backfield and can compliment Forte is almost icing on the cake.
I might get some flack for this, but so far, I haven't loved what Tice has done. It's early, yes, but ultimately what he promised in terms of an improved offensive line and less danger for Jay Culter has not emerged.
Cutler remains one of the most frequently hit quarterbacks in the NFL, having been sacked 13 times already, hit another six and under pressure a total of 34 times, according to Pro Football Focus (subscriber links).
While you can give him a pass on the overall offense, which is still clearly getting its feet, the overall play has been disappointing until Monday night and the blocking along the offensive line, pretty much unforgivable.
At this point, it's not hard to understand Cutler walking away from him on the sidelines of the game against Dallas during a very frustrating stretch before things got going.
Tice can improve as the season goes on, but the first four games were largely "same old, same old," and that's not what he promised.
The thought was, and maybe this can be filed under "Tice" as well, that Davis would finally get a chance to showcase his skills, but that hasn't happened.
With the exception of the Green Bay game, when Cutler was getting hammered and desperately dumping off the ball, Davis is just not seeing enough targets.
Even against Dallas, he only was thrown at four times; he just made the most out of three of them.
Part of it is the offense; part of it is the talent ahead of him in the form of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and company. Part of it is the poor play of the offensive line, which has made it necessary for him to stay in and block.
This is no great disaster; it's just disappointing. Davis is talented, and while sometimes a bit inconsistent, he won't improve much when he doesn't get used.
Is the offensive line getting better?
Monday night was a big step forward, allowing just a pair of sacks, though Cutler still saw a ton of pressure from the defensive front. The very best we can say about the offensive line is that they have been wildly inconsistent game to game.
The line has to pick up its play, and while they have appeared to improve after this week, the question still needs to be asked: Is there enough talent on this offensive line and is it really getting better?
Is Jay Cutler the right guy?
We've seen the best and worst of Cutler this first month, both on and off the field. On the bad side, Cutler bumped J'Marcus Webb, walked away from Tice on the sideline and dressed down a reporter. On the field, he completely fell apart against Green Bay and didn't look so hot the next week against the Rams. He continues to blow hot and cold within a game, though he has done a good job of protecting the ball.
That's right, because aside from the Green Bay game, he has just a pair of interceptions. I don't like to delineate like that, but honestly, that Packers game was a debacle, and it's amazing he was able to complete a pass at all under that pressure.
On the good side, he's adjusted to constant pressure, looked fantastic when he has time to throw and while he has little patience for his line or offensive coordinator, he seems to have infinite patience with his receivers, even when they let him down.
All this makes for a big question as to whether Jay Cutler is the right guy to lead this franchise to a Super Bowl. It's not just something which will be answered this season. It needs to be addressed on a constant and shifting basis.
He's got all the tools to throw to, has a pair of very good running backs and a great defense. The Achilles' heel is, and always has been, the line.
While that is out of his control, his reaction and ability to overcome it will be what he is judged on this year.
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