In Jay Cutler’s 100th start for the Chicago Bears, coverage went over the usual angles—the revolving door at offensive coordinator, the up and down history of the team, and the traditional discussions of emotion, body language, and attitude. However, one thing that did not go according to script was the fact that the offense put in four consistent quarters of play. No, the Bears didn’t tear the doors off the Vikings’ defense, but it also did a remarkable job.
For a change, the Bears got a solid start. Defense played hard, these guys aren't worried about draft position. That said, the defense had a tendency to get pushed around at the end of quarters, and there were real opportunities in the passing game that the Vikings just weren’t quite able to exploit.
Chicago dominated yards (403 to 258), edged time of possession (32:41 to 27:19), and had a lead in first downs (19 to 15). After a Minnesota drive that traversed the middle of the field but couldn’t put points on the board, it was Chicago’s turn, and despite a promising run from Howard, the offense stalled out and the Bears settled for a field goal.
Then both teams settled in for a punting competition, with neither team seeming to want to move the chains by ground or air. The second quarter saw some of the best Bears football on display in a while (with one frustrating note), with the Bears getting 10 while also holding the Vikings to drives of 0 yards and 59 yards. Of particular note, though, was the penalty that kept the Minnesota drive alive and basically gave the Vikings a chance to get back into it. However, the defense held the Vikings to 3 and for a remarkable change, Cutler went out with the offense with less than 30 seconds to go, and he really seemed to be trying to make something happen—which was a welcome change from kneeling it out.
The second half opened with a touchdown drive for Chicago, but it would be the last time the Bears scored. Fortunately, the defense held and while they gave up a touchdown and kept alive a really awful streak of allowing touchdowns in 60+ some games, the Bears saw shuffling, zombie-like “undead” life in all three phases on Halloween night. Okay, now on to some specific observations.
- This one’s from Schweickert: Cre’Von LeBlanc should stay away from punt returning. Here’s my addition: LeBlanc might be okay in the secondary, but he's average at best on returns. I saw nothing that made me think he should be returning as a regular part of his duties.
- Jordan Howard has not seen an inch of the football field that he doesn't want. This guy wants to get every scrap of gain he can, and he is ready to play. I also loved his reaction to his own touchdown. I’m not opposed to celebrations, but there’s something to be said for simply and casually tossing the ball to the ref like a pro who expected to be there. On that note, loved Jay's reaction, too. He throws his arms up before Howard is in. At the start of the 4th, Howard had out gained the Vikings by himself. If I’m Jeremy Langford, I’m happy I picked up a first down, but I’m also pretty sure that my role on this team has changed.
- Leonard Floyd continues to show up. His sack involved getting past Jake Long by swimming his way around the former All-Pro (the stat sheet says Long has 70lbs on Floyd, but I’ll buy that the difference is that small when I see the scales myself). Even though Floyd didn’t always get home, he was always showing his speed and his motor. Even more than the sack, I liked seeing the hold he forced in the middle of the third quarter, and the way he flushed Bradford up into Hicks. On multiple occasions he was double-teamed, and any rookie OLB who takes up two blockers and forces the quarterback to play differently is making a worthwhile impact.
- In other draft pick news, Bullard showed up a couple of times, but he also showed why he slipped to the third.
- I really didn’t like the undisciplined play that lead to the first half field goal by Minnesota. I don't care if you blame the defenders who didn't jump on the ball when it was loose or Washington for coming on the field, but that's the kind of sloppy everything that losing teams make. The resulting goal line stand was a nice thing to see, but it never should have gotten that far, and the Bears were lucky that it didn’t cost them more.
- Likewise, with just under 6 to go, the Bears let what looked like a solid lead get whittled away. Discipline remains a problem, and on the Vikings touchdown the secondary needed to do more. It would really be nice if this team could just have three consistent levels of defense without that consistency being “bad”, but for all of the positive notes about the pass-rush, the team got lucky they weren’t facing a better quarterback.
- I thought the offensive line looked okay for a unit missing two pro bowl guards, but Cutler was also moving around in the pocket and Howard was forcing the Vikings to respect the run all night long.
- Not kneeling it out to end the half was a nice surprise. I wasn’t expecting the team to push things, and seeing a team try to build a bigger lead instead of hope to hang on was a nice change of pace.
- Through the first half, Jeffery did not look like an elite receiver. The ball bouncing off his helmet and a couple of painful non-catches were discouraging, but he finally started making some better plays as the game wore on. He clearly likes having Cutler back under center.
- So, I had my favorite bourbon out for the game and I started to take a drink every time Gruden said something about Jay's arm talent. I had to stop early in the third, even though I missed the whole first quarter. That said, the pass to Jeffery for the TD was a laser. When talking about Cutler’s limited success, Gruden pointed out the Bears record without Jay, and there's something to that.
- As soon as a graphic showed that Miller had enjoyed 102 receptions without a drop, good for the longest streak in the NFL, we all knew what was going to happen next.
- Jay Cutler remains at his best when things fall apart. Maybe it’s because he’s got the athletic talent but not the discipline, and maybe it’s because his years in college and as a professional conditioned him for it, but he excels at the backyard plays, shovel passes, and improvised moves. It is actually the rote, simple stuff he seems to struggle with. That said, it was nice to see him look like he was having fun out there.
That’s all I have. I apologize to those of you expecting Schweickert (don’t worry, he’ll be back), but for now, please let us know your thoughts on the game.