The following are a few observations and thoughts I took away from the Bears’ preseason game against the Giants on Monday.
-My fear all week — and really since the preseason schedule was released — was that we could see a repeat of what happened to Jay Cutler in last year’s regular season matchup with the Giants. Fortunately, the offensive line played much better than they did last October and as recently as last week against the Bills. Cutler was sacked just once on the first play of the second quarter. He was flushed out of the pocket and could have thrown the ball out of bounds to avoid the sack. The line did have a few close calls as Cutler was hit after throwing the ball on a couple plays, one of which resulted in a roughing the passer penalty. But with Lance Louis’ and J’Marcus Webb’s backs to the wall and jobs on the line, the unit played well enough to keep it together for another week.
-The fallout over Major Wright’s whiffed attempt to tackle Brandon Jacobs on Jacobs’ touchdown run is probably a tad overboard today. Tackling is one of Wright’s strengths and he proved so against the Bills last week as well as in the preseason a year ago. The fact is, most of the Bears defense showed bad tackling form against the Giants and Wright simply needs to play with a little more control. It’s important not to lose sight over the fact that he’s still young and is only entering his second season. I’m more concerned about his pass coverage than his tackling.
-Continuing from my last point, tackling was a big issue Monday night, and Lovie Smith admitted as much. “You’ve got to tackle a little bit better before you start talking about injuries and things like that,” Smith said after the game. The Bears looked like they were going through the motions rather than playing with any sense of pride, and I can’t fault them for treating this game for what it’s worth: little to nothing. There is nothing new about the Bears’ tackling issues. They’ve long had problems with that early in seasons due to having so many finesse players on the defense and conducting less physical training camps. But the Bears had one of the top run defenses last year and I have no doubts they’ll tackle better once the games mean something.
-Tim Jennings is a consistent player whose experience in this league will serve the Bears well as they transition to a younger secondary. He’s not a flashy guy and is one of the smallest players on the team. But he played well in run support against the Giants and also saved a touchdown on a kickoff return. I feel as long as he refrains from mental mistakes, the Bears’ system will hide his diminutive frame.
-Special teams were a source of frustration Monday night and the poor kick coverage and kick returns led to unfavorable field position. But last year’s special teams struggled in the preseason, too, and many fans held serious reservations about them heading into the regular season. As it turned out, the special teams had another solid year under Dave Toub. One of the miscues against the Giants included a blocked punt, and at fault was reserve linebacker Dom DeCicco. “That was completely my fault,” DeCicco said. “They had been holding me up every time. I tried getting off quick to get down the field, and unfortunately he was rushing on that one. I hurt the team with that one.”
-Sticking with the special teams, Robbie Gould has to start showing up. Mr. Bears Player Representative off the field during the labor negotiations has to start representing the Bears on the field. He may have hit field goals of 42 and 23 yards, but he missed his third field goal in two weeks.
-Everybody seems to be quick to point out Roy Williams’ performance Monday night with a “see, I told you so” attitude, but let’s wait until the regular season before deriding the front office for bringing him in. He’s going to have his dropped passes; that’s something that’s plagued him for years. But he’s also going to add a different dimension to the Bears, something they haven’t had in a long time: a large-framed wide receiver who provides a reliable safety valve for Cutler when under duress. You have to take the good with the bad. There are few receivers in the NFL who don’t have at least some flaws. And one of those flaws that most receivers have is a big personality that may rub some people the wrong way. Williams is a veteran who isn’t going to give his all in training camp and the preseason. He’s just trying to “survive the grind” and get to the regular season. Now, if he starts playing poorly in the regular season, then we have a legitimate axe to grind. But let’s wait until then before we write him off.
-The Bears did a nice job of connecting on a pair of big plays late in the first quarter, a 37-yard reception by Devin Hester and a 42-yard screen pass by Matt Forte. Unfortunately, they could not get but two yards after that and had to settle for a field goal from the 5-yard line. Needless to say, their goal line offense is still a problem.
-Continuing with that point, Hester showed on that drive both what he is and what he is not as a receiver. A player who can use his speed to separate from defenders to become a home run threat is what Hester is. A player who can have the ball forced to him and can be relied upon to make clutch catches in traffic is what he is not. After his initial catch on that drive, the Bears tried to force-feed him the ball and he could not pull through.
-Forte and Chester Taylor managed a combined 14 yards on 7 carries before yielding to Marion Barber, who got heavy workload from a preseason point of view. He carried the ball 49 times on 13 attempts, a respectable night’s work, and he figures to factor into the game plan this year.
-After effusive praise for the defensive line last week, only Julius Peppers seemed to show up in the backfield against the Giants. Vernon Gholston and Mario Addison seemed to take a step back after their solid efforts against the Bills. With Corey Wootton out for another few weeks, the Bears will need to find some depth at defensive end, and whoever steps up will need to play more consistently.
-After struggling against the Bills last week, Caleb Hanie played the entire second half at the expense of Nathan Enderle’s repetitions. Hanie slung the ball 28 times and completed 17 of those passes for 166 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Martz probably hoped to have seen a little more production and I’m sure he’s not happy without a better backup quarterback despite what he might say publicly.
-Training camp sensation Dane Sanzenbacher caught his first pass as a Bear late in the first half. He then caught some flak for not going out of bounds to conserve time, but I want to make it clear exactly for what he’s at fault. I do not blame him for costing the Bears a timeout. After all, the timeout they used after the play was their first timeout and it came with just seven seconds remaining in the half. They couldn’t possibly have used all three timeouts in under 10 seconds, anyway, so why would they be conserving timeouts? What I do blame him for is wasting a few ticks of the clock by trying to gain a few measly yards. I just had to correct the misconception out there that I read/heard from a few in the Chicago media.
In closing, I think Zach Zaidman of WSCR 670 The Score said it best when he noted that the Bears were the true winners Monday night. The Giants may have held the lopsided edge on the scoreboard, but they also suffered some serious injuries whereas the Bears walked away healthy. That’s ultimately more important.
Plus, the Bears can learn a lot more from losing than they can from winning and this game film will give them ample footage from which to study and get better.
Finally, have we learned nothing from last year’s 0-4 preseason? There are a lot of fans holding a “sky is falling” attitude after the Bears’ performance against the Giants, but the team still has two preseason games and three weeks to go before the regular season opener. I think those fans need to step back from the ledge a bit and take a deep breath because a playoff season can still happen no matter what the Bears look like in the preseason.