As I tweeted yesterday, this Bears team might just be the most frustrating team I can ever remember watching. Over the past decade there have been a lot of forgettable Bears teams, or ones with a bad offense and good defense.
Before this season I would say the most frustrating team to watch was the 2007 team. Coming off a Super Bowl loss, it seemed like the Bears should be poised to do some good things, but the defense dropped from third in points and fifth in yards to 16th in points and 28th in yards. The offense was never going to be great, though, so it was frustrating to watch the defense struggle and give up a lot of third down conversions and big plays.
Last year's team was frustrating; with their offense humming the Bears appeared ready to take on anyone, but the defense fell off a cliff. There was some solace, though, as the Bears' offense racked up points and there was a lot of progress with quarterback Jay Cutler. The arrow appeared to be pointing up for 2014.
Now, after five games, the team continues to be up and down. They haven't played four good quarters of football in any phase of the game. The defense gives up yards in chunks but then gets interceptions and forces fumbles. The offense will put together an 80-yard drive and score TDs, then fizzle and kick one field goal and turn the ball over.
Five games into the season and I still don't know what this team is going to do at any given point. They could be the team that's surrendering 17 points only to score 28, or the one that goes blow-for-blow with a top flight offense before throwing bad picks.
The Bears out-gained the Panthers 347 yards to 321, they had more time of possession but yet they couldn't move the ball when they needed to and turned the ball over four time, including three on each of their last three possessions. They had ten penalties. Matt Forte had 166 total yards, Alshon Jeffery added 97 and a touchdown but Brandon Marshall was a non-factor again.
The team is dangerously close to a downward spiral; they can't seem to get anything going for them. Next week looms large but will be yet another tough road test for Chicago.
Let's get to the grades. As always, these are meant to spark a discussion and are based on my eye test from watching the game live.
This is the problem, Cutler completed 77.8 percent of his passes for 289 yards; on any other day we're singing his praises and talking about how great it is. But he turned the ball over twice with two poorly thrown passes and fumbled on a sack. The team as a whole continues to go as their turnover battle goes. They lost again on Sunday and most of those are on Cutler. Unacceptable. He did have two scrambles for 22 yards and a touchdown.
Running back: B+
Matt Forte had a great day with the offense running through him. He caught 12 of 12 targets for 105 yards and a touchdown as well as 61 yards on the ground on 17 carries. His 3.6 yards per carry was weak, but it was enough to keep the ground game going and kept Carolina from blitzing constantly. They had to respect the run and most of that was on Forte. Ka'Deem Carey added two carries for two yards. Forte had such a big day that I would grade him with an A, but his fumble came at the worst possible time. Fumbles happen to every running back, but Forte's was so costly that I had to knock him down for it.
Wide receivers: C
The receivers had a very average day. Alshon Jeffery led the receiving corps with 97 yards and a touchdown, and was by far the highlight of the group. He got open and made good catches. He was utilized well on screens and followed his blocks well to get yards. Brandon Marshall all but disappeared again and, while he was well-covered by the defense, it was another quiet game from the Bears' No. 1. Santonio Holmes caught only one of his three targets.
Tight ends: C
Martellus Bennett had a quiet game compared to how he's performed this year, catching only three of his five targets for just 17 yards. However, his biggest gaffe came on Matt Forte's 56-yard catch and run. Bennett came through the line and was running ahead of Forte and evenly with Roman Harper - and had many opportunities to block him - but just kept running, until Harper slowed up and drove Forte out of bounds. Forte might have had a touchdown but certainly could have gotten another several yards before someone had a shot to catch him. Dante Rosario caught three of his four targets for 20 yards. It was not the best day for this group.
Offensive line: D+
The line was solid for the most part but I can't grade them too highly when they surrendered four sacks and five QB hits, including two on the final drive of the game when they needed to be at their best. Michael Ola held his own for the most part at left tackle, but was overpowered on one sack, Brian de la Puente was pushed back on another. Matt Slauson gave up the final sack fumble that sealed the game. The line was pushed around in the run game and was part of why the Bears averaged only 3.9 yards per carry.
Offensive grade: C
It was such an average day for the offense. They did a lot of things well, they moved the ball very well in the first half and went on three touchdown drives, but in the second half they punted three times, had an interception and two fumbles. It was another disappointing outing for the Bears' best unit.
Defensive line: B+
The defensive line had themselves quite a game yesterday. They deflected four passes and got good pressure on Cam Newton who completed only 54.3 percent of his passes. They sacked him twice, once by Willie Young - who also forced a fumble - and once by Stephen Paea, who also had the line's only tackle for loss and QB hit. Jared Allen continues to be sack-less but made seven tackles to lead the team and deflected a pass. Ego Ferguson played very well, deflecting two passes.
The linebackers had a good game against the run, helping the DL hold the Panthers to just 3.3 yards per carry. D.J. Williams had six tackles, and Jon Bostic added four before leaving the game with an injury. Lance Briggs intercepted a pass to go with two pass break ups and a QB hit. Bostic struggled in coverage against Greg Olsen, which is a big part of the reason I knocked the grade down. Way too often in the second half the Panthers had the middle of the field wide open. Whether it was Olsen or one of their receivers, the LBs were awful in pass D. Christian Jones was flagged for a facemask that was questionable.
Since this is an average grade, consider this a B+ for Kyle Fuller and a C- for Tim Jennings. Isaiah Frey earned a C- as well. Frey had six tackles and a forced fumble and recovery. Fuller played well against Kelvin Benjamin in containing him to just three catches for 38 yards. Jennings and Frey struggled at times and were giving up a lot of yards. They were also responsible for many of the plays that went into the middle of the field. The Panthers had that area open all day and were able to throw to it at will. Awful stuff.
This continues to be the biggest hole for the Bears. Danny McCray gave up both of the Olsen touchdowns by being out of position and unable to cover or contest the athletic TE. Ryan Mundy was all right in run support, but also did not make a lot of impact plays. Chris Conte was injured before he could appear in the box score. It was a rough outing for the unit.
Defensive grade: C
The defense played great in the first half, smothering the Panthers and forcing turnovers, but in the second half they had little impact. They could not get a stop unless the Panthers made questionable play calls. They surrendered 24 points from the second quarter to the end of the game. The middle of the field was open for the Panthers nearly every play and they couldn't locate or stop Olsen. It was an ugly performance.
Special teams grade: D-
Do I really need to get into this? The punt return touchdown was ugly on so many fronts: hitting the returner before he made the catch, resulting in a penalty but then not able to tackle the guy when he just picked up the ball and ran it into the endzone. It didn't matter about the recovery because they wouldn't have kept it anyway but not tackling the returner was just awful. There was an illegal block penalty on a big return by Santonio Holmes, who fumbled out of bounds on the play. Robbie Gould missed a very makeable field goal. Pat O'Donnell did have a good day punting though, pinning two inside the twenty and averaging 52.3 yards per punt, keeping the unit's grade from failing.
There was no egregious coaching blunders with clock management or challenges like last week but the game plan still seemed kind of conservative. While I liked that they focused on making Forte the centerpiece and really attacked the Panthers with screens and swing passes, which worked, they never really took many shots down the field and didn't seem to try too much to get Marshall heavily involved. I thought Trestman would use the short passes and screens to set up more downfield shots but it never really happened. Maybe I'm just grasping for something because it was a tough loss, but the Bears didn't get in a good rhythm in the second half and maybe the deep stuff wasn't open, it's hard to say for sure without seeing the coach's film yet. The special teams coaching pretty much rolls into the unit grade and Mel Tucker didn't really call a terrible game. His blitzes were working fairly well but the players didn't really execute.
How would you grade the team's performance yesterday?