Notes from Bears-Bills preseason Game 1

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Caleb Hanie and Earl Bennett celebrate Hanie's 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter against the Bills.
Caleb Hanie and Earl Bennett celebrate Hanie's 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter against the Bills.

The following are a few notes I took while watching the Bears’ preseason opener against the Bills on Saturday.

– The Bears came out of the gates in style with an end-around to Devin Hester on their first offensive snap of the game. Hester managed just two yards before being run out of bounds by a defender, but the play certainly reminded us of the innovator who’s calling plays.

– Matt Forte may have done the right thing by honoring his current contract and choosing to play Saturday, but he didn’t do himself any favors in his contract negotiations by missing badly on a blitz pickup on the opening series. Jay Cutler made a great play by scrambling for a first down, but the Bears will need a better pass-blocking effort from their running backs this year.

-J’Marcus Webb had a rough night against Shawne Merriman. On the Bears’ first drive, he was called for holding after being beaten badly. On that same play, Lance Louis was the victim of a swim move as his defender got past him. What’s ironic about that play is that Webb was moved to left tackle for his pass-blocking potential and offensive line coach Mike Tice called Louis an “elite” pass blocker. Louis gave up a pair of sacks. (Webb later noted that he did not match Merriman’s intensity.)

-Charles Tillman will surely get ribbed by his veteran teammates while watching film of this game. With a chance to bring down Bills running back Fred Jackson for a loss of one, Jackson instead stiff armed Tillman in the open field and picked up ten yards and a first down.

– The defense getting burned by quick slants has become so expected that it’s not even a surprise when it happens anymore. In fact, you can even predict a slant route on third-and-short passing plays with a high rate of success. That’s just part of the Bears’ scheme, though: prevent the big play and keep everything in front of them.

-Last season Lovie Smith instituted a “Monsters of the Midway” mentality in which he wanted his defenders to get more physical and it appears that mindset has rolled over into this season. On one play late in the first quarter, the Bills completed a pass to their tight end and three Bears defensive backs converged to make a physical tackle. Tim Jennings stuck him hard from one side, D.J. Moore wrapped him up and threw him to the ground at the same time that Chris Harris launched himself at the pile and drove it backwards. The play drew praise from color commentator Erik Kramer, who said, “How great is that? That’s Bears football.”

-One of the things for which Major Wright was praised last year when he was healthy was his open-field tackling. Wright displayed plenty of that Saturday night as he led the team with five tackles.

-Following a Bills field goal in the first quarter, Johnny Knox had an impressive, 70-yard kickoff return, during which play-by-play man Sam Rosen shouted, “He needs one block!” That one block was not made by Khalil Bell, who had a solid night as the fourth-string running back but could have had a more complete night if he had sprung Knox for the touchdown.

-Marion Barber will become an instant fan favorite in Chicago, assuming he stays healthy. The buzz in the crowd when he gets the ball in his hands is similar — on a smaller level — to when Hester gets the ball in his hands, which is to say the crowd is expecting to see something exciting. Barber’s hard-nosed running style plays on the emotions of those fans who buy into the notion of “Bears football.” On one of Barber’s long runs, he steamrolled through a cornerback to pick up 11 yards. The camera panned the crowd to reveal a standing ovation, at which point Kramer noted, “That guy belongs in Chicago, doesn’t he? That’s the way to run the football as a Chicago Bear.”

-Fullback Eddie Williams, who faces tough odds to make the roster in Mike Martz’s wide-open offense, had a terrific block that upended a linebacker to spring Barber for a 12-yard gain.

-I can’t say enough about how well newcomers Vernon Gholston and Amobi Okoye played. Okoye finished with two sacks on the night, and with each facing tough competition to make the roster, their consistent presence in the backfield is a welcoming sign, especially Okoye’s. The Bears need a dominant presence at the three-technique tackle to really put their defense over the top and Okoye’s competition with Henry Melton — who also had a good game — can only make the two of them better.

-Rookie defensive tackle Stephen Paea made his presence known in the second half when he pressured the quarterback and knocked him down on a straight bull rush.

-Third-string quarterback Nathan Enderle made some nice throws including a 31-yard play-action pass to Kris Adams.

-I don’t think it’ll be long before free agent center Chris Spencer works his way into the starting lineup if Saturday’s performance was any indication. Spencer looked like he took charge of the second unit while helping create holes for Bell in the second half. He pulled on one play and paved the way for a 27-yard Bell run.

-The Bears escaped Game 1 mostly healthy. Defensive end Corey Wootton injured his knee on the opening kickoff, Zack Bowman got his bell rung when he lit up a receiver to break up a pass, and Marcus Harrison left the game after he and Gholston collided while making a tackle.

-How’s this for a “Hall of Shame” statistic: FOX displayed a graphic that noted that Cutler is the first Bears quarterback in franchise history to pass for more than 3,000 yards in consecutive seasons, which he did between 2009 and 2010. That clearly defines just how bad quarterbacking has been in this city for so long because that statistic is awful. Some franchises have consecutive 3,500- to 4,000-yard passers these days.

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