Special teams key to Bears' blowout

Blocked punt well-designed, well-executed, but Hester's big punt return should have gone for TD

The Bears were facing one of the best special teams units in the NFL on Sunday, but special teams played a significant role in the Bears' victory.

On the blocked punt that Corey Wootton returned for a touchdown, the Bears surprised the Titans by sending seven rushers after the punter.

The Titans guessed the Bears would be emphasizing the return and kept only six men in to block. Upback Jordan Babineaux released without touching anyone, and wing Jamie Harper only chipped Nick Roach before releasing. He never laid a finger on Sherrick McManis, who used a fantastic first step and great extension to block the punt.

If McManis didn't get the punt, Wootton probably would have. He and Craig Steltz ran a stunt on former Bear Tim Shaw, and Shaw failed to block either of them.

It was a well-designed and well-executed play.

Devin Hester's 44-yard punt return was not executed as well. It clearly should have been a touchdown, but Hester's blockers blew it.

Hester fielded the punt, planted his foot and shot straight up the field. He hasn't done that often lately, and it worked wonderfully as he flew straight past Shaw and Beau Brinkley.

Blake Costanzo made the key block on Quinn Johnson to get Hester upfield but then it broke down.

Geno Hayes started celebrating at the 30 instead of blocking punter Brett Kern, who forced Hester to cut to his left. Then Anthony Walters forgot about Harper, started watching Hester and let Harper shoot by him to tackle Hester at the Titans' 9.

Here's what else we learned upon further review.

Grading key: Grades are between 0 and 10 with 0 being complete failure and 10 being perfect.

Special teams

Grade: 9

Special teams were sharp beyond the two game-changing plays.

Charles Tillman, normally an outstanding special teams player, was considerably less impressive on special teams than defense. On the first Titans' punt, he was beaten by gunner Tommie Campbell. On the next one, he held Campbell, drove him out of bounds and started a fight. After that, he was replaced on the punt return team.

Cornerbacks

Grade: 10

You can't be any more dominant than Tillman was on defense.

In addition to four forced fumbles, his coverage was top-notch, as was his tackling. The best unnoticed thing he did was shove the football after he forced Titans running back Chris Johnson to fumble in the first quarter. That prevented Johnson from recovering and allowed Chris Conte to get it.

Tim Jennings and Kelvin Hayden played strong too. Even when Jennings was beaten for a touchdown with a perfect throw, his coverage was about as good as it gets.

Safeties

Grade: 7

The Bears' first-string defense allowed only one play longer than 19 yards. Conte was effective in coverage for the most part. He broke up three passes and helped hold tight end Jared Cook to one catch.

Linebackers

Grade: 9.5

It clearly was Brian Urlacher's best game of the season, and it went beyond the big plays he made (interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery).

Urlacher was the primary reason the Bears' first string held Johnson to an average of 3.8 yards per rush. He tackled Johnson five times and held him to a 2.8-yard average on those plays. He also trucked over Johnson on a blitz and put a hit on quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. And he got Johnson to cough up the ball.

Two other points on Urlacher.

On his interception, he broke to where the ball was being thrown before Hasselbeck threw it. That's instinct.

On a deep attempt to Cook in the back of the end zone that was incomplete, Urlacher stayed with the fleet-footed tight end down the seam. That's speed.

Defensive line

Grade: 4

Julius Peppers had a quiet day and Henry Melton played about half as much as usual because of a back injury, so the pass rush was off.

Israel Idonije was a force against the run, and Nate Collins again had a couple of flash plays.

Offensive line

Grade: 4.5

It was a rough day for both tackles, but the Bears fortunately got away with minimal damage. Gabe Carimi and J'Marcus Webb struggled repeatedly with outside speed rushes. They gave up only one sack as a result.

After Kamerion Wimbley zipped by Webb in the end zone, Webb grabbed his face mask for a safety. Webb was called for another hold as well.

Carimi was fortunate he was not called for holding Akeem Ayers on Matt Forte's touchdown run.

The run blocking arguably was the best it has been all season.

Lance Louis had some excellent second-level blocks, showing athleticism, control and power. On Forte's 46-yard run, Louis wiped out safety Babineaux.

Quarterback

Grade: 7

Jay Cutler did not play as well as his 138.1 passer rating suggested, but he might have made his best pass of the season on his 39-yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall. He put perfect touch on the ball and delivered it to just the right spot in the end zone.

Cutler did a nice job of using his feet in this game. He avoided pressure, sometimes by taking off and sometimes with subtle movements. Cutler made the 5-yard touchdown to Marshall possible by sliding back about 4 yards to avoid the rush.

Running backs

Grade: 9

Matt Forte looks fresh eight games into the season. On his 47-yard screen reception, he avoided three tacklers before the third, Alterraun Verner, eventually brought him down.

On his 46-yard run, he took safety Michael Griffin for a 21-yard ride. The only way Griffin could get him down was with an illegal horse-collar tackle, for which the Bears were given another 15 yards.

In his junk-time role, Armando Allen hit the hole hard, got to the corner and finished runs. The Titans knew he was getting the ball every play and they still struggled to contain him. He needs to play some when it counts.

Wide receivers

Grade: 8.5

Brandon Marshall made the big plays again, but he did the little things too.

On Forte's 17-yard run, he held off both Babineaux and Colin McCarthy before McCarthy eventually made the tackle.

Marshall is so crafty as a receiver. He creates separation with subtle movements in his routes and cunning, slight push-offs. He seems to know just what he can get away with.

Tight ends

Grade: 4

Zero catches, but they get some credit for some of the run blocking.

Evan Rodriguez looked a little rusty in his first game since Oct. 1.

dompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei

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