There really was nowhere to go but up. Following the dreadful performance last week against the Broncos the Bears showed significant improvement in their second preseason game. Although the Patriots were missing their top two players it does not take away from the progress shown on the field.
That is not to say the Bears are yet on solid footing. Numerous problems remain from last week and others are coming into better focus with more data from the field. Perhaps mpst significantly it’s becoming apparent that basically every positional group is truly a mixed bag with no group being exceptionally strong and maybe more than one group being weak. This is reflected in the categorization below.
Just as with the game against the Broncos the Bears’ second preseason game produced some good, some bad and some things which fall into a third category of unabiding enmity.
- The offensive line performed significantly better than in the first game. This isn’t necessarily saying very much, but there are signs of encouragement. Kyle Long looks comfortable back in his familiar RG spot and there was much less pressure on the quarterbacks than last week. The line also did a nice job opening holes for the RBs throughout the game.
- And the running backs took advantage. It looks like the running back by committee approach may have been abandoned as Jeremy Langford was the only back who took the field with the first team offense. Langford took advantage with a number of nice runs. Jacquizz Rogers and Jordan Howard also looked good.
- There were signs of life out of the tight end group. With Zach Miller still out Tony Moeaki got the start. While not much of a blocker and not a downfield threat, Moeaki looked good on underneath routes, providing quality checkdowns for Jay Cutler on a number of occasions. He may have moved into position to secure a place on the opening day roster. Rob Housler also made a few nice plays when given the chance.
- Alshon Jeffrey looked like himself, which is significant for this team. The Bears were simply a different offense when Jeffrey was out last season and although he did end up playing last week there must continue to be concern about the continuation of soft tissue injuries which have plagued him throughout his career. But following a good week of practice Jeffrey continued his physical dominance of the Patriot DBs in the few snaps he played. The Bears need Jeffrey to be a true #1 WR and if he can stay healthy Jeffrey will be that.
- On a short WR note, Josh Bellamy had a nice game receiving and on special teams. Bellamy looks to potentially be a deep threat for the Bears this season. And his continued excellent play on special teams most likely means he makes the opening day roster.
- Finally, for the second game in a row the Bears had a takeaway. Tracy Porter stripped Brandon Bolden near the goal line to halt a long Patriots drive. The drive proceeding the fumble recovery was not encouraging but the ability to prevent points being put on the board is, something which was lacking last season.
- Last week the Bears demonstrated the fruits of their offseason front 7 signings with consistent pressure on the QB and a number of sacks to show for it. This week that improvement was less evident with less pressure and fewer sacks. If the D-line and linebackers are really going to be the strength of this defense they need to bring it every week.
- This includes stopping the run. Especially when LaGarrett Blount was in the game the power running game of the Patriots overpowered the Bears D-line and the linebackers too often overran the play or got hung up on blocks. The Bears struggled with the run last season and it cannot continue if the they want significant defensive improvement.
- They are still giving up passes over the middle as well. Too often against the Broncos and the Patriots the middle was wide open, allowing easy completions for the opposition. Especially on third down. Hopefully this is simply a result of two new starters at ILB getting to know the defense, but the young, inexperienced secondary also has to step up.
- As much improvement as the offensive line showed, they still struggled. Unfortunately, the skills of the offensive linemen are unbalanced, and it showed in this game. Bobby Massie did a nice game run blocking on the right side but Chris Long abused him with pass rush moves, especially to the inside. Charles Leno did a nice job pass blocking but struggled to get any push in the run game. Cody Whitehair is still struggling with the speed and physicality of the NFL. And Ted Larsen is showing why the Bears signed him as a backup, not to start. If anything he took a step backward against the Patriots.
- The Bears and fans are still waiting to see something out of Kevin White. He looks big and athletic and fast, but he needs to translate it tot he field. He made one nice catch followed by one bad drop. This is to be expected with young WRs to a point, but the Bears need White to step up and be the #2 WR sooner rather than later.
- Way too many penalties.
- FInally, what is going on with Brian Hoyer? He was widely expected to be a significant improvement over Jimmy Clausen, but so far Hoyer has really struggled. Hopefully it’s as simple as he is still learning the offense. If not, the Bears looked hopeless once again without Cutler.
What the @&#!?
- Bears are getting injured at a disturbing clip. Kyle Fuller, Eddie Royal, Zach Miller, Ka’deem Carey and Danny Trevathan all missed the game against the Patriots due to injury. Royal and Miller remain sidelined by concussions from training camp. Carey is recovering from a concussion suffered last game. Trevathan was supposedly just resting according to John Fox, but now is week-to-week with a hamstring injury. And Fuller had arthroscopic knee surgery and may be back for Week 1. Jacoby Glenn, Tony Moeaki and Deonte Thompson were all injured during the game. What is most concerning about these injuries is twofold: 1) Suuposedly minor injuries are having a habit of turning into things far more serious, and 2) The Bears cannot afford to lose players at these positions. The Bears have little to no depth at CB, TE, ILB and WR and the injuries are even more limiting. Furthermore, players such as Carey and Royal cannot afford to be sidelined much longer or risk not making the team.
What is most concerning about the Bears to this point is there is little to no consistency. Not from game to game, it’s too early to make that determination. But within the position groups and from series to series the Bears can look alternatively excellent and awful. With increased injury concerns across the roster it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain this consistency and make a proper determination as to how good this team may be.