What We Learned: Bears vs. Bengals

What did we learn about the Chicago Bears after a 21-14 loss to Cedric Benson and the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium? Start with these five observations made straight from the press box.

1. There's a good chance Harris will be wearing a new uniform in 2010
It would be one thing if Tommie Harris simply needed a week of rest considering all he's been through health-wise since shredding his left knee and hamstring near the end of 2006, especially since he hadn't been particularly productive when on the field lately anyway. But to hear coach Lovie Smith tell the Chicago media Monday that he thought he "had better options" available against the Bengals was disturbing, which can only lead one to believe the three-time Pro Bowler is officially in the dog house. Not only are the days of Harris being a dominant force in the trenches clearly in the rearview mirror, but it's possible his time with the Bears may be coming to a frustrating and premature conclusion.

Because so much of Harris' $40 million extension was tied to yearly roster bonuses instead of an up-front signing bonus, the Midway Monsters would only be on the hook for a palatable $2.665 million salary-cap hit if they set him free before March 15.


OT Orlando Pace
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

2. Omiyale isn't the only member of the O-line on the hot seat
Left guard Frank Omiyale took a lot of heat after the Falcons game because he has had a very difficult time making the transition from tackle, and he didn't play a whole lot better Sunday against the Bengals. That being said, left tackle Orlando Pace may be on his way to the Hall of Fame one day, but it certainly won't be because of his performance with an orange C on his helmet so far. The seven-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro isn't much of a knee bender these days, which makes it hard for him to get any push on running plays, and he has struggled with shorter and quicker pass rushers since all the way back in the preseason.

Don't expect a major shakeup because that's not Smith's style, but it wouldn't be unheard of to let Chris Williams move back to his natural position at left tackle and then give Kevin Shaffer a chance to add a physical element at right tackle.

3. Receivers continue to prove experts wrong with another solid outing
There was one position group that had a good day despite being on the wrong end of an ugly 45-10 final score, and ironically it's the position that got the most criticism before the team arrived in Bourbonnais for training camp. Devin Hester is beginning to look more like a No. 1 receiver each and every game, going over the 100-yard mark Sunday for the first time in his career and running the entire route tree quite effectively on his eight catches. Earl Bennett is turning into a dependable possession target even if his run-after-catch ability leaves a lot to be desired, and rookie Johnny Knox caught four more passes and is on pace for 56 receptions as a fifth-round draft pick.

Say what you will about Jay Cutler not having the weapons around him he once had in Denver, but it's his running backs and tight ends that have let him down much more so than his wideouts.


Ron Turner
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

4. Turner gets a pass for abandoning the running game so quickly
Since the Bears were down 7-0, then 14-0, then 21-0, then 28-0, then 31-0 before the majority of the Paul Brown Stadium crowd had digested its first bowl of skyline chili, the game plan offensive coordinator Ron Turner drew up during the week was essentially thrown out the window. With the defense unable to muster any resistance whatsover for Carson Palmer and Co., it's certainly understandable that Turner only called nine running plays for Matt Forte and Garrett Wolfe while Cutler chucked and ducked 37 times. The running game became obselete by the end of the first quarter, which means play-action passes would have been a waste of time, too.

And because this team now ranks 29th in the league with just 80.7 rushing yards per game and tied for 23rd at only 3.7 yards per carry, one has to wonder if Turner will lean on Cutler even more despite 10 interceptions already.

5. Smith and his staff are now under the microscope more than ever
Despite coming off a bye and having an extra week to prepare for the Falcons, the Bears didn't seem ready to play in Atlanta and dropped a critical contest against an out-of-division NFC opponent. Then with the added motivation of facing the enigma that is Cedric Benson, who did nothing but steal big bags of money during his stint in Chicago, the Bears were again sleepwalking through the first half and, this time, didn't have enough in them to so much as make it interesting after intermission. A disturbing trend is developing, as Smith has been thoroughly outcoached two games in a row.

Not once have the Bears played really well in the first half, and relying on second-half rallies is a dangerous proposition for a Cover-2 defensive scheme that is seemingly designed to be at its best with the lead.


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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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