Bears Report Card: Preseason Opener Is Cut(ler) Below

Paul LadewskiCorrespondent IIAugust 16, 2009

ORCHARD PARK, NY - AUGUST 15:  Jay Cutler #6 and Caleb Hanie #12 of the Chicago Bears watch play from  the bench area during play against the Buffalo Bills on  August 15, 2009 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

The Jay Cutler era opened with a whimper in Buffalo on Saturday evening. Know what? That could turn out to be the best thing that happened to the Bears this season.

Even before J.C. Superstar had taken his first snap in the 27-20 reality check, expectations for him and the team had bordered on the ridiculous among many fans and media. Sid Luckman who? Cutler already ranked as the best quarterback in team history. Twelve victories and a division championship were givens, in the minds of many.   

Slow down, Chicago. The truth is, Cutler and the Bears are a work in progress, and like any newlyweds, it will take time to come together.

“I feel fine about it,” an unfazed Cutler said afterward. “You know, there’s no reason for anybody to start to panic or anything like that. It’s pre-season. We didn’t really put together a lot for this game. We wanted to come out and just play football and let the guys play fast and make decisions on the run, and we’ll take a look at it."

“We got a lot of time for Green Bay (in the regular-season opener). But if we come out and play like this against Green Bay, we’ll have some problems then.”

Here's the Good, Bad and Ugly of the preseason opener: 

The Good: There is no back-up quarterback with experience on the roster, but Caleb Hanie played like one. The 23-year-old completed 8-of-11 attempts for 87 yards and one touchdown.

Better yet, he displayed with poise and confidence and made no obvious mistakes. Hanie did his best work in the third period, when he moved out of the pocket to avoid pressure, then connected with fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou on a 14-yard touchdown.

Rookie linebacker Al Afalava and defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert also showed well in their debuts.

The Bad: For all the talk about his quick feet and rocket arm, another side of Cutler was on display in the opener, and it wasn’t a pretty one.

He is prone to ill-advised decisions and poor fundamentals, and both were painfully obvious in the 5-of-10, 64-yard, one-interception performance.

The secondary and pass rush are much greater concerns. Four Bills quarterbacks combined to complete 29-of-34 pass attempts for 265 yards, almost all of them in the no-huddle offense. They were sacked only twice.

The defense was without safety Daniel Manning and cornerback Charles Tillman, but the Bills were without wide receiver Terrell Owens as well.  

The Indifferent: The offensive line kept Cutler in an upright position, but there were too few opportunities to find its rhythm in the run game. Seventeen attempts totaled 57 yards. The longest run was 8 yards.

The D-line was stout against the run (2.9 yards per attempt), but it was barely noticeable against the short, quick passes that the Bills relied on heavily.

The grades:

Offense starters

QB Jay Cutler: D

Threw wounded duck that was intercepted. Made one late throw that should have been picked off, another that should have been a touchdown. Can only hope that he saved worst for first.


RB Kevin Jones: D

In place of Matt Forte, gained 16 yards in six carries. More production is needed from first back off bench.


RB Garrett Wolfe: C

Displayed more physical strength on three run attempts. Can a 185-pounder be effective on anything more than third-and-long situations?


WR Earl Bennett: D

Only two passes thrown his way -- one short completion, one near interception. Twenty-two-year-old needs more work in pre-season if he is to be counted on in real deal.


WR Devin Hester: B

Noticeably more polished and confident than at this time last year. Cutler threw six passes his way, but chemistry wasn’t there.


TE Desmond Clark: B

Filled in for starter Greg Olsen. Found seam on 30-yard reception. Are more double-tight end alignments on the way?


C Olin Kreutz: C

Was on same page with quarterback.


G Roberto Garza: C

Thirty-year-old needs to step it up in run game especially.


G Frank Omiyale: C

Like rest of group, did nothing to stand out one way or another.


T Chris Williams: B

One of few linemen to play well in run and pass games.


T Orlando Pace: C

Saw limited action. Main objective: Be healthy for regular-season opener.


PK Robbie Gould: A

Booted 23- and 50-yard field goals in as many tries. But why kick on 4th-and-3 at six-yard line in first preseason game?


KR Juaquin Iglesias: B

Bobbled first attempt, carted next one back 46 yards. Did enough to earn closer look.



Defense starters

DE Adewale Ogunleye: D

Was no-show on pass rush. Turned 32 last week. We’re just sayin’.   


DE Alex Brown: B

Had only sack among linemen.  At 30, how much does he have in tank?


DT Anthony Adams: B

Played with energy. Jury remains out whether he can play nose position.


DT Israel Idonije: C

Held own against run. Did little to collapse pocket.  


LB Lance Briggs: A

Flashed Pro Bowl form. His four tackles were most at position. Created problems with penetration in backfield.


LB Pisa Tinoisamoa: C

Played reasonably well against run (one tackle, two assists), but overran ball-carrier on third down.


LB Brian Urlacher: B

Ran down ball-carrier at perimeter. Athleticism needs to be more of factor against short pass game.


CB Trumaine McBride: C

Very active. Totaled five tackles, missed another. Beaten on quick slant on blitz.


CB Nathan Vasher: F

Took giant step backward in bid for starter position. Was burned on double move yet again. Allowed completion on third down that moved chains.


S Kevin Payne: D

Wasn’t around the ball enough. Strayed from his side on third-and-1 bootleg.


S Al Afalava: B

As good as advertised. Credited with four tackles. Active in run support, erratic in pass coverage. Beaten on third-and-five situation. 


P Brad Maynard: B

Averaged 40.5 yards on two kicks, one inside 20-yard line.


PR Nathan Vasher: B

Broke tackle, reached perimeter on 15-yard return.


Selected reserves

DE Mark Anderson: F

Where’s the heat on the quarterback? Was faked into Niagara Falls on third-and-one play that gained 14 yards.


S Josh Bullocks: B

Pressured passer on blitz. So-so in coverage. Made vicious block on punt return.


DT Dusty Dvoracek: C

Physical and aggressive, a bit too aggressive. Was flagged for needless hit on quarterback.


WR Rashied Davis: B

Caught two balls on third down. Zero drops.


DT Jarron Gilbert: B

Rookie didn’t appear to be out of place. Held firm at point of attack. Confirmed status as potential third-round steal.


CB Corey Graham: A

Best of subpar bunch. Sacked quarterback on blitz. Totaled three tackles, one assist.


QB Caleb Hanie: A

Significantly improved chances for back-up role. Displayed poise, mobility, accuracy.


LB Hunter Hillenmeyer: B

Played with discipline. Was in position to make plays. Totaled three tackles, three assists.


WR Johnny Knox: D

Caught two balls, had another deflect off hands for interception. Returned kick 39 yards, but fifth-rounder won’t make roster on that alone.


CB D.J. Moore: D

Broke up one pass, but was toasted on 22-yard slant. Also beaten twice in two-minute drill. Had tackle on special teams.


RB Adrian Peterson: C

Twenty-seven yards, seven carries. Deserves chance to earn roster spot, but days appear to be numbered here.


OT Kevin Shaffer: F

Was consistently slow off ball. Beaten for sack off edge.


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