THE GOOD NEWS
Jeffery Improving Weekly
Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery is quickly becoming one of the most dependable pass catchers on the team. Opposing defenses have bottled up Brandon Marshall with bracket coverage the past two weeks. He hasn't caught more than 80 yards or scored in a game since Week 2.
Yet Jeffery has stepped up to fill the void, which is exactly the reason GM Phil Emery traded up to draft him in the second round last year. In Week 3, he caught seven passes for 51 yards and finished yesterday's contest against the Detroit Lions with five receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown.
He also showed up as a blocker, using his big frame to throw a crucial block on Matt Forte's 53-yard touchdown run. It's an area of his game that has improved dramatically this year.
"I made some good plays, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. All I'm concerned about is the ‘W,'" Jeffery said after the game. "I'm not worrying about what I did. It's a team sport."
Film session today will show Jeffery's solid all-around performance but he's far from a finished product. He had five catches in the game but Cutler targeted him 11 times. That 45 percent catch rate has to improve. He also dropped a wide-open touchdown – although he made up for it on the next play by out-muscling two defenders on a jump-ball TD – while his failure to be ball-strong on a second-quarter crossing route resulted in a Louis Delmas interception.
Overall though, Jeffery has taken a substantial step forward this year and is progressing at a solid rate.
Against the Lions, Julius Peppers had easily his best game of the season. He finished with six combined tackles, two quarterback hurries, his first sack of the season and a forced fumble. He was light on his feet and more than once was able to track down Reggie Bush. He looked like the Peppers of old, a player that disappeared the first three weeks of 2013.
This is a good sign for the team going forward. After losing Henry Melton for the season, someone on Chicago's defense needed to step up. Peppers did just that, leading by example. Unfortunately, no one followed suit. But if Peppers can build on this and again play like a dominant force, it will go a long way toward curing what has ailed Chicago's defense to this point.
THE BAD NEWS
Mr. Hyde Returns
You can't sugarcoat Cutler's performance against the Lions, which was downright horrible. A lot of thing went wrong for the Bears yesterday, at nearly every spot on the football field. Yet nowhere was it messier than in Cutler's head, where one of his classic meltdowns occurred.
We've seen this show before, the one where things go from bad to worse to absolutely catastrophic, all in the matter of a few quarters. Cutler's final stat line isn't horrible (27 of 47, 317 yards and 2 TDs) but those who watched the game were witness to his inaccuracy and hesitancy, and saw those balls skipped to wide-open receivers down the field. We saw that interception floated to the safety 20-yards down the field and we saw him hang onto the ball for an ungodly amount of time before Suh finally wrestled it away from him.
His four turnovers killed any hope Chicago had yesterday of keeping pace in Detroit. There are no excuses for his performance and Cutler knows it.
"I mean three picks, it's hard to come back from that. I have to play better," Cutler said post-game. "I felt good about my decision-making. I just missed the throws. They made a great play on the first one and then I under threw B [Brandon Marshall] and over threw Alshon [Jeffery]. They are throws I'm accustomed to making, I just have to make them. I thought the offensive line battled all day long and did a great job, especially in the passing situations we were in. We got slowed down due to my turnovers and we just have to do a better job."
Cutler has grown this year and was playing at a very high level before this week. Marc Trestman has had a very strong positive influence on him. Very likely, Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh will clean up a few things and Cutler will be back making plays next week. But inevitably, Bad Jay is going to show up. He can't stay away forever.
Good Jay can win a championship, Bad Jay can't win a game. Trestman needs to figure out a way to keep the recurrence of Mr. Hyde at a bare minimum. You can't destroy the dark side of Cutler but a "QB whisperer" should be able to contain it.
Offensive Line Woes
The Lions were all over Cutler in yesterday's game, sacking him three times, one of which resulted in a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. After three straight solid weeks, the Bears' front five collapsed against Detroit's explosive pass rush. Chicago's offensive line allowed 17 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), which is ridiculous. Cutler was off all day and has no one else to blame for a lot of his mistakes, but being pressured on 30 percent of his drop backs (17 of 57) didn't help.
Pressure came from everywhere: Suh had two sacks and three hurries, DT Nick Fairley had two QB hits and a fumble return for a TD, and defensive ends Willie Young, Esekiel Ansah and Israel Idonije all had four hurries apiece. It was the Bears' 2012 offensive line all over again.
The lack of blocking was pronounced on the edges, where rookie Jordan Mills allowed seven pressures and veteran Jermon Bushrod gave up five hurries. That makes two straight weeks where Chicago's offensive line struggled. When Roberto Garza is your top performer, you know things went very wrong.
The front five is improved but the Lions showed that this group is still a work in progress, particularly the fifth-round rookie on the right side.
Turnovers or Bust
I wrote after the game about my concerns for the Bear's defense, which has struggled under coordinator Mel Tucker. The team this year is overly dependent on turnovers, while opposing offenses are racking up yards and points at a rate unheard of in Chicago. And if the takeaways don't come, things will get ugly.
Even with three turnovers yesterday, the Bears still gave up 40 points. The club hadn't allowed 40 or more points in 59 straight contests, which was the longest streak in the league. It took Tucker just four games to put an end to that one.
After the game, Charles Tillman confirmed my biggest fear when asked if he was concerned about the amount of points the Bears are allowing.
"I don't know if I'd use the word ‘concerned,'" said Tillman. "I think if you can generate takeaways, that's the equalizer. You can give up as many points as you want, as long as you continue to take the ball away. Statistically, being plus one 70 percent, plus two 80 percent, plus three, 95, 100 percent. I still think that's the key."
Defensive tackle Stephen Paea suffered a mild turf toe injury in Detroit, which hurt Chicago's run defense. He played just 38 of 67 total defensive snaps (56 percent), which forced the Bears to shuffle Corey Wootton inside for a number of snaps. When that happens, Shea McClellin comes on the field, and he's a revolving door against the run, thus Reggie Bush's monster day.
Mel Tucker was not prepared to for Detroit's rushing attack. He sold out on stopping Calvin Johnson and the Lions passing game and the Detroit ate up the Bears on the ground.
Tucker did his defense no favors, giving middle linebacker D.J. Williams just 22 snaps, while nickelback Isaiah Frey was on the field for 45 snaps. When your nickelback doubles the snaps of your middle linebacker, should you expect success against an opposing team's rushing attack?
The Bears fall to 3-1 and are tied atop the NFC North with the Lions. Detroit now holds the tiebreaker, meaning the Week 10 re-match will be huge for Chicago. The Bears head home this week to host the New Orleans Saints.
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.