We will be breaking down Bears games every week with a grade for each position group based on observations made during the game.
Yesterday's game was a tale of two halves. In the first half, Bears fans were frustrated after watching the Bears score off a turnover in the first quarter, the team didn't really do much as the defense allowed the Bengals to rack up 240 yards of first-half yardage.
However, the Bears were able to come out in the second half and hold the Bengals to just 110 yards, only 30 of which came after their 80 yard TD march to open the third period.
The Bears overcame that 21-10 deficit to win 24-21, the difference being a Bears-record 58 yard field goal in the second quarter by Robbie Gould. The game was a thriller and featured some great coaching by Marc Trestman (more on him in a minute). So how did the Bears do exactly?
If it weren't for that just horrible interception I could give Jay Cutler a solid A or A+. The interception was really the only blemish though, as there weren't too many other cringe-worthy passes yesterday by Cutler. Even the balls that were thrown into tight coverage were placed where more or less only his receiver could get them. He also scrambled around when he had to to make plays and scrambled for a long gain on second and 24 in the fourth quarter on what proved to be the game-winning drive. On the day, Cutler completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 242 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception for a QB rating of 93.2 and a "Total QBR" of 85.7. He was able to get five different targets involved and completed at least three passes to each Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett.
Running backs: C
Overall, a very average day for the running backs, yes the offensive line wasn't always opening the biggest running lanes but Matt Forte got plenty of chances (19 carries) and got so little (50 yards, 2.6 YPC and a long of 9). Cutler had the team's longest run of the day (18 yards) but Michael Bush did come in late in the game and grind out 15 yards on six carries (2.5 YPC). Forte did get in the endzone and caught four of his six targets but dropped an easy screen pass in the first half.
A good game for the group that saw almost everyone involved. Each of the top three caught one pass; Marshall (8 receptions), Jeffery (5), Bennett (1). Marshall came up big on the game-winning driving by catching the winning TD. Marshall had 10 targets, Jeffery 8 and Bennett 1, so they were able to catch most all of what came at them. Solid start to the season for a position of strength for this team.
Tight ends: B
I wish I could be kinder to the Black Unicorn, but despite his absolutely impressive finger-tip touchdown catch, Bennett only caught three of his six targets. I knock his grade down for the two holding penalties when he was blocking but he has to be able to catch the balls when Cutler looks his way. His performance certainly made Bears fans forget about Kellen Davis which is more than enough.
Offensive line: A-
Yes, they did not allow a sack against a very, very talented front four of the Bengals and that is the biggest positive the group did. Kyle Long looked a first-round pick by opening lanes and all around beasting on whomever he was assigned to. However, their run blocking left a lot to be desired, as evidenced by the 81 rushing yards and paltry 2.9 YPC average. They did open up Cutler's 242 passing yards though and set up a consistently good pocket. This line will get better the more they play together and fans are already giddy about what this group could be by the year's end.
Offensive unit grade: A-
They did enough to win and were able to pick it up in the second half and put together long scoring drives of 80 and 81 yards before salting the game away with a 41 yard drive.
Defensive line: D+
This was an incredibly disappointing effort from a line expected to be perhaps the strongest position group on the defense. They came up in the clutch with their only sack of Andy Dalton in the fourth quarter but they were unable to disrupt Dalton, being credited with only one QB hit by ESPN and the DL had only one tackle for loss and no pass deflections. However, they were relatively stout in the run game, allowing a long of 14 yards, 63 total and just 3.0 YPC. But Julius Peppers was a non-factor against a second-string left tackle and franchise-tagged Henry Melton was also a non-factor. Shea McClellin had the best stat line, recording both the lone sack and lone TFL by the DL.
While there was a lot of criticism for middle linebacker D.J. Williams, the unit as a whole performed admirably. Williams was the black sheep of the group, recording one solo tackle (three total), but Lance Briggs recorded 7 tackles, 4 solo, had a TFL and a pass deflection while James Anderson defended two passes and added three solo tackles (5 total). Briggs was his usual self and Anderson appears to be an upgrade in coverage over Nick Roach. Perhaps Williams needs a game or two to get into shape after missing all of the preseason but if he doesn't improve, fans will continue to clamor for Jon Bostic.
Thank goodness for Charles Tillman and the second half or this would be an F no doubt. After allowing A.J. Green to catch 5 passes for 129 yards and 2 TDs in the first half they held him to just 4 receptions and 33 yards in the second half. It has to be noted that Tillman and Tim Jennings were responsible for all three Bears turnovers with Tillman picking off Dalton twice and Jennings popping the ball out of Muhammad Sanu's hands. Jennings also used a "Peanut Punch" of his own to get the ball out of Green's hands but he couldn't locate it before accidentally kicking it out of bounds. Combined with the lack of pass rush, Dalton completed all but seven of his passes (78.8 percent). That's not great.
The safeties didn't really show up in the stat box which could be good or bad depending on how you view it. Major Wright recorded three tackles (seven total) and Chris Conte added only one tackle, a solo. Chris Conte was noticeably absent on Green's 42-yard catch but after viewing the highlight, it appears the Bears were in a Cover-1 type, with only Conte deep, while he could have cheated to Tillman's side, the Bears were playing the run and Conte was never in a position to help Tillman. On Green's 45-yard TD, Dalton pump-faked to get Major Wright to bite just enough for Green to get past Jennings for the TD.
Defensive unit grade: C
The group gave up gobs of yards in the first half but did force three turnovers and tightened up in the second half to help win. It's concerning that the CBs got burned for 162 yards by Green and allowed Dalton to complete 78 percent of his passes. The trend of the Bears struggling against tight ends continued as well as the D allowed 10 receptions and 82 yards to Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.
Special teams: A
The unit really didn't miss a beat with Dave Toub gone and Joe DeCamillis in. Robbie Gould nailed a 58-yarder, a career long, franchise and stadium record for him. Adam Podlesh put three of his five punts inside the 20 and had only one touchback and allowed one return for 13 yards, averaging 39.8 yards per punt. The Bengals had no kickoff returns. Devin Hester had one kickoff return for 31 yards and only two punt returns for a grand total of 1 yard.
In a win how could it be anything else? This grade is all about the adjustments though. Michael C. Wright tweeted that the Bears were just 1-11 when trailing at halftime the last two seasons but clearly Trestman could change that fate. The team turned around a 240-92 offensive yard advantage for Cincinnati in the first half to a 221-110 Chicago advantage in the second half. The defense buckled down, the offense came to life and the team won. His time management was well above Marvin Lewis', especially late in the game. Bears fans have to feel good about the Trestman era going forward.
Overall grade: B+
Definitely room for improvement on both sides of the ball but we knew this wouldn't be an overnight success. There are definitely a lot of positives to take away as this team grows and learns under Trestman. If the team can play a whole game like the second half of today, 2013 will be plenty of fun for fans.
How do you grade the Bears win yesterday?