CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 08: Jay Cutler #6, left, and Zach Miller #86 of the Chicago Bears celebrate Miller's touchdown during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field on August 8, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
It had been a long time since the Chicago Bears had last played a game at Soldier Field, but they began the process of easing the pain of last year’s Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers as they scored a 34-28 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday night.
We’ll have plenty of coverage of the game over the weekend, as well as what it means for the team as they head back down to Bourbonnais to wrap up their training camp, and we’ll get things started with our Grizzly Details column.
Despite Allen Absence, Pass Rush Makes Early Impact
Jared Allen wasn’t in the Bears’ lineup when they took the field on Friday night, but several players on the defensive line stood tall in his absence as the team made it a point to harass Nick Foles early and often in the first quarter.
One of the players who had arguably the best night for the Bears in that department was defensive end Trevor Scott. It was Scott that got a clean release off the snap and ended up obstructing Foles’ vision down the field, and ultimately the quarterback’s pass was intercepted by Sherrick McManis late in the first quarter.
Scott also had another great play when he snuffed out a third down rushing attempt by Darren Sproles in the second quarter of the game, coming around the edge and making a sure-handed tackle in space that easily prevented a solid gain for the veteran running back.
Several other players had good games as well, with starting defensive tackles Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea both getting some good penetration up the middle of the line. Willie Young also made a key play in the game when he got pressure on Foles early in the first quarter, and the result of the play was another interception as Ryan Mundy collected the pick.
Cutler Calm, Collected as Bears Offense Comes to Life
The Bears’ first drive of the game was nothing to write home about, as Jay Cutler seemed to struggle to find his passing touch. On the second drive however, everything seemed to change in an instant, and Cutler completed eight passes en route to giving the Bears their first touchdown of the preseason.
More than any other element of the drive, it was the third down conversion prowess that the team displayed that was so impressive. Whether it was the one-handed catch by Brandon Marshall, the 3rd-and-11 conversion a few plays later, or the 24-yard completion to Dante Rosario, Cutler carved up the Philadelphia defense on the drive, taking advantage of some great pass protection and making sure that his throws were spot on.
None of those tosses was more accurate than the one he threw to Zach Miller in the back of the end zone. With the Philadelphia secondary scrambling to provide coverage, Cutler threw a textbook back shoulder pass to Miller, and he hauled it in for the score to give the Bears a 7-0 lead with about three minutes left in the quarter.
That pass was Cutler’s last of the game, but the drive as a whole seemed to signal that his decision to take as many reps during training camp as possible had yielded positive benefits. He was in full control of the offense, spread the ball around well, and shook off several penalties that could have potentially derailed the drive. It was a great start to the campaign for Cutler, and one that the Bears have to hope continues as they make a push to reach the playoffs.
Tight Ends Flourish Even Without Bennett
Arguably the biggest storyline coming into Friday’s game was whether or not tight end Martellus Bennett would be in the lineup. He didn’t end up playing in the contest, but despite his absence, the Bears’ tight ends had a tremendous game.
Miller was definitely the big star, grabbing six catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns in the contest. Rosario also had a strong game, with two catches for 28 yards and a successful two point conversion. Jeron Mastrud also had two catches for 18 yards in the game.
Even though Rosario is a virtual lock to be Bennett’s back-up when the regular season begins, Miller made a strong case that he should be at least in consideration for a roster spot. His athleticism was apparent on a couple of plays, including his second touchdown when he had to make a midair adjustment to catch a pass from Jordan Palmer, and he also broke several tackles for a first down in the second quarter.
The big question surrounding Miller now is whether or not he can contribute on special teams. The Bears aren’t going to keep a third tight end that is exclusively for passing packages, so Miller has to prove that he is willing and able to do the grunt work associated with being a back-up in the NFL. If he can do that, then he has a chance to be one of the final 53 players on the roster when the preseason wraps up later this month.