Because it’s the bye week, in lieu of the game breakdown I do every week, I thought I’d grade the Bears’ performance through the first two months of the season.
|2008 Chicago Bears Midseason Report Card|
I don’t think anybody expected at the beginning of the season the Bears to look the way they do now. Ditto for Kyle Orton. Orton is in his fourth season as a pro and he looks as though he’s been a starter for all four of them, not just two. Gone are the days where the playbook is limited and game manager no longer describes him. At least not completely. He does that well, but he can make plays, too. Because the offense has been able to adjust to defenses stopping the run, that’s been one of the primary reasons the Bears are sitting atop the NFC North right now.
What makes this unit slightly above average right now is that defenses still respect it. If they adjust in the second half of the season and take away Orton while making Forte beat them, and he doesn’t do it, then this becomes a hindrance. But the Bears are 19th in the league on the ground and rookie Matt Forte is 13th in yards per game. The offensive line, while not spectacular, has been much better than feared in the preseason. Although, the line does better with pass protection than run blocking. I would expect teams to try to stop the Bears’ passing attack, so Forte should get a chance to shine in the second half of the season.
The Bears’ pass defense currently sits at No. 30 in the NFL rankings and are the No. 1 reason why the Bears are not 5-2 or better right now. And the main reason they’re not getting a failing grade is because their pass defense is not as detrimental to the team this year as the run defense was last year. Even though the pass defense lost a few games, the team is still in first place with a winning record. But there’s no way to sugarcoat it: it’s been bad.
Talk about a complete reversal of fortunes from a season ago. The Bears’ run defense was among the worst in the league in 2007 and now they’re ranked 6th in the NFL. Give Lovie and Bob Babich credit for at least getting this aspect of the defense ready each week and putting them in position to make plays against the run. The run defense is allowing just 85 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry.
The special teams does not appear on pace to finish on top of the league for a third straight season, but they have played well enough to give the Bears good field position and keep the other team’s offense on their side of the field. Devin Hester is having his longest drought without a touchdown in his short, 3-year career. He appears tentative at times and doesn’t look to have the same explosive burst he had the past two years. I think the Bears truly miss the services of Brendon Ayanbadejo. Robbie Gould is tied for 7th in the league with 13 field goals made and his kickoffs have been deeper this year. Brad Maynard is first in the league with 18 punts inside the 20.
It’s difficult to assign grades to coaching because there’s a lot more that goes into it than just looking at production. Ron Turner has done a masterful job with playcalling this year, and he’s all too often given unwarranted blame and criticism. Some of his playcalling — such as Jason McKie fullback dives on fourth-and-1 or goal line carries — have been questionable, and those tend to stand out above all the good calls he’s made. But he’s a major factor in the development and success of Orton this year. On the defensive side of the ball, Bob Babich has done a terrific job of turning the run defense from a liability into a strength. But the complements end there as his pass defense needs to be called into question. If they were even a smidge better at stopping the pass, they’d not only have a better record but the coaching would receive a better grade here. As for Lovie, he’s about the same as he’s always been.
Criticism was abound this off-season as transactions were deemed questionable and holes were left unfilled. But it speaks volumes about the judgment of Jerry Angelo that the strongest part of this team right now — it’s passing attack — was deemed the weakest link by analysts and pundits in the preseason. The best part of it all is that it’s still young and has room to grow. First round draft pick Chris Williams figures to see some action soon and his return can only make the offensive line better. Matt Forte, while held in check by most defenses on the ground, is second to only Reggie Bush in receptions by a running back. His value in the passing game has been just as instrumental in moving the ball as his legs in the run game have been. Defensively, the Bears have been so good against the run and yet so bad against the pass. But for the Bears to have been in position to win all seven games in the fourth quarter this year, it shows that the talent level is right where it needs to be in this parity-driven league. Now they just have to finish.