The Chicago Bears are coming off a 23-22 home win over the Carolina Panthers that improved their record to 6-1 on the season. The Bears trailed 19-7 at the start of the fourth quarter, but scored 16 points in the final seven minutes, including a 41-yard field goal at the gun by kicker Robbie Gould, to pull out the win. Lest that scoreline inspire much confidence, I should also note the Bears went to Jacksonville and knocked off the Jaguars, 41-3, in a game that was only slightly more competitive than the final score would indicate.
After the jump, what I saw of the Bears last week, and the others of their games I've seen.
1. Jay Cutler is the best quarterback from the 2006 draft class. Granted, that's not saying a whole lot. If he was on the Titans he'd drive me nuts. He went down 6 times in 34 dropbacks and led the Bears to -15 net yards passing in the first half. Yes, the offensive line was to blame on some of those sacks, but too many of them were on him for holding the ball too long. He also seems to be possessed of "I think I can make this throw" mentality, which leads to him throwing too many interceptions and near interceptions. The occasional moment not of that but of sheer "what did you see" compounds the problem. He's in his seventh NFL season, so what he is now, a great arm thrower rather than a great or even especially good quarterback, is pretty much what he is.
2. I've long struggled to say what he exactly it is that makes Matt Forte stand out. He's mostly just pretty good at everything. Think of him as the Daryl Smith of running backs, perhaps. He has been in a bit of a timeshare with Michael Bush, but got 15 carries to only 3 for the ex-Raider last week. Bush is another nice all-around back, though he showed last year he'll wear down if he gets too many carries (not an issue with the timeshare).
3. Half of Jay Cutler's throws last week were directed at Brandon Marshall. That is not hyperbole. Cutler attempted 28 passes. Marshall was listed as the target on 14 of them. He's Cutler's first read, favorite target, safety valve, receiver he trusts, you name it. He doesn't really separate that much, but is a big, physical receiver who can make (and can not make) contested catches.
4. The other targets are more or less bit parts now that Marshall's around. Earl Bennett's a useful possession-type receiver and was a preferred target before Marshall showed up in the offseason. Devin Hester is fast but not really an actual receiver. They were the only receivers active last week. Alshon Jeffery, Marshall's sort of twin, will be out again.
5. Good news: The Bears don't really have a tight end they throw to a lot. Matt Spaeth is a blocker who's not much of a receiver. Kellen Davis could have a Dante Rosario-type game, but Dante Rosario, three touchdowns against the Titans notwithstanding, isn't a player I value anywhere near highly. As noted above, Cutler's eyes are normally locked on Marshall, so I'm not expecting much from Davis.
6. Last year, I though right tackle Gabe Carimi might have been the Bears' best offensive lineman. This year, he certainly has not been. The offensive line is consistently a little bit better than I think they are, but still not very good. J'Marcus Webb is a better left tackle than he used to be, so I'm not sure Kamerion Wimbley will have a great game.
7. The Lions' defensive line may have scared be more, but they're a bit of a one-dimensional attacking unit that gets up the field recklessly at times. The Bears' line isn't quite as fearsome in that regard, but is just as deep and a better all-around unit. Julius Peppers is the big name, and he lines up mostly at right defensive end. Mostly, but he'll line up at left defensive end and inside, especially on passing downs. Any play where Deuce Lutui has to block him that ends up a positive gain for the Titans and no turnover has to be considered a win. Henry Melton, Israel Idonije, first-round pick Shea McClellin and the rest, these guys can play.
8. Lance Briggs may still be the best 4-3 weakside linebacker in the game, a title he wrested away from Keith Bulluck no later than 2008. He missed some practice time last week but returned Friday and is listed as probable. Brian Urlacher has spent most of this year playing like a middle linebacker in his 30's. I've never particularly rated Nick Roach, but didn't see him looking like a major liability.
9. Tim Jennings is a good corner. I certainly didn't expect such a thing when he was with the Colts earlier in his career. He had two interceptions, one a great opportunistic dive and the second a pick-6 when Cam Newton threw the ball right to him (the receiver slipped). The other starting corner is Charles Tillman, a very physical corner who did well against Randy Moss and does well against Calvin Johnson. It's easy for me to see him destroying Nate Washington and especially Kendall Wright with a jam.
10. The Bears gave up two big pass plays to the Panthers. One of them was a great catch by Steve Smith on a deep ball over Jennings. The other one was a short pass where safety Chris Conte, who for the most part has developed into a very reliable player, took a horrible angle. The other safety is Major Wright. They remind me a bit of the Falcons safeties from last year, in that they function best if the rest of the defense around him is good enough. It is.
11. The Bears are very good on special teams. Hester and Eric Weems are both good kickoff return men. The punt and kick coverage units are excellent, and Adam Podlesh may be the league's best directional punter. This has been an advantage for the Titans some games in the past, most notably against Detroit. It probably won't be this week.
Frankly, I don't see the Titans moving the ball very well against the Bears. This feels like the kind of game where Matt Hasselbeck may complete 65% of his passes for about 10 yards per completion, and the Titans still end up with about 10 points. I don't expect a banged up offensive line to do very well against very good Bears front seven, and this defense doesn't have a pathetic weakness like Detroit did in their defensive backs. Chicago's offense is not very good, but they're not that bad on the ground and can do some damage in the right circumstances through the air. Unless Jay Cutler starts just chucking the ball around recklessly, they should score enough points to come away with a comfortable win. The Bears are favored by 4 points this week. For the second week in a row, I think the line is 2.5-3 points too much in the Titans favor. It's just too hard for me to see the Titans scoring very many points, and if you can't score at least 20 points, it's very hard to win in the NFL.