1. Devin Hester, KR, PR, WR: Through the chaotic sequence of punt returns, Hester amazingly has developed a sense of sizing up the coverage unit, and understanding his blocking schemes; all while keeping a count in his head of a punt’s hang time. Hester says if the hang time isn’t at least 4 seconds, he’s looking for a big return, which is exactly what he got in running back his NFL-record 11th punt return for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers. Hester now has 39 punt returns of 20 yards or more in his career, which is the most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2006.
2. Matt Forte, RB: Forte admits to being distracted by his contract situations, but somehow the running back blocks all that out once the lights come on and produces. Forte rushed for a career-high 205 yards in the team’s win Sunday over the Panthers, and leads NFL running backs in total yards per game (158.5). Forte has proven he’s worth considerably more than the $13-$14 million guaranteed the club offered in September, and the sources say he is prepared to play out this season, and play under the franchise tag next year before hitting free agency in 2013 because, ultimately, he’d receive more compensation than what’s currently on the table.
3. Roberto Garza, C: Too often, offensive linemen don’t receive their props here. So we’re changing that by pointing out the tremendous task undertaken by Garza, who replaced long-time fixture Olin Kreutz, and the fact the new center is handling well. While there’s still a way to go, the offensive line -- led by a steadily improving Garza -- continues to make strides in pass protection. Garza is getting up in age and isn’t the most talented physically. But he’s developing into a solid leader, and proving to be an upgrade over Kreutz; especially in the running-blocking department.
1. Jay Cutler, QB: The smash-mouth ground game limited some of Cutler’s opportunities against Carolina. But the truth is the rushing attack kept the Panthers off balance last week; so much so that Cutler shouldn’t have struggled when the team leaned on the passing game. Cutler finished Sunday’s game with a passer rating of 46.7 and is completing less than 50 percent of his passes over the past three games. Surely when the Bears gave up two first-round picks to acquire Cutler, they didn’t expect the quarterback’s best passer rating over the last three weeks to be 78.9.
2. Frank Omiyale, RT: Omiyale has proven to be a valuable and versatile backup option in a pinch, and has filled in well on occasion. But his performance against the Panthers prompted the team to pull him in favor of Lance Louis, who is usually a guard. A seven-year veteran, Omiyale has started 31 of 47 games. But at this point, it’s probably time to commit to other options (like Louis) at that starting right tackle spot while rookie Gabe Carimi recovers from right kneecap subluxation.
3. Brandon Meriweather, S: It’s not often that veteran Pro Bowlers are targeted by rookies. But that’s exactly what happened on the first play of the game against the Panthers when Cam Newton attacked the safety for a 16-yard completion to Steve Smith, who caught eight passes for 181 yards. Meriweather compounded his struggles in coverage by leading with his head on a hit on Smith after a 26-yard completion in the second quarter that is sure to draw the ire of the NFL. At this point, Meriweather’s undisciplined style makes him a liability in a defensive system that relies on complete discipline.