While I did not feel good about this game going in, I was pleasantly surprised with how close the Bears made it, but it was still disappointing to see the Bears come up short.
However, there is still a long way to go in this season, the Bears have a reeling team coming to town Thursday and then have 10 days to plan for their next road game and then 12 days to plan for the Packers. There is plenty of time for the Bears to right the ship and plenty to feel good about moving forward.
Speaking of things to feel good about, the Bears played a solid game yesterday. I did not think that the Bears got out-coached but they came up short to a dangerous Saints offense. The Bears were unable to force a takeaway but they only turned the ball over once.
Cutler bounced back in a big way, throwing for 358 yards and Alshon Jeffery set a franchise record. If Jeffery continues to play this way, teams will have to decide who they want to double; him or Brandon Marshall and that will mean many good things for Jay Cutler.
Let's take a closer look now:
Cutler had an outstanding day throwing the ball; he threw no interceptions for only the second time this season, threw two touchdowns and completed 72 percent of his passes. However, I had to knock him for his costly first quarter fumble which ended up being the only turnover of the day. He targeted six different players and completed passes to five of them. He moved in the pocket well and scrambled well when he had to. On the rollout play by Cutler, the announcers said it looked like an improvisation by Cutler and if it was it was a good call by him. He had a couple bad throws, notably in the second quarter on a throw to Marshall, it was a little low and Marshall dropped it, also in fourth quarter Cutler had a late throw to Earl Bennett and Troy Aikman pointed out that Cutler could have stepped up and it could have been completed but it set up the fourth down which ultimately wasn't converted.
Running backs: B-
Both Matt Forte and Michael Bush had a good day running the ball. Forte gained 55 yards on 12 carries (4.6 YPC) and Bush gained 12 yards on two carries (6 YPC). Forte also caught four passes on six targets for 40 yards. Early in the game there didn't seem to be a lot of running room but Forte came on later. Forte also fumbled on the first drive and juggled a pass before finally hauling it in. I noted at least one missed block by Forte and he dropped a short pass.
Wide receivers: A
Another outstanding game for the receivers mostly. What can I say about Alshon Jeffery? Jeffery caught 10 passes on 13 targets, for 218 yards and a touchdown. He caught a 58-yard pass to set up the final touchdown and a 31-yard pass in the second quarter to set up his own touchdown. Marshall caught four passes on five targets and the late TD when he had a defender all over him. Earl Bennett dropped the key 4th down pass, one play after he couldn't haul in the late throw from Cutler.
Offensive line: C-
I always do my grades based on my initial viewing of the game, I do review key plays but it's mostly based on watching the game live. That said, I did not see a whole lot of glaring mistakes by the O-line. I'll let Lester break down the nuts and bolts of each sack later this week but it appeared to me that all of the sacks were results of blitzes that were not picked up so it was hard to tell whose fault they were. That said, the protection shored up in the second half but there were two ineligible downfield penalties (one on Jermon Bushrod and one on Kyle Long). The ESPN box score lists the Saints as having six QB hits.
Overall offensive grade: C+
It wasn't all bad, but once again the early turnover set them back but they were able to string together some nice drives in the second half to keep things interesting. The lack of blitz pick up was surprising, as Aikman and Joe Buck mentioned it seemed to take the Bears by surprise but the Saints got to Cutler too many times in the first half to let the Bears do much of anything. The growth of Jeffery continues to be a great thing for the team and the offense. This team has all the pieces on offense and are heading in the right direction, they just aren't there yet to be able to hang with the great teams like the Saints.
Defensive line: D+
The defensive line tallied up two sacks, two tackles for loss and four QB hits. That's a slight improvement but it still wasn't good enough. Brees was still able to get out of the pocket and move around and make plays. I did note some good pressure at times from David Bass, Landon Cohen and Shea McClellin. Nate Collins got the first sack of the game and McClellin pressured Brees to get an incompletion on their opening drive. The line helped hold the Saints to only 66 rushing yards on 28 carries (a 2.4 YPC). Pierre Thomas was held to only 1.9 YPC but the line did not do well sniffing out the screen passes which burned them twice for scores. The linemen showed good discipline on the Saints first 4th down attempt, but Corey Wootton got called offsides in the 4th quarter.
It's tough not to give them such a break after last weeks poor-tackling effort in Detroit because this week was so much better but there were several negatives too. First of all, Lance Briggs was everywhere, he led the team with 11 solo tackles, D.J. Williams was second with eight and James Anderson tied him. Briggs added three tackles for loss, a QB hit and a sack. Anderson and Williams each had a TFL as well. They were huge in limiting Sproles' ground efforts, as well as key at stopping some of the plays that could've been worse. Williams sniffed out a screen in the first quarter and Briggs drew a holding call by blowing past a Saints tackle. They held their own against Jimmy Graham (hear me out) by bringing him down on the first try and bringing him down short of the marker a few times. While they did get burned, it could have been much, much worse. Graham came in averaging 17 yards per catch but was held to 13.5 yesterday. Briggs missed Graham on his 38-yard catch and Williams had good-but-not-good-enough coverage on him later. Briggs' biggest blunder was his offsides on 4th down which nearly ended the ball game late but the defense held them to a field goal to make it a 16-point game.
The corners held their own but they were also burned by Graham at times. Graham is having an incredible year and it's going to happen to opposing teams because he is such a match up nightmare but it is still frustrating. Charles Tillman I would say, did the best job on Graham, he also forced a fumble on Sproles and had a TFL. Tim Jennings had a pass deflection and made a nice play in the endzone when Kenny Stills really had him beat. On Nick Toon's 35-yard catch, it looked like Tillman got burned.
The safeties had themselves had a decent game as well, making tackles all over the field, which shows that they were called on a lot to make plays. Chris Conte had six solo tackles and Major Wright added two solo stops. Conte was all over the field and seemed to be holding his own when called upon in coverage. Wright got burned in the second quarter by Graham but saved the Bears on the Saints' final third down at the end of the fourth. Conte made a TD-saving play against Robert Meachem. Overall they were not out of position too much and were able to help keep the Saints from torching the Bears defense more than they did anyway.
Overall defensive grade: C
It was a very average outing for the defense, it's easy to bash them for the lack of turnovers but Tillman forced a fumble, unfortunately no Bears could get a hand on it. The pressure was better but not where it should be. The Bears held the Saints to 6/16 on third downs and gave the Saints five 4th and ones. The Saints offense was held to 347 yards, below their average of 405 and allowed only one redzone conversion on three Saints trip inside the 20.
Special teams: B
Special teams was better than last week, Podlesh had a 45.3 average on his four punts, only one of which was returned (for two yards). Kickoff coverage was good too with only two returns for 38 yards. Special teams had two penalties though, an unnecessary roughness penalty on Eric Weems which wiped out a 17-yard return by Devin Hester and a holding on Tillman which backed up the Bears to their own 2 yard line. The second penalty was brought on by a strange miscommunication which could've resulted in a 12 men on the field penalty as the personnel was messed up on the play. Hester pressed too hard at the end of the game and didn't make the 20-yard line, which was unnecessary with the Bears trying to erase a 16-point deficit.
I will give Marc Trestman credit, I thought the Bears' game plan attacked the Saints right where it should have: rushing Matt Forte and getting him involved in the short passing game. They used some screen passes to get Forte going, but once they were behind they needed to try other things. Even when down by 17 they never gave up on the run (something that could never be said in the previous four years). There was an excellent WR screen to Marshall in the redzone that I thought was good and Cutler was much better today and more even-keeled I thought. He was clearly coached up on decision making and mechanics last week. The defensive side tackled much better and did their best to contain Brees and Graham and while Graham still burned them, it took him a little bit longer and more receptions to get his. He didn't break open for long TDs.
Overall team grade: C
It was overall very average: Nothing spectacularly bad happened but there weren't enough spectacularly good plays to help the Bears win. The lack of turnovers was good for the offense but disappointing for the defense. When the Saints did score it was on well-executed screen passes with great blocking, which is an improvement over the poor tackling we saw last week and some of the explosive big plays the Saints usually get. The team is still in a good position and there are two winnable games coming up for the Bears to right the ship. This should be a chance to see how Trestman is at coaching through adversity because up until the last two weeks it's been smooth sailing. I still have faith the Bears will turn it around. Unfortunately, the Bears yesterday showed some of the growing pains expected when a new regime comes in.
How would you grade out the team yesterday?