Bears

Mullin: Can Cutler stand prosperity?

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Mullin: Can Cutler stand prosperity?

Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010
Posted: 11:18 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

With one more Bears win, Jay Cutler will have achieved his first winning season as a starting quarterback since high school, which means he is certainly the best-paid losing quarterback in quite some NFL time. It is also about time.

And the question now begins to creep in as to how he will handle the moment.

The Denver Broncos were 2-0 and then 5-5 in 2007 behind Cutler, then dropped four of their next five (beginning with a loss in Chicago), two games with Cutler posting sub-50 passer ratings. The Broncos finished 7-9.

The 2008 Broncos were 4-1 and lost their next three with Cutler failing to put up a passer rating higher than 78. After recovering to 8-5 they lost their final three, only one to a team with a winning record as Cutler logged three straight sub-75 passer ratings.

Last year the Bears were 3-1, then Cutler went 10 straight games without a 100 passer rating and ... well, enough on that painful point.

An early guess is that this year will be different.

But the pivotal difference in Cutler isn't Mike Martz or non-Ron Turner or his offensive line or any of that. Those are incidentals. Convenient incidentals excusing him from accountability. Important, but incidentals.

The difference is in Cutler's head. As of Game 11 last season Cutler had just thrown his third interception of the year to a defensive lineman, which may be some sort of NFL record for ... something. To suggest that the reason was Turner (what, he didn't coach Cutler not to throw to giant men in traffic?) or protection or scheme or anything else is beyond silly. The interception by San Francisco D-tackle Aubrayo Franklin was one of five Cutler threw during a game in which he was not sacked once.

Apart from superb individual throws and decisions (there were lots of them in November, which is why teams go 4-0), two particularly impressive aspects of Cutler's play these past four games vs. other stretches in his career:

He has thrown nine TD passes vs. three interceptions in this 4-0 streak (the first time he has ever won four NFL games in a row) despite defenses structured at times to either blitz him or take away the run game that has allowed him breathing room. As good as his play was to start last season, his ratio was 8:5. When the Bears were opening this season 3-0, Cutler's ratio was 6:2.

And in just one of the four November games did he put up a rating below 85 and that was in Miami (64.8), the one game in which he did not throw for a TD and also a night game, the games in which he has historically played his absolute worst.

Conclusion: Instead of his head and ego writing checks his arm (and receivers) can't cash, he has curbed his ego and is using his head. As difficult as the closing stretch of this season lays out to be, the Bears have rarely over the past two decades gone into December with a quarterback whose arrow has pointed this significantly up at this crucial time of year.

Turf-ing

The Chicago Park District has re-sodded Soldier Field in the wake of the Philadelphia game, one of the several replacements done each year. Slipping and turf-chunking have become staples in certain seasons and the Bears and Eagles had their shares of slips Sunday.

Whether or not that costs the Bears some home-field advantage or not is debatable. The Bears play there on game days but practice either on the well-coiffed fields behind Halas Hall (one of which is heated) or inside the Walter Payton Center, which is artificial turf.

Devin Hester adjusted with a change to shoes with screw-in longer cleats and turned his return game and the Minnesota Vikings game around. For the New England Patriots and New York Jets, the only two teams with Soldier Field games upcoming, that's probably good news, given that both the Pats and Jets play on Field Turf in their home stadiums.

Record-setting
The final stretch of the Bears schedule is obviously upholstered with challenges but the Green Bay Packers don't have it especially easier. The combined record for Bears opponents is 31-24. Green Bay's opponents, including the Bears, are 30-25.

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.

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

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USA Today

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

Since the Bears inserted Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback, they've had 12 drives end with a field goal — an average of two per game. Connor Barth hit nine of those dozen kicks, which had an average distance of 38.4 yards, but all three of Barth’s misses came from 45 yards or longer. 

Barth’s missed game-tying 46-yarder in the final seconds Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the last straw for someone who hadn’t been consistent in his one and a half years in Chicago. So enter Cairo Santos, who made 89 of 105 field goals (85 percent) from 2014-2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly: Santos has made 73 percent of his career field goals from 40 or more yards; Barth made 52 percent of his kicks from the same distance with the Bears. 

(73 percent from long range isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either: Philadelphia Eagles kicker and Lyons Township High School alum Jake Elliott has made 88 percent of his 40-plus-yard kicks; Harrison Butker, who replaced Santos in Kansas City, has made 90 percent of his kicks from that distance. Both players are rookies who were drafted and cut prior to the season.)

Santos was released by the Chiefs in late September after a groin injury landed him on injured reserve (he played in three games prior to being released). The injury wasn’t expected to be season-ending, and Santos said he’s felt 100 percent for about two weeks before joining the Bears on Monday. 

“It was a long and difficult battle, but I was confident that it wasn’t going to be a serious injury, I just needed time,” Santos said. “I dealt with it in training camp, I was kicking really well, I was the only kicker in KC, and I didn’t have the appropriate time to heal. I tried to play the first three games and it got worse, so my main goal was to get 100 percent. I’ve been kicking for about a month now and finally the last week been able to come here and visit with the Bears. The muscle is in good shape to come and take a full load of a week’s practice and games, so thankful the opportunity worked out.”

For Santos, these next six weeks can be an audition for him to stick in Chicago next year. If the Bears can look optimistically at the improvements made by the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams with second-year top-drafted quarterbacks, they’ll need to figure out their kicking situation sooner rather than later. Bringing in Santos provides a good opportunity for that down the stretch. 

“He’s kicked in Kansas City, which is a similar climate,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “Their field is similar to Soldier Field. He’s played in some big games, played in some important situations and he’s, by and large, been successful in those situations.”

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

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USA TODAY

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

I’ve always placed great stock in the drama tenet, “Action is character.” What an actor/person does in significant part defines their character, or lack of same.

Conversely, in some situations, what someone doesn’t do can be equally defining or revealing. A couple of those involving the Bears are worth noting, because they suggest things about John Fox and and his staff, and perhaps a bit of what players think of them.

Nothing stunning, just a case of when you pull the camera back for a little wider angle, a broader picture forms out of seemingly separate or isolated incidents. Fox has never lost his teams through three generally miserable seasons, those teams consistently played hard through bad times. A handful of specific situations offer some insight into perhaps why:

The Cohen conundrum

Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains came in for scalding criticism for their recent seeming under-utilization of running back Tarik Cohen. The closest either came to laying out the real reason was a reference to concerns about the rookie’s pass-protection capabilities, no small issue against Green Bay and coordinator Dom Capers’ blitz proclivities; coaches want to see Mitch Trubisky wearing a Bears uniform, not Clay Matthews.

Cohen may be the Bears’ leading receiver, but if a back can’t present the viable option of pass protection, the offense is limited even more than it already is anyway with a rookie quarterback.

Come forward a week: Overlooked in the aftermath of the loss to Detroit, in which Cohen was not part of the hurry-up offense driving for a winning or tying score, was the fact that Cohen simply didn’t know the plays well enough in that situation. Fox didn’t say so. Neither did Loggains.

Cohen did.

Asked afterwards what he wasn’t solid with, Cohen owned it: "Probably the hurry-up plays at those positions. I know certain plays at those positions, but to open up the whole playbook with me, I’ll have to learn all of those plays.”

Should he have been up to a faster speed in week 10? That’s another discussion. But like it or not, his coaches were not going to be the ones to out him.

The Howard hassle

Jordan Howard finished 2016 second to only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in rushing yardage. He began the year inactive for game one and lightly used in games two and three. The reason Loggains gave from the podium was that coaches didn’t really know what they had in Howard.

Yes. They did. But Loggains didn’t cite Howard for not being in shape to carry the load the offense needed. Neither did Fox.

Howard did.

“I should’ve been in better shape,” Howard said at the outset of training camp last July. “I should’ve been playing earlier if I would’ve handled what I had to do.”

Some very effective coaches have used public embarrassment for motivation; Mike Ditka assessed that he wasn’t sure Donnell Woolford could cover anybody, and Buddy Ryan summarized that “No. 55 [Otis Wilson] killed us,” for instance.

Fox and his staff don’t do that and they’ve have taken the heat for their players, which does frustrate those tasked with accurately reporting sometimes hard information.

Medical restraint

Fox’s tenure has been awash in major injuries to pivotal players. He has made points in his locker room by shielding those players and their issues whether outsiders like it or not.

That started back with Kevin White and the infamous stress fracture that Fox was accused of knowing about and lying that he didn’t. The real situation was that medical opinions (and the Bears had gotten a bunch) were divided to the point where the Bears opted against surgery until it was conclusive that the shadow on an x-ray was indeed a fracture. Fox refused to call the injury a stress fracture with the doctors so divided, and he was pilloried for it. But not in his locker room.

The organization very much needed Pro Bowl lineman Kyle Long this season for an offense that certainly wasn’t going to live on the arm of Mike Glennon. Long was testy and combative during training camp, and “honestly I’ve been champing at the bit to get back,” he conceded, “but they’ve done a good job of pulling the reins a little bit and making sure that I understand that it’s a long season.”

Small things, not necessarily connected, but as Fox’s third season winds down, what his team shows will factor into decisions on his future. The Bears right now, after the Green Bay and Detroit losses effectively ended the “hope” part of their season, are entering that dreary phase of a year when effort will be critiqued as critically as performance.

The on-field results now will say something about character, Fox’s own and the collective one he has worked to instill since January 2015.