There was a lot more than just an all-important "W" at stake when the Bears met the Saints at Soldier Field. It was a chance for coach Marc Trestman to see how his club measured up against one of the NFL's elite teams, and the results were not what Trestman hoped for.
Jay Cutler's stats suggest a great day: 24 for 33 passing, 358 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 128.1 passer rating is pretty heady stuff. But a little deeper dive reveals that Cutler made a number of mental errors that really hurt.
Cutler missed a number of open targets and primary reads, made several other bad reads, failing to recognize New Orleans' coverages, and was a big part of why the offense struggled early. He may have taken a slight step backward in his command of Trestman's offense.
I have to give him a B- based on an A for production and a C- for field generalship.
The running backs get a C. If it was just Matt Forte, it would be a B-, and that's the problem. Successful NFL teams – such as the Saints – need more than one productive running back.
Trestman keeps saying Michael Bush has to be a part of the offense, but the Bears don't make it happen.
Like Cutler, Forte was productive with the 18 touches he got. But 18 touches aren't enough for one of the two focal points of your offense. And like Cutler, Forte made enough mental mistakes on a muffed pitch, bobbled pass and missed blitz pickups to last a month.
The receivers get a B-, an A - for Alshon Jeffery and a C- for the rest. Jeffery's perfect day is marred only – aka the minus – by the fact he wasn't supposed to be where he was on his 58-yard reception.
The media needs to stop trying to make Brandon Marshall a bad guy for now. He's prefaced every complaint or comment he's had about his recent lack of targets with the explanation all that matters is winning, and the Bears have lost two straight. Even the best struggle to beat constant double teams.
But Earl Bennett dropped one of the three passes targeted at him, and apparently the coaches just don't believe Marquess Wilson or Joe Anderson is good enough to play, even though they dressed. The B- may be kind.
The defensive line gets a C-. Nate Collins played well before going down for the season with a torn ACL, and his loss will be hard to overcome.
Julius Peppers disappeared again, failing to even show up in the game stats book. Corey Wootton doesn't do enough, and while Shea McClellin was credited with six tackles, one for a loss, the other five were all chasing plays on the Bears' side of the line.
I'm giving the linebackers a B+, which would have been an A if not for a couple of missed tackles. Lance Briggs continues to play lights out, D.J. Williams is more productive every week, and James Anderson is a factor, as well. Those three were credited with 33 of the team's 65 tackles and five of the Saints' eight negative plays.
The secondary earned a B-. Charles Tillman had another good game, and honestly nobody can cover Jimmy Graham. But Chris Conte and Major Wright struggle to cover almost anybody in pass coverage, and it just doesn't seem to be getting any better.
Special teams earned a B on the strength of a real nice bounceback game for punter Adam Podlesh, and Devin Hester finally was able to return a punt, albeit just one for 17 yards. Kick and punt coverage were fine.
Physical errors will happen in every game and are understandable, but the mental errors the Bears made against the Saints just aren't acceptable and kept them from ever really being in the game.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at [email protected]