On the NFL
9:06 PM CDT, October 29, 2012
Jay Cutler was sacked six times Sunday, which usually is grounds for putting the offensive line in solitary confinement with no visitation privileges.
But a review of the tape revealed the big boys didn't play all that poorly. In fact, the linemen were responsible for only two of the sacks.
Here is what happened on each of the sacks.
Sack 1: Tight end Matt Spaeth is at fault, getting his feet tangled with J'Marcus Webb's and subsequently getting bulled back and beaten for a sack.
Sack 2: Cutler holds the ball for 5 seconds before Greg Hardy finally comes free after being blocked well by Webb. This sack is completely on the QB.
Sack 3: Cutler holds the ball for 4.2 seconds and is at fault again. Gabe Carimi cuts Hardy on what is supposed to be the back side of a screen pass to Matt Forte. DT Dwan Edwards prevents the possibility of a completion by getting in the way of Forte. Instead of throwing the ball at Forte's feet, Cutler double clutches and gets nailed by Hardy, who had time to get up off the ground and get to Cutler.
Sack 4: Webb could have blocked Frank Alexander better, but Cutler steps up and is in position to avoid the sack. However, instead of escaping in an open lane to his right, Cutler steps up to his left into an oncoming rush and a sack by Edwards. This was Cutler's fault more than Webb's.
Sack 5: Guard Chilo Rachal gets the blame for stepping inside on Hardy and slipping as Hardy goes outside shoulder.
Sack 6: Carimi gets beat on a speed rush by Charles Johnson for a sack/strip.
Here is what else we learned after a closer look.
Grading key: Grades are between 0 and 10 with 0 being complete failure and 10 being perfect.
Each of the offensive linemen had a bad moment or two. Roberto Garza might have had more than a couple. He failed to get to defenders on a few occasions and had another false start, his third in two weeks.
Lance Louis and Webb graded out the highest.
Cutler did what he had to do in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers made it very easy for him. He did not have any spectacular plays.
He should have had a first-quarter touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall, as he had plenty of time with an eight-man protection and Marshall had beaten Josh Norman. Cutler underthrew the ball.
Forgotten play: on the two-point conversion attempt, it appeared Cutler and Marshall had a miscommunication.
Forte was a little underutilized with only 15 carries. He could have been better with making defenders miss, but he ran with good vision and explosion.
Devin Hester and Marshall both had drops, but Marshall made up for his by catching away from his body twice. He also had some nice blocks in the run game. And he was clutch on the final drive.
Earl Bennett was back in the mix, but he was too often ignored by Cutler, who threw to Marshall 10 more times than he threw to Bennett.
That was one fine touchdown catch by Kellen Davis, who used his 8-inch height advantage over Panthers safety Charles Godfrey, and also extended his arms and leaped to make the play on a bullet of a pass.
Other than that, the contributions from the tight ends were underwhelming. Spaeth dropped what should have been at least a 20-yard gain.
There were only two sacks, but pressure affected Panthers QB Cam Newton throughout.
Julius Peppers played a fine game against his former team with both sacks, a couple of hits and pressures and a forced fumble. He contributed greatly to Tim Jennings' first interception by putting a whack on Newton and forcing the throw.
Henry Melton was almost as good inside, disrupting a number of plays with first-step quickness, effective stunting and relentlessness. He also played the run very well.
As usual, the pass rush was a team effort. There were strong contributions from Corey Wootton (tipped pass, penetration on a bull rush that resulted in a tackle for a loss of 2 yards), Shea McClellin (three pressures, a tackle for a loss of 3 when he shot past Greg Olsen) and Nate Collins (strong play against the run, two pressures).
This group was most responsible for holding the Panthers' running backs to 2.6 yards per run, and for containing Newton on the ground for the most part.
Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were very aggressive versus the run, making good reads and filling their gaps. Urlacher was deployed around the line of scrimmage more than usual.
Both were also factors in the passing game, as each got a hand on one of Newton's passes. Newton found Urlacher in his passing lane a few times.
Chris Conte overplayed Steve Smith on the 62-yard pass to Brandon LaFell in the first quarter, but other than that the safeties played a fine game. Conte was penalized for a hit to the head of LaFell in the third quarter, but he did what he should have done on the play.
Both Conte and Major Wright made receivers pay for hits over the middle the way good safeties should. Wright forced a fumble and was outstanding in run support.
Newton threw 16 passes to Smith, and Smith had "wins" against Tim Jennings on five of the plays. That's a pretty good percentage for Jennings, who also landed the knockout punch when Smith slipped and Jennings ended up with an easy pick-six.
Jennings' first interception came with Smith out of the game. This one was a bit of a gift too — Olsen failed to come back for the football while Jennings broke hard.
Jennings broke up three other passes. One of his best plays was preventing LaFell from scoring on his 62-yard play. Jennings looked faster than ever, coming over from the left sideline and making up ground on LaFell and outrunning Conte and Charles Tillman to make the tackle.
Robbie Gould atoned for a missed 33-yard field goal by hitting the 41-yard winner.
But special teams gets a good grade mostly because the presence of Hester scared the Panthers. Because Carolina wouldn't kick off to Hester, the Bears' average starting point after a kickoff was the 34-yard line. Previously this year, the Bears' average starting point after a kickoff was the 24.
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