The much-discussed decision of coach Marc Trestman to start Jay Cutler over Josh McCown appeared to be shaky in the first half, but Cutler rebounded well with a gutsy performance and led the Bears to 31 points (seven being gifted from Jason Campbell's pick six).
The Bears had 440 total yards, their fourth straight game with over 400 offensive yards and eighth this season. The Browns did rack up 366 yards of their own but the Bears did not allow a 100-yard rusher for the first time since Week seven in Washington, and as a team Cleveland had only 93 yards on the ground.
The defense was assisted by two Jason Campbell interceptions but they managed to hold Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron in check. Cameron had his lowest reception and yardage since week nine, and Gordon was held to under 100 yards for the first time since week nine.
Gordon got a garbage time TD and the Bears defense still struggled but the team won, so how did everyone grade out?
Cutler was 13-of-19 for 168 yards one touchdown and two interceptions, including a pick six in the first half. In the second half he was nine-of-12 for 97 yards and two TDs. Most importantly, however, he was 11-for-12 for 151 yards and two TDs, with a perfect 158.3 QB rating on third downs. And if you don't like the QB rating stat, ESPN"s Total QBR had Cutler with a 99.9 in today's fourth quarter (out of 100). For the season ESPN Stats and Info says that on the season Cutler's 95.2 QBR is the highest in the league. So he overcame some big mistakes early to bounce back and play well when the game was on the line. He was money in the fourth, when he absolutely needed to be. Both his interceptions came on overthrown balls but on the second one Brandon Marshall was at least open. I'll have to wait to see the coaches film, but it looked like on the first INT that E. Bennett may have been open along the near sideline.
Running backs: A
Matt Forte had his third straight 100 yard game with a season-high 127 yards. He caught only one pass for four yards but he was good in the fourth quarter, churning out yards and fighting to the line of scrimmage to minimize lost yardage when he could. There were a couple times when he would stop his momentum or run horizontally, which caused negative plays, but he still played very well. Michael Bush even had a couple of good runs, although one was negated by a holding penalty, but he had a 40-yard TD run that just about iced the game.
Wide receivers: B+
The receivers all played a solid game. Alshon Jeffery made another ridiculous catch, and at this point it's almost become expected of him to make one ridiculous grab a game, because you wouldn't think he could keep doing it like he has. Marshall had six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, while Jeffery had five for 72 and a TD, and Earl Bennett added four for 23 and a TD. Bennett has been able to kind of sneak up on defenses in the last few games with Marshall, Jeffery and M. Bennett getting all coverage. Jeffery was flagged twice, once for false start and once for illegal shift.
Tight ends: B-
This is tough, Martellus Bennett had a good game, including his highest yardage output since week four. He converted some big third downs and made defenders miss while he fought for yards, but his fumble was an avoidable and costly mistake. It's one thing if a defender lays a perfect "Peanut Punch" on a guy with the ball high and tight in their arms, but Bennett was holding the ball away from his body and fairly loosely, allowing Billy Winn to easily push it out of his hand and onto the ground. Bennett was flagged for a false start and he also stayed in to help Jordan Mills on the second sack, missing the blitzing corner who ended up getting half of the sack.
Offensive line: B+
The line played very well for the most part, giving Cutler plenty of time to look downfield and throw and opening holes for Forte and Bush to exploit in the run game. The Bears as a team allowed two sacks but I am not sure either of them is on the o-line. The first one was the broken screen play and Cutler should have thrown it away or scrambled, but took too long to decide and ended up getting brought down. The second was on a slight delayed corner blitz that wasn't picked up. The Browns did get six QB hits aside from the sacks. However, the team averaged 5.8 yards per carry on the ground.
Overall offensive grade: B
It was a good output for the Bears, they had four 60+ yard scoring drives, three for touchdowns, including a six play, 95 yard drive that tied the game with the jump ball to Jeffery, followed by a Cleveland three and out and a six play, 36 yard drive that ate 3:28 of the clock and ended with the go-ahead touchdown to Bennett. All in the Bears scored 21 fourth quarter points, none of which were off turnovers.
Defensive line: D+
The line played well at times, and other times it looked like the same stuff fans are used to seeing this year. Jay Ratliff had a fairly productive game, showing up often and being disruptive. He registered three QB hits and a tackle for loss. He was far and away the best lineman on the D as the rest failed to register a hit, TFL or even more than one tackle. The biggest issue yesterday was the line's nearly constant inability to sniff out screen passes. With Jason Campbell loving to take the checkdowns and make short, safe throws, this should have been something the Bears could key into. However, Edwin Baker and Chris Ogbonnaya combined for nine receptions and 89 yards.
The linebackers had a little bit better of a game; while I saw Khaseem Greene struggle to get off blocks, Jon Bostic had a TFL and James Anderson had 11 tackles, a QB hit and a pass deflection. I even noted that Anderson played pretty good coverage on Cameron at times. The unit has improved, if only slightly, but with Lance Briggs set to return this unit could be ready to step it up in the final two contests.
At the end of the day it was a fairly average day for the CBs, especially if you take away the picks. Zach Bowman was essentially gifted the picks; the pick six was underthrown right to him and the first one was overthrown, all Bowman had to do was complete the route for Cameron. Other than that, though, they didn't really do much that was special. Greg Little was able to have an active game and Gordon, as much as the Bears held him in check, was wide open on a couple of occasions but dropped the ball. Tim Jennings was burned by Gordon on his touchdown reception. Isaiah Frey got flagged for holding and he continued to struggle in coverage.
The safeties had an average game and, for them, that's a darn good improvement. Chris Conte missed out on an interception when he nearly jumped a route over the middle, but he deflected the ball and it was a tough play so it's hard to knock him too hard for it. Major Wright had a quiet game and the biggest compliment I can pay either guy is that I wasn't shouting their name at my TV much, if at all. Although, on Gordon's TD catch Conte was caught out of a position a little bit and should have done a better job forcing him out of bounds.
Overall defensive grade: C
A fairly average day for the defense as they got turnovers but still allowed a few big plays that kept Cleveland in it but, with the performances Chicago has seen from its defense this year, many will gladly take "average" at this point.
Special teams: B-
Adam Podlesh had a tough day punting in the wind, averaging only 36.7 yards per punt, but at least one of those came from a short field when the Bears were penalized out of field goal range. Devin Hester had a good day returning with 105 kickoff return yards and returning a punt 21 yards.
After a few rough games and several decisions that were rightly questioned and criticized, it was good to see Trestman and his assistants have such a solid game. Mel Tucker schemed fairly well to keep Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron in check, and Trestman called a great game and never wavered in his decision to bench McCown. After Cutler's rough first half he called a lot more run plays in the second, but still allowed Cutler to throw it enough to get the two big TD passes the team needed.
Early in the game when the Jeffery end around went for -3 I saw Twitter light up the play call ("Can we get rid of that play yet?" "Now that it's been figured out will he stop calling it?") but, late in the game, with the team trying to run the clock out they used Jeffery as a decoy not once, but twice, and it was enough for Forte to break a 19-yard run to set up the Bennett touchdown, and then again on the next drive on third and nine. The next play was Bush's 40 yard TD run. My point is, trust Trestman's play calling and, while that a play like that might go for negative three in the first half, it will set up late fourth quarter runs that help ice the game.
How would you grade the Bears' performance yesterday?