COMMENTARY | The Marc Trestman era in Chicago began with lots of anticipation. By halftime, with the Bears trailing 14-10 and being gashed by the Andy Dalton-AJ Green connection, anticipation morphed into angst. After Cincinnati made it 21-10 with an 80-yard touchdown drive to start the second half, boos could be heard in the crowd. The Soldier Field faithful had seen this show before ... Chicago being outplayed by an opponent and struggling to move the ball on offense. Jay Cutler being intercepted in Bears territory didn't help matters.
But then, something different happened, something not recognizable from the Lovie Smith era: Chicago engineered a go-ahead drive with precision passing and -- gasp -- solid play from the offensive line. Cutler had time to find Brandon Marshall in the end zone for the go-ahead score and, in a throwback to Smith's time in Chicago, the defense held when the game was on the line.
Solid play in some areas and inconsistency in others was just good enough to outlast a Bengals team without solid playmakers beyond its stout defensive line. Here are my grades for the Bears' Week 1 performance ...
Cutler looked less like a game manager and more like the elite QB Chicago traded three draft picks to get. He was clear and concise in his decision making, running the offense like an elite quarterback should. I gave him a C+ because his interception was a reminder of how he stubbornly locks onto a receiver and throws a ball he has no business throwing. How hard is it to not throw to a guy in double coverage?
In his Week 1 performance, Cutler seemed to make better decisions than he's been known for throughout his stay in Chicago, but an interception on a pass thrown right to a linebacker can't be overlooked.
Running backs: B-
While 81 yards on 28 carries may seem like a inadequate total, Matt Forte and Michael Bush's running kept the Cincinnati linebackers honest and allowed Cutler to look for Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey on deep routes. The pair also picked up key first downs in the fourth quarter, allowing the Bears to run the final 6:38 off the clock and close the game. The total yards must improve, but a good start for Chicago's running game.
Wide receivers: B
Why such a low grade when Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were targeted a total of 18 times and caught 13 passes? Drops. Martellus Bennett dropped three passes, and when you're the big free agent acquisition designed to take advantage of match-ups and stretch the field, that's too many. While his circus-like touchdown grab is the stuff highlight reels were made for, drops are a QB's nightmare. Bennett dropped two sure-fire first downs; you can't have that in a season opener.
Offensive line: A
The absolute shining stars of the day were the men on the offensive line. Consider these numbers: In his previous four season openers in Chicago, Jay Cutler was sacked a total of 13 times for a loss of 63 yards and had thrown seven picks. Against the Bengals, he never was taken down.
Free agent acquisition and starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod made Bengals LB James Harrison an afterthought. Kyle Long is every bit the "man-child" his father Howie described him to be. Fellow rookie OT Jordan Mills stonewalled Cincinnati's attempts at an interior pass rush. Long gone is J'Marcus Webb and his revolving-door style of blocking, and no one will benefit more from this than Cutler, as evidenced by his first sack-free opener in his time as a Bear.
While Charles Tillman's two interceptions cemented his status as an elite cornerback in the NFL, he got burned on a 42-yard deep ball from Dalton to Green to give the Bengals first and goal at Chicago's four. Three plays later, Green spun Peanut like a top and found himself all alone for a first-quarter score. In the second quarter, with Tillman out nursing a leg injury, Tim Jennings played in trail position and Major Wright gave no safety help over the top, allowing Dalton again to connect with Green on a 45-yard strike. When a team knows an opponent's top weapon and still gets beat by him, you're doing something wrong.
The defensive line sacked Dalton just once. CBS' play-by-play man and color commentator voiced similar thoughts at different times in the game: "We haven't seen much from Julius Peppers." That's a scathing indictment of a three-time All-Pro defensive end. Henry Melton is playing with an $8 million franchise tag; Shea McClellin was a first-round pick a year ago. One sack and virtually no pressure on Dalton allowed him to engineer touchdown drives of 97, 91 and 80 yards and take a total of 15 minutes off the game clock. Clearly the D-line must improve its performance for Chicago to contend in a strong NFC.
While there is "room to improve," as Trestman alluded to after the game, there are some positive takeaways from Chicago's Week 1 performance. Cutler stayed off the turf; that's huge. The defense will improve; it always does. Bottom line: The Bears came away with a Week 1 win, just as I predicted.
Doc Hopkins has followed Chicago sports for decades. He has worked in sports media over 10 years and has been published in the Chicago Tribune. Find him on Twitter @SupermanHopkins or leave him a comment below.
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