Coming into the season, I had several question marks about the Bears. Could they generate a pass rush with their front four? Would their inexperienced secondary be able to cover opposing receivers? Would their own wide receivers be able to make enough big plays to help quarterback Jay Cutler out?
Surprisingly enough, the Bears (3-2) are performing reasonably well in those question-mark areas. The Bears did not sack Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan during Sunday's 21-14 loss, but they got enough pressure on him to knock down a couple passes and force him into two interceptions. The Bears have 14 sacks through five games. That's acceptable.
The Bears overall pass defense? Well, it's ranked 14th in the league. They've had some lapses, like the first half of the Detroit game when Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson torched young cornerback Zackary Bowman. But middle-of-the-pack pass defense represents an improvement for the Bears. Cornerback Charles Tillman, the Bears best player in the secondary, has overcome back surgery and is playing well. Again, I think the team's performance in that area has been acceptable.
Looking at the receivers, Bears GM Jerry Angelo assured us that the quarterback makes the wide receivers, not the other way around. Honestly, I can't quarrel with that right now. Johnny Knox has been the breakout star of the season. Devin Hester and Earl Bennett may not be Pro Bowlers, but with Cutler throwing them the ball, they look like NFL receivers -- a description that would not have been accurate last year.
But of all things, the Bears have a weakness that I never would have anticipated. Namely, their run game sucks. Matt Forte had only 23 yards on 15 carries in last night's loss. He fumbled (see picture) on back-to-back plays in the third quarter on a series where the Bears had first-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line and failed to score. The fumbles are on Forte, but it's hard to place the entire blame on the running back. Forte is getting hit behind the line of scrimmage way too often. The offensive line is poor right now.
Apparently, coach Lovie Smith is considering replacing Frank Omiyale with Josh Beekman at left guard. I hope Lovie pulls the trigger on that move. Omiyale is the weakest link on the Bears weakest unit.
It's going to be hard for the Bears to win cold-weather games later in the season if they don't establish a run game. It's hard to pass the ball when the wind is gusting in Chicago in December. Right now, Cutler is being asked to carry the offense. He made a lot of big plays last night. He didn't make enough of them. He also threw a couple interceptions. Chicago fans are whining about that today, but hey, you're gonna throw some picks when you're basically forced to throw on every down.
The Bears pass protection hasn't been the greatest either. Fans are complaining about offensive coordinator Ron Turner's unwillingness to call long passes. True, Cutler's ability to throw the deep ball is being underutilized with all these short drops and quick releases. But the fact is the Bears linemen can't hold their protections long enough for Cutler to drop back seven steps and unleash the long ball. He has to drop back on three steps and get the ball out, or else he's gonna get sacked.
In short, the Bears offensive line leaves a lot to be desired, both in run blocking and in pass blocking. I still think the team can possibly go 10-6 this year, but they're going to have to do a better job up front in order to attain their goals. At the start of the year, I never thought I'd be criticizing the Bears offensive line. However, that unit just isn't good enough right now.