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Bears vs. Saints: Full Roster Report Card Grades for Chicago

Andrew DannehyCorrespondent IOctober 29, 2016

Bears vs. Saints: Full Roster Report Card Grades for Chicago

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    For the second straight week the Chicago Bears were out-played on both sides of the ball as they fell to 3-2 with a 26-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

    The Saints came into the game undefeated and looked the part of an NFC contender. They're what every team strives to be as they have an explosive offense, and the Bears simply couldn't match up.

    Last week the big story of the game was turnovers by quarterback Jay Cutler, but this week the Bears showed they just don't have enough around him to compete with the top teams in the NFC.

    Outside of one mistake, Cutler was terrific, but the players around him struggled as their offensive line didn't give him enough time, and a receiver known for his hands had a huge drop. Despite that, the Bears scored 18 points against a team that gave up fewer than 14 and had a chance for more, but was forced to go for it on fourth down late in the game.

    For the second week in a row, the Bears defense didn't give the team much of a chance. This week, it gave up 20 points in the first half, including a pair of long touchdown drives on New Orleans' final two possessions. Chicago had a chance to go into halftime trailing by just six points, but the defense failed to get a stop on fourth down.

    The Chicago defense then gave up two big scoring drives in the second half, one on the Saints' first possession and another to make the score 26-10.

    Once again, a large part of the blame has to go to the coaching. Rob Ryan is a terrific defensive coordinator, but the Bears seemed to be able to solve his Dallas defense—which was arguably more talented—last year. Is Mike Tice really smarter than Marc Trestman?

    As the Bears appear closer to rebuilding than contending, this was a good measuring-stick game for them. The Saints are exactly who they want to be offensively and still have a tough, aggressive defense.

    Ultimately, it's a team game, and the Bears weren't able to put four solid quarters together on either side of the ball. Chicago still got some excellent individual performances, while some players struggled incredibly. Here's a breakdown of who did what and who struggled.

Quarterback

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    Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

    Jay Cutler

    Cutler got off to a rough start, losing a fumble that gave the Saints the ball at their own 6-yard line, but he was excellent after that.

    Ultimately, that mistake cost the Bears just three points and certainly wasn't the difference in the game. He has to take care of the ball better, but when you have defenders sprinting at the quarterback unblocked, big mistakes are going to happen.

    The Bears' problems came because they once again had a hard time protecting him and had a mistake from a receiver that may have cost them the game.

    Cutler completed 72.7 percent of his passes for 358 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also ran for 27 yards on four attempts. 

    If you're looking for someone to blame for this game, you can look past the quarterback position. Cutler wasn't the best we've seen him this season, but he was very good and one of the only reasons they were even in the game. 

    Grade: B+

Running Backs

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Matt Forte, Michael Bush, Tony Fiammetta

    Marc Trestman has started to develop a disturbing trend as he once again ignored the running game for a large chunk of the game as the Bears fell behind by double digits.

    Despite facing a defense that came into the game giving up a league-worst 5.5 yards per carry, Forte went into halftime with just four rushing attempts for 10 yards. He finished with 12 carries for 55 yards, an average of 4.6 yards per carry.

    In Trestman's defense, Forte did fumble a pitch on the first play from scrimmage. Still, he's one of their best players, and Trestman needs to get him the ball more early in the game. He doesn't stop throwing after Jay Cutler throws an interception.

    Also concerning is that Trestman doesn't seem to care for what second-string running back Michael Bush brings to the table. Bush has the team's eighth-largest cap figure but only had two carries, a week after not receiving a single touch.

    Bush is widely considered to be among the best second-string running backs in the league and has shown that he can be more than just a short-yardage runner. Trestman apparently doesn't view him that way.

    As usual, Fiammetta didn't have any impact on the game or this grade one way or the other with just a few snaps.

    It's hard to grade this unit because I think it could've done a lot more with more opportunities. The unit's performance was solid, but unspectacular. Although, maybe Forte would've broken a long touchdown run with a few more opportunities. We'll never know.

    Grade: B

Wide Receivers

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    Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett, Joe Anderson, Eric Weems

    I'll start with the good as Jeffery had one of the best games in the history of the franchise, finishing with 218 receiving yards on 10 catches.

    I was harsh on Jeffery last week because his performance was so up-and-down. This week he had many ups with no downs. It's possible he has turned the corner and will start to meet his potential on a regular basis. That must be a scary thought for opposing defenses who previously thought they just had to defend Marshall.

    If this grade were just about Jeffery, it would be an A-plus, but the other guys bring it down quite a bit.

    Nobody would blame the Bears if they released Bennett after his huge drop on 4th-and-2 from the New Orleans 25 with 8:40 remaining and his team trailing 23-10.

    Bennett has a job because of his ability to catch the ball as a reliable slot receiver, but he dropped a pass last week that would've been a touchdown. That drop didn't end up being nearly as big—and he did catch a touchdown pass on the next play—but the Bears need to be able to rely on him.

    If Bennett can't be relied on, the Bears will be better off going with rookie Marquess Wilson or giving Joe Anderson more snaps.

    While it was partly because Jeffery was striving on the other side of the field, Marshall had one of his least productive games in a Bears uniform, and he wasn't happy about it.

    Like all star receivers, Marshall wants to see the ball more, and he will. For that to happen, however, he has to do a better job of getting open. He seems to expect Jay Cutler to throw it to him despite tight coverage, but—with other options available—Cutler would be foolish to do so.

    The play of Marshall and Bennett would typically make this grade pretty low, but Jeffery offset that for the most part.

    Grade: B+

Tight Ends

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Martellus Bennett, Eben Britton, Dante Rosario

    Bennett was the team's second-leading receiver with five catches for 56 yards as he did a good job in the middle of the field. 

    The shoulder injury he suffered a few weeks ago is still hurting him as a blocker, but the Bears have to be more than satisfied with what he's brought to their passing game.

    Britton served as the team's second tight end in place of Steve Maneri, who wasn't active for the first time this season. As expected, he did an adequate job as a blocker, but he was far from dominating.

    Rosario was the team's third tight end and once again brought next to nothing to the team. It's hard to believe that he is actually better than Kyle Adams, whom they released after trading for Rosario.

    This grade is mostly about Bennett, who caught every pass thrown his way, although he didn't necessarily make the big plays the Saints tight end did. Then again, who does?

    Grade: B

Offensive Line

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    Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

    Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza, Kyle Long, Jordan Mills

    Don't say you weren't warned, but Bushrod hasn't been worth anywhere near what the Bears signed him for this offseason. He struggled against his former team and seemed to regularly be out of position on the Saints' blitzes.

    Mills had his best game since the team's season opener, but he still hasn't been nearly as good as he looked earlier. At this point, the Bears have to seriously consider turning to veteran Jonathan Scott because Mills isn't getting the job done.

    Slauson and Garza had their usual solid, unspectacular performances. Garza missed a block on a screen pass early in the game that could've given the Bears a first down, but he would've had to block a defensive back on the play.

    First-round rookie Kyle Long held his own both in pass protection and in the running game. He continues to prove Phil Emery right and those who said Emery reached for him wrong.

    Overall, the Bears allowed Jay Cutler to be sacked three times and hit six, according to ESPN. That rate is simply way too high for a team that is supposed to be doing a better job protecting its quarterback this year.

    The Bears did do a much better job picking up blitzes in the second half, allowing Cutler to complete a few passes down the field to Alshon Jeffery as they tried to climb back in the game. They also helped Forte average 4.6 yards per carry.

    The team's offense seems to go as its offensive line goes. When it plays well, it's nearly unstoppable, but it hasn't been able to do that consistently. While their line struggled in the first half, the Bears weren't able to move the ball.

    If the Bears are going to improve going forward, a good first step would be getting their highest-paid player on the line to start playing like it. They signed Bushrod to be the leader of this unit, but he was the weakest link in this game.

    Grade: D+

Defensive Line

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Julius Peppers, Shea McClellin, Corey Wootton, Nate Collins, Landon Cohen, David Bass

    A week after his best game of the season, Peppers didn't even appear in the box score despite going against arguably the Saints' weakest offensive linemen for much of the game.

    Collins was the team's best lineman in the game, but he left the game in the third quarter after suffering a knee injury. His status going forward is unknown at this time, but it would be a major blow if he were to be out for an extended period of time.

    McClellin recorded six tackles and got a hit on Brees, but he still isn't anywhere near justifying his draft status. Wootton played the 3-technique for almost the entire game, but was unable to get much pressure from there.

    Cohen made his impact felt as he pressured Brees on one play. Bass may have been the bright spot for the Bears as he got a quarterback hit in the first game of his career.

    The Bears defensive linemen hit Saints quarterback Drew Brees four times and recorded one sack. They also deserve credit for holding New Orleans to just 2.4 yards per carry, although they gave up too much ground on a number of short-yardage plays.

    Considering how short-handed they were with the injuries to both starting defensive tackles, the Bears defensive line wasn't bad. Still, it's hard to give it a positive grade when its best player didn't even seem to show up.

    Grade: C

Linebackers

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams, James Anderson

    The Bears' starting linebackers were also their three leading tacklers, but it was an up-and-down day for this unit.

    Briggs had arguably his best game of the season with 14 tackles—three behind the line of scrimmage—and a sack. However, he committed a neutral-zone infraction on a 4th-and-1 play to extend what ended up being a scoring drive.

    Had the Bears gotten a stop on that play, they would've gotten the ball at the Saints' 47. Instead, New Orleans got a first down and eventually kicked a field goal to increase its lead to 16. 

    Williams was second on the team with 11 tackles, but was late on New Orleans' first touchdown. Had he been on time, Pierre Thomas wouldn't have scored, and the Saints would've faced 3rd-and-goal. 

    Williams also missed a tackle in the backfield on a 4th-and-1 play on the Saints' last drive of the first half. Had he made the stop, the Bears would've trailed by just six points entering halftime. Instead, New Orleans went on to score a touchdown on that drive.

    Anderson continued to be a pleasant surprise with eight solo tackles, the third-highest total on the team.

    For the most part, all three linebackers did a solid job filling in the running game; however, they struggled in pass coverage. In addition to Williams being late on Thomas' first touchdown, they were all nowhere to be found on the 25-yard screen pass he took into the end zone at the end of the second quarter.

    They were beaten on underneath routes a number of times as the Saints only had three catches by wide receivers. On the Saints' first touchdown drive, both Briggs and Anderson got sucked in on a play fake, allowing Jimmy Graham to run wide open for a 29-yard catch.

    That said, the linebackers were still the strength of the team's defense. 

    Grade: B-

     

Secondary

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    Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Isaiah Frey, Chris Conte, Major Wright

    Whether Drew Brees threw short or long, it seemed like he was going to complete the pass, but it's hard to figure where the blame should be placed.

    On some plays, the defenders just can't stop tight end Jimmy Graham. His 38-yard reception that set up their first touchdown in the second quarter was not one of those plays. Both safeties, Chris Conte and Major Wright, should've been in position to make a play on the ball, but neither did. Neither safety has been what the Bears expected them to be this year.

    The entire team was fooled on Pierre Thomas' 25-yard touchdown off a screen pass, but Tillman was the only player with a chance at stopping him before he whiffed on the tackle.

    The Bears gave up four plays of 25 yards or more and Brees completed 82.9 percent of his passes.

    It wasn't all negative for the Bears secondary, however. They did shut down the Saints receivers for the most part as Marques Colston caught just two passes for 15 yards. The only other receiver to catch a pass was Nick Toon, who hauled in a 35-yard reception between Tillman and Conte.

    There were times, however, where the Bears were victims of playing a great opponent. Brees is among the most accurate passers in the league, and Graham—who had two of their plays for over 25 yards—is unquestionably the best tight end in the league.

    With an inconsistent pass rush, the Bears secondary did as well as could be expected. Still, even though it didn't get roasted, it also didn't do a lot to help the team win.

    Grade: C+

Special Teams

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Robbie Gould, Adam Podlesh, Devin Hester

    Podlesh apparently got the memo that his performance needed to improve or he'd be out of a job. As Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reported, the Bears brought in six punters for tryouts on Tuesday due to Podlesh's performance.

    They didn't sign any of those punters, but it was like they had a new punter as Podlesh averaged 45.3 yards on four punts. He also put the ball in good spots, limiting Darren Sproles to just one return for two yards.

    Consistency has been an issue since the Bears signed Podlesh, but if they get the kicker they had on Sunday for the rest of the season, they'll be fine.

    We didn't see much of Gould with just one extra point and one easy field goal. Unlike last week, his onside kick attempt gave the Bears a little bit of a chance, but you'd still like to see a better effort.

    Hester averaged 24.5 yards on two kick returns and had a 17-yard punt return, but most of that yardage was lost due to a personal foul on Eric Weems.

    Weems' personal foul was the Bears' only blemish on special teams. Their coverage units did well. In addition to holding Sproles to just two punt-return yards, he had just two 19-yard kick returns. He's a dangerous player whom they held in check.

    Grade B+

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