First and Ten: Thoughts and notes about the Bears

September 10th, 2012 - 6:30 pm

Thoughts and notes about the state of the Bears following their 41-21 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

First: Jay Cutler, Lovie Smith shouldn’t need to plead for Bears fans silence in red zone

After the Bears’ big victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, the last thing you’d expect Chicago to be talking about was Jay Cutler’s half-serious public service announcement during his postgame press conference pleading with fans to be quiet when the offense is in the red zone. Today, Lovie Smith backed up his quarterback and reiterated the team’s desire that fans know when to cheer and when to be quiet so that Cutler can hear the play call and his teammates can hear him relay the information to them.

What’s even more confounding than the head coach and star quarterback of “Chicago’s Team” making such a plea to their fans is that there are actually fans out there that called in to radio stations Monday to defend their right to cheer whenever they darn well please.

Listen, nobody is telling Bears fans they can’t cheer when the offense has the ball. As a paying customer, fans have the right to scream and shout (within reason) whenever and however they choose. But the point is, if you’re a true fan, you want your team to do well, right? And if Cutler can’t hear the play being called because fans are too loud, then how is that helping the team? It forces him to burn a timeout like he did on Sunday and the team suffers for it.

One argument some fans are making is that on Thursday night at Lambeau Field as well as other away games throughout the year, Cutler will have to deal with crowd noise. That’s a stupid counterargument. Those are called “away” games. There are eight of those in a season and eight home games. The home games are supposed to be advantageous to the Bears, not detrimental.

Please use some common sense at the games.

1. Henry Melton bursts out of the gates again

Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton had a terrific game with two sacks, pressure on the quarterback, and a big tackle for loss. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Melton had essentially the same kind of impact in last year’s season opener against the Atlanta Falcons. After such an explosive start to the season, Melton kind of drifted in and out of collective consciousness as he would have strong games and then would disappear for big stretches at a time. Here’s hoping he learns to have a bit more consistency and he keeps the pressure on. The Bears will need it.

2. Tim Jennings took demotion to heart

By most accounts, cornerback Tim Jennings had a good season a year ago. But it wasn’t good enough by the coaching staff’s standards. Smith demoted Jennings in favor of Zack Bowman against the Packers at the end of the season mainly due to the fact that Jennings was not converting turnovers. Jennings had a handful of dropped interceptions throughout the season and Smith felt Jennings needed to make more plays. The team re-signed Jennings in the offseason and the move has paid off. Jennings had a strong training camp and preseason where he was making plays and securing interceptions and he carried his strong August into September with two interceptions against the Colts, plus a third tipped pass that was picked off by Chris Conte. With or without a healthy Charles Tillman, the Bears could certainly use similar production from Jennings throughout the season.

3. Shea McClellin has quiet first game

While Bears rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery stormed onto the scene with a 42-yard touchdown reception late in the game, first-round pick Shea McClellin had little impact in his first real NFL game. McClellin’s only serious production came on a nice spin move off the edge that resulted in a quarterback hit on Andrew Luck, causing an incompletion. The question of whether McClellin is in the right position is going to haunt him, well, almost forever unless he either produces as a defensive lineman or the team moves him to linebacker in the future. For now, all we need to see from him is improvement from game to game and to continue using that relentless, non-stop motor of his. Plays are bound to come.

4. Bears wisely rest Brian Urlacher, but Charles Tillman’s injury a concern

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher started the game against the Colts after missing practically all of training camp and as expected he had a bit of rust to shake off. He played a little into the third quarter before Smith yanked him as the team held a big lead. That was a smart move by Smith because there was nothing else to gain from Urlacher on the field. He wasn’t making plays, the team didn’t need him to win, and he already was able to get some conditioning and repetitions of live game action in order to help prepare him for Thursday’s showdown against the Packers. What could be an even bigger concern was that Charles Tillman left the game early with a leg injury and did not return. The team expressed optimism after the game that he could play Thursday, but it’ll be a concern if this hinders him.

5. Nothing wrong with “force feeding” Brandon Marshall

For more years than can be remembered, Bears fans have been clamoring for a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver. Now that the team has acquired one in Brandon Marshall, what are fans shouting about? “Stop forcing the ball to him and look elsewhere!” Honestly, Cutler had a few close calls with near-interceptions, but that’s nothing new. That’s been the same story for three years now. Unless Cutler trying to thread the needle to Marshall results in some game-changing interceptions, I don’t care how often he looks Marshall’s way. No single defensive back can cover Marshall alone, and Marshall’s wingspan and catch radius are so impressive that I trust him to make plays on forced passes. There really is no reason to spread around the ball — even though the Bears did that fairly well on Sunday — unless Marshall is double-covered all game and Cutler sees the open man. As long as you have this rare weapon, use him!

6. Newcomers make impact

After the first week of the season, new general manager Phil Emery gets a passing grade for his offseason acquisitions. We all know what Marshall did (nine catches, 119 yards, one touchdown, two drawn pass interferences, and a game-changing presence). But running back Michael Bush recorded two rushing touchdowns and a 20-yard run. Jeffery had three catches for 80 yards and a 42-yard score. Cornerback Kelvin Hayden stepped in for the injured Tillman and had a solid day’s work including a fumble recovery. And reserve linebacker/special teams star Blake Costanzo had a solid day covering kicks with two tackles. If we start to see more from McClellin, along with consistency from these other players, it’ll be a successful first year for Emery.

7. Nate Collins back

After Adam Podlesh returned from his injury to play on Sunday, the Bears let go of punter Ryan Quigley and activated defensive tackle Nate Collins after his one-game suspension for substance abuse. Collins had a solid preseason where he constantly found himself in the backfield and was disrupting plays. It’s not clear what kind of role he will have with the team due to the depth at the position. Amobi Okoye was inactive this week after just recently joining the team and he figures to have a leg up on the competition anyway. But I’d be curious to see if Collins works his way into the rotation at all this season because I feel he can do some good things.

8. Matt Forte shows his versatility

Most figured that Forte would take a step back in production from his Pro Bowl season a year ago considering the team added depth with Bush and they also appear to be transitioning to a passing offense. But Forte still had a big impact in Sunday’s game and showed exactly what kind of weapon he can be with his versatility. Not only did he pick up 80 yards on 16 carries plus a rushing touchdown, but he caught 3 passes for 40 yards and was also solid in pass protection. I think this might prove that even if the Bears stick to being a pass-first offense, Forte will factor into the game plan one way or another.

9. Bears can overcome weaker defense with strong offense

Injuries to the defense along with advanced age may be a cause for concern for some, but the Bears still have the opportunity to be a good football team if they can maintain their offensive production. It’s a little crazy to think they’ll score 41 points every week, but it’s not out of the question for them to score in the upper-20s, lower-30s most weeks. With that kind of offensive production, they can afford to take a hit defensively this year. Most of the good passing football teams in the NFL have weaker defenses, so the Bears aren’t being revolutionary by any means. Of course, it would help the Bears immensely if they can step up their pass rush and get after the quarterback, a la the New York Giants.

10. No news is good news on the offensive line

If asked to name one of the Bears’ biggest weaknesses on Sunday, you’d be hard-pressed to name the offensive line, initially. Cutler was sacked just twice by the Colts. The first sack came on the first offensive play of the game, but it was tight end Kellen Davis — not an offensive lineman — that yielded the sack. After that play, Cutler was sacked just once more the rest of the game and it came on a play in which he realistically could have gotten rid of the ball or tried to scramble out of the pocket to make a play, but chose to play it safe with a big lead and just go down to the ground. It was a smart decision at the time, and even though the pass-blocking could have been better on the play, you can’t completely fault the offensive line there. Other than those two sacks, there was not much talk about the offensive line from the broadcast booth, and that’s always a good sign. All in all, it was a good, not great, performance by the big uglies up front, and that’s all you can ask for from a group with their collective talent level.