EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- One half, one sack; that’s the operative stat to chew on after the Bears fell 41-13 against the New York Giants on Monday night.
Under heavy scrutiny coming into the game after last year’s regular-season debacle against the Giants (nine sacks in one half) and a shaky preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills in which it gave up nine sacks, Chicago’s offensive line held its own against one of the NFL’s better pass rushes, allowing only one sack in a half of action.
“The offensive line got better. We completed some passes, got some first downs, got the receivers involved,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “We need to get the running game a lit bit more involved but we made some strides.”
The Bears ran the ball just eight times, while passing on 22 occasions. But the progress in pass blocking should give the Bears optimism about the prospects for adequately protecting Cutler in the regular season.
Not only did Cutler suffer just one sack -- a play in which he probably could’ve gotten rid of the ball -- the offensive line didn’t allow much in the way of Giants pressure. Cutler confidently stepped into the pocket to complete 12 of 21 for 171 yards in two quarters, and was hit only once by Justin Tuck in the process of throwing.
The offensive line also played clean football for the most part. Twice officials called the tackles -- J'Marcus Webb and rookie Gabe Carimi -- for false-start penalties, and tight end Kellen Davis committed one holding penalty on a running play.
“Obviously this next game is our third preseason game. We’ve got to get better and better,” Cutler said. “We just need to take a look at this film and see what we did wrong. I thought we did a lot of good things tonight. There is room for improvement always, but overall I’ve got a good feeling about where we are heading.”
What it means: The Bears can devote more time to the current lineup along the offensive line that features Roberto Garza, Lance Louis, Webb, and Carimi, and allow them to gain even more cohesion instead of blowing things up and starting anew.
Coming into the game, offensive line coach Mike Tice -- depending on how the unit performed -- was considering making changes along the line. Now he likely won’t have to, as the club heads into Saturday’s game at Tennessee. Sticking with the same lineup should help them to develop even more as the regular season approaches.
Gholston not golden: Former first-round pick Vernon Gholston obviously isn’t making much of an impact with the Bears, judging from the way the club used him in the rotation against the Giants.
Perhaps it’s reading too much into the situation, but we certainly took notice of the fact the Bears inserted Nick Reed into the lineup early in the second quarter as Gholston remained on the sidelines. A former seventh-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2009, Reed has been somewhat of a journeyman after finishing a college career at Oregon in which he posted a school-record 29.5 sacks (also fourth in Pac-10 annals).
Gholston, meanwhile, produced his best practice of training camp last week. But it’s obvious he’ll have a tough time cracking the team’s defensive line rotation. Minutes after Reed took snaps, the Bears inserted undrafted rookie Mario Addison as Gholston remained on the sidelines.
Special teams struggle: Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub typically field’s one of the NFL’s best units. But that wasn’t the case Monday night, when Chicago’s special-team’s unit played a direct result in 14 of the Giants’ 20 first-half points.
Later in the quarter, undrafted rookie Dom DeCicco missed a blocking assignment, causing Spencer Lanning’s punt attempt to be blocked by Greg Jones deep in Chicago territory. Two plays later, Giants backup quarterback David Carr hit Domenik Hixon for a 5-yard touchdown.
Interestingly, Chicago’s special-teams unit struggled last preseason, too. A major part of the problem is the team is constantly shuffling in different personnel in an attempt to evaluate large groups of players. The constant shuffling leads to inconsistency in blocking and on the coverage teams.
Dropped balls: Cutler’s first-half numbers probably should have been better, but his receivers dropped four passes in the first half.
Roy Williams dropped two (one was originally ruled a catch, but called incomplete after a booth review; the other sailed through his hands on a slant route), Devin Hester dropped one, and tight end Kellen Davis dropped another.
Rush D run over: All the reaching, grabbing, bumbling and missing on Brandon Jacob’s 18-yard touchdown run in the second quarter seemed typical of Chicago’s day on defense --horrid. Jacobs averaged 8 yards per carry on Chicago’s proud run defense, and on the TD run, he juked free safety Major Wright -- causing him to fall down -- before carrying strong safety Chris Harris around his waist into the end zone.
The majority of the starting defense played a half, and held the Giants to 33 percent on third-down conversions, while allowing 157 yards total.
What’s next: The Bears hit the road and face the Titans on Saturday in what’s widely billed around the league as somewhat of a dress rehearsal. In this game, the Bears starters typically see their most extensive action of the preseason.
So this outing gives the team yet another opportunity to make strides and critical evaluations along the offensive line.