Coach Lovie Smith likes to divide the season into quarters, so here are my thoughts on the Bears as they complete the first quarter of their schedule.
Ron Turner has had to think of ways to utilize Jay Cutler’s strengths while also keeping the offense balanced. That balance has yet to be reached so far this season but it is promising to see the Bears execute a safe but effective game plan in their three victories.
Quarterback: Jay Cutler has made himself at home in the Windy City. After a horrible debut he’s been able to take a step back and lead this team up and down the field almost at will.
His gun-slinger reputation has taken a back seat to one of being incredibly efficient with the football having completed better than 60% of his passes. He’s on pace to throw for 3,600 yards and 32 touchdowns.
Running Back: Matt Forte hasn’t had much room to run so far this season but he’s kept plugging away and may have come out of his slump against the Lions. He remains a receiving threat though his production in that area has taken a hit due to the surprise success of the Bears receiving corps. Forte needs to keep his composure and hope the offensive line gives him more room to work.
Offensive Line: The line has been night and day for the most part; pretty good in pass protection but unable to open running lanes for Matt Forte. This unit needs to get it push off the snap and create holes for the running game. If the Bears can’t run the ball then there’s little chance of competing for the division.
Tight End: Greg Olsen continues to give opposing defenses problems and youngster Kellen Davis had done a great job filling in for an injured Desmond Clark. They are big targets for Cutler to throw to and have been invaluable in goal line situations. Olsen and Davis have combined 17 receptions for 152 yards and four touchdowns.
Wide Receiver: Going into the season no one thought the Bears had a receiver who could accommodate Jay Cutler. No single wide out has emerged as the number one guy but all have done their part in getting open and making plays after the catch.
Devin Hester garners most of the attention form opposing defenses which opened the door for Johnny Knox to shine and become a yards-after-catch machine. It’s also worth mentioning that Earl Bennett has quietly played well enough to lead the team with 200 yards receiving.
Lovie Smith calling the defense and the addition of Rod Marinelli has helped the defense come up big at the end of games. The secondary is still a little banged up but has held up okay for the most part save a few big plays.
What a difference getting pressure on the quarterback makes. For the most part the Bears defense ranks middle of the pack in all categories but when the games been on the line they have stepped up and delivered.
Defensive Line: The biggest reason the Bears lost seven games last season was the lack of a pass rush. So far this season the pass rush has been pretty good for the most part especially late in games.
The Bears defensive ends have been getting off the ball very well and have come up big when it mattered most. Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown have a combined seven sacks and Tommie Harris even has an interception.
Line Backer: The position with the most depth going in to the season has certainly been tested and three wins later they’ve performed admirably. Hunter Hillenmeyer, Nick Roach and Jamar Williams have all filled in for injured players and played well.
Lance Briggs has been playing like the Lance Briggs we’ve come to expect being a difference maker at weak side linebacker.
Corner Back: The demotion of Nathan Vasher was a long time coming as Vasher hasn’t been able to regain his Pro Bowl form. Time will tell if Zachary Bowman is up to the task but we can still count on Charles Tillman to create turnovers. They’ll need to be more physical down the stretch and get in the faces of opposing wide receivers.
Safety: Rookie Al Afalava has been a pleasant surprise. Every game he’s been in the middle of plays chasing after the ball and has been very close to quite a few interceptions.
Afalava and Kevin Payne have been ball hawks so far this season. Daniel Manning leads the team in tackles and even forced a safety in the season opener. This group hasn’t been stellar but they’ve played well enough for three victories.
You can’t say enough good things about Dave Toub and the job he’s done with this squad. Robbie Gould and Brad Maynard are reliable and the Bears have several players who can return kicks that have the ability to take it the distance. For the last few years this has been the only consistent phase for the Bears.
Punter: Brad Maynard continues to be one of the better punters in the league and really put the pressure on against the Lions by pinning them inside their own 20 all four punts.
Kicker: Every analyst likes to bring up that Robbie Gould doesn’t have a “big” leg. Regardless of that the fact that he’s won as many games as he has for the Bears has to put him in the upper tier of NFL place kickers. I’d like to see Gould improve his range a little but he’s been well, gold when we’ve needed him.
Kick Returning: A plethora of players have contributed to kick returning duties this season and all have done very well, most notably rookie Johnny Knox. Devin Hester may never return to his 2006-07 form but with play makers like Knox, Daniel Manning and to a lesser extent Earl Bennett on the team he won’t have to.
The Bears sit at 3-1 and are in second place in the NFC North. If some key players can get healthy then the Bears should be able to make some noise down the stretch and be a part of the playoff picture.