The Chicago Bears started off slowly in the regular season opener this afternoon against the Indianapolis Colts. The first offensive play resulted in a sack, followed by a false start. The first series resulted in a punt, while the second series resulted in a pick six by Colts LB Jerrell Freeman.
Then the offense settled in, repeatedly marching down the field, picking apart the porous Indianapolis defense, resulting in 41 points. The Bears have not scored 41 or more points in a single contest since posting 48 on the Detroit Lions in Week 4 of 2009.
To say the offense took a step forward today is an understatement. This was a group that gained momentum as the game wore on and was hitting on all cylinders in the second half.
The only medical issue for the Bears was a leg injury to CB Charles Tillman. He played the first two series of the game but was held out the remainder of the contest.
Notes from Week 1
-Brandon Marshall led Chicago's aerial attack. He led the club in targets (15), receptions (9) and receiving yards (119). He caught one touchdown on a red zone hitch and was targeted in the end zone three other times. Obviously, QB Jay Cutler likes to throw to his old friend.
-Marshall commanded attention the entire game, forcing the Colts to roll safety help in his direction. This opened up plays for the rest of the receivers, particularly Alshon Jeffery, who caught three passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. His TD came on a Cutler audible, where Marshall ran off the safety, allowing Jeffery to get open deep down the middle of the field.
-Earl Bennett also benefited from Marshall's presence. Bennett caught three passes for 50 yards. Out of the slot, his three catches all came on 3rd down and resulted in a 1st down.
-Cutler threw a pick six on only his second pass of the season, yet he did an outstanding job putting it behind him and moving on. He ended the day 21 of 35 for 333 yards and 2 TDs, good for a QB rating of 98.9.
-Similar to the preseason, Chicago's tight ends failed to make any noise in the passing game. Of the four tight ends on the roster, only third stringer Kyle Adams pulled in a reception, a 17 yarder in the third quarter.
-The running game struggled today, despite the team posting 114 yards on the ground. Matt Forte led the club with 16 rushes for 80 yards (5.0 avg) but the majority of that came on one big 32-yard run. Otherwise, the offensive line had a hard time opening up holes for the team's ball carriers.
-Michael Bush filled his role as a short-yardage back admirably, scoring on two end-zone plunges. He finished the game with 12 carries for 42 yards (3.5 avg) including a 20 yarder late in the game to help Chicago run out the clock.
-On the first play of the game, TE Kellen Davis allowed Colts DE Robert Mathis to blow by him for the sack. The Bears did not give up another sack until late in the third quarter on a jailbreak blitz. The offensive line did give up some pressure early on but for the most part, Chicago's front five did a good job keeping Cutler upright against the exotic blitz schemes of Indianapolis' 3-4 defense.
-Defensively, the Bears had an outstanding game. The group gave up just 14 points, sacked Colts QB Andrew Luck four times and caused five turnovers. They held the Indianapolis ground game to just 63 total rushing yards. Chicago's defense did give up 309 yards through the air but most of that was in garbage time with the Colts trying to erase a 20-point deficit.
-The MVP on defense was CB Tim Jennings. He intercepted two passes and tipped a third pass that S Chris Conte picked off. Jennings was aggressive when passes were in the air, high-pointing the ball on both of his picks. His tip was an amazing play, where Jennings got beat on the slant yet he was able to dive in front of the receiver and get his hand on the ball. For a player that had to once again earn his starting spot this year in training camp, Jennings showed today why he's a solid Cover 2 cornerback.
-With Tillman out, CB Kelvin Hayden had to come into the game cold and take over the starting role. He did a very good job in coverage, deflecting one pass, and finished second on the team in tackles (7). Hayden also recovered a fumble on special teams.
-LB J.T. Thomas forced that fumble on a kickoff return. Thomas played his way onto a roster spot this year due in large part to his play on special teams. He showed today why it was a smart move for the Bears to keep him on the team.
-At defensive tackle, Henry Melton was a beast. He had two hurries and five tackles, three of which went for a loss, totaling 16 cumulative lost yards for the Colts on those plays. He ability to get penetration up front made Luck's day horrible, yet Melton's ability in stopping the run, an area in which he struggled last season, was even more impressive. He said during veteran minicamp that his goal this year was to make the Pro Bowl. If he continues to play like he did today, he will easily reach that goal.
-LB Brian Urlacher left the game in the second half, yet that was a coach's decision and had nothing to do with knee. Coach Lovie Smith said after the game he wanted to rest his star player, as the club has a short week this week before Thursday's game against the Green Bay Packers.
-DE Julius Peppers slid inside to defensive tackle at least six times in this game, and was able to get great pressure up the middle during those snaps. It's a strategy the Bears employed last year and apparently will use again in 2012.
-After ending Brett Favre's career in 2010, DE Corey Wootton has since been all but invisible during game day. He's dealt with numerous injuries and has been unable to get his second NFL sack, until today. In the third quarter, Wootton rushed off the edge and beat his blocker. He hit Luck from behind, forcing a fumble that Peppers recovered. It was a great start for Wootton who, when he's healthy, is a very explosive edge rusher. If he contributes this year, Chicago's pass rush will be even more dangerous.
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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.