On Friday I wrote about the team's need to get over some of their past disappointments in Atlanta, and said that the most important thing was to not turn the ball over.
The Bears followed that simple recipe and then some en route to their 14-point victory.
In each of the team's three losses the Bears out-gained their opponent and possessed the ball for longer, but losing the turnover battle ended up being costly.
This week they won the first two categories but had no turnovers and ended up somewhat dominating the Falcons on their home field, which is no small feat.
If there is one thing that has been learned throughout this season, it's that no one knows what is going to happen week to week. I could see this Bears team finishing 10-6, 6-10 or 8-8, but the whole league is whacky.
Before the season the schedule looked like the Bears could be 3-3, but analysts and fans would have had the losses being to Green Bay, Atlanta and San Francisco. Yet here they are having won two of those three and losing at home to Buffalo!
Next week the Bears have another up and down team coming to town in the Miami Dolphins and I have no idea which Bears team is going to show up, or if they will win.
But there's a time for that, let's grade the team on yesterday:
Jay Cutler played one of his best games as a Bear, throwing for his highest yardage as a Bear (381) while completing 68.4 percent of his passes. He threw one touchdown but had no ugly turnovers. The team continues to go as the turnovers do and when the most important player on the field is at his best, the team tends to lean that way too. Cutler was aggressive with the ball, looking downfield when the opportunities came but was also careful, throwing it away when there was not a play to be made. Naturally he had a couple throws where you scratched your head (multiple throws to Brandon Marshall in double coverage, for example) but for the majority of the game it was good Jay. He took what the defense gave him consistently.
Running backs: A
Matt Forte turned in his third 150+ scrimmage yard game of the season with 157 combined receiving and rushing yards. He caught a team high 10 passes for 77 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry on his 17 totes for 80 yards. His two touchdowns, of six and nine yard, respectively, came by him plowing through contact and into the endzone. Who says he can't be a short yardage back? Ka'Deem Carey continues to carve out a niche behind Forte by adding 19 yards on four carries, good for a 4.8 YPC. Forte had a good day blocking as well.
Wide receivers: A+
Drops are such a difficult stat to define because of catchability, route communication and defenders, but at the end of the game the FOX broadcast threw up a stat that the Bears had only one yesterday. The ESPN box score says that Bears WRs caught 12 of 17 targets. The receiving duo of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall caught 11 passes for 249 yards. Jeffery had 136 yards on five catches while Marshall had 113 yards on six catches. They won their match ups on Atlanta's secondary all day, getting open consistently and using their size and strength to out-muscle defenders. Jeffery did have a touchdown taken away because he stepped out of bounds, but he was taking direction from his QB and was trying to help him out so I'll overlook the minor field awareness error. Josh Morgan caught his only target and was the first non-Big Four member (Forte, Jeffery, Marshall, Bennett) to score a TD this season.
Tight ends: B
The TEs had a decent day blocking. I noted that Martellus Bennett helped Michael Ola and Matt Slauson get the push that allowed Forte to find pay dirt. As receivers, Bennett was the only TE with a catch and, while he made a clutch third down reception that he turned into 25 yards and broke tackles virtually every time he caught the ball, catching was an issue as he caught only four of his eight targets. Bennett was electric through the first three games of the year but has had a couple of quiet games the past two weeks.
Offensive line: C
It was a very average day for a unit that has unfortunately taken a step back after such a tremendous season last year, and not all of it is simply because of injuries. Jordan Mills had a rough game, specifically his first half. I had to miss the first quarter because of broadcast regulations, I had to sit through the sister-kissing Bengals-Panthers contest. So, following the game on Twitter, I was able to gather that Mills was struggling. He surrendered a few pressures and was flagged for two false starts. Eben Britton was flagged for holding as well. Cutler did a nice job for the most part of stepping up and avoid pressure but he was still sacked three times. The line's struggles continue and it isn't a good thing to see.
Overall offensive grade: B+
Much more positive today, especially with the lack of turnovers. It would be even higher if they didn't commit so many penalties and give up quite as many sacks. However, the offense converted 7 of 15 third downs and had only two three and outs. They also had two consecutive 80+ yard touchdown drives in the second half to go with the 79-yard touchdown drive they had in the first half.
Defensive line: A
This was easily the defensive line's best game of the year. They were consistently winning at the line of scrimmage and were dominating the Falcons' offensive line at the end of the game when they were able to just pin their ears back and rush. They held the Falcons, who are admittedly a pass-first team, to just 3.2 YPC. The line had four tackles for loss: two by Willie Young, one each by Jared Allen and Stephen Paea. They also had four sacks: 1 each by Paea and Allen and two by Young. The line had six of the team's seven QB hits; two by both Young and Lamarr Houston and one each by Allen and Paea. Houston, Paea and Will Sutton all had pass deflections as well. A dominating performance by a unit that should have been a strength long before game number six.
Who would have thought that such an unheralded unit would fare so well? Darryl Sharpton, who signed with the team on Sept. 25, had a pass deflection and a QB hit while finishing third on the team with five tackles. Christian Jones, who was not expected to see the field other than special teams as a raw but promising undrafted free agent, notched four tackles and brought some good pressure as a blitzer. Khaseem Greene, the former
third fourth round (nice catch ChiTownSuperStar) pick who has struggled to see the field or even be active on game day, led the team with eight tackles. Strong day from three guys who comprise the bottom of the depth chart. They didn't read the screen pass touchdown to Antone Smith very well though, so I had to knock them down for that.
Kyle Fuller continued to impress and, while he gave up a big 29-yard pass to Julio Jones, I expect that out of a rookie; for the most part he took care of whomever he was guarding. The corners as a whole had a good day, deflecting three passes: one each for Fuller, Tim Jennings and Demontre Hurst. Hurst had the game's only interception, which sealed it for the Beloved, and Fuller was second on the team with five tackles. Jennings had only one tackle to go with his one deflection but played a bit better than last week, for which I panned him in this space. The corners made life difficult for the Falcons' receivers; Jones caught only four of 12 targets and Roddy White only three of six.
Chris Conte was again unable to finish a game. and it's come to a point where you wonder if he needs to be sat for his own good. He's played fairly well this season at times but his shoulder is clearly not right, and his concussion history isn't pretty. Brock Vereen had some mistakes in his place, notably missing a tackle on Smith's 41-yard touchdown, but for the most part was OK. Ryan Mundy was credited with only one tackle, but I had him down with some good coverage that led to incomplete passes. The safeties combined with the corners and LBs to make the Falcons receivers appear scared to go over the middle. It feels like it has been a few seasons since I could say that. The Falcons were dropping wide open passes at points, and some of it was because of the hard hits the defense was dishing out.
Overall defensive grade: A-
The best defensive performance of the Marc Trestman era, easily. They gave up the fewest points since Trestman's been on the sideline (13), and the defensive line played up to its potential against a weak opposing unit. As I said in the safeties' grade, the unit on the back end was flying around and making Falcons receivers drop passes, and the secondary was playing great coverage. All-in-all a great defensive performance.
Special teams: C
Another so-so at best performance from the third phase. While they held former Bear Devin Hester in check, allowing him two kick returns for a 22 yard average and a total of 10 punt return yards on two tries, they still had too many penalties. Senorise Perry was called for one and I assume a second because, as we all know, there is no No. 34 on the Bears. Robbie Gould hit two field goals but had an extra point blocked. Pat O'Donnell averaged 40.2 yards per punt and had only one touchback. The return game continues to be an abomination.
The game plans for both sides of the ball were really good. The offensive game plan was solid, taking advantage of the match ups and what the defense gave them. They took shots in good spots and got the vertical game going; they also ran the ball when needed, especially late to milk the clock. The clock management at the end of the first half continues to be an issue, as Trestman let 30 seconds run off the clock and the Bears eventually settled for three, when a touchdown would have put the Falcons down big. That almost led to the momentum swinging back to Atlanta permanently in the third quarter, before the Bears offense brought it back. The defensive game plan was solid, especially with as many players as they were missing. They were aggressive and played well. Special teams continues to struggle, as noted above.
All-in-all the most complete game from the Bears but there were a few instances of disappointment. If the game had been closer I'm sure the grades would have been slanted a little more negatively for the first half struggles the offense had but, as it was, the team turned in a great game to get the team back to .500. Hopefully this team shows up again.
How would you grade the team and its units in yesterday's game?