In the third preseason game of the season, on the road in a hostile environment, the Bears played about as well as you could expect them to play. Sure, there’s always room for improvement, but the important thing is that the first string took a 17-3 lead into halftime and they avoided any major injuries.
The Bears kicked off first, so the Broncos fans had to wait for their first glimpse of Cutler the Bear, but as soon as Cutler began jogging onto the field for his first possession, Broncos fans booed Cutler so loudly that he had to cover his ears in order to hear the play call. The Bears went 3-and-out on their first two possessions, but you can’t really fault them because they began both drives in poor field position. The first drive started from the 12-yard line and the next one began at the 3. On their third drive, however, they settled down and drove 58 yards on 10 plays, which was capped off by a Robbie Gould 40-yard field goal.
Welcome back, Devin Hester! In the middle of the second quarter, Hester — who was returning punts for the first time this preseason — fielded a punt near midfield and took it 54 yards to the Broncos’ 4-yard line. Two plays later, Matt Forte punched it into the end zone for 6. If Hester can somehow become a fraction of what he was in his first two seasons and give the Bears’ offense good field position off his punt returns, the Bears will put up a lot of points with Cutler under center.
Finally, with the lead and a little bit of momentum, the Bears’ offense looked much like they did last week against the Giants. Backed up on their own 2-yard line with 5:20 left in the half, Cutler orchestrated a 12-play, 98-yard drive that chewed up all but 13 seconds on the clock and concluded with a Cutler-to-Forte 6-yard touchdown pass. Cutler was 7 of 10 for 85 yards and completed passes to six different receivers. He also converted all three third-down plays and picked up 33 yards on those downs.
That was impressive.
It wasn’t all rosy for the Bears’ first string offense, though. Left tackle Orlando Pace had trouble blocking Elvis Dumervil all night. Dumervil, who is 5-11, was just a little too quick for Pace, who admitted that smaller ends are tougher for him to contain.
Another source of concern is the Bears’ run game. Forte amassed just 21 yards on 9 carries for a 2.3 average.
The defense, meanwhile, continued making strides toward improving from last year as they held the Broncos to just 3 first-half points. Early in the third quarter, however, with many of the first stringers still on the field, the Broncos marched 61 yards on 9 plays led by backup quarterback Tom Brandstater, and Peyton Hillis punched in a 1-yard touchdown run.
The Bears still face issues in the secondary and tonight’s performance did little to alleviate concerns over that unit. Getting Charles Tillman, and even Zack Bowman, back into the lineup should help to shore up the defense.
As for the “quarterback duel” between Jay Cutler and Kyle Orton, Cutler certainly got the better of that matchup. Cutler finished with 144 yards and a touchdown on 15 of 21 passing. Orton completed 12 of 16 passes for 96 yards and no touchdowns.
The muddled receiving corps did not get worked out like I had hoped it might. The two lanky receivers, Brandon Rideau and Devin Aromashodu, both dropped big passes. Aromashodu couldn’t hang on to a, dare I say poorly placed Cutler throw toward the end zone, and Rideau dropped a pass from Caleb Hanie in the second half after being hit from behind by Brian Dawkins. Rashied Davis made a few special teams plays that might have helped his cause. Johnny Knox picked up 43 yards on a deep pass from Hanie and Juaquin Iglesias hauled in a 25-yard completion.
Typically, teams play their starters into the third quarter of the third preseason game, and the Bears did that for the most part with the exception of Cutler, who did not take a snap in the second half. If I were the Bears, I wouldn’t play Cutler at all in the fourth and final preseason game Thursday against the Browns. The Bears should have a pretty good idea of where their offense stands and what they can do with Cutler, so I wouldn’t even bother putting him out there in harm’s way for a meaningless game.
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