The Chicago Bears came into Sunday's contest with a game plan on offense to run the ball until they couldn't run it anymore. The strategy was successful, meaning Jay Cutler was asked to do very little. He completed 20 of 27 passes for 156 yards and 1 TD. His yardage total was the lowest in any game this season in which Cutler has finished. He did not throw an interception, nor did he lose a fumble. It was the sixth game this year Cutler finished with zero interceptions and the third game in which he didn't turn the ball over. His 100.2 passer rating was his fifth best of the season. As a game manager, Cutler has proven to be very effective and he continues to be extremely judicious with the football. In 14 starts this year, Cutler doesn't have a single contest in which he's thrown two interceptions. In my fifth year covering him, I never though I'd write that about Cutler.
Running Back: A+
The Bears ran the ball a whopping 39 times against Tampa Bay's second-ranked run defense, compiling 174 rushing yards, the team's second highest rushing total of the season. That is extremely impressive. Jeremy Langford led the way with 19 carries for 83 yards (4.4 ypc), while Matt Forte had 11 carries for 54 yards (4.9 ypc). Ka'Deem Carey even got 7 carries, although he managed just 16 rushing yards (2.3 ypc). Yet Carey was a major weapon in short yardage. He had a 1-yard TD plunge in the second quarter, then caught a 1-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter. Carey also had a crucial 3rd-and-1 conversion late in the game that allowed the offense to chew up the fourth-quarter clock. This was, by far, the best all-around performance from Chicago's three-headed backfield.
Wide Receiver: C+
Only three wideouts caught a pass in Sunday's contest, led by Eddie Royal's five catches for 21 yards. Royal also dropped a touchdown that hit him in the chest. Marc Mariani had two catches for 32 yards but, as usual, both catches resulted in crucial third-down conversions. Josh Bellamy had two catches for 10 yards. The 63 combined receiving yards was the lowest total for Chicago's wide receivers this season.
Tight End: A-
It's amazing how much production the Bears have gotten from the tight end position since placing Martellus Bennett on IR. In fact, Zach Miller has proven that Bennett, considered one of the better all-around tight ends in the league, is basically expendable. Miller led the team with 7 catches on 8 targets for 69 yards. In addition, Miller had a solid day as a run blocker and played a big role in the success of Chicago's ground game. Miller, assuming he can stay healthy, can be an integral part in the Bears' offense next season.
Offensive Line: B+
A team doesn't rush for 173 yards if the offensive line isn't getting push up front, which is exactly what we saw from Chicago's front five yesterday. The right side of the offensive line - RG Vladimir Ducasse and RT Kyle Long - were pure steamrollers, particularly in short-yardage situations. Ducasse can't pass protect to save his life - he gave up another sack on Sunday - but the 28-year-old is a mauler in the run game. For Long, it was his best game of the season at his new position. Not only did he open holes for the ground game but he didn't allow a single QB pressure, QB hit or sack. It was just the second time this season he's been spotless in pass protection. LT Charles Leno had a strong day in the run game but he allowed a team-high 3 QB hurries. Overall, with the success of the rushing attack and just one sack allowed, this was the best peformance of the season from Chicago's offensive line.
Defensive Line: B+
Bucs RB Doug Martin is a Pro-Bowl ball carrier who is second in the NFL only to Adrian Peterson in rushing yards. Yet the Bears held Martin to just 49 yards on 17 carries (2.9 ypc). It was a team effort to keep Martin in check but credit the defensive line, which did a very good job of occupying blockers and filling gaps. Eddie Goldman and Jarvis Jenkins were banged in the game and played just 31 snaps combined. Yet Mitch Unrein, Will Sutton and newly signed D'Anthony Smith were solid in relief. Sutton knocked down a pass on 3rd down, while Unrein had an impressive gap burst and tackle on Martin in the backfield.
Outside Linebacker: A-
Pernell McPhee picked up his first sack since Nov. 8, which was great to see from a player who has been hobbled by a knee injury the entire second half of the season. McPhee added 2 QB hits and 2 tackles for loss, and he did it all while playing just 20 snaps. Willie Young only had 1 QB hurry and no sacks but he made up for it in the run game, where he had two tackles for loss. Lamarr Houston had three total tackles, 1 QB hurry and 1 tackle for loss. Those three outside linebackers combined for 5 tackles for loss, which is excellent. Sam Acho had two tackles, despite playing just 14 snaps.
Inside Linebacker: B
John Timu was on the field for all 56 defensive snaps against the Bucs. He finished with a team-high six tackles and two fumble recoveries. Timu wasn't as dominant against the run as he was last week against the Vikings but he's proven to this coaching staff he deserves the lion's share of starting ILB reps. Christian Jones, filling in for the injured Shea McClellin, also had six tackles, a QB hit and a pass breakup, which is a pretty solid all-around game. Jonathan Anderson only played 14 snaps but he made the most of them, picking up two tackles and a forced fumble.
Tracy Porter was caught in between on a deep pass to Charles Sims, which resulted in a 50-yard go-ahead TD for the Bucs in the 3rd quarter. It was an ugly play. Porter had a pass breakup later in the game but he also had two missed tackles. He was targeted six times, giving up four completions for 91 yards. It was easily Porter's worst game of the season. Kyle Fuller also had a pass breakup and allowed just two receptions for 24 total yards. Nickelback Demontre Hurst and dimeback Alan Ball were each targeted once, resulting in zero completions.
After Chris Prosinski proved ineffective, the Bears started Harold Jones-Quartey at safety yesterday. It was his third start of the season and he played like a beast. He was targeted four times and allowed just one completion. He also had two pass breakups, an intercption and a forced fumble. In essence, without Jones-Quartey's turnovers - the team scored 10 points off those turnovers and won by just 5 points - the Bears likely would have flown home from Tampa Bay 5-10. Adrian Amos had a good pass breakup early in the game but he struggled in coverage down the stretch. Amos was targeted three times and allowed two receptions for 62 yards, including a 43 yarder to TE Cameron Brate. Amos was solid in run support again but his struggles playing the ball in coverage are a bit worrisome.
John Fox: B
One of the best aspects about John Fox as a head coach is that he's willing to use his entire 53-man roster on any given week, and that no one's job is safe. If Fox just sits back and starts Prosinski, Jones-Quartey never creates those game-changing turnovers. If he doesn't insert John Timu, the run defense would have likely continued to struggle. If he didn't make Charles Leno the starting left tackle, Jermon Bushrdod would still be getting Cutler killed. If he didn't send Martellus Bennett home for the season, Zach Miller wouldn't be carrying the passing attack. That willingness to put anyone on the field, no matter what you've done in the past, is what separates Fox from his predecessors.
Adam Gase: A
It takes stones to call 39 rushes against the second-ranked defense in the league, but that's exactly what offensive coordinator Adam Gase did agains the Bucs. Gase is still struggling to piece together a competent passing attack but he's been limited by injury. So he's turned to the run game, which carried the team to a win yesterday. Not only that, but Gase used three different sets with two running backs stacked in I-formation. The first was at the goal line, where Carey scored on short handoff from the fullback spot, with Langford deep in the backfield. The second time, Langford took the short-yardage carry from fullback, with Forte deep. And the third time, Cutler faked a handoff to the fullback, which drew the entire defense forward, before hitting a wide-open Carey in the front-left corner of the end zone. That's big-picture play-calling right there.
Vic Fangio: B
Fangio has cobbled together a respectable defense, despite an overall lack of talent and a number of key injuries. We saw it again yesterday, where two undrafted defenders stole the show. In addition, the Bears did not allow a touchdown on the opening drive for only the third time in the past seven weeks. Finally, Tampa Bay only had only one true scoring drive - the other two scores came after a blocked punt that put the ball at the 4-yard line and a Hail Mary with 1 second on the clock and the game already out of hand - which is a credit to Fangio.
Jeff Rodgers: D
Following Sunday's game, Chicago's special teams this season have allowed a blocked PAT, a blocked punt, a punt return for TD, a kick return for TD and a 30-yard run on a fake punt. I don't advocate for any man to lose his job but we've seen almost no improvement from the Bears special teams this year, which has put the team in bad spots all season. If Rodgers is retained, he has about 400 different things he needs to figure out before next season.