Bears' O-line holds up against blitz

Cardinals' pass rush went nowhere against Tice's conservative protection

On Monday, what stood out about the Bears' performance on Sunday is the pass protection held up both in terms of recognition and execution against an aggressive, accomplished blitzing team.

Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton sent more than four rushers after Jay Cutler on 52 percent of Cutler's 29 dropbacks, and 73 percent of the third down dropbacks.

They never sacked him on a blitz. The only time Cutler was sacked was on a four-man rush, and Cutler could have and should have thrown the ball away on that play.

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice played it very conservatively, giving his rag-tag offensive line plenty of help from tight ends and backs.

The Bears tried to block five or more rushers with six or seven blockers 80 percent of the time. On the three snaps in which they went with five-man protections against the blitz, the offensive linemen held up fine.

The biggest pass play of the day came on a Cardinals blitz. On third and 8 in the second quarter, the Cardinals sent five linebackers and two linemen against a five-man protection, as the Bears were in empty. An unhurried Cutler got off a 30-yard completion to Brandon Marshall to the Arizona 4.

The Cardinals did not make it simple for the Bears, attacking with a variety of pass rushers and from a multitude of angles and gaps. The Cardinals blitzed six players through the course of the game, with linebackers Paris Lenon (nine blitzes) and Daryl Washington (seven blitzes) leading the way.

But nothing they did seemed to surprise the Bears or give them problems.

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.

Offensive linemen

Grade: 7

This was probably the most impressive performance of the year from the offensive line, given the circumstances. It was far from perfect, but it was better than anyone had a right to expect it to be.

Each of the offensive linemen had their mistakes. James Brown got away with the worst one when the left guard lunged at Dan Williams from the Bears 1 and missed. Armando Allen barely got out of the end zone to avoid a safety before Williams hog tied him.

Defensive linemen

Grade: 8

The Bears defensive line had a big day, as it should have against an overmatched offensive line and two quarterbacks whose heads clearly were swimming.

The Cardinals made the mistake of trusting seventh-round rookie Nate Potter alone with Julius Peppers for much of the game, and they paid the price.

Peppers was dominant with three sacks (on one of them Ryan Lindley collapsed into the fetal position when Peppers got near him), a strip and three quarterback hits. He helped force Charles Tillman's pick-six by getting a hand on Lindley in the end zone, rushing his throw.

Peppers was rushing outside and turning the corner beautifully. One of his best plays was sniffing out a screen and following LaRod Stephens-Howling almost to the numbers on the opposite side of the field to make a tackle for a loss of three.

Both Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton forced blockers to hold them (each was penalized), otherwise both likely would have had sacks.

Cornerbacks

Grade: 9

Tillman actually covered Larry Fitzgerald about as well as you can cover him—and Fitzgerald still caught six passes for 85 yards on plays in which Tillman was on him.

The corners accounted for three takeaways. If Tim Jennings did not unnecessarily wrap his arm around the back of Fitzgerald's neck in the first quarter and draw a penalty, he still could have poked the ball away and the Bears would have had another interception, by Chris Conte.

Safeties

Grade: 7

Major Wright was solid in run support and deflected a pass on a blitz. He got low and shot past guard Pat McQuistan before he could be blocked to tackle Beanie Wells for a loss of 1 that helped set up Zack Bowman's touchdown.

Anthony Walters stepped in for injured Chris Conte, played hard and didn't make any major mistakes.

Linebackers

Grade: 7.5

Nick Roach played his best game of the year, faring well on run defense, contributing as a blitzer and showing competency on pass drops. He was in on 14 stops.

Lance Briggs covered a lot of ground and was a force as usual.

Special teams

Grade: 5

The Bears did a lot of good things on special teams, but they had some awful plays as well.

On the blocked field goal attempt, end Kellen Davis tried to stop both Adrian Wilson and Justin Bethel with extended arms. Both shot by him, and Wilson blocked the kick. Bethel recovered and scored.

Devin Hester had a clear impact as a returner, but he made a terrible decision to field a punt at the 2, and then he reversed field after bringing to the 12 before finally being tackled at the 4. He also may have been at least partially responsible for two punts bouncing into his blockers.

The Bears read the Cardinals' fake field goal attempt well. Tillman slowed down Jay Feely and Amobi Okoye chased him down, while J.T. Thomas dropped into coverage to take away intended receiver Jim Dray.

Quarterback

Grade: 4.5

Cutler was way off target in the first quarter, missing receivers every way possible. But he settled down after that, and a lot of his misses were on difficult throws. Best thing he did was not turn the ball over. He had a minimal impact on the game.

Running backs

Grade: 7

Matt Forte used his speed and cutting ability to avoid tacklers. His pass protection could have been better, both from a standpoint of technique and recognition. Allen sparked the offense with some nice runs, and Kahlil Bell was the finisher.

Wide receivers

Grade: 4.5

Considering Cutler threw to Marshall 15 times, he didn't get much out of him (six passes for 68 yards). Given the number of opportunities Marshall had, this was one of his worst performances of the season.

It wasn't because Peterson was getting the best of him. Marshall kept getting open, but he didn't make the plays he normally does.

Marshall should have had at least four other catches, including one that could have been a 30-yard gain in the second quarter.

Alshon Jeffery bounced back from a poor performance a week ago with a spectacular diving, over the shoulder catch for 35 yards. He also made a nice downfield block on linebacker Sam Acho to spring Forte on a 36-yard run.

Tight ends

Grade: 5

Kellen Davis caught both passes thrown his way, and the hole for Forte's 4-yard touchdown was created by Davis, who blocked Wilson, and Matt Spaeth, who blocked Acho.

dompei@tribune.com

Twitter@danpompei

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