The final score of the Chicago Bears' second preseason game showed a lopsided loss to the New York Giants. Certain segments of the team played horribly, yet others showed significant progress. Here are five things that stood out most to me:
Stellar O-line play
After allowing nine sacks – four by the starters – in the first preseason game, the Bears' front line was stellar last night, giving up just one sack, which was a coverage sack. For the vast majority of plays, Cutler and backup Caleb Hanie had more than enough time in the pocket. RT Gabe Carimi did an outstanding job against DE Justin Tuck, one of the best pass rushers in the NFC. J'Marcus Webb was shaky, as was Lance Louis, but neither made the egregious errors they did against Buffalo. The second and third units were just as impressive, with Frank Omiyale and Levi Horn showing well on the edges.
Anyone who says they expected this type of performance from the front five is lying, so it was a welcome surprise to see a much-maligned unit finally take some steps in the right direction. Before last night, many felt C Chris Spencer would be cracking the starting lineup sooner rather than later. Yet if the starters have another strong performance this Saturday against the Tennessee Titans, that change may not come for a while.
Depth at linebacker
LB Nick Roach
Starting weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs did not play due to a knee injury and Brian Urlacher only played a few series. As such, the second and third units got a lot of work. By the end of the night, the lack of depth at the position was clear. Nick Roach was solid but put himself out of position a few times being overly aggressive against the run. Brian Iwuh plays too fast and needs to develop patience. Dom DeCicco was pushed around by linemen at the second level all night. Tanner Antle, Patrick Trahan and Tressor Baptiste all might as well have not been playing. And J.T. Thomas is a flat-out liability in coverage.
The front office put a waiver claim in for LB Thaddeus Young last week but he was ultimately awarded to the Washington Redskins, so the team is trying to build some depth at linebacker. Don't be surprised if they give Pisa Tinoisamoa's agent a call once his knee is fully healthy.
Inconsistent defensive line
Julius Peppers was outstanding in the few series he played, putting pressure on the quarterback nearly every down. Matt Toeaina got great pressure and also had a good night. The rest of the defensive line was subpar. Last week's top defensive performer, Henry Melton, was nowhere to be found tonight. The same goes for Vernon Gholston. Israel Idonije couldn't get off a block, Stephen Paea got pushed around and Marcus Harrison played tired all night.
Tank Tyler missed a tackle on Giants RB Da'Rel Scott, which would have gone for a loss – instead, the play ended in a 97-yard touchdown run. Mario Addison had a few good moments, as did Nick Reed. The defensive front did not pick up a single sack and allowed 218 rushing yards. Up until now, this had been one of the strongest units on the team. It was most likely an aberration but getting steamrolled by the Titans on Saturday would be a borderline trend.
Special teams not special
The Bears kick coverage unit gave up a 73-yard return and 138 total yards on just three returns. Beyond one 45-yard return by Knox, the kick-return unit wasn't all that impressive either. The team averaged just 5.3 yard per punt return. And to top it all off, Dom DeCicco let a defender run right through the middle of the line to block a Bears punt, which resulted in a Giants touchdown. Dave Toub will almost certainly have these guys ready to go come Week 1 but this was a very poor performance all around from a special teams group that is annually one of the best in the league.
Cutler and Williams
Jay Cutler looked like a different quarterback last night than the one Bears fans are used to watching. He wasn't running for his life, getting chased around the pocket or getting slammed to the turf. He was standing in with plenty of time to throw and delivering balls on target. He ended the night 12-21 for 171 yards in just two quarters of play. It's amazing what he can do when he has some time to throw.
Roy Williams was targeted on three of Cutler's 21 attempts and failed to pull in a single pass. One was a flat drop and another he should have had. Like he's done in practice so far, Williams sleepwalked his way through the night, showing hardly any effort. If he continues to drop passes and play lethargically, Johnny Knox could climb back into the starter's role sooner than later.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.