What We Learned: Bears vs. Bills

The Chicago Bears have a lot to review after losing the preseason opener 27-20 to the Bills, specifically Jay Cutler struggling to put drives together and the pass defense being shredded by four Buffalo QBs. What did we learn at Ralph Wilson Stadium? Start with these five observations ...

1. You can't force a wide receiver into being a primary option
Not only was Jay Cutler not particularly effective in Buffalo, completing just 5 of 10 passes for 64 yards and a Rex Grossman-like interception, but he didn't spread the ball around to his playmakers like he assured everyone he would. Cutler targeted Devin Hester on six of those 10 attempts, but Chicago's de facto No. 1 receiver only came away with two catches for 22 yards. The Pro Bowl quarterback clearly missed both running back Matt Forte and tight end Greg Olsen, the former sitting out as a precaution and the latter not suiting up because of a bum hip.

A primary target needs to emerge organically with a mix of talent and productivity, like Roddy White did this past season in Atlanta, which is why the Bears forcing Hester into that role is a dangerous proposition.

Bowman's size and speed is required at corner.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

2. Bowman needs to be the starter on the other side of Tillman
Two years of injuries have apparently caught up to Nathan Vasher, although it remains to be seen if his deficiencies in coverage are physical because of said injuries or just mental because he's lost all confidence in his ability. After not being overly impressive the first two weeks or so of training camp, Vasher continued his fall from grace by being taken to school by Lee Evans almost every time the two were matched up against each other. Vasher bit hard on a routine double move and subsequently surrendered a 36-yard completion down the left side, which caused him to give up way too much ground on a 3-and-8 situation later that allowed an easy 9-yard grab.

Vasher, the artist formerly known as "The Interceptor," isn't much use to this defense if he's not getting his hands on the ball anymore, so look for Zack Bowman, who was making all kinds of plays in Bourbonnais before coming up lame with a strained hamstring, to emerge as the starter opposite Charles Tillman.

3. Pass protection ready to go but run blocking still needs work
Even though Cutler didn't resemble much of a Pro Bowl passer throwing the football Saturday in Buffalo, he was afforded every opportunity to do so from his rebuilt offensive line. Orlando Pace was only on the field for a few snaps at left tackle but looked dominant, Chris Williams seems to have made the transition quite well over to right tackle and Frank Omiyale started at left guard in favor of Josh Beekman. It's true that offensive coordinator Ron Turner didn't make much of a commitment to the ground game, but 57 yards on 17 carries isn't going to get it done for a coaching staff that likes to "get off the bus running the football."

While Forte didn't play a down because he needs to be fresh for the regular season, the new and improved Kevin Jones only managed 2.7 yards per carry on his six attempts – most of them behind the starting O-line.

Urlacher was running well Saturday in Buffalo.
Warren Wimmer Photography

4. Briggs-Urlacher-Tinoisamoa could be a tremendous trio
With Pisa Tinoisamoa getting the nod over Nick Roach for the preseason opener, Bears fans got a glimpse at what could be the top group of 4-3 linebackers in the NFL this season. Lance Briggs again looks like one of the best open-field tacklers in the league, Brian Urlacher seems to be pain-free after dealing with back and neck trouble each of the last two years and Tinoisamoa was credited with one solo tackle and two assists during his time on the field. When you factor in Hunter Hillenmeyer's six total tackles and remember speedy reserves like Roach and Jamar Williams, coach Lovie Smith is right when he says his team is the strongest it has ever been at linebacker.

It's going to take Tinoisamoa some time to get used to covering bigger and stronger tight ends in the passing game, but he has the right attitude and a pair of Pro Bowlers capable of doing everything else.

5. No need to worry about going to get a veteran signal caller
You may not be 100 percent impressed by what you see out of Caleb Hanie on the practice field, but some players are simply gamers and know how to get the job done when it matters. Despite Brett Basanez being given second-team reps in training camp every other day, Hanie proved once again that he can play in this league by completing 8 of 11 passes, showing good mobility in and out of the pocket and creating a play when one wasn't there on his TD toss to William Taufoou. Basanez, on the other hand, threw three interceptions and should now be happy if he's allowed to carry a clipboard as a third stringer in 2009.

There has been some chatter about bringing back Brian Griese as the No. 2 since he's on the open market again, but the front office would be wise to stick with Hanie since he has a future in this league.

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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report 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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