ARKUSH: Only Jay Cutler, D.J. Williams and Lance Briggs excel in uplifting victory
BY HUB ARKUSH Shaw Media September 23, 2013 9:29PM
Updated: October 25, 2013 6:29AM
In many respects, the Bears’ 40-23 victory Sunday night over the Pittsburgh Steelers was their most impressive of the season, and in many other respects, the most frustrating.
Forty points, 75 percent efficiency in the red zone on offense, five takeaways and zero turnovers, two defensive touchdowns and three sacks is all pretty heady stuff.
But when your offense manages only 4.3 yards per play and 4.7 per pass play, allows two sacks and consistent pressure on Jay Cutler and converts only five of 15 first downs, and the defense gives up 459 yards (406 through the air) and 8.6 yards per pass play, teams eventually will lose as many games as they win.
Cutler had his least productive game of the year but probably his best game of the three at quarterback. It was a solid B+. He executed the West Coast offense with precision early, then took over the game in the fourth quarter after the Steelers had closed to 27-23.
The 159 passing yards kept his grade below an A.
The running backs get a B- for being good but not great. Matt Forte’s 55-yard run was one of the biggest plays of the night, but take it away, and you’re left with 27 carries for 52 yards.
Blitz pickup was an adventure at times, and Michael Bush is starting to become a bit of a concern with only eight carries for nine yards and 16 carries for 24 yards on the season.
The wideouts and tight ends get a B-, as well. Other than the huge catches by Brandon Marshall and Earl Bennett on the big fourth-quarter third-down plays from Cutler, they combined for 18 catches for only 101 yards.
Marshall had only five catches for 52 yards on eight targets. He caught four for 11 yards other than his one big play, and Martellus Bennett had only two catches for 10 yards on five targets.
The offensive line also gets a B- for its part in the 27 rushes that managed only 52 yards other than the big 55-yarder and the role it played in the consistent pressure on Cutler.
Clearly, the Steelers’ 3-4 was a different challenge for the O-line.
But B- isn’t a bad grade, and from where this offensive line started, its performance in Pittsburgh was still a lot better than we might have expected three weeks ago.
The defensive line gets a C+. This could just as easily be a C or C-, as it once again managed no real pressure on Ben Roethlisberger without help from blitzing linebackers and defensive backs, and it offered a few gaping holes in the run game to a team averaging 37.5 yards per game rushing coming in. The Steelers gained 80 on the ground against the Bears.
The only reason the C gets a plus is Julius Peppers’ touchdown return.
The linebackers get an A. Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams were impact players with three sacks between them and a forced fumble apiece.
James Anderson also played well with five tackles, one tackle for loss and a fumble recovery.
The secondary gets a C+ for basically the same reason the defensive line did.
The touchdown is better than nice, it’s a game-changer, but is allowing Roethlisberger to pass for 406 yards even worthy of an average grade, which is what a C suggests? This must get better.
Finally, a C+ for the special teams, too. While the return game took a night off, Adam Podlesh’s 46.3 net yards punting and improved punt and kick coverage balanced that out.
Strange, I know, but by a small margin these are the lowest grades I’ve given in their most impressive win. But, really, where would they have been without Briggs, Williams and Cutler?
Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com.