Monday, October 20, 2008

Mid-Season Bears Report Card

I know it's only week 8 but with the bye week on the horizon, it seems like a good time to assess the Bears season to date. I think everyone can agree that this team has exceeded expectations in some ways, but there are still plenty of question marks. In a weak division the Bears have put themselves in a good position to make the playoffs at 4-3. Without further ado, here is your 2008 Bears mid-season report card (Thanks to Ethan for writing the Defense's report card):


Quarterback: Kyle Orton has exceeded expectations. We all thought that he could be a decent game manager (a la 2005) or at best an average quarterback. Hell, even I was saying the Sex Cannon should start during the preseason. We have all been stunned Captain Neckbeard's performance. In his week 1 game against Indy he surprised everyone with a solid performance against what was supposed to be an elite defense. Then the game against Tampa in week 3 wasn't his best performance, but that was when he really got the offense in sync and he hasn't looked back. His passer rating is 91.4 so far this year and his 10 TDs have been a godsend to Bears fans starving for an average offense for years (decades?). After a lot of early talk about Kyle being unable to throw an accurate long ball, he has silenced (quieted down slightly) critics by raising his long ball numbers from slightly below average to slightly above average. He has the potential to have a nice long career as a slightly above average quarterback in general. He deserves praise for the last second drive he led against Atlanta even though that ended badly. Those moments showed he can rise to pressure situations. Look for Orton to have a solid second half if he continues to show poise in the pocket and make good decisions with the football. GRADE: A-

Running Backs: Matt Forte is awesome. That kid has deceptive speed. I hate to use that term because that was what they always said about Cedric Benson, and that guys speed was so deceptive we never even saw him use it. Forte is different though. He makes cuts at just the right time, knows when to follow his blocks and when to just lower his head and lean forward, and can catch the ball out of the backfield (29 catches to lead the team). I love how he doesn't avoid contact and always keeps his legs pumping. For a rookie he plays with the savvy and understanding of the game that only veterans usually have. Though he didn't have the greatest week this week against Minnesota, he has been steady and reliable. Kevin Jones has also been a great addition, though his opportunities/contributions have been limited due to Forte's dominance. One negative about the ground game has been the utilization of Jason McKie. Don't get me wrong, I love the guy, but anytime we throw to him out of the backfield or hand him the ball its just a lost down. Get those plays out of the playbook and let him do what he does best: block. Look for the run game to continue to have success, as long as Forte stays healthy. Hopefully the rest will let his body heal. Don't forget, he's still a rookie and his body has never experienced a full NFL season. GRADE: A-

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: I wrote about this grab-bag of wide receivers in the preseason with a lot of skepticism. As of right now, the receivers have not proven me wrong. No one has emerged as a premier receiver. While Booker and Davis have been solid, they have both had their issues with drops and sometimes it feels like they disappear for whole halves or even games. Devin Hester has his moments but it always seems like he's going to drop or fumble the ball. Brandon Lloyd had some spectacular catches, but has been hampered by injuries the last few weeks. Thank god for the tight ends. Olsen and Clark have been amazing, combining for 501 yards on 39 catches and 2 TDs. Besides a minor case of the dropsies early for Olsen, this tandem is one of the best tight end tandems in the league (3rd in fact). Orton and Ron Turner need to somehow utilize them more in the second half, while still keeping the receivers involved and trying to find which one can become the go-to receiver. GRADE: B

Offensive Line: I really dislike every single player on the offensive line, and yet as a unit they have managed to keep Orton upright for the most part and open some good rushing lanes for Forte. Beekman has been a surprise filling in at left guard and though St. Clair has had some bonehead moments at left tackle protecting Orton's blind side, overall the left side of the line has done a good job. Tait and Garza have both been solid, and look for the addition of the Bears top draft pick Chris Williams (coming back from injury) to have an impact at left tackle if St. Clair continues to struggle. GRADE: B

DEFENSE OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE: B (the Bears D should be so much more vicious and scary to opponents. The talent is there - Babich needs to come through and allow these guys to shine)

Defensive Line: The Bears’ defensive line has been up and down. Until Week 7 against the Vikings, I kept asking myself “Where has Pro-Bowl Tommie Harris gone?” Fortunately, he made his presence felt today, coming up with a big sack at the end of the game. On the other hand, he missed a couple games due to injury and a suspension, and contributed to the loss in Atlanta by fumbling a ball with no Falcon within 5 feet of him. Two years ago, the debate was whether or not he was the best player on the team, but he has clearly regressed since then. The line has 10 of the Bears’ 14 sacks, but they seem to have a hard time getting pressure on opposing QBs. Dusty Dvoracek is finally healthy and playing pretty well, and Ogunleye always seems to be making plays. I believe that Alex Brown is the best player on the line – it is pretty ridiculous that the coaching staff started Mark Anderson (what happened to this “sack machine”) over him last year. They allow an average of 109.0 yards per game on the ground, ranking 19th in the NFL, and this needs to get better soon. GRADE B-

Linebackers:The Bears’ starting linebacker core includes two of the best defensive players in the NFL in Briggs and Urlacher. Throw in Hillenmeyer (OK, he sucks) and ask yourself how this unit alone doesn’t make the Bears defense tops in the NFL? Because these guys have not made the game-changing plays that we need out of them. These three LBs have only one INT and one sack between them. Hey Babich, these guys are smart as hell, fast as hell, and scare the shit out of opposing QBs – BLITZ THEM MORE! Let these guys (your best players) make the plays to mess with opposing offenses! Besides this lack of INTs and sacks, these guys are still everywhere. With Jamar Williams (who seems to have great potential), these four guys account for 25% of all tackles made by the Bears (with well over half coming from Briggs and Urlacher). By the way, I must mention that I think Briggs has been quietly outstanding this year. He makes several great plays in every game, and at this point, is right up there with Urlacher as one of the best defensive backs in football. Going forward, we need to see more huge plays out of these guys (with some help from decent play-calling) and Hillenmeyer to pick up his game. If the D-Line can pick up their play as well, watch out for the Bears defense in the second half. GRADE: B+.

Secondary: Obviously, the biggest concern here is health. I’m pretty sure if one more guy goes down, Angelo is gonna beg Azumah to come out of retirement. Perhaps the craziest thing about the season so far is that almost everyone on defense has had some injury concern – EXCEPT Mike Brown! Hopefully that wasn’t a jinx, but it is nice to have him back. He hits just as hard as the LBs, and is definitely a presence downfield. He is coming back to form, and will help lead the defense in the second half to be very good. When Vasher sorts out his contract situation comes back from injury, along with Peanut & Manning, the Bears should not have to worry too much about their secondary. The guys who have stepped in have been alright (thank you Zack Bowman!) but it was clear that they gave up too much in a few games (in Atlanta to Roddy white, against Vikings to Berrian). Also, once again, I would like to see Babich mix up the plays with some blitzes from Brown and the rest of the secondary every once in a while. But that is obvious (to everyone except the man calling plays). GRADE: B


Devin Hester: Ok we gave him the huge contract as a wide receiver to justify giving a return guy the kind of money usually reserved for traditional skill position players. While he has been okay as a receiver, his return game has suffered. Who can forget when he faked us all out into thinking he was going to down it, only to come out of the end zone and get leveled inside the 5 yard line? He may be slowed by some injuries (being illiterate may be a factor as well), but he needs to turn his game around. On the other hand, he is still feared around the league and it shows by all the teams that kick short or squib the ball to keep it away from him. Though he hasn't broken too many big plays (no return TDs, this year), his presence alone has caused teams to cede good field position. Regardless, he needs to score to keep the league scared. GRADE: B-

Everyone Else: Awesome. This unit blocks FGs, punts, pretty much anything kicked their way. Even on extra points I find myself thinking "we might be able to block this". Its a good feeling. They are playing with a lot of energy and fire. You could even argue, convincingly, that they won the game this week with the blocked kicks returned for TDs. If they continue at this pace, the defense and offense can both be average and the special teams might carry them to a division title in the weak NFC North. Oh before I literally get on my knees for this unit, Robbie Gould really screwed up that squib kick; that kind of late game meltdown by this unit cannot happen again. GRADE: A-


Ethan said...

Credit to Eeks for pointing out that somehow Mike Brown is like the only one who is NOT injured.

Eric said...

The Chicago Sun Times said that Corey Graham has "quietly" taken Nathan Vasher's job as the Bears' starting right cornerback. If the secondary can get healthy during this bye week then the Bears D should be able to turn the corner and have some pretty solid depth.

Anonymous said...

I wish you graded my civ pro exam...

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