In Monday's edition of Grizzly Details, we take a deeper look at the Chicago Bears' thrilling 40-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night at Heinz Field.
Cutler Turning Into Fourth Quarter Savant
Coming into the 2013 season, one of the things by which Bears fans could virtually set their watches was the inevitable fourth quarter implosion that QB Jay Cutler would engineer. He would make a questionable throw into triple coverage, get drilled with an ill-timed sack, or some other malady would envelop him, and Bears fans would be left slamming their heads into their coffee tables.
This season though, Cutler has been a different man. Before we get to his fourth quarter performance specifically, here is an interesting statistic from his final drive performances this year:
— Flim-Flam Man (@MudderFudder77) September 23, 2013
Those are incredible numbers for any quarterback, but especially for a QB with the kind of reputation for silliness that Cutler has. Those statistics were definitely reflective of the kind of final drive he led the Bears on Sunday, but they don't fully capture just how incredible the three third-
down conversions he executed on that drive were. His run to pick up the first down in their own territory was a thing of beauty, as he had the time to survey the field, saw a wide open running lane vacated by the Steelers' vaunted linebacking corps, and took off. His mobility can get him in trouble,
like it did against the Vikings when Jared Allen stripped the ball from him, but it is also a great asset.
His throw to Brandon Marshall down the sidelines on the second of the three third-down pick-ups was a ball that not many quarterbacks can unleash. He has thrown passes like that before this season, including his score to Martellus Bennett with 10 seconds left in Week 2 to win the game, but this throw was twice that length and arguably twice as impressive. Marshall's catch was good on the play, as he did have to make a slight adjustment on the ball during his route, but Cutler put it in a place that only his favorite receiver could catch it, and the resulting 41-yard gain gave the Bears a first down in Steeler territory.
Finally, his third down pass to Earl Bennett at the side of the end zone was another absolutely perfect strike. Teams are going to figure out that Cutler likes throwing that deep ball to the left side of the field, but until they do, we are going to see him execute plays like that. The ball was perfectly timed, and Bennett did a fantastic job of getting both of his feet down to get the score and seal the victory for the Bears.
Say what you will about Cutler's body language or propensity to make bad decisions (he did make one in the game, throwing a ball to a double-covered Marshall on third down in the third quarter), but at least through these first three games, he has been simply incredible.
Bears' Blitzes a Blessing and a Curse
Through the first two games of the regular season, the Bears' defensive line has been under constant scrutiny from the media and fans because of the lack of pressure that they are generating as a unit.
During Sunday's game, we saw some glimmers of hope in that area, with Julius Peppers finally getting some good runs at QB Ben Roethlisberger, but the way bigger story is just how often Bears' defensive coordinator Mel Tucker dialed up blitzes against a depleted Steelers offensive line. It was
a non-stop barrage throughout the first two quarters of the game, with linebackers DJ Williams and James Anderson pouring through holes in the O-line and wreaking havoc on the Steelers' game plan.
It was a sight for sore eyes to see a quarterback running for his life, but when it comes to a big, strong player like Roethlisberger, blitzes can come at a price. He was able to make some big completions down field because the Bears kept opting to keep only Major Wright over the top to help the corners in pass coverage (although in praise of Wright, he did have a terrific game for the most part), and the Bears basically let the Steelers back in the game because they didn't adjust their scheme fast enough to compensate for the hole that Roethlisberger kept exploiting over the middle of the field.
What this essentially boils down to is that a good blitzing scheme can be a great thing when the QB is rushed and makes stupid decisions, but in the case of a veteran like Roethlisberger, there is also the potential for disaster, and the Bears consistently danced with the devil on Sunday night.
Anderson, Williams Breaths of Fresh Air
In the first three games of the post-Brian Urlacher era in Chicago, the team's linebackers have been stepping up in a big way to make up for #54's absence, and Sunday night was no exception.
Both Anderson and Williams continued to make big plays throughout the game. Anderson doled out a crushing block on Steelers WR Jerricho Cotchery after Wright's interception in the second quarter, and the free space allowed the rest of the Bears to go into blocking mode and sealed off a lane for Wright to bring the interception back to the house for a touchdown.
Anderson also continued his excellent work in the open field in pass
coverage as well, swatting down a couple of Roethlisberger passes during the
As for Williams, he was also all over the field, but one play in particular stood out. The Steelers dialed up a passing play for Roethlisberger, and the Bears had Williams and Anderson on a tandem blitz right up the gut. Anderson got picked up, but Williams managed to get back to Roethlisberger, and punched the ball out and get the Bears possession deep in Steelers' territory.
Obviously, Lance Briggs was still a big part of the action, crushing Steelers RB Felix Jones on several occasions, but it was the play of the two lesser-known linebackers that stole the show on Sunday, and has truthfully been a big part of the reason why the Bears are off to a 3-0 record this season.