On the NFL
8:07 PM CDT, September 10, 2012
The wide receivers took the bows and the cornerbacks got the high-fives, but the Bears won their opener Sunday because they beat the Colts in the trenches.
The play of the Bears offensive line was particularly eye-opening. And no one played better on that line than the previously beleaguered J'Marcus Webb.
The left tackle didn't even require all the help that new offensive boss Mike Tice promised he would give, if necessary.
Tice was cautious initially, giving Webb some sort of help on five of the first dozen passing plays. But once Colts premier pass rusher Dwight Freeney went out with an ankle injury and it became apparent Mr. Webb had his wits about him, Tice let Webb cross the busy street by himself.
Webb had double-team help on only four the Bears' last 29 dropbacks (including penalties). And he kept his quarterback clean all day.
Going against Jerry Hughes and the Colts without Freeney was an assignment a good left tackle should win. But Webb still is trying to prove he is a good left tackle.
He got help and needed it on one play — the 42-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. The pass came off play action and Jay Cutler dropped deep. Colts lineman Fili Moala leaked through with an inside move, but Matt Forte was there to clean him up.
Without a fine effort from Webb, the Cutler-to-Forte 31-yard catch doesn't happen. First, Webb held off Hughes to his left, then he got his leg out to impede Moala, allowing Cutler to get the pass off.
Here is what else a review of the tape showed.
Grading key: Grades are between 0 and 10 with 0 being complete failure and 10 being perfect.
Webb wasn't the only outstanding blocker. So was the tackle on the other side, Gabe Carimi. He had the bigger challenge, lining up against Robert Mathis for much of the day. Carimi also was critical in the run game, and running backs averaged 4.2 yards per carry.
The nice thing about the performance of the defensive line is there were significant contributions made by all seven active linemen.
Rod Marinelli mixed and matched his pass rushers like never before.
The key was Julius Peppers, who played 56 percent of his snaps at a position other than his customary right end. Peppers lined up at defensive tackle 10 times and was effective.
Peppers wasn't the only pass rusher playing more than one position. All together, Marinelli used 21 combinations of four players at different positions on the line.
Henry Melton had a pair of sacks in the final 5 1/2 minutes of the game, but his most impressive play may have been when he exploded off the line in the first quarter, shooting past guard Seth Olsen to tackle Donald Brown for a loss of 4 yards.
Brian Urlacher did not have his usual pop, quickness and change of direction. No surprise there after he missed all of the preseason and most of camp.
Lance Briggs made some nice plays, including a fourth-quarter pressure off a blitz that led to one of Melton's sacks. But he also appeared to create a hole for Brown's second-quarter 18-yard touchdown run when he went to the ground while trying to change direction.
Chris Conte did not play like a guy with a separated shoulder. He filled the hole hard when needed and flew around the field. He even made plays on the ball — a rarity for Bears safeties.
The cornerbacks gave up a lot of completions on underneath passes, especially late in the game. But that wasn't a big deal.
What was a big deal is Tim Jennings played like a shutdown corner. Both of his interceptions were catches that some wide receivers couldn't have made. He had two tips in the end zone that prevented touchdowns, and the second tip gave Conte an interception.
Strange day for Cutler. He started out jittery, threw an inexplicable pick-six and completed only one of his first 10 passes. Then he completely turned it around.
Cutler had some absolutely incredible throws, throws that only a few quarterbacks in the league could have made. None was better than his strike to Jeffery for the fourth-quarter touchdown.
Not all of his contributions were glaring. He did an excellent job of bouncing around in the pocket to avoid pressure, and changed plays at the line very effectively.
I thought the Bears drafted Evan Rodriguez to catch passes and figured it was kind of a joke when they listed him at fullback on the depth chart.
But sure enough, he was a lead blocker in the running game Sunday. He made some nice contributions, including leading the way on Forte's 32-yard run and on his 15-yard run.
Forte's usual combination of elusiveness, power, athleticism and speed was difficult to stop. One play showed it all. He reached up to haul in a catch one-handed 3 yards past the line of scrimmage, then took it another 28 yards, outrunning a linebacker, running through the tackle attempt of a cornerback and avoiding a safety.
Michael Bush was the complement to Forte the Bears hoped Marion Barber could have been.
He broke a tackle in the backfield to turn what would have been a loss into a 7-yard gain. He lowered his shoulder and ran over safety Antoine Bethea. And Bush was effective in short yardage and finishing out the game.
Really nice group effort, led by Brandon Marshall.
Two things stood out about Marshall's game. He was courageous when he knew he was going to get popped, and his routes were absolutely sick for a man his size.
In the fourth quarter, he planted and cut in so hard with the ball on the way that he left cornerback Jerraud Powers flailing at the air. Marshall gained 22 yards on the play.
So much for the revitalization of the tight ends under Tice. All three tight ends combined for one catch for 17 yards (by Kyle Adams).
Kellen Davis gave up a sack on the Bears' first play from scrimmage and later was penalized for holding.
The Bears missed some opportunities in the return game, but the coverage teams were sharp. J.T. Thomas' strip of kick returner LaVon Brazill set up Robbie Gould's second field goal.
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