The transformation of Jay Cutler is complete. New Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase, as well as quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, have taken a shapeless mass and molded Cutler into one of the most efficient game managers in the NFL. Cutler outdueled Aaron Rodgers for the first time in his career on prime time television in front of a Thanksgiving crowed dizzy from turkey overload. Cutler passed for just 200 yards and 1 TD but he did not turn the ball over, a rare feat against a Packers team that has historically had his number. Cutler's 90.8 QB rating dwarfed Rodgers' 62.4 rating. This would have been an "A" grade for Cutler if it weren't for an overthrow to Marquess Wilson that cost the Bears an early touchdown. Other than that, Cutler was nearly perfect, showing outstanding pocket awareness and an ability to elude defenders in the game's biggest moments.
Running Back: C-
Matt Forte returned in Week 12 and played 37 snaps, while rookie Jeremy Langford was on the field for 30 offensive snaps. The two cominbed to carry the ball 27 times for 92 rushing yards (3.4 ypc), adding just two catches for 14 yards. It was a slow day for Chicago's backfield, with Forte struggling during a 3rd-quarter attempt to score near the goal line, while Langford had two crticial dropped passes. The Bears have a quality 1-2 punch with Forte and Langford, yet the consistency still isn't there for Chicago's new timeshare backfield.
Wide Receiver: A-
Alshon Jeffery returned to action after missing last week's contest with a groin injury and resumed his role as a nearly unstoppable force as the team's No. 1 receiver. He finished with a team-high 7 catches (on 11 targets) for 90 yards. Yet Jeffery finally got some support, with Marquess Wilson serving well in the No. 2 role, catching four passes for 44 yards (and nearly catching a deep TD pass that Cutler overthrew). Yet the big-play receiver was Marc Mariani, who had 35 yards on three receptions, all of which came on third down and were converted for first downs. When you need a big play, you throw it to Mariani.
Tight End: B
Zach Miller started in place of the injured Martelllus Bennett (ribs) and played every single snap on offense (67) as well as 14 more on special teams. Miller caught just two passes for 10 yards but one of those was a second-quarter TD reception. Khari Lee started the fun with a seven-yard catch on the opening drive. Offensively, the team did not miss Bennett's presence, which has been minimal for most of the campaign.
Offensive Line: C+
The offensive line once again struggled to consistently open holes in the run game, which has been an off-and-on problem the past two months. Too many times Forte and Langford were hit in the backfield, while both runners could find little room at the second level. This was a game the offensive line could have put away, yet they couldn't get enough push to gain a first down late in the game, which gave Green Bay an opportunity to win the game. In pass protection, Cutler was only sacked once but he was pressured 10 times and hit four times. The interior of the offensive line struggled to contain Mike Daniels, who had 4 QB pressures on his own, while offensive tackles Charles Leno and Kyle Long looked lost against Dom Capers' blitz packages. The Bears' offensive line was serviceable once again, and there's nothing wrong with that, but this is a unit that needs some serious upgrades in the upcoming off-season.
Defensive Line: C
The interior of Chicago's defensive line had a strong pass-rush outing. Starters Jarvis Jenkins and Eddie Goldman combined for 4 QB hurries, while backups Bruce Gaston (2) and Mitch Unrein (1) added three more QB hurries. Collapsing the pocket in the face of Aaron Rodgers was a big reason the Bears were able to keep Green Bay's passing attack in check. Yet, for the second week in a row, Chiago's defense was routinely gashed in the run game. Eddie Lacy racked up 105 rushing yards, while the Packers as a team compiled 177 yards on the ground. It was the second week in a row an opponent has rushed for 170 or more yards. Goldman in particular struggled to hold his ground at the point of attack, an area of his game in which he must become more consistent.
Inside Linebackers: D+
Shea McClellin led the Bears with 10 total tackles but I would venture to guess 9 of those came at least five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Both McClellin and Christian Jones were dangerously passive against Green Bay's rushing attack, with neither player showing any semblence of aggressiveness when attacking and filling gaps. Both stood and waited for blockers to reach them, instead of attacking plays and forcing runners to their help. This is becoming an all-too-familiar trend and arguably the biggest reason the Bears have been gashed on the ground the past two weeks. Until McClellin and Jones begin playing downhill, instead of constantly shifting laterally, Chicago's run defense will continue to struggle at an alarming rate.
Outside Linebackers: A-
Starters Willie Young and Pernell McPhee combined for 9 QB hurries, while Young added two QB hits and a sack. McPhee was limited due to a lingering knee issue but he had a substantial impact playing two-thirds of the snaps on defense, which includes consistently setting the edge against the run and even batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage. Most impressive at the position was Lamarr Houston, who played just 38 snaps (49 percent) on Thursday night . He had seven tackles (third most on the team) and two tackles for loss, as well as a sack. Houston now has 4.0 sacks in his last four games and is tied for the team lead with 5.0 sacks on the year. It has taken both players more than half the season to fully recover from their respective injuries, but both Young and Houston have emerged in a big way for the defense in the second half of the campaign, which is a great sign for the team going forward.
It's borderline shocking how far this unit has progressed this season. In Week 1, Aaron Rodgers threw for 3 TDs, no interceptions and had a 140.6 passer rating. Last night, he threw for just 1 TD, on a screen pass, with 1 INT and a 62.4 passer rating. That's improvement at stark levels, with those games just 10 weeks apart. Tracy Porter was the MVP of the game, picking up a whopping 4 PBUs and his first interception of the season. Porter shut down WR Davante Adams, who was targeted a team-high 11 times but caught just two passes for 14 yards. Porter was also intstrumental in disrupting a potential game-winning TD by James Jones in the end zone with less than a minute to play. Rodgers had a 1.7 QB rating when throwing at Porter. Equally as impressive was nickelback Bryce Callahan, who faced a stiff test covering Randall Cobb most of the night. Callahan finished with three tackles, one for a loss, and a pass breakup. On the game's final play, it was Callahan who got his hand in front of the receiver, which resulted in an incompletion and a Bears win. Kyle Fuller had a quiet game and was thrown at just three times, yet he didn't allow a single completion.
There was a time when Bears safeties could not stop downfield passes by Rodgers and the Packers. The 2013 regular-season finale is a great example of a safety pairing that could not keep Green Bay's passing attack in front of them. Yet last night, rookie Adrian Amos and journeyman Chris Prosinksi were stout on the back end. Rodgers' longest pass of the day was 32 yards, on a sideline route away from the safeties. Other than that, Chicago's back-end pairing kept Packers from roaming free in the deep part of the field. Prosinski also forced a fumble, the first of his career, while Amos was second on the team in tackles with nine, four of which came at the line of scrimmage. Antrel Rolle missed his second straight game due to a knee injury but Chicago's safeies haven't missed a beat without him.
John Fox: A
John Fox has won this team over. After the victory, Bears players lifted up Fox in celebration in the locker room, a sign of a team committed to their head coach. Fox led a club with far less talent into an extremely hostile environment, on a night when the Packers retired Brett Favre's number, and the Bears pulled off a hard-fought upset victory. That win doesn't happen under Marc Trestman, nor Lovie Smith in his final years in the Windy City. Fox did a good job managing the game but it was his ability to get this team into the right frame of mind, one in which they firmly believed they could win, that truly swayed the victory to Chicago's side. With an influx of talent, the future is very bright for the Bears under Fox.
Adam Gase: B
The Bears won the time of possession battle by nearly two and a half minutes due in large part to offensive coordinator Adam Gase's continued commitment to the run game. The Bears rushed 31 times against the Packers, which was the fourth time in 11 games this year they've run the ball at least 29 times - and never fewer than 25 rushes. The Bears did struggle early on - they didn't pick up a first down until midway through the second quarter - and finshed with just 280 total yards of offense. Yet once the offense started moving, they Bears were hard to stop. Gase was even successful in the redzone, converting three trips into two touchdowns.
Vic Fangio: A-
For the first time in a month, the Bears did not allow a touchdown on the opening drive. From then on, they gave up just one total touchdown and shut out the Packers in the second half. Credit goes to Fangio for cobbling together a talent-starved unit that went into Lambeau and shut down Aaron Rodgers. The recent problems stopping the run are cause for concern but this is a unit trending in the right direction, one whose sustained play will be a big factor heading into the club's final push for the playoffs. If Fangio gets some talent in the near future, watch out.