It’s another Sunday edition of Monday Morning Quarterback, and this one surely has better items to report.
Just as I cautioned last week that Bears fans shouldn’t get too low on Jay Cutler and the Bears’ offense following a mediocre performance against the Buffalo Bills, I’m equally adamant that February reservations in Miami for Super Bowl XLIV should not be made any time soon. However, what you saw in Cutler’s three scoring drives with the Bears’ first-team offense is a small taste of what’s to come in the regular season.
Cutler’s poise in the pocket continued to impress as he waited for the opportune moment to deliver a tight pass to Earl Bennett just a split second before getting drilled by a blitzing cornerback. On other plays, he was able to move in the pocket to buy some time and even rolled out of it early in the second quarter and just barely overthrew a streaking Devin Hester for what would have been a 91-yard touchdown pass.
Cutler’s pinpoint accuracy was on display early as he threaded the needle on two different plays to Bennett, including one completion in which he threw the ball low to the ground where the defender could not make a play on it.
The ball was also spread around nicely as Cutler completed passes to six different receivers. That’s an encouraging sign for a team criticized for its receiver position. To be able to use tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark as well as running back Matt Forte in the passing game will help make up for some of that lack of depth.
The receiver position could get interesting as cutdown day looms. When Cutler made the statement that if the Bears’ front office didn’t ask for his opinion about which receivers to keep on the roster, he’d give his opinion to them anyway, I have little doubt that he was thinking about Devin Aromashodu at the time. Cutler has looked Aromashodu’s way in training camp often and he hooked up with the tall receiver against the Giants down the left sideline for a 38-yard gain, which set up Clark’s one-yard touchdown catch.
Hester, meanwhile, caught two passes for 14 yards, but he and Cutler are still not fully in sync just yet. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Hester lead the team this year in receiving yards because of his downfield threat, but Bennett or Olsen lead the team in receptions. Aromashodu continues to make a name for himself, as does Brandon Rideau.
The player who is not being heard from, and whose days are clearly numbered in Chicago, is Rashied Davis. With Hester and Bennett locked in, and Rideau and Aromashodu pushing for serious consideration, that leaves Davis to compete with rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox for the fifth and likely final roster spot at the position. If I was a betting man, I’d say Iglesias would earn that spot with Knox either joining the practice squad or latching on with another team that needs a speedster.
The defense, while far from perfect, played much better against the Giants than they did in Game 1 against the Bills. They got after Eli Manning early and rattled him. They sacked him twice and forced him to get rid of the ball earlier than he wanted to on other occasions.
They did not, however, have a lot of success at slowing down running back Brandon Jacobs, as most teams find it difficult to do. The man that is built like a truck and runs just as hard as one made several Bears defenders look silly, most notably Brian Urlacher. I’m sure visions of Jerome Bettis running over Urlacher were flashing through Bears fans minds when that was happening, and immediately after the game, callers were voicing their frustrations with Urlacher’s play on 670 The Score. The Bears’ tackling as a whole still needs a lot of improvement.
Rookie safety Al Afalava, who wowed people throughout training camp and in the Bills game last week, did not stand out as much against the Giants and was also one of the defenders that failed to wrap up Jacobs and got run over by him. However, while he didn’t make high marks on the stat sheet, he’s not going to show up on the Giants’ preseason highlight reel, either.
Strong-side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa made some good plays in his competition to secure the starting job, including when he stuck Jacobs in his tracks, one of the few one-on-one tackles made on the Giants’ running back. Backup linebacker Kevin Malast is also worth mentioning as he led the team in tackles for the second straight game. He’s a long shot to make the team, but he’s fighting to prove he could make a difference on special teams.
Other backup players that fared well include Caleb Hanie, who has all but locked up the second quarterback spot and is proving to be a more dependable backup than he’s being given credit for nationwide.
Tight end Kellen Davis, one of four tight ends on the roster, sucked in a 27-yard pass from Hanie and dragged a defender or two along the way. Iglesias corralled a low screen pass and took it 23 yards with some nifty moves. And rookie defensive end Henry Melton, while not getting another chance to return a kickoff like he did against the Bills, displayed a constant motor and was in on several plays.
The Bears now have two game films to review as they prepare for their regular season “dress rehearsal” against the Denver Broncos next week. Cutler, I’m sure, will get an unwelcome response from Broncos fans for his eagerness to get out of town and I have concerns that some of his former defensive teammates might be headhunting. The Bears could ill afford to lose him before the season even begins. Of all four preseason games, the third one serves as the one which most closely resembles a regular season game as most teams’ starters play into the third quarter. It’ll be after this game that we’ll see how far the Bears have come and to what length they still have to go to get ready for the season opener at Lambeau Field on Sept. 13.