What We Learned Sunday Afternoon

The Bears are yet to win two games in a row this season, but they are still right in the thick of the NFC playoff picture. Sunday's victory over Denver was as improbable as it gets, and Bear Report came away from Soldier Field with five important observations from the game.

1. Benson's season-ending injury could be a blessing in disguise
Cedric Benson had not been enjoying a very successful season after waiting behind Thomas Jones for two years in order to be the starter at tailback, but he looked like he was finally coming around the last few weeks. Up until the play where he hurt his ankle Sunday, Benson had racked up 136 yards on 19 carries in a game and half of action and ripped off runs of 43, 20, and 21 yards. And while the depth chart is now dangerously thin in the backfield with Adrian Peterson taking over as the starter and rookie Garrett Wolfe being elevated to primary backup status, the offense as a whole should have much more flexibility now in terms of his play-calling because both Peterson and Wolfe are more well-rounded players than Benson will ever be.

Benson never improved catching the football or picking up blitzers in pass protection this year, two areas in which Peterson has always excelled – but can he take the every-down punishment as a featured back?

2. Archuleta is washed up and wasn't simply miscast by the Redskins
Adam Archuleta was one of the better safeties in the league playing for Lovie Smith back when he was the defensive coordinator in St. Louis, so there was reason to be optimistic that the hard-hitting safety's career could be resurrected with the Bears after one miserable campaign in Washington. Smith told the media in training camp that Archuleta was still the same player he remembered from his days with the Rams, perhaps even better. And while he may be third on the team in tackles with 56 and has come up with two sacks as a blitzer, he is completely overmatched away from the line of scrimmage and surrendered yet another big play to a tight end Sunday against the Broncos – a 41-yard strike from Jay Cutler to Tony Scheffler.

Archuleta was also juked out of his jockstrap by Andre Hall on a 16-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, so he's not offering much help in run support either.

3. Grossman is not getting the help he needs from his receiving corps


QB Rex Grossman
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
While it's very easy to criticize Rex Grossman for his less-than-stellar completion percentage of 54.9 and Cleo Lemon-like passer rating of 63.3, his receivers have been dropping balls left and right this season. Believe it or not, the Bears actually led the NFL a year ago in fewest dropped passes, but Benson, Bernard Berrian, and Muhsin Muhammad have all battled serious spells of the dropsies and made things much more difficult on Grossman and even Brian Griese when he was in the lineup. It's been suggested that Berrian is pressing because he's a free agent after the season and looking to cash in for the first time in his career, and Muhammad has had a tendency to drop the easiest of passes ever since he first put on a Bears uniform – put the ball two feet over his head and behind him, however, and he'll come up with it.

Make no mistake about it, there are many experts around the league who believe Grossman could be a star if he ever got out of Chicago and played for a team with better skill-position players and a more creative offensive playbook.

4. Manning is not even close to being a starting corner in this league
Ricky Manning Jr. was one of the unsung heroes on this Bears defense last season, tying for the team lead with five interceptions and solidifying himself as one of the better nickelbacks in all of football. However, when he was asked to start at cornerback in place of either Nathan Vasher or Charles Tillman down the stretch in 2006, the Midway Monsters were torched in the secondary and gave up the kind of big plays that weren't there earlier in the year. With Vasher out of the lineup since Week 4 because of a nasty groin injury, Manning once again started Sunday opposite Tillman and was victimized for a 68-yard touchdown bomb from Cutler to Brandon Marshall – it came just one play after Devin Hester got his team back in the game with a score off a kickoff return.

Trumaine McBride did not play well in Week 12 at Seattle and lost his starting assignment as a result, but he's still better suited than Manning on the outside despite his unheralded-rookie status and minimal experience.

5. This club wouldn't have a chance this season if not for special teams
After 11 ballgames, the Bears are a below average football team on every level offensively: 300.0 total yards per game (23rd in the league), 85.3 rushing yards per game (30th), 28:23 time of possession per game (29th), 17.1 first downs per game (25th), and 35.6 percent on third-down conversions (26th). On the other side of the ball, the defense has also been decidedly below average: 22.8 points allowed per game (20th), 355.9 total yards allowed per game (26th), 126.8 rushing yards allowed per game (27th), 229.1 passing yards allowed per game (25th), and only seven interceptions (31st) all year long. Sunday against Denver, the Broncos would have won that game in a rout if not for Hester's two touchdown returns – incredibly, both in the third quarter – and Tillman blocking a Todd Sauerbrun punt.

Both offensive coordinator Ron Turner and defensive coordinator Bob Babich have received their fair share of criticism this year and rightly so, but special teams coach Dave Toub is arguably the best in the business and making miracles happen for this team almost every game.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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  • All of that plus much more in the January issue of ...

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