Bears first string looks sharp against Raiders

August 24th, 2013 - 8:44 am

For anyone who puts an ounce of emphasis on the preseason as an indicator for where a team’s preparation and game-readiness is, you had to be pleased with how the Bears’ first-string offense and defense looked Friday night against the Oakland Raiders.

Preseason game or not, the Bears offense looked sharped in the “dress rehearsal” game for the regular season. They scored on their first four drives of the game and added a field goal two drives later to close out the first half with a 27-3 lead, en route to a 34-26 win.

The offensive line protected Jay Cutler well and gave him ample time to throw the ball. Cutler wasn’t sacked once nor did he get intercepted. After being questioned by reporters this week whether he focuses too much on Brandon Marshall, Cutler responded by spreading the ball around and hooking up with multiple receivers.

New tight end Martellus Bennett caught his first pass of the preseason on the first drive. Second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery had a big night with 7 receptions for 77 yards and showed his run-after-the-catch ability. And Matt Forte proved just how valuable a commodity he’ll be as both a runner and receiver as he finished with 6 rushes for 76 yards and two receptions for 33 yards a touchdown.

The only offensive starter who was noticeably bad was Marshall, who had some untimely drops and didn’t appear to be himself. Bennett also pitched in with some drops. But give credit to both of those players as well as Jeffery for their downfield blocks on run plays and on the Forte catch-and-run touchdown. They are big, strong receiving threats but their blocking will help determine how far this offense can go.

For the defense, rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic was flying around and making plays. For a guy who will almost surely be the opening-day starter at the position to show his athleticism and playmaking ability, that’s a good sign. He still has much to learn about the NFL game, but that will come in due time. His running mates, Lance Briggs and James Anderson, looked sharp as well.

The secondary — which could very well be the strength of the defense — was making plays early. Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings picked up where he left off last season and recorded an interception on the Raiders’ second-drive of the game. Second-year nickel back Isaiah Frey showed why the coaching staff had been raving about him all training camp by corralling the second interception for the defense. And Chris Conte, who is settling into his safety role quite nicely in his third season, nearly had a third interception that he dropped after a collision with a Raiders receiver and a hard fall to the ground. Even Charles Tillman pitched in with a sack, which has been a rare occurrence for him throughout his career.

Julius Peppers made his first preseason appearance and had a nice play in the backfield. The Bears have been showing their depth along the defensive line and they have a nice three-man end rotation. The tackles ought to contribute nicely this year with active motors from Henry Melton — who missed the game — Stephen Paea and Nate Collins.

Even the special teams — minus a 62-yard kickoff return by Jacoby Ford of the Raiders — had a nice night. The verbose Robbie Gould, who is out to collect a big contract this season to feed his starving family, connected on a pair of field goals including one from 53 yards.

For the backups, it was another story. They nearly squandered the four-score lead that the starters set them up with and the defense had trouble containing the versatile Terrelle Pryor, who scored on a 25-yard scramble. And once the entire left side of the Bears’ offensive line — Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, and Roberto Garza — exited the game, it left Josh McCown scrambling for his life and provided no running lanes for Michael Bush — who scored two touchdowns earlier in the game with the starting offense.

Yes, it was a meaningless preseason game in the standings. Yes, it was against a young and bad Raiders team. But as I mentioned on Twitter last night, it’s better that the Bears looked sharp against this team than to struggle against them. They have to play who is on their schedule and they have to perform to the best of their ability. And Friday’s performance was a good rehearsal for the opening game in just 15 days.