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Bears still not taking advantage of chances

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP)

(Eds: Updates throughout. With AP Photos.)By ANDREW SELIGMANAP Sports Writer

Jay Cutler sees room for improvement and he sees help on the way.

With receiver Earl Bennett expected to return from a chest injury, Cutler figures to have one of his favorite targets available when the Chicago Bears visit the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.

At 4-3 after back-to-back wins over Minnesota and Tampa Bay, the Bears are feeling pretty good about themselves coming out of their off week. Getting Bennett back is another boost for an offense that has improved but still has plenty of work to do.

Chicago ranks 29th on third-down conversions at 30 percent and is tied for third with 17 dropped passes. The Bears are middle of the pack when it comes to red-zone efficiency, with nine touchdowns in 18 trips inside the 20, and it's all added up to missed opportunities.

''It's a lot of different things,'' Cutler said Thursday. ''Not executing. Missed assignments. Missing throws. Missing hots. Lining up wrong. It's numerous amounts of things that can go wrong on a play. At the end of the day, we're not executing like we should, when we get down there.''

Getting Bennett back helps.

Cutler's teammate at Vanderbilt, he's missed the past five games and had just three catches for 20 yards before the injury. Even so, he is one of the quarterback's favorite targets.

Bennett was second on the team with 561 yards and third with 46 catches a year ago, including a career-high three touchdowns. He led or tied for the team lead in receptions in five games and was sort of a safety valve for Cutler on third downs and when the quarterback was under pressure.

Does he solve the issues on third down?

''I wish it was that simple,'' offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. ''There's a lot of things involved with that.''

He said there's no question Bennett helps. He catches just about everything thrown his way whether he's open or in traffic and can tack on yards after hauling in the pass.

''The biggest thing for me is just be quarterback-friendly, be in my spot where I'm supposed to be and just catch the ball,'' said Bennett, who has missed five games.

He said he's feeling better and ''running around fine. Everything's cool.''

Cutler called him ''consistent'' and ''even keel,'' and he said having Bennett is ''going to help (the other receivers) out a lot.''

Roy Williams labeled Bennett the ''best receiver that we have'' and agreed that he'll take a load off the other receivers.

''Devin has a big return, Earl can go in instead of Devin huffing and puffing,'' Williams said. ''That's Jay's guy. That's Jay's safety blanket.''

It's another element for an offense showing some positive signs of late.

The Bears racked up 395 yards and got another big game from Matt Forte (145 yards rushing) in a 24-18 victory over Tampa Bay in London two weeks ago that gave them a winning record heading into their break. They have the same record they did at the break a year ago, with one big difference. They're showing improvement, rather than slumping.

Cutler isn't taking quite the pounding he did earlier in the season, when the run was being ignored. There's more balance and better blocking, and Williams sees improvement.

''I think coach Martz has done a great job of putting people where they need to be,'' Williams said. ''Can't say enough about Forte in the backfield, running and catching the football. Jay's making great decisions and throwing the ball where it needs to be. Right now, we're rolling.''

Notes: In a rare break from form, coach Lovie Smith called out defensive tackle Henry Melton. After two sacks in the season-opener against Atlanta, he has just one since then, and the Bears need someone to step up and take the load off Julius Peppers. ''He hasn't showed up as much,'' Smith said. ''Whether teams have adjusted to him or whatever, we need to get more production from him because he's capable of it.'' ... Don't expect the Bears to start RT Gabe Carimi or rush him back into the rotation. ''I'm pretty sure you guys are saying all the same things I'm thinking, which is right now we're getting better, you got a guy coming off an extended period of time out and so . why force it,'' line coach Mike Tice said. Carimi has missed the past five games because of a knee injury.

Tagged: Bears, Roy Williams, Jay Cutler, Earl Bennett

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