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Chicago Bears scouting report

Sep. 20, 2011

Following is a scouting report of the Chicago Bears (1-1) based on interviews with several coaches and scouts of recent Bears opponents:

Run offense: The Bears are having some of the running issues that plagued them the first half of last season, namely that creative offensive coordinator Mike Martz is ignoring the run on a team that’s overall philosophy is to win with defense and ball control. On the other hand, there also are questions about whether the Bears’ offensive line is up to running the ball as much as coach Lovie Smith might like. The Bears dominated Atlanta in the regular-season opener, but last week against New Orleans they tied for the second-fewest rushing attempts (11) in a game in team history. Though they lost by a lopsided score (30-13), they were in the game well into the second half, so they weren’t forced to air it a big comeback. Their best player on offense has been halfback Matt Forte, who is running better than ever and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry (117 yards rushing total). He’s also their receiver (15 catches, 13.8-yard average). The Bears’ already struggling offensive line took a hit last week when right tackle Gabe Carimi, their first-round draft pick, sustained a dislocated knee that will sideline him for several weeks. Frank Omiyale (6-4, 315), a former starter at left tackle, will replace him. Roberto Garza, who moved from guard to center with the departure of mainstay Olin Kreutz, is the best player on a mediocre offensive line.

Pass offense: Not much has changed from last year. The Bears still have issues in pass protection (11 sacks in two games) and don’t appear to have upgraded their receiving corps with the signing of Roy Williams. Quarterback Jay Cutler remains a mercurial talent who will make a couple of stunning throws a game that few quarterbacks in the league could pull off, but also is susceptible to the occasional brain-lock throw into coverage. One thing is clear, though, considering the beating he’s withstood this season: no one should be questioning his toughness. He has an 84.1 rating (three touchdowns, one interception). Williams, who caught 146 passes playing for Martz in 2006-07, has been a disappointment (four catches, 13.8-yard average). He has great size (6-3, 215) and strength but is prone to the untimely error and at age 29 has lost speed. Johnny Knox, a straight-line blazer, still might be their best receiver (five catches, 21.0-yard average) even though he was demoted with Williams’ arrival. Devin Hester still lacks polish as a receiver though he’s ever-dangerous if he gets the ball in the open field (four catches, 19.3-yard average). The sacks problem is more with the offensive line than Cutler, who is a good scrambler and has a quick arm. Left tackle J’Marcus Webb (6-7, 328) is long armed but slow footed.

Run defense: This is the typical Bears defense under coach Lovie Smith and his Cover 2 scheme in every way, starting with a smallish front four — Anthony Adams is the biggest of the lineman at 308 pounds — that plays all-out on every snap. Defensive end Julius Peppers is the best player and can dominate against the run and pass, and linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are the key playmakers behind him. Urlacher at age 33 isn’t the speed demon of his prime but has adjusted and still makes lots of plays because of his size (6-4, 258) smarts, though he’s still not great taking on blocks. Briggs (6-1, 242) is the better of the two at this point. Atlanta and New Orleans ran the ball OK (228 yards on 43 carries), but this is basically the same personnel that finished No. 2 in rushing yards allowed last year.

Pass defense: Peppers (two sacks this season) remains a game-changing pass rusher at age 31 and leads a good pass-rushing front four. Left end Israel Idonije (6-6, 270) is a power rusher who bulled his way to eight sacks last season and one so far this year. Henry Melton (6-3, 295), a fourth-round pick in ’09, is their best inside rusher and has two sacks this season. Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are good fits for the zone-oriented coverage schemes because they’re instinctive and excellent tacklers. Jennings is fast, Tillman isn’t. The Bears’ problem is at safety, where one starter, Chris Harris, sat out last week because of a pulled hamstring, and another starter, Major Wright, might not play because of a neck injury. Harris, who is slow but possesses excellent instincts, is expected back this week. If Wright doesn’t play, New England castoff Brandon Meriweather probably will start. Meriweather is a good but not great athlete who’s not assignment sure.

Special teams: Hester at age 28 is the best returner in the game and one of the greats in league history. He has 11 kick and punt returns for touchdowns, which is two behind the league’s all-time leader, Brian Mitchell. The new kickoff spot at the 35 has diminished his effectiveness so far (five returns, 20.0-yard average, 29-yard long). Robbie Gould is one of the league’s more accurate kickers (85.9 percent success rate) and is in his prime at age 29. The Bears dumped long-time punter Brad Maynard because he was losing too much leg strength. But his replacement, Adam Podlesh, hasn’t looked much better even though his 45.6-yard average in two games suggests otherwise. and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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