From the Notebook: Thoughts and observations while watching Bears-Redskins preseason game

August 19th, 2012 - 11:14 am

The following are notes I took while reviewing the Bears-Redskins preseason game from Saturday night.

–Brian Urlacher’s missing presence is clearly looming among the first string defense, particularly in the run game. Nick Roach does not have Urlacher’s awareness and closing speed and with Geno Hayes filling in for Roach on the strong side, the linebackers appear to be missing some reads and not filling their lanes.

–I thought it was great that the Bears went up top on the first offensive play of the game, a 41-yard reception from Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall. It’s good to come out swinging, so to speak, and it marked the first live game action of both Cutler and Marshall together. On the sideline late in the game, FOX sideline reporter Lou Canellis interviewed Cutler and asked him who called the play. A huge grin came across Cutler’s face, and after a few seconds, he replied: “He (offensive coordinator Mike Tice) gave us a lot of flexibility. Whenever we see one-on-one out there, we’re going to take advantage of it.”

–Marshall continues to impress — as I suspect he’ll do throughout the season considering he’s a physical specimen at receiver that we haven’t seen in this town, ever — with his good instincts, awareness, and body control. On the first drive, he made a catch near the sideline and tip-toed by the stripe to pick up extra yards and avoid tacklers.

–As expected, Alshon Jeffery got some early work with the first string offense. He came into the game when the offense got into the red zone and Cutler delivered a perfect strike to him for a completion down to the 1-yard line.

–To cap off the opening drive, Michael Bush came in and did what he does best on a beautiful off tackle run for a touchdown. It was also well-blocked.

–Tim Jennings showed good containment, staying with his coverage responsibilities as Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III scrambled out of the pocket, and waited until Griffin crossed the line of scrimmage before leaving his receiver and coming up to make the stop.

–Nothing new: Cutler showed good pocket mobility and awareness early on, stepping up to avoid the pass rush and then scrambling for a first down.

–While the offensive line played fairly well throughout the night, tight end Kyle Adams was beaten off the edge by a cornerback on a pass rush and he allowed the defender to get a hit on Cutler after the ball was thrown.

–Things got chirpy between Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall and Jeffery. Both players were going after each other’s helmet and Jeffery ripped off and threw down Hall’s helmet during the play. The rookie receiver has to learn to keep his cool, but in a preseason game, the bigger underlying fact to take from it is that Jeffery isn’t going to be intimidated. Hall went after Jeffery’s facemask first. Jeffery just needs to learn that the second guy will get caught and how much “extracurricular activity” he can get away with.

–Matt Forte didn’t have a whole lot of daylight on his runs in his limited action, but he showed some nice shifty moves.

–Add left guard to the list of problems on the offensive line. Chris Spencer struggled last week and he had a rough patch against the Redskins, too. On consecutive plays, he was flagged for a false start and then he whiffed on a delayed blitz — which color commentator and former Bear Jim Miller called a “pressure rush” — which caused Cutler to ground the ball on third and long. Chilo Rachal received some time with the first unit as well but had his own bouts of trouble.

–It’s too bad Chris Spencer was flagged for a false start on that particular play. Before the snap, Cutler could be seen giving a signal to Marshall, clearly something he saw in the defense that could be exploited. These two guys always say how much they see things on the field the same way. When the flag was thrown on Spencer, both Cutler and Marshall could be seen frustrated and discouraged. We might have seen something special on that play.

–Major Wright showed some good quickness on blitzes off the edge, but he needs to learn to wrap up and tackle better and not miss those opportunities for stops in the backfield. On the first blitz, he missed a sack on Griffin III, but it probably worked out better that way as Israel Idonije strip-sacked Griffin III and Julius Peppers chased down the loose fumble. On Wright’s second blitz, he missed a tackle for loss opportunity.

–Bush’s second touchdown run was even more impressive than the first. Bush, considered a power runner because of his size, showed that he does have some moves as well by juking a Redskins linebacker out of his jock and finding the end zone.

–Special teams usually seem out of sync in the preseason, particularly the coverage and return units. That’s normal and nothing to worry about because there are a lot of moving pieces with different players getting opportunities. The Bears have had issues on special teams almost annually during the preseason but they usually shore it up and have one of the top units in the league in the regular season.

–On the final play of first quarter, Idonije had good pressure on the outside pass rush, which turned Griffin III back to the middle where defensive tackle Matt Toeaina beat his blocker to pick up the sack. With mobile quarterbacks like Griffin III, it’s important to keep them contained in the pocket and not let them get outside.

–Shea McClellin had a strong pass rush on the first play of the second quarter where he started his outside rush and then did a spin move inside. He caused the right tackle to hold him and get flagged for it.

–Free agent pickup Eric Weems had a nice return in the second quarter, fielding a short punt he probably should have fair caught in traffic, but avoided the early hit and bounced off a few tacklers for a nice return. There was a flag on the return, but it had no effect on freeing up Weems on the run — in other words, a pointless penalty called by the zebras.

–Bush showed good vision to bounce a run that got stuffed up the middle to the outside for a gain of 8 yards. He also showed good hands on a third down swing pass to pick up the first.

–Cutler had perfect placement on a laser to Earl Bennett, throwing it through a tight window just past the outstretched arm of the defensive back. With Marshall occupying attention on the outside, we could see a lot of over-the-middle work from Bennett.

–Cutler and Bennett had a miscommunication that nearly resulted in an interception when Cutler was under heavy pressure. We won’t see that too often, particularly between a quarterback and receiver who are generally on the same page.

–It’s been said before, but worth noting again, this offense is really going to help the aging Bears defense by sustaining long drives and chewing up time off the clock. The Bears looked very methodical in marching up and down the field.

–McClellin lost contain on a third down in the second quarter, trying a spin move to get around his blocker, which allowed RG3 to scramble for the first down. It’s a learning experience that he immediately knew was his fault. Cameras showed him on the sideline upset with himself after the play.

–Defensive tackle Nate Collins, trying to solidify a roster spot, blew up a run play in the backfield by pushing his blocker backwards, right where the running back was trying to take the ball.

–Backup quarterback Jason Campbell showed some nice mobility out of the backfield to buy time and find Jeffery for a first down (after the defender was draped all over Jeffery).

–On the next play, Jeffery caught the ball in the middle of three Redskins defenders and outran them all for a big gain. The guy is going to be a big player for this team even as a rookie.

–The starting offensive line was still in the game mid-second quarter when Campbell replaced Cutler and the line suddenly lost its bearings as pressure got to Campbell often.

–Following a Redskins punt return for a touchdown late in the first half, Weems returned a kickoff from 8 yards deep in the end zone all the way out to the 40-yard-line. Weems then showed his versatility on offense by catching a quick pass, making the cornerback miss and picking up 33 yards for a first down.

–Running back Lorenzo Booker, who is competing with Armando Allen and Kahlil Bell for the third running back spot, displayed beautiful, shifty moves on his 105-yard kickoff return touchdown to open the second half.

–Rookie safety Brandon Hardin had a nasty-looking injury when he led with his head on a tackle attempt and was down on the field for a long time, having to be carted off the field. He was able to move his arms and hands as he was on the cart, which is a good sign. This came after fellow safety Chris Conte had to leave the game earlier with a shoulder injury.

–Early in the third quarter on third down, McClellin applied great pressure on the quarterback with a beautiful spin move on the left tackle.

–Campbell showed good touch on a third-down toss to Evan Rodriguez out of the backfield to pick up a first down. He placed the ball just over the outstretched arms of the defender covering Rodriguez. It’s a good thrown by a savvy veteran.

–The officials made a bad call late in the third quarter on a fourth down attempt by the Redskins. Bears cornerback Jonathan Wilhite broke up a pass but was flagged for pass interference. There was contact between Wilhite and the receiver before the pass was thrown, but it was legal because it was within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Wilhite did not interfere when the ball was in the air.