Chicago Bears: Taking a look at all three phases

We are inching closer to the 2014 NFL regular season, and the Chicago Bears will face their first real preseason test Friday when they travel to CenturyLink Field to take on the Seattle Seahawks. This game could not come at a better time; it should serve as a gauge on where the team stands heading into opening day with the starters on both sides of the ball playing deep into the game. Expectations in Chicago are sky-high for the team heading in to Year 2 of head coach Marc Trestman’s prolific offensive attack, and the new-look defense will look to help the unit improve from their less-than-stellar performance last season.

Through two preseason games, let’s take a look at how the Bears have looked in all three phases.

Chicago Bears preseason check-up: Offense

Quarterback Jay Cutler has looked much more comfortable so far in the new offense, throwing for 160 yards with two touchdowns on 16-of-22 passing. His QB rating tops out at a very encouraging 158.3, and he has not suffered any big hits or injuries. Granted, it is the preseason, but seeing Cutler in a seemingly relaxed role with his offensive line finally up to the task of doing their jobs is a sign this offense could improve on what they accomplished last year. Neither Jordan Palmer nor Jimmy Clausen did much to separate themselves in the Week 2 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, as they both underwhelmed after having solid debuts in Week 1.

Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler

Palmer will be the first QB off the bench Friday af
ter Cutler, with Clausen following Palmer. The atmosphere at CenturyLink Field along with the Seahawks’ defense should provide all the answers head coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer need to make their backup QB decision.

Running back Matt Forte has gotten off to a slow start, getting the ball seven times and rushing for the same amount of yards, albeit in the wrong direction. In this instance, the offensive line could be to blame. Jordan Mills has been out with a foot injury and other integral guys have been bitten by the injury bug, so it is possible limited game action has prevented them from fully coming together as a unit in the running game. It should not be anything to worry about, as Forte put up big numbers last year behind the o-line. Mills is coming along, and they will expect to have him back on the game field next week against the Cleveland Browns.

Something the Bears should worry about, however, is that elusive No.3 wide receiver spot that no one can seem to firmly grasp. Marquess Wilson looked like he had it locked up, but suffered a broken clavicle during training camp after diving into the end zone to make a completion. Eric Weems had his chance last week against the Jaguars, but could not come through on multiple occasions. He also failed to contribute on special teams in the return game, as well.

Chris Williams had that speedy 73-yard touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago, but he pulled his right hamstring on the play and has been out ever since. The Bears made waves with the signing of Santonio Holmes, who will be put into the mix for the third spot along with Josh Morgan, who will get his shot Friday. The plan is to ease Holmes back into action, so it will be a surprise if plays at all against the Seahawks.

Switching gears, let’s take a look at a unit that vastly underperformed last season.

Defense

Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen

New unit, new expectations. When the Bears brought in Jared Allen and Co., the “Monsters of the Midway” talks from days past resurfaced. While the new guys have played sparingly the first two preseason games, they will get an opportunity to play together well into the second half.

Shea McClellin has not particularly stood out at linebacker, although he is slowly improving. Jonathan Bostic is looking better, as evidenced last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars faced a 3rd-and-1 early in the first quarter, and Bostic jumped the correct gap to drop Toby Gerhart for a four-yard loss. The defensive line still has things to clean up, as does the defense overall, so Friday night will be a crucial point in the “eye test” especially considering they will be together potentially into the second half. Kyle Fuller and Brock Vereen have looked impressive, but they will certainly be tested. How they respond will determine whether or not they earn starting spots.

Special Teams

This is an area of concern that needs to be fixed fast, or else the 2014 season will be a long one. In the preseason opener against the Eagles, the coverage team gave up a 102-yard punt return to rookie speedster Josh Huff. Punters Tress Way and Pat O’Donnell have not had spectacular punts, although O’Donnell did enough to stay with the team as Way was recently waived.  If neither the coverage team nor O’Donnell can get their heads on straight, they will have their hands full with Seahawks’ returner Percy Harvin.

Heading into Friday night’s contest, the Bears have their work cut out for them. This is the most important preseason game for the Bears, as CenturyLink Field will be rocking early and often. Each phase will have to bring their “A” game, and nothing less will be accepted. This game will have a regular-season feel to it, so be prepared to be in for a show.