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BEARS’ MIDSEASON REPORT: Plenty of positives

ARLINGTON TX - OCTOBER 01:  Major Wright #21 celebrates with Corey Woott#98 Chicago Bears after Wright intercepted ball against

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 01: Major Wright #21 celebrates with Corey Wootton #98 of the Chicago Bears after Wright intercepted the ball against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on October 1, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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Updated: December 8, 2012 6:42AM



The Bears believe they can be better.

They say it all the time.

A 7-1 record — and numerous highlights — simply aren’t good enough.

Quarterback Jay Cutler wants the offense to match the defense’s high level of play, and defensive players think there’s another level they can reach.

“Each game as you continue to win, the stakes go up a little bit higher,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We realize that, and we’re going to embrace it. I see our team getting better and better.

“We haven’t peaked yet.”

With that said, here’s a breakdown of the Bears’ stellar first half and a quick look ahead:

MVP

Brandon Marshall, WR: The offense would be in shambles without Marshall (59 receptions, 797 yards, 7 TDs), who accounts for 57 percent of the Bears’ wide receiver receptions, 59 percent of the yards and 70 percent of the touchdowns.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Tim Jennings, CB: Always a solid tackler, Jennings not only is catching interceptions he dropped last season, but he’s making more plays overall. He has broken up 10 passes. He broke up eight all of last season.

UNSUNG HERO

Henry Melton, DT: You can’t overstate the contribution of inside pressure to the Bears’ big first half, and Melton has been a consistent force with 16 quarterback pressures and 41/2 sacks.

BIGGEST
DISAPPOINTMENT

Tight ends: They were supposed to be part of the ‘‘explosive’’ element of the offense, but it’s been the same old thing — downfield all day in Bourbonnais, invisible in the regular season. Kellen Davis (10 receptions, 144 yards) has two touchdowns, but he’s still a liability in pass protection.

TOP CUTLER MOMENT

Seven-yard touchdown pass to Marshall vs. Lions: The play was a Cutler rollout with Marshall in motion out of the backfield. But when it broke down, Cutler improvised, willed Marshall into the right spot and deftly threw a short pass on the run for a touchdown, proof that Cutler can make plays without relying on his arm.

MOST TELLING STATISTIC

The defense has allowed 10 touchdowns — three of them in garbage time — and scored seven. That’s a net of three touchdowns allowed in eight games.

NO. 1 THING I LEARNED ABOUT THE BEARS

The defense is more than just its 30-and-over core. Jennings, Melton and Chris Conte made plays that led to pick-sixes. Stephen Paea, Shea McClellin, Major Wright and Corey Wootton might develop into playmakers.

THREE KEYS FOR THE SECOND HALF

1. Fewer negative plays on offense. The Bears have had a negative play on their first offensive snap four times in eight games — three sacks and a holding penalty. When they stay clean and keep Jay Cutler in a rhythm, they are tough to stop.

2. Lady Luck. The Bears not only are healthier than most teams, but Brian Urlacher is getting better with every game on a bum knee. The breaks are going their way, too. Last year, Johnny Knox’s slip led to Cutler’s broken thumb. This year, Steve Smith’s slip led to Tim Jennings’ pick-six.

3. Outcoach the Packers. Lovie Smith and his staff have done an impressive job with one exception — they not only lost to the Packers, they were outcoached by the Packers. If Dom Capers keeps finding ways to confound the Bears’ offense, it’s likely another postseason opponent will have the same edge.

FINAL RECORD
PREDICTION: 13-3



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