Watching Jay Cutler develop, even at age 32, has been enjoyable. Since coming to Chicago, he's gone through offensive coordinators like a sick person goes through tissues. Yet in Adam Gase's system, Cutler is doing something he hasn't done in seven years with the Bears: improve. Against the Vikings on Sunday he threw for 211 yards and a touchdown. Those aren't eye-popping numbers but Cutler did it behind a re-shuffled, patchwork offensive line and without all-world running back Matt Forte for half the game. Most importantly, Cutler did not turn the ball over, the first time all year he's had a turnover-free game. If Cutler continues to take steps forward under Gase, a highly successful offense with Cutler under center, something most Bears fans believed would never happen, might exist in Chicago as early as next season.
Running Back: C+
Matt Forte was en route to one of his typically productive games, racking up 69 total yards in two-plus quarters of play. Yet a knee injury knocked him out of the game in the third quarter and he did not return. In Forte's place, Jeremy Langford took over as starter but managed just 3.8 yards per carry, while also dropping a crucial third-down pass late in the fourth quarter that stalled a potential game-winning drive. Langford ran hard between the tackle and has the skill set to be Chicago's workhorse of the future but it was a rough coming-out party for the rookie out of Michigan State.
Wide Receiver: B+
Simply put, Alshon Jeffery is a beast. Against the Vikings he hauled in 10 catches on 15 targets for 116 yards and a touchdown. In two games since returning from a hamstring injury, Jeffery has 18 catches for 263 yards and 2 TDs. Those are elite numbers from a fourth-year wideout that has been unstoppable the past two weeks. This unit would have gotten an "A" yet the rest of the receivers combined to catch just 5 passes for 35 yards.
Tight End: D-
Martellus Bennett was targeted only five time, catching three passes for 32 yards. He was essentially a non-factor in the passing game for the fifth time in six games this season. Remember, this is a player coming off a 90-catch season, one who has consistently failed to find his rhythm this season. He griped about his contract this off-season but has played like a backup all year. Bennett is averaging 54 yards per game and has caught more than 59 yards in a single contest just once. If you take away the Week 4 outing against the Raiders, he has averaged just 48 yards per contest, while 12 NFL tight ends have more total receiving yards than Bennett. That just isn't going to cut from a player capable of far more.
Offensive Line: B+
The Bears were without starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod and center Hroniss Grasu against the Vikings. That forced the Bears to put Matt Slauson at center, with Vladimir Ducasse at left guard and Patrick Omameh at right guard. Charles Leno started his fourth straight game in place of Bushrod. Yet, despite its patchwork construct, Chicago's front five was serviceable on Sunday. They allowed just one sack and that was a coverage sack in which Cutler held the ball too long. The offensive line was able to move Minnesota's defenders off their spots, which resulted in a relatively successful rushing attack, particularly in the second half. This wasn't a perfect group - Leno and Ducasse allowed a combined six QB hurries on Cutler's blindside - but they were more than serviceable, especially consiering how new everyone was at their respective positions.
Defensive Line: B-
Chicago's down linemen played a good, albeit unspectacular, game. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 103 yards but he needed 20 carries to reach the century mark, which is a testament to how well the interior defenders filld their gaps. Jarvis Jenkins had a strong outing, picking up five QB hurries, per Pro Football Focus, and a QB hit.
Outside Linebacker: C+
Pernell McPhee was very disruptive as a pass rusher, picking up a team-high 6 QB hurries and a sack. He's been Chicago's most consistent force off the edge and he continued in that role against the Vikings. Yet Sam Acho was nonexistent in this game, while Lamarr Houston and Willie Young combined to play just 11 total snaps. This was once considered the deepest unit on the team but the production now comes almost exclusively from McPhee, and Acho on occasion.
Inside Linebacker: B-
The Bears were without Shea McClellin for the second week in a row but that didn't hurt the defense, as Christian Jones had himself a game. Jones finished with a team-high 5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and a QB hit. Peterson topped 100 yards but never had a run longer than 12 yards, which just shows how consistent the interior linebackers were in making sure AP didn't reach the third level. LaRoya Reynolds played 24 snaps in base sets, while Jonathan Anderson rotated in for 30 snaps in nickel situations. Neither player stood out, atlhough that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Kyle Fuller played very well against the Vikings, picking up a pass breakup and an interception, his first since last year. It was a positive outing for a player who needs to build some confidence. Bryce Callahan took over as the starting nickelback and had a strong game. Unfortunately for the Bears, Callahan was concussed in the fourth quarter, which forced the team to go back to Sherrick McManis, who promptly gave up a 40-yard TD to Stefon Diggs. In eight defensive snaps played, McManis had a defensive holding call and allowed a score. He's now a bona fide liability on defense and should never again be on the field for anything other than special teams.
Antrel Rolle and Adrian Amos are a legitimate safety pairing. They were both stout in run support and played a big role in helping limit Peterson on the ground. Yet Rolle mae one huge mistake, which ended up costing the Bears the victory. On the game's final drive, Rolle was positioned to intercept a Teddy Bridgewater pass but was undercut by receiver Charles Johnson for a 35-yard gain that put the Vikings in range for the game-winning field goal. That's now two weeks in a row a late-game deep pass against a Bears safety has resulted in defeat.
John Fox: B-
Fox did not make any egregious mistakes as a game manager and the team played hard for the entire contest. It's hard to fault the head coach when a few big plays turned the tide in a hard-fought battle.
Adam Gase: C
For the second week in a row Chicago's offense had the ball late in the fourth quarter with an opportunity to win the game. Yet, just like last week, the Bears could not even muster a first down, resulting in the club's second straight loss. Gase deserves credit for the work he's done with Cutler and for his continued commitment to the run game - the Bears ran the ball 25 times on Sunday - but overall, the offensive production has fallen short. If it weren't for Alshon Jeffery's deep-ball ability, the offense would have really struggled yesterday. Gase can't get the other receivers involved and can't find a way to get Martellus Bennett open. Until the offense becomes more than just the Forte-Jeffery show, the Bears won't be able to post points consistently.
Vic Fangio: B-
Chicago's defense had a great game until the final three minutes, when everything unraveled. The Bears also struggled to collapse the pocket, sacking Bridgewater just once in the game. Fangio deserves praise for a schematic design that held AP in check but he was also the guy in charge when the wheels fell off late in the fourth quarter, so he deserves blame in that regard as well.