What We Learned: Bears vs. Packers

QB Jay Cutler (Getty: Jonathan Daniel)

While the preseason is tough to read no matter the results, Week 1 can be a great indicator of what to expect over the course of a 16-game schedule. The Chicago Bears displayed both their strengths and flaws on Sunday. So what did we learn at Lambeau Field? Start with these five observations ...

1. Cutler is going to keep the other team in the game sometimes
While there is no question Jay Cutler is the most talented quarterback to put on a Bears uniform since, well, maybe ever, that is not to say he doesn't have his flaws. Not only can he be abrasive with teammates on the sideline and flippant with the media at press conferences, but he does take chances with the football – too much confidence in his arm strength, usually – and, therefore, is subject to interceptions more often than the likes of future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Even though Cutler had never thrown four picks in a game in any of his 37 career starts before doing so Sunday in Green Bay, his career TD-to-INT ratio entering this season was a Brian Griese-like 54-37.

Cutler fell into the same trap many signal callers fall into on opening night, trying to do too much, and although his play will no doubt improve in Week 2, learn to live with the occasional head-scratching turnover.


S Al Afalava
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

2. Lack of a free safety hurts the most against top passing offenses
Third-year pro Kevin Payne has a shot to be a really good player in this league, and it's great to see Al Afalava forcing himself into the starting lineup as a rookie, but neither one of them is a classic free safety in any sense of the term. If the Bears are content starting Payne and Afalava next to each other, with Payne the free safety and Afalava the strong safety, then big plays like the one Sunday from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings that essentially decided the ballgame are going to happen from time to time. Danieal Manning hadn't been healthy enough this preseason to retain his starting job at free safety, and even when he is 100 percent he's had some game-changing mental gaffes that will always make him a risk as the last line of defense.

Until Chicago finds a pure center fielder-type, like Mike Brown used to be before all the injuries piled up, a crucial element of this Cover 2 will be missing.

3. Receivers can make plays but need to get open more often
According to the stat sheet, the much-maligned receiving corps had a pretty good day against the Packers and answered some of the critics that have been killing them since the offseason program. Devin Hester led the way with 90 yards through the air and hauled in a 36-yard TD toss, Earl Bennett worked the short and intermediate routes to the tune of a team-best seven grabs and rookie Johnny Knox provided some fireworks with a 68-yard catch-and-run down the sideline. But if Cutler is going to ask them to make plays from time to time even when coverage is tight, as he did under the Lambeau Field lights, then Hester and Co. need to get better at beating the jam and fighting off DBs in traffic.

The Packers went out of their way to take away Greg Olsen, Cutler's No. 1 weapon in the passing game, so look for future opponents to do the same until the wideouts step it up a notch.


LB Brian Urlacher
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

4. Urlacher may be the toughest piece of the puzzle to replace
Hunter Hillenmeyer was the primary backup to Brian Urlacher for most of training camp because he has the best head on his shoulders to handle the myriad responsibilities the Bears ask of their middle linebacker. That being said, he's not nearly the playmaker Urlacher has proven to be the majority of his career and had a tough enough time in coverage when he was the starter on the strong side. While Lance Briggs is fresh off four straight Pro Bowls and clearly the best linebacker on the team these days, Urlacher is more difficult to replace – Jamar Williams could sub for Briggs tomorrow and be productive.

The Midway Monsters can handle losing Pisa Tinoisamoa for a while since the strong-side linebacker isn't even on the field in the nickel package, but this D minus Urlacher in the middle could prove to be catastrophic for a ballclub with Super Bowl aspirations.

5. Coverage units could be a question mark all of a sudden
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has spun straw into gold more often than not during his tenure in the Windy City, using air-tight coverage units and gifted return specialists to give the Bears a field-position advantage over most every opponent. Not so Week 1 at Green Bay, when Jordy Nelson averaged 31 yards on his four kickoff returns while three different Midway Monsters couldn't do better than 27 yards on any of their five attempts. And now that both Urlacher and Tinoisamoa are out of action, Urlacher for the season and Tinoisamoa likely for a month or so, that means a quality coverage guy like Nick Roach may have to cut back on his special-teams responsibilities in order to provide support on defense.

Lovie Smith's defense is a bend-but-don't-break system, giving up shorter gains in order to concentrate on forcing turnovers, but that approach is less effective when the enemy offense takes over at the 40-yard line instead of back at the 20.


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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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