The Bears have parted ways for the weekend to enjoy their bye.
They’ll be back on the practice field (at least, the healthy players will be on the field) Monday at Halas Hall to prepare for their Week 9 game against the Green Bay Packers.
Until then, Shaw Media sportswriters Kevin Fishbain and Tom Musick break down the best and worst of the Bears’ season through seven games.
Best play – offense
Whenever I want to see something beautiful, I know that I can rely upon a) a mirror, b) the sunrise over Lake Michigan, or c) Matt Forte with the ball in the open field. Forte’s 50-yard touchdown run against the Washington Redskins was a thing of beauty. His cutback move and pants-on-fire sprint to the end zone looked so simple, but if it were really that easy, then everybody else would be doing it. –TM
Best play – defense
The Bears’ 2013 example of a blue moon, or Halley’s Comet or a Cubs World Series came on one play in Week 3: a sack AND a big play by Julius Peppers. Lance Briggs blitzed up the gut and, even though his arm was locked up with a blocker, he still somehow knocked the ball out of Ben Roethlisberger’s hand. Peppers grabbed it with one hand, shook off a Steeler and returned it for a touchdown. –KF
Worst play – offense
The worst moment happened when Jay Cutler was sacked and tore a muscle in his groin, but the worst specific play had to be when Cutler threw an ill-advised pass that was tipped and intercepted in the end zone in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings. Yes, the Bears escaped with a win, because the Vikings are atrocious. But Cutler’s mental and physical mistake provided a clear example of the Bad Jay that has made way too many appearances since 2009. –TM
Worst play – defense
All was well at Soldier Field in Week 5. The Bears completed a 7-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to cut the Saints’ lead to 13-7. All they had to do was get a stop on defense and they would head to the half down a score. Instead, the Saints ran a screen play to Pierre Thomas. The problem? Pretty much the entire Bears defense, which blitzed, was on the other side of the field. Thomas could have leisurely strolled into the endzone, there was so much green and Saints uniforms in front of him. He needed just one juke to put the Saints up 20-7, and suddenly the game seemed out of reach. Dishonorable mention to Chris Conte falling down on the Redskins’ 45-yard touchdown pass. –KF
Jordan Mills. Most of us had no idea who Mills was when the Bears drafted him this spring in the fifth round out of Louisiana Tech. Fast forward a few months, and the anonymous rookie had played well enough during the preseason to earn a starting spot at right tackle, and J’Marcus Webb was given the Big Adios. Mills is far from a finished product, but the late-round rookie has helped the Bears to find some stability on a formerly woeful offensive line. –TM
First, it was just a fluke. Then, he was sick. Now? No idea. Julius Peppers has flashed a few times this season (see: best play on defense), but for the most part, he has failed to play like the highest-paid player on the team should. Especially with all the injuries, it’s crucial for a player like Peppers to consistently win his one-on-one battles to wreak havoc in the backfield. He has a whopping total of one sack and one quarterback hit, according to the league’s stats. There are 12.9 million reasons Peppers should have better numbers. –KF
In terms of all-around production, I’ve got to go with Forte. Already in his sixth season, he has proved to be a perfect fit in Marc Trestman’s West Coast offense. Forte is on pace for more than 1,200 rushing yards and almost 600 receiving yards, which is outstanding. He also has six rushing touchdowns, and it seems like only a matter of time until he shatters his single-season record of eight, which he set as a rookie in 2008.
It’s Lance Briggs, and what’s sad is that it’s not even close. Before his injury, Briggs had played every snap this season on defense and led the team in tackles and tackles for loss. He is even tied with Charles Tillman for the most passes defensed. With the defensive line dealing with injuries and underachievers, Briggs had been the one constant. In addition to taking the Brian Urlacher role, calling out the plays and leading the unit, Briggs was making the big plays. –KF
Although I enjoyed James Anderson’s three-word scouting report on his quarterback – “Cutler’s crazy, bro” – I must vote for the Bears’ bespectacled first-year coach. During training camp, Trestman was upset because he thought his players were standing around too much instead of running back toward the huddle. “This is not a symposium!!!” he screamed, prompting players to scurry and me to wonder what a symposium is, exactly. –TM
It’s not just the Bears, it’s a league-wide mantra, but no phrase has been uttered more at Halas Hall than “next man up.” We get it: injuries happen and teams have to move on to the “next man up” without worrying about the injured player, but here’s the underlying issue: almost every time, the “next man up” isn’t as good as the player that’s injured. So, “next man up” isn’t so simple, as we’ve seen with the Bears. When I tried to search for all the times “next man up” appeared in an interview, I almost broke my computer. –KF
Most important game left
One game that jumps out right away is Nov. 10 against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field. If the Green Bay Packers keep playing well and go on to win the NFC North, then a good chance exists that the Bears and Lions could be competing for the sixth and final playoff berth in the NFC. The Lions already have knocked off the Bears once this season, and Trestman’s team cannot afford to be on the wrong end of a season sweep. –TM
Stick with me here: Josh McCown was a perfect 8-for-8 when throwing to the middle of field against the Redskins. Matt Forte will get more attention on offense, and therefore from opposing defenses. No one is surprised by Alshon Jeffery anymore and Brandon Marshall is still, well, Brandon Marshall. What should that do? Open things up for Martellus Bennett. He has put up solid numbers and has four touchdowns, but he can do more. McCown will want a safety valve who is a matchup nightmare like Bennett, and when Jay Cutler comes back, he’ll also find those favorable situations with Bennett. The eccentric tight end will be known more for his play on the field than his quotes off it during the second half. –KF
Free Corey Wootton. The easy answer here is “Free Michael Bush,” a near 1,000-yard runner from two seasons ago who didn’t touch the field against the Washington Redskins, but he seems to be a lost cause in this offense for reasons I do not understand. So let’s free Wootton, who had a great preseason but has been moved to the defensive interior to help replace injured teammate Henry Melton. Maybe it’s time to let Wootton return to the edge, where he could make a bigger impact, and shift Peppers inside. –TM
Player who should be re-signed
Let’s open this with a caveat: Assuming Cutler returns from his injury and is playing at a similar, or higher level, than prior to the groin tear, it’s a no-brainer that the Bears need to keep him. It can be via the franchise tag or a long-term deal. This month has shown how few good quarterbacks there are in the NFL. Aside from Cutler, we’ve also seen the value of Wootton this month. When you consider his age (26), versatility to play end and three-technique, and the obvious need on the defensive line, the Bears would be wise to lock him up. –KF
Player who should be told buh-bye
Plenty of players with expiring contracts will head elsewhere after this season is over, and I nominate middle linebacker D.J. Williams to be the line leader. At 31 years old, Williams lasted only six games before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. He has played 13 games in the past two seasons combined, and the Bears have a long-term replacement ready to go in the form of rookie Jon Bostic. –TM