Against Lions, can Bears count on a three-peat from Matt Barkley?

Against Lions, can Bears count on a three-peat from Matt Barkley?

The axiomatic foundation of being a professional in any line of work is consistency, delivering a top-level performance time after time after time regardless of your mood, what’s going on at home or celestial alignments. Matt Barkley is at the point of establishing whether he indeed can qualify as a “professional NFL quarterback.”

Barkley shook off early interceptions to put the Bears in position to win late vs. Tennessee. He played a strong game last week against the San Francisco 49ers. Now?

As Ian Fleming’s James Bond once declared, “Once is chance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”

Barkley was given a second chance at an NFL career with the injuries to Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer. He’s had two successful starts (the Bears would've beat the Titans if Bears receivers had only dropped five passes instead of 10). Now Barkley at age 26 starts his first game on the road, his first game against a team with a winning record and his first game with game tape that opposing defenses can study.

“You go on the road and it's a different experience for a quarterback,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “He's starting a road game. He did play a little bit in Green Bay, but he was coming off the bench and he didn't take one practice rep. Now he's got a chance to own this game plan, have a full knowledge of it, what's going into it. We're excited to see how he goes out and plays.”

He’s not the only one.

The organization’s quarterback depth chart is in a molten state. Some decisions have been made but not all of them and certainly not all of them regarding Barkley, who is in a prove-it situation after failed stops in Philadelphia and Arizona under head coaches from the offensive side of the football.

Barkley took those experiences as motivation, not failures.

“I think it made me hungry,” Barkley said. “Seeing Carson (Palmer in Arizona) work gave me a new perspective on what it means to be an NFL quarterback. Coming from a vet with his experience and how he still works his butt off every day, harder than anyone else on the team, gave me a new perspective on the position and made me hungry to want to play.”

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And the winner is ...

Few Bears seasons have been more difficult to assess than 2016, in no small part because of the personnel carousel that has started with three different starting quarterbacks. The Bears have won games with each of the three but have proved capable of unexpected highs (Minnesota) and jaw-dropping lows (at Tampa Bay).

View from the Moon operatives predicted the Bears would win the first Detroit game, which they did. The Lions have been the NFL’s best comeback team of 2016, playing 60-minute games and winning them in the final quarter. But it has been difficult to trust the Lions and quarterback Matthew Stafford late in seasons. The Lions are tied for fewest giveaways in the NFL; the Bears are No. 31 with just eight takeaways, which bodes ill for the Bears.

“That’s probably our weak link right now,” coach John Fox said. “I think it affects our scoring offense. I think it affects scoring in general. Yards are important. There’s things you look at, the indicators. But ultimately, it’s points, whether it’s on offense or defense. But it’s something that we’ve preached. It’s going to be critical in this game just like it is in all games.”

The Lions are favored. View from the Moon will stay with its early prediction, anticipate a Stafford issue (he has thrown zero interceptions in seven of his last eight games — he’s due) and call for the upset.

Bears 20, Lions 19

View from the Moon 2016 record: 7-5

Could Alex Bars solve the Bears' growing tackle problem?

USA Today

Could Alex Bars solve the Bears' growing tackle problem?

INDIANAPOLIS — Three years ago, Harry Hiestand needed Alex Bars to play tackle. The then-Notre Dame offensive line coach had a hole to fill after Ronnie Stanley left for the NFL, and with Mike McGlinchey locked in to one starting gig, Hiestand hoped his former four-star recruit could succeed as a right tackle. 

“I think for what we need for our team, he definitely needs to play tackle,” Hiestand said at the time. “We need another guy that can play tackle so he’s being pushed in that role right now. … But he’s a very good guard, too. He’s a very flexible guy.”

The point of bringing up this quote from an old media availability at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex in South Bend is this: Hiestand, now the Bears' offensive line coach, needed Bars to play tackle Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts

With four-year NFL veteran T.J. Clemmings carted to the locker room with a right leg injury late in the second quarter of Saturday’s game at Lucas Oil Stadium, and with second-year tackle Rashaad Coward already out with an elbow injury, the Bears suddenly had a red-line need at tackle. Cornelius Lucas, a five-year veteran, was badly beat numerous times in the first half, which didn’t feel like an anomaly based on his prior preseason performance. Bradley Sowell, the team’s backup swing tackle for the last two seasons, was moved to tight end this spring, and shed plenty of weight to make that transition.  

So the Bears called on Bars, who last played tackle in 2016 with Notre Dame, to play left tackle for two quarters. The result was notably positive. 

“I thought he did a great job,” Nagy said. “I was happy for him. You never know what you’re going to get, but he does have experience playing at Notre Dame there at that position. You could see that come out, which was good.”

Bars had already made a strong push to make the Bears’ roster over the last month as a guard, the position he played at Notre Dame following that 2016 season before a torn ACL and MCL ended his 2018 season prematurely — and knocked him from being a mid-round draft prospect to undrafted free agent. Showing the Bears he can play tackle should only help his case to survive the cut.

Still, two quarters of playing tackle against mostly third-stringers won't necessarily lead the Bears to trust Bars in a similar spot when the games matter in the regular season. 

The good news for the Bears is starting left tackle Charles Leno Jr. has proven to be one of the team’s most durable players over the last few years — he played every offensive snap in 2016 and 2017, and only didn’t in 2018 because Nagy removed most of his team’s starters during a relatively meaningless Week 17 game against the Minnesota Vikings. Right tackle Bobby Massie played all 16 games for the Bears in 2018, though he did miss a single game in both 2016 and 2017. 

But the Bears’ depth behind Leno and Massie feels like a problem. Bars, at the least, offered a glimmer of hope Saturday night that he could be the solution to it. 

“When you got some of your linemen on the sideline coming up to you that aren’t playing telling you man, he’s really doing well,” Nagy said, “you know he stands out.”

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Did Eddy Pineiro kick himself on to the Bears' roster on Saturday?

USA Today

Did Eddy Pineiro kick himself on to the Bears' roster on Saturday?

INDIANAPOLIS — Eddy Pineiro had been begging for a shot at a long field goal in a preseason game. Midway through the third quarter of the Bears’ game Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, he finally got his wish. 

And Pineiro, in nailing a 58-yard field goal, gave the Bears’ beleaguered kicking competition one of its first overwhelmingly positive, encouraging moments. 

“I wanted that 58-yarder bad,” Pineiro grinned, “and thank God it worked out for me.”

Pineiro was mobbed by his teammates after making that kick, with cornerback Prince Amukamara verbalizing a growing thought around Halas Hall. 

“I feel like he’s one of the quote-un-quote swaggiest kickers I’ve ever seen,” Amukamara said.

Pineiro’s mental edge has been noticeable since he arrived from the Oakland Raiders in May, but now that he’s going on a full week of being the Bears’ only kicker, perhaps he’s able to let that swagger fly a little more. 

This is Pineiro’s chance to earn the job he thought he would’ve won in Oakland last year — before he got hurt — and whatever confidence boost he gained over the last week looked like it paid off on Saturday night. 

“It was a good day for him and we just want to continue for him to get that confidence, keep going more and more, show that we trust in him and keep rolling,” coach Matt Nagy said. “… I think you could see a little more confidence in him knowing that every rep is his and he knows he’s going to get every rep. There’s no questioning, when am I kicking in the game, in practice, etc.”

Nagy and Pineiro had a chat earlier in the week, with Nagy’s goal to make sure Pineiro didn’t feel like his job would be on the line every time he kicked. Pineiro said Nagy made him feel like his coach and team had his back — this after Pineiro admitted, on the day the team cut Elliott Fry, that he felt like he was on “thin ice.”

Pineiro wouldn’t have been wrong for feeling that given the preseason workload he had previously, though. 

Before Saturday’s 58-yard bomb, the majority of Pineiro’s preseason field goal attempts were chip shots. As in: Three of his five were from 30 or fewer yards, including a 21-yarder in the first half of Saturday’s game. His only other made field goal was from 41 yards, while he missed from 48 in the Bears’ preseason opener. 

While coach Nagy has said all he cares about is production — and not how long the kicks are — those sub-30-yard kicks don’t tell us much about a kicker. Making them is the bare minimum (missing one, on the other hand, is a waive-able offense). 

Pineiro still has one more game to prove himself — which, critically, takes place at Soldier Field. One long kick in downtown Indianapolis does not mean the Bears’ woes at that position are solved. 

It does, however, look good in light of Kaare Vedvik missing two field goals for the Minnesota Vikings (after they dealt a fifth-round pick for him) and throwing their kicking woes into a rough place:

Instead, Pineiro can confidently head into his final preseason game with the Bears thinking it may not be his last in the team’s uniform. 

“I feel part of the team,” Pineiro said. “I feel I’m gaining the coaches’ confidence, the players’ confidence.”