Monday Morning Quarterback: Preseason Game 1

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Welcome to the Sunday version of Monday Morning Quarterback. Let’s not waste any time and jump right into it.

I have no doubts that much of Chicagoland is feeling melancholy right now. The Jay Cutler debut was far from spectacular and it left many Bears fans feeling unsatisfied. For instance, there was a poll on Chicago Tribune’s website which asked fans to give a grade to Cutler’s performance, and, as of the time of this entry, 40% of the 3300 people who voted assigned him either a D or an F. The text beside those grades were: “An INT? I thought we got rid of that” for the D grade, and “Give me back Kyle Orton” for the F grade.

I truly hope those fans were voting out of frustration and did not give careful thought to the question. After all, Cutler was second in the league last year with 18 interceptions. They’re going to happen, so deal with it. And as for Orton, he threw three interceptions in his first outing this preseason. On three consecutive drives, nonetheless. Does that make you feel more warm and fuzzy?

I will give credit to the majority of the people who gave Cutler a C — which is what I gave him — and the text beside that was: “He didn’t care, it’s preseason.” We must not forget that the entire team’s shaky performance can be chalked up to it being the first preseason game. And the Bills were actually taking part in their second game.

Cutler’s performance and the ensuing public outcry was exactly what I expected following the unrealistic expectations that were thrust upon him this off-season. It was as if he was expected to walk on water, defecate gold, and instantly bring the city a Super Bowl championship. Bears fans would be wise to temper their enthusiasm for Cutler a little bit and see him for what he currently is: not a savior, not a franchise quarterback, but a good player who made the Pro Bowl last year and who gives them a better chance to win than has any quarterback that has donned the navy and burnt orange in a long time.

My personality aside, I wouldn’t exactly inch my way closer to the ledge following a subpar performance for many reasons, perhaps none more important than who Cutler was missing. The offense took the field without arguably their two biggest weapons, tight end Greg Olsen and running back Matt Forte, who were both out with ailments. A healthy Forte and a strong running game will open things up for Cutler down the field. Similarly, with the Cutler-to-Olsen connection commanding future attention, that will make room for the running game while also freeing up the receivers on the outside.

From the defensive perspective, we caught glimpses of what Rod Marinelli’s presence has done for the defensive line, but the pass rush still wasn’t where it needs to be. Alex Brown picked up a coverage sack and Corey Graham got one on a blitz. The fact that Bills starting quarterback Trent Edwards went 10-for-10 is a little disconcerting. One would like to think that had Tommie Harris and Charles Tillman played, the defense would have been a little better.

I was most pleased with the performance of rookie safety Al Afalava. He’s putting more pressure on Danieal Manning to return to the lineup from his hamstring injury and perform well. If Afalava continues to develop at this same pace, he could wind up being a starter in the regular season. The only problem with that scenario is that he would likely start at strong safety alongside Kevin Payne, who would move to free safety. That situation is not ideal because Payne is more of a strong safety who is better in run support than back in coverage. However, it’s better to have your best players on the field than putting an inferior player at a certain position to try to accommodate one aspect of your defense.

I’ll also give credit to Craig Steltz, who is not very high on my list, but forced a fumble and picked up an interception. He was playing against reserves, but he was at least making plays.

The Bears will now return to work where I expect Lovie Smith to make clear to his defense just how unacceptable their poor tackling in Saturday’s game was. Believe it or not, I’m more concerned with the defense than I am with the offense, even though the defense arguably played better Saturday night. When Olsen and Forte return to the lineup and Ron Turner does get more creative with his play calling, we’ll see the offense move the chains more efficiently. It’s the defense that has to continue to show me a better pass rush, better coverage skills — I’m looking at you, Nathan Vasher — and definitely better tackling.

We’ll see what the Bears can get done in a week’s time for next Saturday’s game against the Giants, a much tougher opponent than they saw this weekend.

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