It’s too soon to know whether Jay Cutler will be available next week against San Francisco.
However, it’s perfect timing to worry about an offense that has made few improvements since its first practices more than three months ago at training camp in Bourbonnais.
Despite a 13-6 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday, the Bears (7-2) remain a game ahead of the Green Bay Packers for first place in the NFC North. They will visit the 49ers (6-2-1) next week in a prime-time matchup that could feature backup quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Colin Kaepernick depending on how Cutler and Alex Smith recover from concussions both suffered Sunday.
Bears coach Lovie Smith did not rule out Cutler for next week’s game during his news conference Monday at Halas Hall. However, Smith said, the Bears typically erred on the side of caution when it came to head injuries.
“We’ll never put a guy at risk,” Smith said. “No game is that important for us. The player’s health always comes first with everything we do.”
Regardless of whether Cutler starts or sits, the Bears’ offense remains subpar following its fifth game with less than 300 net yards. Luckily for the Bears, the defense remains terrific.
A slow start against the Texans was nothing new for Cutler (26 snaps), who has posted a 55.1 passer rating in the first half this season and a 111.2 passer rating in the second half. Except this time, Cutler was forced to call it quits after a forgettable first half that included two interceptions on telegraphed passes. Campbell (33 snaps) lobbed a terrific pass down the sideline to Brandon Marshall for a 45-yard gain, but he was unable to lead a comeback.
Running backs: D
Matt Forte (51 snaps) struggled badly in his toughest test of the season against the Texans’ run defense. Forte averaged 2.4 yards per carry, which is especially bad considering the fact that he had averaged at least 4 yards per carry in each of his first seven games. Michael Bush (8 snaps) ran much more effectively with 34 yards on three carries, but he spoiled that success by allowing Glover Quin to pop the ball loose on a tackle in the first quarter.
Wide receivers: C
After nine games, it’s obvious that Brandon Marshall (56 snaps) is the best wide receiver in franchise history. But even the best players make mistakes, and Marshall made a big one when he dropped what would have been a 33-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The Bears settled for a field goal and never had a better shot at the end zone. Earl Bennett (47 snaps) and Devin Hester (27 snaps) remained quiet as secondary targets, combining for three receptions for 13 yards. Injured receiver Alshon Jeffery cannot return soon enough.
Tight ends: F
If Kellen Davis (54 snaps) could have played worse, we would like to know how. Davis proved to be the poster boy for the Bears’ incompetence on offense. On the first play from scrimmage, he was clobbered by ex-teammate Danieal Manning and lost a fumble. He also dropped a pair of passes, including one on third-and-11 that should have put the Bears near midfield with 3:46 remaining in a one-score game. After Davis’ latest dud, maybe it is time for Matt Spaeth (32 snaps) and Kyle Adams (8 snaps) to log more playing time.
Offensive line: B
Go figure. The much-maligned Bears offensive line turns in one of its best games of the season, and the offense fails to score a touchdown in 60 minutes. J’Marcus Webb (59 snaps) and Gabe Carimi (59 snaps) both deserve praise for shutting out the Texans’ pass rushers. Surefire Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt did not register a sack, nor did he bat down a pass.
Defensive line: B
Julius Peppers (47 snaps) gave the Bears’ offense a chance to take the lead when he sacked Texans quarterback Matt Schaub on third-and-4 early in the fourth quarter to force a punt. Peppers added another quarterback pressure, as did fellow defensive end Corey Wootton (36 snaps), who filled the void when Shea McClellin (1 snap) left because of a concussion. Henry Melton (49 snaps) tallied two tackles for losses as the best player on the interior.
Brian Urlacher (63 snaps) had a rare missed tackle that resulted in a 13-yard gain in the second quarter, but he made up for the miscue with a team-leading eight tackles, including two in the backfield. Lance Briggs (63 snaps) also played well as he stuffed Foster in front of the first-down marker in the first quarter and finished with four tackles. On Foster’s diving touchdown catch, there was little else that Briggs could have done to defend him.
Tim Jennings (62 snaps) has had some good luck to go along with some great plays. Jennings shined again with two interceptions, including one in which Schaub threw the ball directly to him in the second quarter. Charles Tillman (63 snaps) continued his stellar season with a great performance against Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson. Tillman tallied six tackles and two pass break-ups as his fourth child waited at least one more day to enter the world.
The Bears expressed concerns about the Texans’ play-action prowess, but Chris Conte (63 snaps) and Major Wright (63 snaps) did a great job of keeping everything in front of them and not falling for any of Houston’s deceptive plays. Wright helped save a touchdown when he and Tillman tackled Foster at the 2-yard line to force a field goal in the first quarter.
Special teams: B
Robbie Gould will regret clanking a 48-yard field goal attempt off of the left upright early in the fourth quarter, but that miss did not make the difference in a seven-point loss. Gould also connected from 51 yards on a sloppy field, and his kickoffs consistently crossed the goal line. Devin Hester showed a burst with a 24-yard punt return early in the first quarter, and that spooked the Texans into a steady dose of squib kicks and sideline punts.