Updated: November 1, 2011 12:00AM
Jay Cutler has done a better
job of running the offense despite inconsistent protection and inexperienced receivers, but he still has a long way to go. He’s 15th in the NFL in passer rating at 84.0 and has a career-low 59.1 completion percentage.
Running backs: A
Matt Forte (672 yards, 5.4 per carry) has exceeded expectations and seems to be getting better every game. He’s fifth in the NFL in rushing (96 yards per game) and leads all non-quarterbacks in yards from scrimmage (1,091). Fullback Tyler Clutts has been invaluable as a blocker.
Offensive line: C
Began camp in a state of flux, with four players in positions they had not played last season. Injuries complicated matters. And two games indoors didn’t help. But Roberto Garza, moving to center on late notice, has helped keep things together. Lance Louis filled a big hole at right tackle after rookie Gabe Carimi’s injury.
Tight ends: C
Kellen Davis (eight catches, 107 yards) hasn’t blossomed into the blocking/receiving threat the Bears touted him as during the preseason. So far, Greg Olsen would have been better. Matt Spaeth has lived up to his reputation as a solid blocker. He also caught a touchdown pass in the opener.
Wide receivers: C
The Bears put this group in a tough spot by promoting Roy Williams ahead of Johnny Knox when Williams still needed time to get acclimated to Cutler. Earl Bennett’s injury also hurt. But Williams is starting to produce, and rookie Dane Sanzenbacher has gained valuable experience with Bennett out.
Defensive line: C
Has failed to live up to its own high expectations, a big reason why the Bears have dropped from ninth to 23th in total yards allowed and from second to 13th in rushing yards allowed. Julius Peppers has four sacks, but the group has been average at best.
Brian Urlacher has been outstanding in his 13th season. Lance Briggs also has played up to his standard. But both have paid a bigger price than normal for their mistakes. Nick Roach has held his own but hasn’t been an impact player.
Defensive backs: C
There have been so many changes at safety that the group has had no rhythm or consistency. Rookie Chris Conte eventually will be an upgrade at free safety, maybe sooner than later. Major Wright has potential, but he needs to learn quickly. Corners Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings have been solid tacklers and steadying influences.
Special teams: B+
Devin Hester has scored touchdowns on a punt return and a kickoff return. Led by Corey Graham, Brian Iwuh and some impressive rookies, the coverage units have been good, especially considering the turnover from last season. Robbie Gould is 14-for-15 on field goals and has 22 touchbacks. Punter Adam Podlesh (39.6 yards net) has been an upgrade.
The Bears have a knack for overcoming their own dysfunction, and this season has been no different. Lovie Smith and his staff have the Bears in contention despite a difficult early schedule. The Bears are 4-1 outdoors, where they play eight of their last nine games. Dave Toub’s work with special teams can’t be overlooked.