Bears

New coach's credentials less important than fit with Cutler

935537.png

New coach's credentials less important than fit with Cutler

The search for a new head coach to replace Lovie Smith will involve a variety of names and backgrounds. But one name hangs like a thunderhead over the entire process, and ultimately over the foreseeable future of the franchise:

Jay Cutler.

Cutler has gained the dubious identifier of coach killer after having been the final starting quarterback coached by Mike Shanahan in Denver and Lovie Smith in Chicago, and coordinators Ron Turner and Mike Tice in Chicago. Jeremy Bates stints as quarterback coach in Denver and Chicago ended with mentoring Cutler (Bates presumably will not be retained in the re-formed Bears staff).

Mike Martz was hired only after he was sent to Nashville to be interviewed by Cutler, not the other way around.

Why this looms as the cloud over the Bears process is that the single biggest specific reason for (most recently) Smiths and Tices exits was a non-functioning offense, which obviously starts with Cutler. Given the precedent of the Martz hiring, one wonders if the new coach will be put on a plane to be cleared by Cutler, with Brandon Marshall sitting in. Martz was in the role of supplicant from the beginning and he only worked as long as Cutler liked what he was hearing.

More important, in terms of small-group dynamics, will Cutler take coaching at this point of his career? The push-back under Turner, Martz and his position coaches was friction that did no one or the offense any good.

RELATED: After Lovie Smith? Bears have issues to consider

Cutler turns 30 just after the 2013 draft. He just finished his seventh NFL season. He is what he is. Formed.

The top early candidates, because the unstated mission statement is to bring in a coach with credentials on offense, are Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. Keith Armstrong is on the list, from the Atlanta Falcons and a former Bears assistant.

Does anyone really envision Cutler (and Marshall) going along with ideas they dont agree with from assistants who have less time running NFL offenses than they have?

The bigger problem

And if Cutler is part of another destructive taffy pull, what do the Bears do?

Cutler has one year left on his contract. If GM Phil Emery and the new coach are satisfied that Cutler is the future, great. Extend him.

But if it doesnt work between Cutler and the new head coachoffense, where does that leave the Bears? They are expected to select a quarterback in this years draft. But finding Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton or another starter-grade quarterback is problematic to say the least.

But a failed Cutlernew guy situation would mean going into 2014 starting over at quarterback, with the defense already ticketed for needing massive restocking.

Cutler may indeed be the future of the Chicago Bears offense under another coach and coordinator. It could happen. But if the coach-quarterback fit is not absolutely perfect, missing the playoffs may be the least of the franchise worries.

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who might be the next Bears head coach?

john_fox.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who might be the next Bears head coach?

Hub Arkush (Pro Football Weekly/670 The Score), Teddy Greenstein (Chicago Tribune) and Danny Parkins (670 The Score) join Kap on the panel. Fox Watch continues. Is his dismissal a foregone conclusion? And how many other coaches will be fired after this season? Plus, the guys discuss Jerry Jones vs. the NFL and the latest installment of “As The Bulls Turn.” 

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: