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Bears try to exploit cornerback weakness

Relied heavily on 3-receiver packages as Lions were missing 2 of 3 top cornerbacks

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

10:11 PM CDT, October 23, 2012

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Considering the Bears' No. 2 wide receiver couldn't play against the Lions on Monday night, you might be surprised to know the Bears were considerably more reliant on "11" personnel, or three receiver packages, than usual.

The Bears used 11 personnel 47.8 percent of the time. Previously, they had used it 39.6.

And the Bears had a called pass 81.8 percent of the time when they were in 11.

What was up? It appeared to be more about the Lions than the Bears.

The Bears attempted to get the Lions in nickel coverage often because they were missing two of their top three cornerbacks. Thus they had to play Alphonso Smith, who was signed just last week.

Smith lost a couple of battles with Brandon Marshall but won a couple against other Bears receivers, even preventing what could have been a touchdown pass to Earl Bennett.

The other interesting part about this is the player who took most of injured Alshon Jeffery's snaps was not Bennett. It was Devin Hester.

After averaging 19 offensive snaps in the previous five games, Hester played 59 Monday — 21 more than Bennett and eight more than Jeffery played in any game.

Bennett played only eight snaps more than his previous average.

Here is what else we learned upon further review.

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

Wide receivers

Grade 7

Marshall gave the Lions problems with his catching radius and ability to run after the catch. Both he and Bennett made some nice downfield blocks.

The Bears often throw a quick pass behind the line to Hester on a "smoke" route, but rarely have anything to show for it. On Monday, he took rookie Jonte Green to school, running 24 yards after catching a pass at his own 4.

For all of Hester's snaps, he had no catches until the fourth quarter.

Quarterback

Grade: 6

Cutler certainly wasn't flashy, but he was effective in leading the Bears to a touchdown on their opening drive and never turning the ball over. Three drops by receivers didn't help.

The touchdown pass on a bootleg was well designed and well executed. Cutler showed perfect timing and patience, directing Marshall, then sucking in linebackers Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch before firing the ball to Marshall underneath Amari Spievey.

Running backs

Grade: 7

Matt Forte set up the Bears' lone touchdown with a 39-yard run. Other than that, he averaged 2.7 yards per carry. He made some nice contributions in pass protection.

Tight ends

Grade: 3

Kellen Davis struggled with blocking assignments and dropped a pass. Matt Spaeth dropped another pass. Spaeth and Kyle Adams made some contributions as blockers.

Offensive line

Grade: 5

Let's start with this: The pass protection was pretty good, considering it was up against what might be the most talented defensive line in football. J'Marcus Webb had another nice game.

There were five sacks, but only one of them was the result of offensive linemen getting flat-out beat.

On the play in which Cutler was injured, three Bears tried to block Ndamukong Suh. He escaped an initial double team attempt of Lance Louis and Gabe Carimi by leveraging Louis to Louis' right toward Carimi and then shooting the gap. Roberto Garza then tried to help but wasn't quick enough.

It was a four-man rush and a seven-man protection, and the sack never should have happened.

The run blocking was inconsistent. On Forte's 39-yard run, Chilo Rachal took care of Nick Fairley and Louis pulled to get to safety Louis Delmas. But Rachal missed Fairley when the Bears were backed up on their own goal line, and it nearly led to a safety.

The worst part: Bears offensive linemen were flagged six times. Carimi and Garza were flagged twice. Only Webb did not commit an infraction.

Defensive line

Grade: 8.5

The Bears kept the heat on Matthew Stafford pretty well. Part of this was because they sent extra rushers 14 times, which is a high number of blitzes for them.

But there were pass rush contributions from virtually every defensive lineman.

Julius Peppers had a sack, two hits and five pressures. He literally threw blockers to the ground on two occasions. And the Lions were aware of him, sometimes playing Riley Reiff as a sixth offensive lineman/tight end on Peppers' side.

This probably was Shea McClellin's best game. Peppers' sack came courtesy of McClellin, who forced Stafford to step up into Peppers.

McClellin had a half-sack, a tackle for a loss coming from the backside, a quarterback hit and three pressures. He also played some stand up linebacker, dropping and covering a tight end and a back.

Linebackers

Grade: 8.5

It was another strong game from Lance Briggs against the run and pass. He played instinctively and knocked the football away from Lions twice (one was a forced fumble, the other a pass breakup).

Brian Urlacher moved better than he has all season and played his best game of the year. His best play might have been a tackle for a loss of 1. Urlacher sniffed out a screen to Mikel Leshoure and played it perfectly, splitting the block attempts of two linemen to nail the running back.

Safeties

Grade: 6

Major Wright and Chris Conte usually were aligned very deep when they were in a two-man shell. They did a lot more than just play Cover-2, however. The Bears played some man free, some three deep and some man-to-man.

Wright had a chance to intercept three passes. One he clearly should have had he dropped in the end zone.

Cornerbacks

Grade: 9.5

Charles Tillman played one of the finest games of his career, limiting Calvin Johnson to three catches (he caught only 27 percent of the throws to him). He played Johnson with perfect technique and was incredibly aware of where the ball was.

Tillman also forced a pair of fumbles, but the Bears didn't benefit because the ball bounced out of bounds both times.

Special teams

Grade: 5

The special teams did not hurt the Bears, but special teams could have made a huge difference in this game. Two prime opportunities were missed.

Robbie Gould had a 47-yard field goal attempt blocked on a low kick. It appeared the snap, hold and kick all could have been better.

Most distressing was Hester inexplicably calling for a fair catch of a punt in the fourth quarter that could have been brought back for a touchdown. There wasn't a Lion within eight yards of him who wasn't being blocked, and Hester appeared to have a clear path for a long return.

dompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei