Tales from the Tape: Bears-Panthers

One preseason game is in the books, yet what did the Bears' 24-17 loss to the Panthers tell us about the team? We go to the game film to break down Chicago's performance from Friday night.

-On the first snap of the game, the Panthers ran right at DE Shea McClellin, who was lined up on the left edge. McClellin stepped inside and then locked up with T Jordan Gross, who then lifted the defender up and drove him to the inside. RB DeAngelo Williams had a clear path for a six-yard gain. As he was last year, McClellin is still a liability against the run, which is why he's not a great fit as a three-down player as a 4-3 defensive end.

-On the second snap, the Panthers attempted to run a quick slant to WR Steve Smith. Yet CB Charles Tillman jumped the route and knocked the ball away. It appears that under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, Chicago's defense is actually going to cover the short slant.

-Henry Melton's injury happened on the third play of the game, when he was blindsided by Williams during a pass-rush. The hit didn't look that bad, although Melton's head did snap back dramatically.

-On 2nd down, the Panthers tried to run an off-tackle play. DT Nate Collins, in for the injured Henry Melton, sidestepped the block attempt and was in the backfield immediately. LB Lance Briggs exploded through the lead blocker at the point of attack, dipping his shoulder and clearing the block attempt. Collins and Briggs hit the ball carrier for a two-yard loss. Melton's concussion is worrisome, but not as much considering how good Collins looked in this game.

-3rd and 7. The Panthers lined up in a four-receiver set. Nickelback Isaiah Frey was lined up in the slot but at the snap, both he and LB James Anderson blitzed off the left edge. They got pressure on QB Cam Newton, who had to a hurry a pass that fell incomplete. Frey was extremely active as a blitzer last night.

-QB Jay Cutler's first pass attempt was intercepted. During the game, it appeared WR Alshon Jeffery cut off his route. But after further review, that was a designed double move. Jeffery lined up wide left with Eric Weems in the slot. Weems clears out the nickelback with a straight seam route, which left the underneath area open. Jeffery did not run a typically slant, where a receiver tries to sell the fly route before breaking inside. Instead, he immediately turned inside and began sprinting toward the middle of the field. Once the corner jumped the slant, Jeffery cut back toward the sideline. It's a route Bears receivers have practiced throughout training camp. Yet Cutler threw a pass that was two yards inside of Jeffery. Cutler even said after the game that it was his fault and that he should have been more accurate. We've said all offseason, this offense won't work if Cutler doesn't improve his accuracy. He obviously still has a lot of work to do.

-2nd and goal from the 1-yard line. The Panthers ran Williams up the gut. Rookie LB Khaseem Greene was lined up two yards across from the right A gap. At the snap, he read the play, cleared traffic in front of him and filled the gap. He smacked Williams at the two-yard line and stopped the ball carrier from scoring. In camp, players can't hit, so we really had no idea what to expect from the rookie linebackers. Yet in this game, Greene was aggressive and played with a lot of power. He hasn't stood out in Bourbonnais but he did last night.

-On Carolina's first touchdown, WR Brandon LaFell lined up wide left, with CB Sherrick McManis across from him. At the snap, LaFell ran a drag route across the field at the 3-yard line. McManis allowed separation almost immediately and was trailing the receiver. LB Jon Bostic saw LaFell and broke forward, but that was right in McManis' path. At that point, there wasn't a player within five yards of LaFell and he was able to waltz into the end zone. McManis did force a fumble in this game but he showed what he's shown all camp: he's not very good in coverage.

-On the first snap of the second drive for the offense, the Bears went back to Jeffery, only this time he ran a true slant. He took two steps forward, freezing the cornerback, and then cut hard inside. Jeffery was wide open and Cutler hit him in stride for a first down.

-On Matt Forte's only carry of the game, the play was designed to run right up the middle. C Roberto Garza got pushed back, which is bad enough, but RG James Brown just stood up and chose not to block anyone. He ended up right behind Garza, and Forte wound up running into him.

-3rd and 6. Cutler was in the shotgun. Off the left edge, DE Greg Hardy rushed outside and then cut across the face of Jermon Bushrod. Yet Bushrod was able to adjust and thrust his big paw into the chest of the defender. Cutler, seeing Hardy in front of him, scrambled out of the pocket toward the sideline, where ended up throwing the ball away. But in reality, Cutler didn't need to take off. Bushrod recovered nicely and Cutler wasn't in any real danger. One step to his left and he could have cleared the rush and stepped into a throw. Cutler must get rid of the happy feet.

-During the next defensive series, Bostic truly showed up. On the first play, he scraped outside, using good hands to shed a reach block, and made the tackle. On the next snap, he dropped into his middle zone and saw TE Greg Olsen to his right. He floated toward the receiver and then reacted quickly to the pass, twisting his body back, and picked off the ball. This pair of plays shows Bostic's immense skill set against both the run and pass.

-1st and 10. The Panthers ran the ball B-gap right. Collins, lined up on the backside, cut across the face of the blocker and ripped his way into the backfield. He then found the ball carrier and took him down for a two-yard loss. It was one more really strong play by Collins.

-DE Cheta Ozougwu, while competent as a speed rusher, is far too easily blocked against the run. He's a one-trick pony.

-On Frey's second blitz, the entire defensive line shifted right at the snap and then stunted in the same direction. This caused the offensive line to also shift, which left a clear lane for Frey and Bostic to blitz from the back side. Frey was then able to chase down the ball carrier after a two-yard gain. Tucker showed some creativity on this play.

-Bushrod is very quick and has great feet but he too often lost the leverage battle last night. He's too easily pushed back against the bull rush.

-Blame for Cutler's first sack should be split equally between James Brown and J'Marcus Webb. Both players were beat by their respective defenders. Webb was slow to move his feet outside, while Brown was just manhandled.

-First down and the Panthers ran the ball off-tackle left. Of course, McClellin got driven inside, so Greene was forced to scrape right. Yet he came in too shallow and got pinned by the blocker. This allowed an open lane for a 12-yard run. At the end of the play, S Craig Steltz made one of the worst tackle attempts of the night and never got close to the player. It was just an all-around horrible play by the defense.

-On the next play, the Panthers ran right at Greene. He broke forward and rocked the lead blocker. This forced the running back to bounce outside, at which time Bostic flew into the backfield and chased the ball carrier out of bounds. Both of the rookies did well on the play, although Greene's ability to take on and shed a block was extremely impressive.

-On the next snap, Frey was in the slot in zone coverage. He passed off the slot receiver to the deep area and then sprinted to his zone in the flat. He turned his head and saw the ball coming, but he let it go right through his arms. If he makes that play, he's in the end zone. Frey has to take advantage of those opportunities.

-The Bears have practiced pick plays with the defensive linemen in camp. On one snap last night, DT Stephen Paea exploded into the offensive tackle to his left, bringing the guard with him. McClellin then swung around inside and had a free run at the QB. The pass got off in time but this play gave us a great look at how effective those pick stunts can be.

-On DT Zach Minter's first snap of the game, he came off the ball low and hard, driving the blocker into the quarterback's face. Minter has great strength and has shown improvement in camp. This was a strong way to start the game. It results in an errant pass that was intercepted by CB Zack Bowman.

-On Kyle Long's third snap, he pulled behind the line of scrimmage. A body got in his way, yet Long was able to quickly shuffle his feet and move around the wash. He then led the play out front and got a good block on the linebacker. It was a very athletic play. On the next series, he did the exact same thing, driving a safety five yards backward after contact. All night, Long showed very well at the second level.

-The Panthers set up a nice screen play in the second quarter but McManis got a hand on the ball 12 yards down the field, forcing a fumble. Yet most impressive was the player who immediately tackled the ball carrier after the fumble, 300-pound Nate Collins, who chased down a wide receiver.

-It was interesting to see Matt Slauson, and not Edwin Williams, come in as the initial replacement for Garza at center. Slauson was only at center for one series but it says a lot about what the coaching staff thinks of Williams.

-The dropped touchdown by TE Fendi Onobun is hard to watch. His hands were so rock-like on that play, it was amazing. Yet he was wide open because the linebacker could not handle him 1-on-1. If Onobun can shore up his hands, his athleticism is going to give opposing linebackers fits.

-For QB Josh McCown's first two series, the offensive line didn't give up a single pressure. It was a great start for the second-team front five, as they even looked good against a few blitz packages.

-RB Armando Allen is a good football player but his fumble in the red zone really hurt him. With the way Michael Ford played later in the contest, Allen needs to start looking over his shoulder. Yet Allen can put to bed the fear of not making the team by just hanging on to the stinking ball.

-Like Frey before him, McManis also had a pass thrown right to him that he dropped. Again, McManis is not very good as a corner.

-Eric Weems did return one punt in the game, which is one more than he's returned in practice all of training camp.

-1st and 10, the Bears lined up at their own 38. The Panthers crashed the right defensive end and T Jordan Mills followed him all the way inside. This left a huge lane for the linebacker outside, who blitzed and dropped McCown for a sack. Mills has struggled with blitz pickup in camp and it showed up again last night.

-Covering one punt, Greene flew down the field, crashed through a blocker and took the ball carrier down near the sidelines. Greene not only showed well as a linebacker, but he's also very valuable on special teams.

-1st down, the Panthers ran a stretch play right. DT Corvey Irvin split the double team and forced the runner to cut back. S Anthony Walters then came up and made a solid tackle at the line of scrimmage. Irvin has looked good in camp and made a real nice play here, while Walters' performance was one more step toward solidifying the club's fourth safety spot. Later in the series, Irvin was able to beat his man 1-on-1 and flushed the quarterback out of the pocket.

-Aston Whiteside was used both at defensive end and defensive tackle. He was productive in both spots but looked much quicker and more fluid coming off the edge. If he can put on a few pounds, he could serve in a hybrid DE/DT role.

-On Carolina's second touchdown, a run up the middle from the 4-yard line, both Collins and Irvin got blown off the ball. DE Kyle Moore made a strong play and shucked a blocker, but he lost sight of the ball carrier, who flew right by him.

-FB Harvey Unga has no explosion as a lead blocker. He cannot get the job done in that role.

-Marc Trestman said after the game that J'Marcus Webb hasn't been as consistent as the coaching staff would like. But I'm not sure Eben Britton is any sort of upgrade. On one play last night, DE Mario Addison just threw Britton aside on his way to a strip-sack of QB Matt Blanchard. On the next play, a three-step drop on a slant pass, Addison drive Britton into Blanchard's face so quickly that he nearly got another sack.

-Late in the game, on a 3rd-down quick snap, Blanchard quickly pitched the ball to Unga on an outside zone run. It caught the defense off guard and picked up the first down. This is a play the Bears have used consistently in camp coming out of a quick snap. Expect to see a lot more of that this season.

-Overall, Kyle Long had a strong game in pass protection. He showed very good balance and strength. He has some issues to clean up as a run blocker but it was a good start for the rookie. The same can't be said about fifth rounder Jordan Mills, who was susceptible to stunts, blitzes and double moves. He has a lot of work to do.

-Michael Ford, beyond what he did on offense, looked really good as a returner. He didn't break off any big runs but he showed good acceleration, awareness and quick feet. He was productive kick returner in college, so his value goes beyond what he can do as a running back.

-Chicago's offense threw slant patterns all night and it worked almost every time. Both Cutler and Blanchard relied almost exclusively on slants when they checked out of plays. The West Coast offense at its finest.

-Blanchard played well last night. He made the right decision on almost every throw and, beyond his one interception – which was the fault of Onobun – he did a great job of protecting the football. Blanchard gets a lot of reps in practice, which is rare for an NFL third-string passer, and it appears that work is paying off.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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