No one has ever doubted his natural talent and at times yesterday, he looked like an MVP-caliber quarterback. His second pass was an absolute beauty that landed softly over the shoulder of receiver Alshon Jeffery, hitting him in stride for a 44-yard gain.
In the second-quarter, Cutler threw a missile to tight end Martellus Bennett on a crossing pattern that was perfectly placed out of reach of the linebacker. And in the fourth quarter, he laid a soft pass with touch and accuracy over the linebacker and into the arms of running back Matt Forte next to the front pylon, which Forte dropped. It was the kind of pass announcers would have talked about for two weeks had Aaron Rodgers thrown it.
Yet with every great Cutler pass comes an equally awful attempt. Cutler repeatedly forced balls to covered receivers against Buffalo’s secondary, including one in overtime that bounced off the chest of Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin.
His worst pass came in the fourth quarter on a naked bootleg. The Bills locked up all the receivers, giving Cutler nowhere to throw. Instead of launching it in the stands and living to fight another day, he threw it across his body into the middle of the field to Buffalo defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
“He lost himself for a minute,” Trestman said today.
At 30 years old, Cutler is what he is. He’ll never be perfect and it appears even Trestman can’t stop him from hurting his team as much as he helps it.
2) Chicago’s defense had no answer for the Bills read-option attack and it eventually cost them the game. Buffalo’s first two touchdowns both came on zone-read plays.
The first was a play-fake up the middle, which led to linebackers Jon Bostic and Lance Briggs, as well as defensive end Jared Allen, crashing inside. Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel then tucked the ball away and strolled into the end zone with no one around him.
On the second Buffalo touchdown, Manuel play-faked to C.J. Spiller up the middle. Both Briggs and linebacker D.J. Williams shot the gaps as Spiller released into the flat. Manuel dropped in the easy pass and Spiller had a clear path to the end zone.
The Bears struggled last year to stop zone-read plays and yesterday was no different. Until they figure out how to stay disciplined and work as one unit, teams are going to keep gashing them with the read-option.
3) The Bears held the Bills to just 3.4 yards per carry on all but two runs yesterday. Yet it was those two runs – a 47-yarder by Anthony Dixon before the half, and a 38-yarder by Fred Jackson in overtime – that ultimately cost Chicago its home opener.
On the first run, defensive tackles Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff were pushed three yards off the line of scrimmage. Briggs scraped left, while Jon Bostic scraped right, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the field. Dixon came through the line untouched and safety Chris Conte missed an open-field tackle. Dixon was then off to the races.
The overtime run was another read-option play. Bostic followed Manuel, taking himself out of the play. Briggs saw the hand off and shot the A gap. The problem was the runner was headed to the left C gap. Briggs tried to re-direct as he hit the hole but was clipped by an offensive lineman and landed on his backside. As a result, no one was even near Jackson as he burst through the line of scrimmage.
On both of these backbreaking runs, the linebackers made big mental mistakes. They were nowhere near the gap in which the runner ran through, which resulted in the huge gains.
Mental mistakes are correctable though, so it’s possible Bostic and Briggs will land on the same page at some point this season. But if they continue to struggle in their run fits, it’ll be a long year for Chicago’s run defense.
4) By my count, the Bears ran seven screen passes yesterday – four to Forte and three to wide receivers on bubble screens. There were times last year the Bears threw seven screens in two or three games combined.
The plays to Forte were particularly effective, which is a great sign for the offense going forward. If Trestman is dedicated to the screen pass, and the Bears can execute them consistently, it will add an extra dimension to the offense, one the Packers have been abusing for years.
5) Center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson both injured their ankles in yesterday’s contest. They are undergoing MRIs today and it’s unclear at the time of this writing the severity of either injury.
The good news is that Brian de la Puente and Michael Ola looked very good after being inserted in the starting lineup. With Ola at guard and de la Puente at center, the Bears didn’t allow a sack to Buffalo’s vaunted defensive line in the second half.
Ola showed good movement on trap plays and solid balance in pass protection. He did have some trouble with blitz pickup but for a first-year NFL player, that area of his game should improve with time.
De la Puente is a scrappy player with three year’s starting experience at center. He’s in his third year working under Aaron Kromer, Chicago’s offensive coordinator, so his experience in the system will allow the offensive line to transition seamlessly if Garza misses any time.
If the ankle injuries are serious, expect the Bears to bring Eben Britton back in the fold.
6) There has been a lot of uncertainty about Chicago’s safety position the past few months. Yet after yesterday’s performance, it’s clear the Bears are in a better spot at safety than they were last season.
Ryan Mundy and Chris Conte were solid for most of the game. Conte had one bad missed tackle on Dixon’s run but other than that, he played with intensity and flew to the ball. He hit hard and finished runs, and his interception, the only one of the day for the Bears’ defense, was outstanding. Mundy was a physical presence in the box, acting like a fourth linebacker at times.
The concern going forward should revolve around Chicago’s front seven, as Conte and Mundy will be fine on the back end.
7 Despite all the hype surrounding the acquisitions of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, it’s very possible Willie Young is the best defensive end on this team. Young had the only sack of the game yesterday and had three very strong run stops, one of which went for a five-yard loss. Against both the run and pass, Young is going to have a big impact this year.
Yet with just one sack overall, Chicago’s pass rush didn’t look much different than it did in 2013, when the Bears finished last in the league in sacks. Allen was particularly quiet during the game, picking up just one QB hurry, no sacks and no hits, per Pro Football Focus. Houston had three QB hurries and a QB hit but he had very little impact in the run game.
If those two step up and play like they have their whole careers, and Young continues to ascend, there may still be hope for Chicago’s defensive line this year.
8) Matt Forte will be 29 in a few months, which is old by NFL running-back standards, although you’d never tell it by his performance yesterday. Forte led the team in both rushing yards (82) and receiving yards (87).
After Alshon Jeffery left the game with a hamstring injury, Forte put the offense on his back. On the game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter, Forte touched the ball five times, guiding the team into field-goal range.
Surprisingly, rookie running back Ka’Deem Carey got just one touch against the Bills, so it appears the Bears are going to again use Forte in a workhorse role, at least to start the year. That isn’t such a bad thing, as it was clear yesterday Forte is up to the task.
9) Marc Trestman is a great offensive mind yet he made a number of questionable decisions in yesterday’s game, two of which had a big impact on the outcome.
Following a four-play, 66-yard touchdown drive to start the game, the Bears were again driving on their second possession. After three plays picked up 29 yards, Trestman called a flea flicker that had no chance at success. The offense appeared to lose momentum after the play and the drive stalled.
The Bears didn’t score again until a Robbie Gould field goal with 9:39 left in the third quarter.
Chicago then began overtime with possession of the ball. On first down, Forte ran through a huge hole for 13 yards. Buffalo’s run defense seemed worn out, yet Trestman proceeded to call three straight pass plays, resulting in three total yards and a punt.
One has to wonder if the Bills would have even gotten the ball back in overtime had Trestman continued to pound Forte up the middle.
10) Bears receiver Michael Spurlock saw 15 snaps yesterday, most of which came after Jeffery left the game. Spurlock had two big drops, one on third down and another on the game-tying drive, both of which hurt the offense. Some questioned why Spurlock was even on the field when the Bears could have used veteran Santonio Holmes.
The simple answer: Holmes does not know the playbook. On Brandon Marshall’s touchdown pass, Holmes can be seen on the opposite side of the field asking Morgan what to do on the play. Holmes was so busy trying to figure his route, he didn’t even realize the ball was snapped.
Then, on Cutler’s interception to Kyle Williams, Holmes was pass blocking the entire time. The reason Cutler had no one to throw to, and subsequently tried to force a pass to Martellus Bennett, was because Holmes thought it was a run play.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth 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.