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Friday, August 24, 2012

Bears 20, Giants 17 (Oh Come On You Stopped Watching, Too)

Before I begin, it should be noted that in the last two years the Bears have lost both of their 3rd preseason games, looking horrible offensively in both, and went on to win their openers a combined 50-26 with over 400 yards of offense in both. So if you were worried at all about what this means for the immediate future, I wouldn't worry.

The Bears were, well, sloppy tonight. Not really bad, per se, in that the Giants did very little to make the team look like they were in trouble. The defense bent and only really broke once (not counting the TD following the blocked punt). The offense had some bright spots and yet looked mostly out of sync. All told, they left the game trailing 17-10 and the effort overall was a resounding "meh."

If Lovie holds to form none of them should play next week, so we'll see what they manage to get done in their last few practices before the opener. I know last week was exciting, but both of these games are still preseason and I hope you haven't let either of them drastically change your expectations.

Now the particulars:


Brandon Marshall: My God. Is that what  real receiver looks like? He was outstanding tonight, catching a couple of tough short throws and one majestic 21 yard touchdown. God, I can't wait to see him and Cutler together for four full quarters, for 16 (and hopefully more) games. Let this happen, sweet football lovin' Jesus.

Honestly, the most impressive catch Marshall made came in the 3rd quarter and was only for a couple of yards, but it was his technique that was the most impressive. Cutler threw the ball high and inside, in a place where the corner could have jumped in front of it and taken it the other way. Were Johnny Knox standing there it would have been easy to imagine him getting outmaneuvered and watching the corner make the play on the ball. Instead, Marshall made the adjustment and hauled the pass in. That's the kind of stuff that won't show up on the stat sheet that we've been missing...forever.

Alshon Jeffery: I add him just to tack on to what I just said about Marshall. Jeffery had just one catch for nine yards, but it was an impressive play. After the defender made a nice play to deflect Cutler's pass, Jeffery had the composure and control to get the ball while it was still in the air, evade the defender, and gain first down yardage. Real. Receivers.

The Cover 2: I'm sure the usual idiots will complain about Eli Manning completing a shit ton of short passes. It was upsetting to me that the front four failed to get home. That'll need to be corrected. That said, the only points the Giants first team managed came after a couple of questionable calls and a blocked punt deep in Bears territory. Eli barely managed 7.0 ypa, and the Bears nearly escaped the half with just 10 points allowed against a damn good offense. I'll take it.

The Bad:

Jay Cutler and Receivers Not Named Jeffery or Marshall (Okay, Hester's excused as well): Cutler wasn't solely responsible for his 9/21 completion rate. There were no turnovers or forced throws into coverage. Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett both dropped touchdown passes that Jay placed in perfect positions. Matt Forte and Kellen Davis both made some route running mistakes.

That said, he sailed a couple of passes over his receivers heads when there was no reason for him not to step into his throw. One, to a wide open Earl Bennett, was particular glaring. I'm not concerned, since Jay's hardly been a preseason MVP in his days with the Bears and generally starts the season off strong, but he certainly was off tonight.

It's also nice that Brandon Marshall was there to bail Jay out and keep his team in the game even when jay was off.

The run-blocking: the pass protection wasn't bad. Carimi whiffed early in the 1st quarter and allowed Jay to pressured into a bad throw. Williams also got turn-stiled in the 2nd quarter and Jay was forced out of the pocket and made a bad throw. The run-blocking, however, was horrendous. Before his last two carries of the night Forte had 8 carries for 5 yards. Run blocking is always something that takes consistency and reps to get moving, but the first team o-line hasn't blocked well yet this preseason. Again, they get the benefit of the doubt because the same group paved the way for over 2,000 yards last year and the protection schemes are extremely vanilla in the preseason, but it was a negative tonight.

Special teams: It's surreal to see the Bears make special teams mistakes, even in the preseason, just because Dave Toub is so good at his job. The blocked punt is concerning. Hopefully Podlesh recovers soon. Weem's fumble was just bad all over. Guh. Oh well. I doubt that happens again.

The Ugly:

Scab Refs: Holy shit, guys. Read the definition of pass interference. You really suck at officiating, and you're probably terrible in bed. 

That's all for now. I can understand some mild frustration, since we all just want to see  nothing but positive indications that this team is the playoff-bound steamroller we all hope it is, but there was nothing tonight that should concern anyone. They avoided injuries and managed pretty well despite some serious mistakes.

The important thing is that the next time we see Cutler and company, it'll count. I think they'll be ready. I know I am.

Go Bears.

Introducing Apex: Throw it to Devin

Big day here at Start Kyle Orton. Long-time loyal reader Apex (and I mean loyal. None of the rest of you sonsabitches has taken me to a game, now, have you?) has joined the writing staff here at SKO and makes a stellar debut with a rarity here on this website, a pro-Devin Hester wide receiver article. Without further ado, introducing Apex:

Throw It To Devin


The last time Jay Cutler had Brandon Marshall to throw to, the former- Bronco tandem posted a season that would have made history statistically for their current team, the Chicago Bears. Both Cutler’s 4,526 passing yards and Marshall’s 104 receptions in 2008 would have broken the single-season marks for the Bears. With the two poised to obliterate several of the relatively pathetic aerial franchise records it would seem that Chicago’s perpetual woes at these two positions are finally over.

With the addition of second-round draft pick Alshon Jeffery and the return of Cutler-favored Earl Bennett at the receiver position, it would seem to some observers of influence that the Devin Hester Experiment on offense is in denouement .
I believe that’s not true. I believe it’s in sharp ascent, it’s apex still a distant and impressive reality in the offing. Indeed, the NFL’s all-time leader in return touchdowns will face more friendly competition for his quarterback’s attention. But with the other contributors demanding double teams and stretching defenses, Hester should be able to finally draw single coverage and be allowed to settle into zones as an afterthought.

And once he gets the ball in his hands, everybody and his mother knows he’s a threat to go the distance .

We’ve heard flowery assessments of his training camp performance and importance to the team’s offense from coaches literally every season since the Bears converted from a defensive back before the 2007 season. Since then, he’s produced nothing resembling number one receiver statistics in any campaign. His career highs in receptions and yards (57 for 757 in 2009) came in Cutler’s first year in town. The quarterback has yet to develop an on-field rhythm with Hester like his obvious connection Marshall or even former Vanderbilt teammate Bennett who grabbed 24 passes in 11 games last year.

While I expect Bennett to prosper from Marshall’s presence as well, I look for Hester to seize number two receiver status. Rookie Jeffery will have to prove himself against professional defenders to gain the confidence of coaches and Cutler alike. Bennett is a capable slot receiver but lacks the explosiveness of Hester who will pose a deep threat, and I believe Cutler desperately wants to destroy opponents over the top after so much frustration in his first three seasons here.

And I don’t buy the colloquialism that increased activity on the offensive side of the football will somehow diminish Hester’s value or production as a return specialist. These days, with the rule changes on kickoffs reducing the kick return to a historically rare occurrence, it makes no difference who you plan to let watch balls sail into the seats. A return man’s value will be found on punt returns, where Hester has always excelled – so much so that opposing directional punters avoid him like AIDS as often as they’re able.

Former 49er and Jerry Rice sidekick John Taylor’s best statistical season came in 1989 when he caught 60 passes for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also returned 44 punts for 556 yards and a pair of scores. Hester’s best season as a punt returner came in 2007 when he took 42 for 651 yards and four touchdowns. Taylor was playing opposite the incomparable Rice and devastating defenses and special teams alike.

This year, after learning the position on the fly for five seasons as a pro I expect Hester to post similar numbers to Taylor’s in 1989. Write it down and stick it on your refrigerator: 60 catches, 1,000 yards, 10 TDs. Or don’t. It’s going to happen either way.