The Chicago Bears have finished the first quarter of their season with a 3-1 overall record, a 1-1 divisional record, a 2-0 home record and 1-1 road record. The Bears are also currently tied for first place in the NFC North with the Detroit Lions, although the Lions hold the tie-breaker after beating Chicago soundly 40-32 at Ford Field last Sunday.
By all accounts this is a great start for the Bears, but still, the combined record of the teams they’ve beaten is sub-.500 3-9. Their best win was against a Cincinnati Bengals team that has shown a lot of inconsistency throughout their first four.
Now, after a loss like the one the Bears suffered Sunday, the optimism fans once had at 3-0 is dwindling. The 2012 squad started 7-1 and ended up losing five out of their last eight, missing the playoffs, which gives Bears fans a reason to be skeptical heading into the second quarter of the season.
But, this is a team still trying to grow on offense and still working in a system that is bound to produce with the talent on the roster. Let’s take a look at the positives:
Yes, the ugly turnover-prone Jay Cutler reared his ugly head last Sunday, but before that game Cutler was playing his best football in years. He showed just how effective he can be as a pocket passer when the protection is there. His numbers, despite the turnovers, are still thus far head and shoulders above his last two previous seasons with the Bears.
Cutler is also currently averaging 240.4 passing yards per game, that’s 60+ yards he wasn’t getting in 2012. He’s already hit the 1,000-yard mark passing and looks like he’ll get close to the 4,000 yard mark by the end of the season.
Cutler is also on pace for a 30 passing touchdown season with eight already. His completion percentage is at a staggering 64.2%, which is the highest in his career. His passer rating before last week was in the 93-95 range, but was dropped due to his awful performance in Detroit to an 85 overall.
On paper, this is looking like it will be Cutler’s best statistical season in Chicago and maybe in his career. “Bad Jay” showed up in Detroit, but his numbers suggest “Bad Jay” will not be the norm in the Trestman offense.
Cutler said it himself; his mistakes were based off bad technique and not his decision making, which means if he puts a better throw on some of those interceptions they become completions.
Now for the rest of the offense which is having a good season in its own right:
The offensive line has shown a significant improvement from the 2012 squad to this year, only allowing six sacks on Cutler thus far. The performance in Detroit was messy, allowing a season-high three sacks, but the mistakes made are fixable, and Aaron Kromar should have them ready next week.
The one problem area on the line has been with the tackles and more specifically Jordan Mills. Mills has been weak in run and pass protection. His play on the outside is a big reason why the pocket seems to be collapsing more often on Cutler.
Jermon Bushrod has also brought up some concern. Elite speed rushers off the edge have crushed him this season. His run blocking makes up for that at times, but he needs to improve when helping Cutler’s backside.
Long struggled a bit against Suh, but Suh is having a Defensive Player of the Year type of start, so Long should learn and build from it.
The rest of the offense — like the playmakers — has been up and down this season. Brandon Marshall is still the top receiver with 27 catches for 348 yards, but his production is down this year and that’s mostly because the balance on offense, which is a positive.
Martellus Bennett has made a huge impact, mostly in the red zone passing game, but he is second on the team with 225 passing yards and leads all receivers with three receiving touchdowns. Cutler has recently been targeting Alshon Jeffrey more, achieving his first 100-yard game last Sunday.
Matt Forte is still getting the check down looks but hasn’t been able to use the screen game as effectively as they envisioned. The running game has been average with Forte averaging 80 yards per game. But the Bears need to go to the ground game more often. Forte’s touches in the backfield are some of the lowest in the league. Bears are relying on getting him the ball in the passing game too much.
Now let’s take a look at the negatives:
The Bears’ defensive line has only managed to get to the quarterback six times this season, and that number won’t rapidly increase with the loss of Henry Melton. The young defensive ends in Wootton and McClellin need to improve — Peppers can’t carry the load by himself.
The interior of the line can’t generate any pressure, and now they have to rely on Nate Collins to fill Melton’s spot. It’s been the weak point on defense and hasn’t allowed Chicago to get the coverage they need down field because opposing quarterbacks have loads of time to throw.
Thankfully, the defense is still forcing turnovers. Six interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and two defensive touchdowns. The Bears “bend-but-don’t-break” philosophy is still staying true under Mel Tucker. But lack of pressure up front and bad tackling have led to teams wrecking them in the run game, which in turn makes them more susceptible in the passing game.
With Charles Tillman facing constant injury problems this season, the Bears can’t rely on him to shut down team’s top wide receivers. Injuries, lack of pressure up front and scheme have made the Bears depend on offensive production.
Cutler and the offense have delivered through the first quarter of the season, but how long can they sustain career-best numbers? Defense needs to improve if the Bears intend on making the playoffs.
Chicago has problems, yes, but at 3-1 the Bears are still in a good position to make a push for the division championship and/or a wild card spot.
No, it’s not time to panic in Chicago. Not yet.
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