COMMENTARY | As the unofficial dress rehearsal for the upcoming NFL year, preseason game No. 3 always gives the clearest view of how teams stack up -- plus, it signifies only one more turnover-filled, nearly unwatchable three hours of football until the start of the real season.
The Chicago Bears entered their penultimate preseason game with many questions still left to answer, but the 27-3 schoolyard beat-down the starters handed the Oakland Raiders in the first half should be enough to quell much of the dissension among Chicago fans.
Short Passes Could Be the Answer for Keeping Jay Cutler Alive: Head coach Marc Trestman's first year carrying the clipboard brings with it a new variation on the West Coast Offense. Gone are the Mike Martz seven-step drops that threatened to make Jay Cutler the youngest resident at the Shady Acres Retirement Village. The slow-developing routes have been traded for a lot of quick slants and screen that will look to take advantage of Chicago's big-bodied receivers.
The Bears hope that allowing their QB to get rid of the ball quicker will make No. 6 spend less of his time lying face-down in the dirt. Since Cutler has been sacked 148 times through his first four seasons with the Bears, any new contract would have had to require a special consideration for hazard pay.
Getting the ball out of Cutler's hand early will call for less off-balanced, back-foot throws that had interception written all over them in 2012.
Cutler Does Have the Ability to Pass to Players Not Wearing No. 15: Maybe it's just me, but every time Cutler tries to squeeze the ball into a double-covered Marshall, I can't help but change the lyrics to that old Foreigner song.
Fill my eyes, with that "tunnel vision." No disguise, for that "tunnel vision."
Cutler has been peering at Marshall so much that the Pro Bowl wide receiver would be justified to seek a restraining order. In 2012, Marshall recorded career highs in targets (194), and converted all those looks into highs in receptions (118), yards (1,508) and touchdowns (11). It would be cause of celebration except Cutler apparently forgot that it is legal to hit other open receivers, too.
In preseason game No. 2, the Bears' gunslinger went 4-for-5 with all of his completions going to Marshall. Just as NFL defense started developing a "Brandon Marshall Umbrella Defense" option, Cutler changed things up in preseason game No. 3.
While only playing the first half of the Bears' 34-26 victory over the Raiders, Cutler spread 12 completions around to five different receivers, and none of them were named Marshall.
Martellus Bennett Is Not Irrelevant After All: The Bears' new free-agent acquisition completed his first two preseason games with zero catches and zero targets, causing the reactionary media and fans to immediately do what they do best: overreact.
Bennett signed a four-year, $20.4 million contract this offseason to give the Bears something they have not had since Greg Olsen regularly stuck three fingers into the Soldier Field turf. But fans still had to wonder exactly how Bennett would be used in an offense installed by a coach who had been hiding in the CFL since 2008 -- a league in which the tight end isn't even a real position.
Everyone can exhale thanks to Cutler repeatedly targeting his new weapon. Even though Bennett only ended up with one catch for 16 yards, the way he was used gives a nice indication of what he brings to the offensive table.
The best sign for Bennett's impeding value came on an incomplete pass. Bennett was being covered by an Oakland linebacker but immediately cleared him and broke open down field. Cutler dropped a gem right over his shoulder that Bennett hauled in but was unable to keep from squirting out when he landed. While the play goes down as a drop in the stat sheet, Bennett showed an ability to stretch defenses in the vertical passing game that the Bears have not had in recent years.
Alshon Jeffery Could Be Great: Brandon Marshall has indicated that his wide receiving counterpart has looked the best out of any player in the Bears' training camp. With lofty praise like that coming from one of the NFL's elite receivers, Jeffery has a lot to live up to.
There was an awkward moment in Friday's game when refs stopped play to double-check that it was not actually Marshall who came out of the locker room wearing No. 17. Fans at home may have had their doubts as well, as Jeffery was virtually unstoppable all game long. The second-year wide out grabbed seven balls for 77 yards and seemed to be developing a very noteworthy chemistry with this QB.
If Jeffery can take the next step, following an abbreviated rookie season, defenses will have to honor another option in the Bears' passing game and not focus so singularly on Marshall.
Rumors of the Defense's Demise May Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Yes, the Bears' defense is down one future Hall of Fame linebacker in Brian Urlacher. And, yes, the architect of their ball-hawking D, Lovie Smith, has been replaced with a new offensive guru. But apparently no one told the Bears they are all a bunch of over-the-hill veterans too old to dominate the youngster anymore.
The first-team defense held the Raiders to a 58-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal for a 27-3 halftime lead. The Chicago defense caused two fumbles and three interceptions on the night, while another two potential picks were dropped.
Even better news was the emergence of nickel-defense corner Isaiah Frey, who has worked his way from the Bears' practice squad and now appears to be a leading candidate to take over in the absence of free-agent deserter D.J. Moore.
It is wise to understand that, even though the Bears looked great, it was only the Oakland Raiders after all. One good preseason game is not indicative of a great year, but the Bears did a lot to have fans salivating for the start of the 2013 season.
Dalton Russell has covered the Chicago Bears in print and online media since 1998. He lives just outside the shadow of the iconic architecture of Soldier Field.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Chicago Bears
- Jay Cutler
- Oakland Raiders
- Brandon Marshall
- Martellus Bennett