Good News, Bad News Bears

The Bears have had one great performance sandwiched between two sub par efforts. It's time to take a closer look at the positives and negatives of the first three games of 2005.

The Bears' defense may very well be as good as advertised, although the pass rush remains suspect.

Despite a modest six sacks in three games, only two of which came from the defensive line, the Bears are No. 4 in total yards and No. 7 in points allowed. Defensively, the Bears rank in the top quarter of the league in 12 categories after the first three weeks.

The defense has proven especially adept at stopping the run after a tough outing against Clinton Portis and the Redskins in the season opener. Since then, the Bears have allowed 112 rushing yards on 51 carries.

In the first two weeks the Bears allowed just 15 points, their lowest yield in 21 years. The Bengals scored 24 points in Week 3, but part of the blame for that goes to a Bears offense that turned the ball over six times.

Running back Thomas Jones is the third-leading rusher in the NFC with 276 yards, four touchdowns and a 4.5-yard average per carry.

The NFC North has a combined record of 3-8 heading into Week 4. The Lions took over the division lead without playing a game last weekend and the Bears are likely to move into a tie during their bye. The Vikings (1-2) go to Atlanta, while the Lions (1-1) visit the 3-0 Buccaneers. The Packers are still without a win and have to travel to Carolina Monday night

The Bears have all the ingredients for an effective running game - Jones and promising rookie Cedric Benson at running back and a veteran offensive line loaded with talent, even though it's getting a little long in the tooth. The problem is the passing game.

Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton will suffer the inevitable growing pains that plague every rookie quarterback in the NFL, especially a fourth-round draft choice. And while Orton has the benefit of Pro Bowl wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad on one side, the Bears are missing a reliable complement on the other side.

Justin Gage started the first three games and caught just two passes for 31 yards. Rookie Mark Bradley will be the better player, and he is already on the field for more snaps, but he is inexperienced and inconsistent.

The other wide receivers are role players and not very experienced either. Second-year man Bernard Berrian can fly but is fragile and unlikely to make an impact between the hash marks. Three-year veteran Bobby Wade has good quickness and can work underneath, but he lacks size and speed.

Orton's lack a second target goes beyond a young receiving corps. Desmond Clark is the only tight ends to catch a ball this season. He has five receptions through three games, but is fighting a neck strain and has had trouble staying on the field throughout his career.

The kicking game has been atrocious. Doug Brien has missed three of four attempts and could quickly find himself out on the street if he doesn't regain his form.

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