TSX's Report Card: Bye Week Grades

Just shy of 2010's midpoint, the Chicago Bears are 4-3 and half a game behind the Packers in the NFC North. What has worked? What hasn't? The Sports Xchange breaks out their report card.

Passing Offense: DJay Cutler epitomizes the fast start and horrible slump the team experienced. Through the first three games, Cutler had six touchdown passes and two interceptions. Since then, he has one TD pass and five interceptions. Cutler has been plagued by sacks that are the result of a constantly changing and porous offensive line, and by his own tendency to hold the ball too long. No one in the NFL has been sacked more, and that's also a reflection of play-calling that has ignored the Bears' inability to pass protect. But Cutler still has the choice of where and when to throw the ball, and for the last month, since he suffered a concussion against the Giants, his decisions and accuracy have been poor. Todd Collins was an unmitigated disaster (four interceptions, 6.2 passer rating) when he started against the Panthers while Cutler was sidelined. Johnny Knox has emerged as the Bears' most consistent big-play weapon, leading all NFC receivers who have more than 20 catches with a 19.9-yard average, although he has scored just once. Devin Hester has hit a plateau and possibly even taken a step back as a pass catcher. He's averaging just 10.1 yards on his 18 receptions. But Earl Bennett has come on strong after missing the preseason with a hamstring injury. Bennett has made the tough, short catches over the middle that Devin Aromashodu didn't and has been the most consistent and reliable wideout. He has three or more catches in five of his six games. Greg Olsen typifies the inconsistency of the offense. He caught five passes in back-to-back games against the Packers and Giants, and then was shut out in the next two games. Brandon Manumaleuna has done very little to help in pass protection or run blocking, the two areas in which he was supposed to excel. So far, he has been a poor investment of $13 million. But he hasn't been any worse than an offensive line that is primarily responsible for allowing a league-worst 31 sacks.

Rushing Offense: C-minus – It's hard to produce when you don't get the chance. Thanks to the play-calling of offensive coordinator Mike Martz, both Matt Forte and Chester Taylor should be fresh for the final nine games. That, by the way, is not a compliment. In five of the first seven games, the Bears had 19 or fewer running plays. Forte rolled up 166 yards on the ground against the Panthers, but he has averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry in every other game but one. Only one of his 90 carries has gained more than 18 yards. Taylor was brought in so the Bears could have two quality running backs, and he appears to be more than capable, but he needs more touches.

DE Israel Idonije
Nam Y. Huh/AP

Pass Defense: C-plus – The Bears have gotten outstanding production and a team-best three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, from nickel back D.J. Moore. Safeties Danieal Manning and Chris Harris have been solid in run support but had not made many plays on the ball until Manning's diving interception in Week 7. Cornerback Charles Tillman was victimized by Mike Williams in the loss to the Seahawks but has been solid otherwise, providing support against the run and picking off a pair of passes. Julius Peppers has just two sacks, but he has provided increased pressure and opened up opportunities for others, especially Israel Idonije, who has been outstanding with a team-best 4.5 sacks.

Rush Defense: B-plus – Linebacker has been the strongest position on the team, and that group has played especially well against the run, although it has slipped a bit in the past two games with Lance Briggs hobbled by a sprained ankle. But Briggs, Brian Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa have been outstanding, with a combined 16 tackles for negative yardage. Backup Brian Iwuh has been a valuable addition, filling in adequately when Briggs was out. Urlacher is having his best season since 2007, and Briggs has played at a Pro Bowl level when completely healthy, which he should be this week. Anthony Adams is a strong run defender, and Tommie Harris has been a little better, but he's still nowhere close to his previous Pro Bowl form. Marcus Harrison has been a huge disappointment, inactive for all but one game. But Matt Toeaina has stepped up as a productive, consistent, reliable and hard-working backup inside, all the things that Harrison hasn't been.

Special Teams: BRobbie Gould remains the NFL's third-most accurate kicker in NFL history, hitting 12 of 14 field-goal attempts, including a career-long 53-yarder in Week 5. His kickoffs continue to get better, as he has six touchbacks. Brad Maynard has slumped recently, but he has placed 15 punts inside the 20 with just three touchbacks. Hester has regained his punt-return magic with two TDs and a 16.7-yard average, second best in the NFL. Manning is 13th in the league with a 25.2-yard kickoff-return average. Corey Graham leads the team with 13 special-teams tackles.

Coaching: C – The offensive play-calling is in drastic need of more balance. The Bears don't have to get off the bus running, but they at least have to make their opponents respect the threat of a run game, which they have failed to do in most games so far. Coach Lovie Smith has to demand more run plays from Martz. Rod Marinelli, with input from Smith, has quietly done an excellent job with the defense, which has played well enough to win every game. As usual, Dave Toub's special teams are excellent.

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