The Chicago Bears played last Friday in Oakland for their second-to-last preseason game against the Raiders. It was the last time you'll be seeing the starters until the start of the regular season. Jay Cutler and company will sit the fourth and final game at Soldier Field this Thursday against the Cleveland Browns.
The starters did, however, play the entire first half of the Oakland game and got one last shot to show to Bears fans what they've improved on through the duration of training camp and the preseason. The game ended up being 34-26, as the Raiders’ second- and third-string units handled the Bears’ back-ups. But if you only stuck around for the first half, you saw the Bears’ starters handle the Raiders on both sides of the ball.
The Bears finally looked comfortable in the Trestman system, and that is proven by the numbers the starters put up in the box score. I'm hoping to get these box scores analysis out on a weekly basis, so make sure to look for them in the regular season.
Breaking down the box score
First off, let's start with the offense: Jay Cutler and the passing game looked shaky at times throughout the preseason, especially in terms of turning the ball over. Cutler has thrown two bad looking interceptions this preseason by mostly trying to force the ball to either Brandon Marshall or not being on the same page with his receivers.
Cutler looked much more relaxed in Oakland, going 12-21, for 142 yards and a touchdown. He finished with a 93.8 passer rating, and his completion percentage could have been much higher if his receivers weren't constantly dropping passes. Brandon Marshall had far and away his worst game of the preseason, dropping two passes that he is almost guaranteed to catch normally. He had four targets but zero catches.
The one stat to look at for Cutler is who he was throwing the ball to. Alshon Jeffrey led the team with eight targets and seven catches. Cutler has been impressed with Jeffrey all training camp and finally gave him a chance to make some plays in a preseason game. Jeffrey's 77 yards and 11 ypc average shows that he does have the ability to catch and run. Jeffrey is looking more and more like the number two receiver the Bears need behind Marshall.
Outside of Marshall and Jeffrey, Cutler gave his tight ends some looks, and Martellus Bennett finally recorded his first catch in a Bears uniform — it took three games but finally managed to get his first target. He dropped an easy pass but had a sixteen-yard play down the seam. Forte, and even seventh-round draft pick Marquees Wilson, got a couple targets from Cutler in this game.
Now we need to look at the most promising part of this Bears offense which is the running game. The Bears’ upgrades on the offensive line have done wonders for Matt Forte and Michael Bush in preseason. Matt Forte has looked rejuvenated in the games he's played and had another solid performance in Oakland. His 76 yards on six carries led the Bears down the field on a number of drives. Over the three preseason games he's averaging 10 yards per carry, and he averaged 12.7 in this game alone.
The Bears have also improved in running the ball in goal line situations. Michal Bush scored two touchdowns and had 58 yards on nine carries. The vulture behind this extremely powerful line should have no troubling gobbling up touchdowns in the red-zone this season. The offensive line was superb in the red-zone running the ball and passing the ball. They gave Cutler and McCown a clean pocket to throw all game and the Raiders failed to record a sack.
Now for the defense, who has been overlooked by nearly every media outlet outside of Chicago since the start of training camp: Everyone has seemed to emphasize how much the loss of Urlacher will mean to this team, and, yes, the Bears lose leadership but they have replaced him, and that's proven by how dominant the defense has been the preseason.
Rod Marinelli is in Dallas, but Mel Tucker has been teaching the same philosophies and strategies that Marinelli has been teaching for the last four seasons, which is forcing turnovers. The Bears have forced 12 turnovers this preseason, which is leading the league. The secondary is looking to build off their dominant 2012 performance, and the four interceptions against the Raiders have proven that once again.
The Hawk, Tim Jennings, had an interception and one pass defense. Isaiah Frey recorded his first interception along with backups CJ Wilson and Jerry Franklin.
The Bears also managed to get to the quarterback three times and had seven tackles for loss. The front seven and secondary have been brilliant. The most surprising unit has been the linebackers, especially Jon Bostic, who was flying around the field on Friday. Bostic is now pushing for a starting spot in week one with another all-around great performance. Bostic led all tacklers on the Bears with eight and looked like the fastest guy on the field. He was covering well from sideline to sideline and in the backfield where he had one TFL.
Another major surprise from the box score was LB James Anderson, who played extremely well with six tackles and a TFL. CJ Wilson, who record one of the three interceptions, had two passes defended and a TFL. Julius Peppers recorded a sack and looked as hungry as ever. Charles Tillman, who rarely ever has rushed the passer in the past, recorded a sack, which shows Tucker's not afraid to switch it up in this system.
The Bears beat down on a weak opponent in a Raiders team that is looking to be picking first overall next April. This game absolutely gave this group confidence moving forward, despite the opponent. Bears starters sit next week, but expect another box-score analysis before final cuts on Tuesday.
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