Bears

Moon: No major changes needed for playoffs

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Moon: No major changes needed for playoffs

Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011
3:06 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Jay Cutler doesnt like pressure. He doesnt like it in his face when hes wearing a helmet and he doesnt particularly care for it when its in the form of questioning him.

So when the issue was raised Wednesday about what the Bears might see a need to change in the wake of the Green Bay experience, Cutler cut the question short.

Were not fixing anything, he said abruptly. Were going to run our offense exactly how weve been running it. We took a look at the film and learned from it, corrected the mistakes we had to correct.

But were not changing anything. Were not going to let off what were doing. I think the guys have a very good belief in what were doing and know why we do it.

Well, OK, then.

Not making radical changes is without question the sensible approach, even for an offense that ranks 30th in yardage (28th in passing yards) and 21st in scoring. The Bears have struggled through portions of this season just mastering their Mike Martz offense and to start introducing gimmicks is far more likely to do damage than good.

There are some things we look at that I think wed like to try to do, Martz said, then qualified that, maybe. Were very well aware of any shortcomings that we have and well try to address them for this playoff.

Besides, said receiver Earl Bennett, we know what we can do, what type of team we are, and weve just got to go execute it, and feel like were able to do that.

What didnt work

The Chicago offense has defied typecasting in 2010, which makes any obstinance or defiance on the part of Cutler, Martz or others marginally understandable.

The simplest reason lies in the fact that as the season went on, in a business where trends are significantly more important than averages, the Bears got better offensively.

Cutler had 100-plus passer ratings in the first two games of 2010. Then he went missing in the stretch when the Bears were losing three of four, with the only victory coming in the game he sat out with a concussion.

But he posted 100-plus ratings in four of the final six games, melting down in the Green Bay and New England games.

His teams remain undefeated (21-0) in games when he reaches the 100-rating mark.

What has not worked for the Bears is when Martz and the offense has asked Cutler to carry the offense. He simply cannot. He is not Montana, Elway, Favre, Manning, Brady, and given that he is in his fifth NFL season, he likely never will be.

The flop in Green Bay that saw the Bears score 3 points and Cutler throw at a 43.5-rating rate revealed some of the limits the Bears need to avoid. Indeed, that result confirmed that the Bears in fact do not need to change what theyre doing, as long as its what they were doing since the off week and not what they did Sunday afternoon.

The last 12 plays were probably passes, I think, all passes, Martz said. Other than that, I think we had 23 called runs and 24 called passes or somewhere there were a couple of plays in between there but we were trying to get something going in the passing game on first down a little bit more than maybe what we have in the past.

We didnt make any of those plays, and weve got to make them, obviously. We had eight opportunities in the passing game to make really big plays, and we didnt make one of them, which is not like us. Im very disappointed in that. And of course if you dont make the play on first down, you give them second and 10 and so forth and so on. So that was unlike us, both in terms of the numbers and performance, I think, in the passing game, really.

So, change things? Not likely.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.