Bears vs. Texans: Full Report Card Grades for Chicago
The Chicago Bears flashed brilliance in all facets against the Houston Texans Sunday before sputtering to a 23-14 loss to start the 2016 season.
Chicago came out firing on all cylinders. Jay Cutler looked sharp behind a re-tooled offensive line with a guy signed a week ago. The Texans couldn't cover Alshon Jeffery. A defense with new faces in new places shuttered DeAndre Hopkins and shrugged at new Houston back Lamar Miller.
It was the best quarter and change Chicago faithful could have dreamed up.
The wheels fell off in the second half, with most of the mentioned positives going bottom up in a hurry. Houston adapted, put on a better effort at pressuring Cutler and picked apart the Chicago secondary, turning a 14-10 Chicago halftime lead into the final score.
A disappointing start to the season for Chicago, sure. But positives hint at a brighter future, should the team grow well. Within, let's assign grades for the team's performance.
What more can Cutler do?
The veteran threw a pick on the day, but it was a communication error with wideout Kevin White. Where the blame goes isn't really the point—of Cutler's 29 attempts, only a handful were bad decisions.
Really, Cutler played a great game when one realizes he took five sacks and some of the most vicious hits a quarterback can take while playing against monstrosities such as J.J. Watt.
A 16-of-29 effort for 216 yards with a score and a pick isn't the best line in the world. But given the circumstances and the sorry state of the offensive line in the second half, Cutler gets a pass.
As the man expected to replace legend Matt Forte, Jeremy Langford entered Sunday with major expectations on his shoulders.
The result? Just 17 carries for 57 yards and a score, good for a 3.4 per-carry average.
Not exactly the solo-back debut Langford probably wanted to make, but he did rip off a few big-gainers and reached paydirt from a short distance out.
Really, Langford's line and average might have climbed if the offensive line hadn't struggled as much. Forced to pass, Chicago had to start ignoring Langford in an effort to make a comeback. The flashes by the sophomore, though, were encouraging.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
Here's a mixed bag if there ever was one.
First, White. Making his debut, the West Virginia product boasted a team-high seven targets, of which he caught three for 34 yards. Don't forget he was perhaps to blame on the aforementioned Cutler interception.
Given the issues in the trenches, a tight end making steady contributions would have been nice. Instead, Zach Miller only caught three of four targets for 14 yards.
Now for the good. Nobody could cover Jeffery, hence his catching four balls for 105 yards. (There's a bad drop in there, too) Eddie Royal looked good despite having been out lately with an injury, catching four passes of his own for 57 yards.
If White can get on the same page and the coaching staff can better implement Miller, the recipe for success is there. Sunday, half the equation seemed missing.
What more is there to say?
The line started off hot and later crumpled. It was expected given Josh Sitton had just joined the team at left guard and Cody Whitehair had to take over at center.
Whitehair was a point of emphasis, too, because early in the game he didn't get a snap up high enough for Cutler, who fumbled it—on a quarterback sneak in a 4th-and-short situation.
New guys such as Bobby Massie weren't without blame either, as the former Arizona Cardinals right tackle got absolutely spun around to cough up one of Cutler's five sacks. In fact, the broadcast showed Kyle Long chewing him out on the bench afterward.
If this line had had a few more weeks of practice together, maybe Sunday goes differently. Alas, Father Time didn't smile on the Bears.
The base defensive line wasn't getting it done Sunday.
Simple but efficient. Lamarr Houston had a quiet game, and so did Akiem Hicks, with Eddie Goldman registering half a sack alongside rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd.
The line struggled so much, in fact, the defense only started to make improvements when defensive coordinator Vic Fangio started bringing extra head to fluster the Houston attack.
It worked at times. But Houston's Miller still rushed for 106 yards, and Brock Osweiler only took two sacks. Houston went 12-of-20 on third downs.
Like the offense, Chicago simply got beat in the trenches.
Linebacker was a positive point for the Bears Sunday.
New addition Danny Trevathan had 11 tackles and a sack, while fellow new addition Jerrell Freeman led all players with 17 tackles. Both flew around the field most of the day making plays, though neither was perfect.
Floyd was a nice surprise, too, as the somewhat controversial first-round pick got after the quarterback a few times and tallied the half-sack. It's a good sign and one suggesting the coaching staff will let him pin his ears back more and more if the base attempts at pressure fail.
Entering a game against DeAndre Hopkins without Kyle Fuller isn't the best situation, but the Chicago secondary made the most of it for as long as it could.
Tracy Porter managing to pick off Osweiler early in the game helped create some of the buzz around the Bears. Later in the contest, though, he coughed up a score on some poor coverage, evening out his day.
The injury to Fuller forced a guy like Jacoby Glenn into action. When he suffered an injury, it was time for Deiondre' Hall to enter the game.
Even healthy, Chicago had a tall task on its hands against Hopkins. Throwing most of the attention his way opened things up for Houston rookie Will Fuller, who caught five passes for 107 yards and a score, with what should have been another score simply dropped.
It was a ho-hum day for Chicago special teams.
Connor Barth didn't get to attempt a kick on the day but nailed both his extra points. Pat O'Donnell fired off seven punts but only nailed two inside the 20-yard line.
As for returners, Deonte Thompson averaged 20.6 yards per kickoff return over five attempts. Eddie Royal was equally normal, averaging 10 yards over four kicks on punt returns.
Special teams often times reflects the team as a whole, so this was an apt day. Getting away without any major errors is a plus.
Head coach John Fox and the rest of his staff had an odd day at the office.
Fangio realized almost too late his base defense wasn't going to get enough pressure against what has the potential to function as a high-octane offense. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains seemed to favor longer-developing plays at times despite the obvious effectiveness of the Houston pass rush.
Fox himself had a mixed day, too. The Bears didn't waste any weird timeouts for most of the game or have any glaring game-management or penalty issues. He did, though, fail to challenge what looked like an obvious call and later blew what seemed like a desperation challenge.
Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune captured Fox's reaction to not challenging a spot call: "You don't do too well with challenges on spots."
Maybe not, but the challenge decisions late in the game will now be something fans focus on all year.
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The end score doesn't look great and neither do the stats, but Chicago wasn't exactly handed a fair hand with this one.
A game against Houston won't ever come easy, especially not while trying to break in brand-new members along the offensive line, what amounts to a rookie receiver and a new-look defensive unit meant to help folks forget about the miserable units of past years.
What the game showed, though, was the upside of a Bears team still getting used to playing together. The offensive line can and likely will improve. Timing and communication issues through the air won't linger forever. And honestly, for a defense tasked with stopping Hopkins and down a corner, the defensive backs held up rather well.