What We Learned: Bears vs. Broncos

The third preseason game is still the one that truly matters, so fans of the Chicago Bears should feel very good about themselves right now. Yet again, Jay Cutler and Co. looked terrific on both sides of the football. So what did we learn at Invesco Field? Start with these five observations ...

1. Cutler is positively unflappable no matter the situation
Sure, it was only an exhibition contest and meant nothing in the standings, but it was hard to come away from Sunday's prime-time affair at Mile High not impressed with Jay Cutler. Set aside the fact that he put together a passer rating of 106.1, scored 17 points in only a half of action and engineered a magnificent 98-yard touchdown drive just before intermission, but the way he handled himself in such a hostile environment only proves further that he was worth the heavy price general manager Jerry Angelo paid to get him. If Cutler didn't flinch with a lynch mob booing his every step, he won't flinch at Green Bay in Week 1 if the Bears need a last-minute drive to win.

And maybe he is growing up a little bit, as Cutler again stated publicly that Denver has great fans – deep down he probably wanted to give them all a middle finger while trotting triumphantly back to the locker room.

DT Tommie Harris
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

2. Harris can still be effective even if he's not dominant
If you take a peek at the stat sheet from Sunday's game against the Broncos, you won't even see Tommie Harris listed since he wasn't credited with a solo tackle, assist, sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, pass defense or interception. Regardless, the three-time Pro Bowler was active in the trenches, blowing up the Denver zone-blocking scheme and freeing up his linebackers to make plays without having to shed big guards and tackles first. Harris admitted to the NBC crew doing the game that his knee is only about 80 percent healthy despite all the R&R he's been given since the end of last season, but 80 percent of Harris can still be better than 100 percent of veteran Israel Idonije or rookie Jarron Gilbert.

Given the fact that the Broncos feature a smaller offensive line and do a lot of cut blocking, the coaching staff might even have considered giving Harris the night off – but he played a lot and played very well.

3. Ground game still isn't as polished as it needs to be
Say it with me, Bears fans: "This team gets off the bus running the football." While coach Lovie Smith still tries to convince the Windy City that his offensive philosophy is the same as it was when Gale Sayers and Walter Payton were in the backfield, even after trading for Cutler, the rushing attack was 24th in the league last year at just 104.6 yards per game and tied for 26th at only 3.9 yards per carry. Matt Forte and his ability to be effective both running and receiving is a tremendous asset to have, but it's hard to get excited about 21 yards on 9 attempts even if he found a way to hit paydirt twice – once as a rusher and once as a receiver.

While Frank Omiyale is going to be the starter at left guard because of all the money he got in free agency, he has a long way to go before he's a mauler on the ground.

LB Pisa Tinoisamoa
Warren Wimmer Photography

4. Tinoisamoa may be the offseason's smartest acquisition
For years now, it's been Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and some other guy at the linebacker position here in the Windy City. No disrespect to the ultra classy Hunter Hillenmeyer, who has started a lot of games for this franchise and done everything he's ever been asked to do, but he has never been a playmaker and isn't athletic enough to cover some of the tight ends being featured in the NFL these days. Pisa Tinoisamoa, on the other hand, has been all over the field during the preseason and looks to be the missing piece of the puzzle lining up next to Pro Bowlers Urlacher and Briggs on the strong side.

Don't look for him to register 100-plus tackles like he did in St. Louis year in and year out – the Bears don't need him to do that – since he'll always be the third banana, but Tinoisamoa can stop a ball carrier cold in the open field.

5. Goodbye to Orton just as important as hello to Cutler
Angelo deserves all the credit in the world for acquiring Cutler, no matter the cost, but he also needs to get a few pats on the back for recognizing that Kyle Orton isn't a difference maker at the game's most important position and wasn't going to take the Bears anywhere in the future. Despite Orton having a respectable first half in 2008 and doing his best to play through a bothersome midseason ankle injury, Angelo announced to the world at his year-ending press conference that he was "fixated" on getting the quarterback position settled – Smith, at least publicly, remained an Orton supporter. Once things started to get messy in Denver between Cutler and the new Broncos regime, Angelo made the call and got a deal done.

While Cutler was moving the offense at will after taking a series or two to get settled, Orton looked like the same passer in Denver he always was in Chicago: immobile in the pocket, inaccurate with his arm and ineffective for long stretches of time.

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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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