Every week, win or lose, there are some things to improve upon for the next game. The opposite of this is equally true, and no matter how soul crushing a loss is there are always a few good things to take from the game as signs of some kind of improvement or life.
So follow me below the jump and lets look at the few pinpoints of light in the loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Johnny Knox is looking more like a top flight WR every game.
This goes beyond Fort Knox scoring our only touchdown of the game, which was a combination of being a good WR and a picture perfect pass. This is looking specifically at the play in the end zone where Cutler threw a bad ball that instead of going in front of Knox, it went straight behind him right into the man in coverage. How does this make Knox a good receiver you may ask? He didn't come up with the ball, but what he did when he realized he didn't have a play on the ball is something we have been missing for a long time. He immediately went into "CB" mode and attempted to punch the ball loose to save the INT. That's a veteran move from a rookie player, and this isn't the first time Knox has played beyond his years.
If you remember back a few games where Knox drew the unsportsmanlike conduct call by not letting them walk all over him, but then stopping when punches started to get thrown. Great call. Knox consistently impresses me when he's on the field, both as wide receiver and in the return game, and if he's this good as a true rookie we may have the steal of the 2009 draft playing as WR for a long time.
We have an embarrasment of riches in the return game.
Speaking of Fort Knox in the return game, sure he fumbled one against the Vikings but it wasn't your normal guy attacking the ball and knocking it loose fumble. It was one of those spinneroonis on top of the back of an opposing player fumbles that happens once in a blue moon. If you run that play one hundred more times it's likely that Knox is downed and no fumble occurs. He also showed great heart and ability to dust himself off by giving us a fantastic return later in the game that was very close to being a touchdown.
Knox leverages his speed in a different way than Hester tends to, going more straight up field than side to side looking for the home run. Both methods have their place, but when Hester starts dancing too much it spells problems at times. Also back returning we've got Daniel Manning who returns very much in the mold of Joshua Cribbs, less of a finesse runner and more of a bruising return man, he'll make a few shifts but he's heading up field no matter what is in his way. He may not hit the home run ball, but he's going to grab every single yard that he can take from the opposing team on his returns.
If you said two years ago that we'd have two good returners, and neither would be named Hester most people would have called you crazy. Add both of them, and a Hester that could emerge again at any moment and you've got a return game that has to respected even if the rest of the team doesn't earn it.
Al Afalava has a great shot at developing into a quality safety for us.
I'm a guy that likes to admit when he was wrong, and I was wrong about Afalava. I really was against the pick of Afalava due to his off the field issues, since at least the descriptions of the incident showed a real lack of maturity and responsibility. However he's been nothing but a model citizen since coming to the NFL and has had zero negative reports about any of his activities on the field, or off. Boy am I glad I was wrong.
Afalava has really burst onto the scene as one of the only Safeties that I don't cringe when I see him on the field. After watching as much of the game as I could looking for him you could see him dutifully covering his man in the flat at times, and laying absolutely vicious hits at others.
One specific instance of Afalava stepping up would be the pass at the front of the end zone. If you watch the play, HH is the closest man to the play, but doesn't even move more than a couple of inches towards the ball even when he sees it coming in his direction. Meanwhile, Afalava coming back towards the ball makes a really hard hit on the receiver in the end zone. What does this matter? It was still a TD? Yeah, the coverage failed, but at that point the only shot you have is to knock that ball loose and break up the reception which is a duty that Hillenmeyer apparently wanted no part of.
As long as Afalava continues to get better in his understanding of coverages and work a bit more on his mobility, and you could be looking at another hard hitting safety in the mold of Mike Brown in the years to come.
Lance Briggs is getting an opportunity to show himself as a monster with Urlacher's absence.
If you look at the way Lance was talked about during the years of his contract dispute there were definitely two factions. There were the people that wanted to trade him for whatever we could get, and there were people that wanted him to stay. Everyone knew he was a good player, but there was a real undercurrent of thought that Briggs only looked good because teams had Brian Urlacher to deal with. We can put that argument to rest right now.
Sadly Briggs was apparently hurt in this game which is blow I'd rather not have dealt to the team, or to Lance, but while he was on the field he was showing, like he has shown every week, that he is a star in his own right. If you look at the little swing pass to the outside right before Favre got nailed to Chester Taylor you see Briggs literally throw Taylor to the ground with what amounted to one hand. A bit earlier when Hillenmeyer got his first FF, it was HH that caused the fumble, but it was Briggs who launched into the backfield to slow AP down enough to let HH make solid contact and get that fumble.
Lance Briggs has been one of the few bright spots on the defensive side of the ball all year, and he has shown himself in Urlacher's absence as being perfectly capable of being the anchor for our linebackers even once Brian is done with the game.
Rob Gould is rock solid, and may in fact be the real concrete cyanide.
Robbie Gould is a monster with a genetically enhanced kicking leg, woven with dark magick and the tendons of a gorilla. Seriously, Rob Gould is one of the few players on the Bears team that doesn't induce heart attacks when he's on the field. He's one of those few kickers in the league that has earned a trust from the fans and his team, and speaking for myself at least, in Gould we trust. If it's anything less than a 50 yard kick I assume that it's three points on the board and that's that. If you tell me that the Bears missed out on a field goal, I immediately assume there was some kind of blocked kick, and that's how good Gould really is.
Brad Maynard is still looking great, even at age 35.
It's hard to really fathom that Maynard has been in the league for almost fifteen years, but then again the way this guy punts someone may have doctored his birth certificate. He's right there with Gould in the lack of stress factor of this team, whatever you ask of Maynard he does. If you want a high pop fly, it happens. You want them pinned deep with a corner kick, it happens. This year with his new strength program he's even regained some of that pop that had started to diminish the last few years. When you go three and out as much as we have been lately, it really pays off to have a monster like Maynard back punting.