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

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

–First impression: It depends on if your glass is half full or half empty whether you view any positives from the game. The critics will point to a bad second quarter and neglect to give the Bears their due. My glass is perpetually overflowing, but there were some things that were a cause for concern. To sum it up, the Bears played a solid first quarter and a poor second quarter. A 50-50 split; you can’t be too upset about that.

–The Bears couldn’t seem to get their running game going for whatever reason. The offensive line across the board forms a collective better run-blocking unit than a pass-blocking one, but some glaring missed run blocks left Matt Forte picking himself up off the ground after short gains.

–Brandon Marshall’s versatility will allow the Bears to move him all over the field to fill many roles. We witnessed Marshall running shallow crossing routes where Jay Cutler could get him the ball and he could use his strength and mobility to get past defenders for extra yards after the catch. There’s really not a bad place to line up Marshall; he’s sort of like the queen on a chessboard. He can move in any which direction and attack the opponent in so many different ways. The defense will have to focus on him and that opens up other opportunities for the offense.

–On the first drive of the game, Cutler scrambled out of the pocket and headed for the first down line, only to pull up and slide short of the marker to avoid taking any unnecessary hits from the defense. My first thought was that I wondered what was the ratio of meatballs to intelligent fans; those who were questioning his toughness on that slide versus those who understood the risk-reward ratio of trying to pick up a meaningless first down on the first drive of a preseason game. My second thought? I wondered what Maurice Jones-Drew was going to tweet about the slide, from wherever the crybaby holdout is sucking his thumb.

–Rookie punter Ryan Quigley did a good job punting in place of the injured Adam Podlesh. It is unknown how long Podlesh will be out, but rumors are that it could be a while and that he won’t be ready for the start of the regular season. If Quigley has another solid performance Thursday against the Browns in the preseason finale, the Bears might be more inclined to keep him rather than go outside the organization if Podlesh is unavailable at the start of the season.

–The defense did a better job in run support in some situations but struggled again in others. For instance, on the Giants’ field goal drive in the first quarter, there were a few missed tackles that led to big plays and first downs, which is why the Giants were able to move the ball into field goal range. On other drives, the defense read run properly and came up and shut it down. Consistency is what the coaching staff is looking for and the defense will have to get better if they hope to get off the field sooner and not get fatigued early in games.

–In general, Cutler did not have a good night throwing the ball. He had a few of his receivers drop passes, but he also wasn’t hitting the mark on many of his throws. Sometimes those days will happen, but it’s also the job of every receiver to catch the football if it hits his hands, no excuses.

–I’m not going to go too much into the poor officiating because I’m one of the strongest antagonists of blaming officials for any sort of outcome in a game. I believe it’s up to the players to win and lose games no matter how horrendous some of the calls made by the replacement officials have been this preseason. But one thing I don’t like is missed calls — or incorrect calls — when it comes to player safety. One of which happened in the first quarter when an official originally threw a flag on an incomplete pass to Marshall, apparently flagging the defender for taking a shot to Marshall’s head. After a conference, the officials waved off the penalty which I believe was the wrong thing to do. Replays clearly show Giants safety Kenny Phillips go to the head of a defenseless Marshall. I’m not sure how you can see a penalty, call it, and then suddenly forget what you saw.

–The Bears coverage teams improved from last week, that’s for sure. And I think a lot of that has to do with less moving pieces. As we get closer to cutdown days, Bears coaches have a better idea of which players will be forming their special teams units and those players got the bulk of the work.

–I thought Craig Steltz did a good job starting in place of the injured Chris Conte, particularly in reading and reacting to various plays. On one such occurrence, Steltz read a screen and closed quickly on the running back, dropping him for a loss in the backfield. On another play, though, he was flagged for a late hit out of bounds — a questionable call — but he needs to know to lay off the runner at the sideline.

–I still don’t recall hearing Henry Melton’s name being called yet in the preseason. He’s still on the team, right?

–Charles Tillman had a particularly rough night, especially in the second quarter when he got picked on a lot by Giants quarterback Eli Manning. In a regular season game, that kind of treatment won’t happen. The defense would adjust its coverage and blitz pressure.

–Lorenzo Booker continued showing flashes on special teams with some good kickoff returns. He has an outside shot of making the team, but the coaching staff still likes Armando Allen. Allen has been showing more on offense whereas Booker has proven his special teams worth. It could come down to what the Bears value more in their third running back.

–As long as the Bears don’t try to force the ball to Devin Hester on offense, he can be a valuable commodity on that side of the ball. When he was thrust into the No. 1 receiver role, he struggled with his routes, hands, and understanding how to separate from defenders and find the soft spot in zones. Against the Giants, however, Mike Tice called a nicely-timed end around that Hester took 19 yards for a first down. In that type of role, where Hester’s numbered is called sporadically, he can make bigger plays for the team.

–When Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara went down with a high ankle sprain late in the first quarter, my first thought was, “how many smart aleck tweets are there going to be about the need to ‘throw him in the ice tub‘?”

–Rookie Alshon Jeffery has been impressing everybody throughout training camp and the preseason but he had his struggles in this one. He dropped a pair of passes, one from Cutler at the goal line near the end of the first quarter and another from Jason Campbell later in the game. He did make a nice play on a tipped pass with a defender draped all over him, catching the ricochet and taking it for a first down.

–I was downright giddy when Cutler threw that perfect touchdown pass to Marshall down the sideline. Cutler said prior to training camp that adding Marshall and the other offensive weapons felt like Christmas morning, opening up all the new presents he got and saying how he couldn’t wait to play with them. Sticking with that analogy, the youthful excitement I felt watching that touchdown pass was overflowing. The fact that Cutler can literally throw the ball in the general vicinity of Marshall and we can all have strong confidence that it’ll be caught is a rare feeling not felt in these parts in… maybe forever.

–What do I really need to say about Julius Peppers’ 13-yard tackle for loss on an end around at the end of the first quarter? That kind of athleticism is just not found in men of his size. I think CBS color analyst Dan Dierdorf said it best: “Hello, I’m Julius Peppers, and you’re not.”

–Neither J’Marcus Webb nor Chris Williams inspired much confidence against the Giants, so the left tackle position will remain a source of concern probably throughout the season. Both whiffed on a number of blocks and Williams even allowed Osi Umenyiora to run right past him on one pass rush, hardly even laying a finger on him. Fortunately, Cutler saw the rush, stepped up in the pocket, and got rid of the ball. It appears Webb will be the starter at left tackle and Chris Spencer will line up at left guard, but we’ll have to wait on official word for that.

–Near the end of the first half, Quigley had a punt blocked as the result of Harvey Unga allowing the defender to come essentially untouched on the rush. Unga was a long shot to make the final roster anyway, but a whiff like that on special teams all but assures that he’ll be cleaning out his locker soon.

–Special teams issues continued when Eric Weems fumbled on a kickoff return just before the half. He managed to pounce on it, but that can’t inspire confidence heading toward the regular season.

–The Bears brought in Rashied Davis specifically for his special teams ability after Devin Thomas abruptly left the team. In what seems to be a competition for the last roster spot at wide receiver, he didn’t do himself any favors by dropping passes in the second half. Dane Sanzenbacher, with whom Davis is competing, has better hands and is also finding ways to contribute on special teams.

–Much like Cutler, Campbell had an off night with his accuracy as well. Some of his passes were too high or behind his receivers, but the ball also deflected off those receivers hands, which means they could have, and should have, been caught.

–Above all else, the central players and major contributors to the team came out of the game healthy and ready to go for the regular season in two weeks. Mission accomplished.

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