The Bears are done with training camp and will face the Giants Saturday night in their second preseason game. It’ll mark the Soldier Field live-action debut for quarterback Jay Cutler.
Here are ten things to watch in Game 2:
1. Jay Cutler’s second game
Chalk up the first preseason game as either nerves, a vanilla playbook, or missing offensive weapons, but Cutler had a modest game against the Bills. He’ll now make his home debut and should have Greg Olsen and Matt Forte back in the lineup. I’d like to see his continued poise in the pocket as well as smart throws on his part. He forced a pass to Devin Hester that was picked off last week and while that’s bound to happen from a gunslinger, I’d like to see him make smarter decisions.
2. Matt Forte’s impact on the offense
Forte had a great rookie season and proved his value as both a ball carrier and a pass catcher. Cutler claims that Forte’s receptions will go down this year because he’s obviously a downfield quarterback, but Forte will still make opposing defenses account for him and open things up in the passing game. I don’t think we’ll see a whole lot from Forte if he does play because the coaches will be cautious with him and they still want to get Kevin Jones more touches.
3. Improvement of the offense
The Bears’ offense had a shaky first outing last week against the Bills and are expecting to put forth a better effort this week against the Giants. They should look better especially with the additions of Olsen and Forte, who are bound to open up more options for Cutler. The offense will still look vanilla, but I’m hoping we see some more first downs and sustained drives at the very least, and a first-offense touchdown would be nice.
4. Better performances from Devin Hester and Earl Bennett
This could go for the entire receiving corps, but specifically starting wideouts Hester and Bennett need to show up for game time. All offseason long, the biggest criticism of the Bears’ receiving corps was how young and inexperienced they were, and Hester and Bennett did nothing to dispel that notion last week against the Bills. They need to improve their route running and get open in space for Cutler.
5. Offensive line play
The Giants’ defensive line is one of the best in the business, so the Bears’ starting offensive line will get a true test Saturday night. Pay close attention to Orlando Pace and Chris Williams because the Giants have great ends. Frank Omiyale appears to be tightening his grip on the starting left guard spot, but he knows he still has to perform well to lock it up, so let’s keep an eye out on how he performs in the run game, where his power is supposed to be an advantage for him over Josh Beekman.
6. Defensive line pressure
There are plenty of guys to watch along the defensive front that this could be broken out into many different parts, but I’ll mention them altogether. First, there’s Alex Brown, whom I think could be the biggest beneficiary of Rod Marinelli’s tutelage. He had a sack last week and I’m curious to see how many times he gets close to the quarterback this week. Then, there’s Tommie Harris, who should be making his preseason debut against the Giants. I don’t know how many plays he’ll get, but I’m interested in seeing how he moves around on his surgically-repaired knee. Third is defensive tackle Marcus Harrison, whom the team has big hopes for and he could see quite a few plays just as he did in Game 1 against Buffalo. Finally, I want to see improvement from Mark Anderson. Anderson was said to have a great training camp and is making progress under Marinelli, but he had a shaky first game last week.
7. Linebacker competition and cohesion
We didn’t see an awful lot from Pisa Tinoisamoa last week, but he didn’t play bad, either. I’d like to monitor the strong side linebacker position and see if it’s his job to lose — which I think it is — or if Nick Roach or Jamar Williams is breathing down his neck. As I mentioned last week, linebacker is the Bears’ deepest position and they could have some difficult cuts to make as players such as Marcus Freeman and Kevin Malast have played well but are buried on the depth chart.
8. Nathan Vasher
Vasher played very poorly against the Bills and Lovie Smith basically singled him out and mentioned he was one of the players that needed to improve. If he struggles again versus the Giants, he may lose his starting job when Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman return from their injuries. I don’t think he has much left in the tank at cornerback and his rapidly fading career could find him at nickelback shortly and safety one day, too.
9. Al Afalava
Afalava had one of the best training camps of any Bears player and he arguably was the best defender against the Bills last week. He’s shown great instinct and football intelligence and that could be just what lands him a starting job at safety. If he can string together a couple solid preseason games, it could be tough luck for Danieal Manning, who is nursing a hamstring injury and will likely miss the Bills game.
10. Craig Steltz
After being demoted from the starting free safety position the week of training camp, Steltz found himself third on the depth chart. Against the Bills, Steltz forced a fumble and also returned an interception for a big gain. I’m not completely sold on him and never was, so I need to see more out of him before I feel comfortable with him in the lineup against an opponent’s starting offense.