Bears earn good grades top to bottom
A short practice week has come at a good time for the Bears.
For one, the Bears are preparing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have trudged to a 1-3 start and have scored fewer points (62) than any team in the NFL that has not had a bye.
For another, the Bears (3-1) are playing their best football of the season.
The Bears will return to Halas Hall today with plenty of confidence after dominating the Dallas Cowboys for a 34-18 win Monday. They remained even with the surprising Minnesota Vikings for first place in the NFC North and hold a one-game lead on Green Bay.
When coaches pop in the game film from Monday’s win, they will notice a few standout players including Jay Cutler, Henry Melton and Lance Briggs. But most importantly, those coaches will not notice any glaring weaknesses on offense, defense or special teams.
In the NFL, if every aspect of the team is good, the end result can be great.
After back-to-back duds, Cutler responded in a big way. He completed 18 of 24 passes, including seven of eight to Brandon Marshall, and he single-handedly saved a scoring drive in the second quarter by stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure by Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler. By buying extra time with his feet, Cutler found Kellen Davis for a 16-yard completion on 3rd-and-10 to extend the series. Most importantly, Cutler threw zero interceptions – we repeat, zero interceptions – to give his team a chance to win.
Running backs: C
In his first game back from a sprained ankle he sustained in Week 2, Matt Forte (30 snaps) narrowly avoided a disaster on his first carry. Cowboys defensive lineman Sean Lissemore started to roll up on Forte’s right ankle at the end of a 8-yard gain, but Forte moved his foot just in time and returned to the game after a short stint on the sidelines. Forte and Michael Bush (22 snaps) teamed up for a strong first half (12 carries, 55 yards) and a silent second half (11 carries, 26 yards). Tight ends Matt Spaeth (33 snaps) and Kyle Adams (10 snaps) shared turns as a lead blocker in place of injured fullback Evan Rodriguez.
Wide receivers: B
Marshall (52 snaps) enjoyed some of his best work as a slot receiver, which created matchup problems for the Cowboys defense. He easily beat Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler for a 13-yard reception across the middle in the first quarter, and he somehow went unnoticed by the Dallas defense for a 31-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Alshon Jeffery (41 snaps) barely avoided a costly strip by Morris Claiborne because his elbow was down, while Devin Hester (8 snaps) made the most of his opportunities with a pair of short receptions and a diving catch for a 34-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.
Tight ends: B
Davis (54 snaps) has been an easy target for critics this season thanks to dropped passes, missed blocks, bad penalties and, well, you get the idea. But Davis fared better against the Cowboys as he caught three of four passes thrown his way for 62 yards. Now, if only Davis could stay on his feet instead of falling down every time he makes a catch.
Offensive line: A
J’Marcus Webb (55 snaps) deserves a great deal of credit for containing Cowboys Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, who managed one sack but no other quarterback pressures. A smart game plan by Mike Tice also helped. One example came on second-and-9 in the second quarter: Tice had two tight ends and Forte help block, and Cutler used the extra time to find Marshall across the middle of the field for an 18-yard gain. Jonathan Scott replaced Chris Williams in uniform but played only six snaps, all of which came on special teams.
Defensive line: B
Melton (43 snaps) grew up about 15 miles from Cowboys Stadium, and he did not disappoint his many friends and family members in attendance. He blew by Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith on a stunt for a sack on third-and-7 in the first quarter, and he popped the ball loose from Romo to prompt Briggs’ electrifying touchdown two quarters later. Yet the only other defensive lineman to hit Romo was Amobi Okoye (38 snaps), which means that Julius Peppers (40 snaps) and Israel Idonije (40 snaps) did not provide enough pressure. Shea McClellin (40 snaps) had a rocky game, whiffing on a tackle on an end-around by Kevin Ogletree that turned a 7-yard loss into a 4-yard gain in the first quarter.
Briggs (56 snaps) played like the MVP of the defense, and that’s saying something on a night when the defense garnered five takeaways and six tackles for losses. Briggs stuffed DeMarco Murray for a 3-yard loss on the first series, he popped the ball loose against Murray (the Cowboys recovered) on the second series, and he intercepted Romo for a 74-yard touchdown return in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Brian Urlacher (59 snaps), Nick Roach (27 snaps) and Geno Hayes (14 snaps) quietly accounted for seven tackles.
Interceptions by Charles Tillman (59 snaps) and D.J. Moore (51 snaps), not to mention another interception-causing play by Tim Jennings (70 snaps), overshadowed a couple of misses and near-misses on the fast track of Cowboys Stadium. Ogletree juked Jennings in the open field for a first down early in the game, and Miles Austin beat Moore by a step for a touchdown late in the second quarter. Kelvin Hayden (14 snaps) replaced Moore for a while at nickelback, but Moore bounced back in the fourth quarter with an interception.
Major Wright (70 snaps) continues to benefit from Jennings’ aggressiveness in the secondary. Jennings reached in front of Ogletree to disrupt a play in the third quarter, and Wright caught the deflection for a crucial interception at the Bears’ 6-yard-line. Wright also capitalized on a terrible pass from Romo for another interception with 5:51 remaining. Chris Conte (50 snaps) was beat for a first down by Jason Witten in the first quarter, while Craig Steltz (20 snaps) tackled Witten twice on the Cowboys’ final drive.
Special teams: B
Cowboys punter Brian Moorman skillfully avoided Hester with a pair of punts that were downed inside the 20-yard line, which left Hester to return only one punt for 8 yards. Bears punter Adam Podlesh returned the favor with a pair of punts that were downed inside the 20-yard line. Hayes cost the Bears’ valuable yardage with an illegal block on a punt return late in the first quarter.
• Tom Musick covers Chicago professional sports for Shaw Media. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.