On the NFL
9:45 PM CST, November 26, 2012
The player most responsible for keeping Jay Cutler clean Sunday was Jay Cutler.
The quarterback did a number of things well. What he did best was avoid pressure.
Cutler moved in the pocket before throwing six times. Cutler also rolled out four times. And he took off and ran two times. That added up to movement on 34 percent of his dropbacks.
The eight plays in which he moved or ran on his own could have been sacks.
But he was a moving target for Jared Allen and the Vikings' other pass rushers, and they didn't catch him once. The only time he was sacked was when he tripped over his center's foot.
And get this — every time Cutler moved, something good happened, or should have happened.
On the 10 times he threw after moving, he completed eight passes and drew a pass-interference penalty that set up a touchdown. His only incompletion should have been a 42-yard touchdown pass, but Brandon Marshall let a perfectly placed ball slip through his hands in the end zone.
The focus on Cutler's 13-yard touchdown pass to Matt Spaeth has understandably been on his superb throw and Spaeth's fine catch. But neither would have been possible had Cutler not avoided Allen first by rolling left.
One of my favorite Cutler plays from Sunday was a loss of 1 yard on a screen play to Michael Bush. It easily could have been a loss of 6. But it wasn't because Cutler avoided the blitzing Antoine Winfield by taking five quick steps back after his initial drop and then got the pass off.
Here is what else we learned after a second look.
Grading key: Grades are between 0 and 10 with 0 being complete failure and 10 being perfect.
Cutler didn't make many NFL highlight reels, but he gets high marks for composure (except for tossing the football at A.J. Jefferson and drawing an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty), poise and savvy. His longest completion of the day was 20 yards.
He avoided mistakes well. Even his one interception probably should not have been an interception. Marshall reached up and tipped it with one hand, and the pass could have been caught.
J'Marcus Webb bounced back in a big way after a terrible performance six days earlier. Webb was one-on-one with Allen 40 percent of the time, and he kept the four-time All-Pro at bay by using sound technique.
Webb had help on other plays, mostly from tight ends Spaeth and Kellen Davis, but also from backs and other linemen.
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice did a nice job of giving Webb help early to see how he was playing, and then letting him handle Allen alone more as the game went on. Tice also helped the linemen by calling for only one deep pass in the game.
The run blocking was below average, and the Bears clearly missed Lance Louis after he was injured. Gabe Carimi did well, though, considering the circumstances. He also made some nice blocks at tight end early in the game.
New right tackle Jonathan Scott played like a veteran and was pretty consistent. Fill-in guard Edwin Williams had a nice game.
This was a gritty performance by Marshall and company. Most of their work was in the middle of the field, and Marshall and Earl Bennett helped others by blocking with intensity.
Marshall's physical play is ideal as cold weather sets in. By breaking tackles, he gained 7 yards after contact on one play and 12 on another.
He also was fierce on passes in traffic, at one point coming up with a catch when four defenders were within a step and a half of him. He outwrestled Winfield for a ball they both appeared to catch.
The long run of the day was an 8-yarder, but both Bush and Matt Forte ran physically. On Bush's second touchdown run, he dragged linebacker Chad Greenway and safety Jamarca Sanford into the end zone. Forte plowed over safety Harrison Smith on his way to converting a third-and-5.
That was a fine catch for a 13-yard touchdown by Spaeth, extending his arms and diving. Davis caught one but dropped two more.
The front four put decent pressure on Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder but did not finish enough plays. They sacked him only twice, and the second sack was a coverage sack.
Defensive tackle Henry Melton sacked Ponder on the first play from scrimmage for a loss of 9 by putting a swim move on center John Sullivan and then sliding around guard Brandon Fusco.
Defensive ends Israel Idonije and Shea McClellin also stood out with consistent rush. They shared a sack, and Idonije had three pressures while McClellin had two.
Credit defensive tackle Nate Collins with forcing the throw that Chris Conte intercepted.
Julius Peppers was handled well by rookie tackle Matt Kalil, and Peppers had a minimal impact for the second straight game.
Nick Roach had one of his more impactful games, stripping Peterson and getting in on seven tackles. He should have had another but was trucked by the powerful Peterson on his 23-yard fourth-quarter run. He also may have been responsible for leaving tight end Kyle Rudolph alone on his touchdown.
Lance Briggs was effective in pass coverage, breaking up two throws, including one to Rudolph that could have been a touchdown. He also was a physical presence for Vikings coming across the middle on short crossing routes.
Major Wright and Conte came up with two takeaways (Wright had a fumble recovery; Conte had an interception). Conte also knocked a ball out of Rudolph's hands that could have been a touchdown.
Wright was back to playing like himself, coming downhill hard in run support and forcing some big collisions. He even put some heat on Ponder on two blitzes.
Bears corners were fortunate Vikings receivers played so poorly, both in terms of getting open and catching the football.
Charles Tillman was on the field for only 18 snaps, but he was very active with a pass breakup, a fumble recovery, in which he had to tangle with Peterson to keep the ball, and two excellent tackles.
On the play he was injured, Tillman fell and left Rudolph wide open for a 25-yard gain — the longest in the game.
Peppers' blocked field goal would have been appreciated more if the Bears did not allow Kevin Williams to block a Robbie Gould attempt after collapsing Lance Louis and J'Marcus Webb with a four-man overload.
The fake extra point/two-point conversion was well thought out and well-executed, with Carimi throwing a key block on Sanford.
The Bears allowed a 38-yard kickoff return, downed a punt before they should have and Eric Weems nearly touched a Vikings punt he was trying to let bounce.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC