Bears QB coach Dave Ragone sees simple base for Jay Cutler’s next step

Bears QB coach Dave Ragone sees simple base for Jay Cutler’s next step

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – The NFL is a small place, and there are few secrets. So when Dave Ragone arrived last January as Bears quarterbacks coach, he had some sense of Jay Cutler, albeit from other teams’ sidelines and from word of mouth.

What Ragone has learned about Cutler up close, however, was more important than distant perceptions.

“Here’s what I’ll say about him, more than anything else,” Ragone said. “Jay is a big-time competitor. Very bright. And football is VERY important to him.

“To a coach, those three things… .” He paused: “I’m not sure I could ask for three better qualities in this deal.”

If those attributes seem routine, they are not. Not in all players, and not in all quarterbacks, by any means. Ragone, himself a former NFL quarterback, has specifics to work on with Cutler, but the one big specific is one neither Ragone nor anyone else can install.

“With me and all those quarterbacks, it stops with one word: ‘Compete,’” Ragone said. “Obviously everything takes care of itself from there. I’m blessed with the room I have. Being around quarterbacks my whole life, I think I’ve got a really competitive room, and Jay comes out and brings it every day. So does Brian [Hoyer].

“And the young guys are seeing that. So for me, no matter how you set it up, competing is the most important thing.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ staff adjustment of elevating Dowell Loggains from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator was not the only offseason move with nothing less than franchise-level implications because of the relationship with Cutler.

Ragone, a third-round pick in the 2003 draft who spent three years with the Houston Texans, was brought in to fill the Loggains vacancy. Ragone was a member of the Tennessee Titans staff in 2011-13 under Loggains.

Cutler produced the best season of his NFL career in 2015 under the coaching tandem of Adam Gase as coordinator and Loggains as Cutler’s position coach.

Attention has rightly focused primarily on Loggains and his succession plan and fit with Cutler after Gase. Right behind that, however, is how the relationship between Cutler and Ragone, who at age 36 is just three years older than Cutler – and one year older than Loggains.

Small thing: Cutler refers to Ragone as “Rags.” Good sign, a nickname.

What made Gase and Loggains successful last year was Cutler’s buy-in to an absolute focus on eliminating turnovers, a simple, seemingly obvious dictum but one that had appeared to rarely resonate with Cutler and his skilled right arm.

Now the task is to reinforce that philosophical slant and connect ideologically with a veteran quarterback who was willing to adjust last season, his ninth in the NFL. Veterans can be resistant to change, and Cutler’s chemistry with coaches has been shaky in times past.

“I’ve been down that ‘veteran’ road a little bit,” said Ragone, who coached Ryan Fitzpatrick while with Tennessee. “But with Jay – I respect Jay’s knowledge. He’s been around a long time.

“First and foremost is earning his trust. Earning his trust means helping him out there as much as I can in terms of me mechanics things, or things he’s seeing out there on the field, being another set of eyes for him.

“That relationship is dependent on communication. It is a respect factor of his knowledge, competitiveness. So for me, it’s a working relationship.”

Players have reached the NFL level with techniques and approaches that obviously have worked. They know things that work.

But players are most apt to follow the advice and instruction if they believe a coach’s mission is to help them get better, rather than simply shove a system or technique on them. Ragone’s goal is not to reshape Cutler – some critical parts of that were done last year – but to give him things to go beyond even the ’15 level of performance.

“He’s been successful in this league and done things a certain way that’s helped him,” Ragone said. “It’s my job to understand him mechanically, to understand him mentally, and then play off that to be the best quarterback he can be.”

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

USA Today

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

During the critical fourth-quarter Oakland Raiders drive for a game-winning touchdown, one former Pro Bowl’er and NFL observer remarked to this writer that he was surprised to see a lot of hands on hips and mouth-breathing by members of the Bears defense – two common signs of being gassed.

Critiquing conditioning – or lack of – is problematic the way judging pain tolerance is. And if the Raiders score were an isolated incident, the question likely doesn’t come up.

But something is amiss. While the Bears defense remains among the NFL’s best, at least statistically, a shadow of concern is falling over the defense and its ability to close out games that it has within its reach.

The Bears held fourth-quarter leads over Denver and Oakland and allowed go-ahead touchdowns. They were rescued by Eddy Piñeiro’s 53-yard field goal in the final second. No such rescue in London.

Fully half of the eight touchdowns scored by Bears opponents in 2019 have come in fourth quarters. (The Bears themselves have not scored a single TD in any fourth quarter this season, but that’s a separate discussion.) By contrast, last season the defense did not allow a fourth-quarter touchdown in any of the final five regular-season games.

The temptation is to look only at the numbers, which are in fact positive. Even with the 24 points the Raiders scored against them in London, the Bears ranked second only to New England in scoring stinginess (13.8 ppg.) and fifth in yardage allowed (312 ypg.).

But the Bears have 17 sacks as a team; only three of those have come in fourth quarters.

Opposing quarterbacks have passed at an 81.3 rating in first halves; they are throwing at a 91.4 clip in second halves.

The defense has allowed 16 first downs in first quarters; 21 in seconds; 20 in thirds.

In 2019 fourth quarters, 34 first downs allowed.

Pulling the camera back for a wider view, extending back to include the disturbing 2018 playoff loss:

Vs. Philadelphia
Eagles drive 60 yards in 12 plays and nearly 4 minutes to score game-winning TD with :56 remaining. Cody Parkey’s double-doink overshadows fact that Bears defense forces Eagles into only two third downs and allows winning score on a fourth down.

Vs. Green Bay
With the Chicago offense sputtering all game and in need of a short field, Packers go on a 10-play, 73-yard drive that consumed 6:33 to set up a field goal to go up 10-3 deep in the fourth quarter.

At Denver
Inept Broncos offense scores 11 points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 13-3 Bears lead, driving 62 yards in 12 plays, converting two fourth downs and a two-point conversion. Denver’s second-half drives: 41 yards, 56 yards, 84 yards, 62 yards.

Vs. Washington
Bears build 28-0 lead before one of NFL’s worst offenses scores a pair of largely meaningless second-half TD’s.

Vs. Minnesota Vikings
Drive 92 yards in 13 plays for TD before Bears stiffen to stop two-point PAT and next Minnesota possession.

Vs. Oakland (London)
Raiders win game with 92-yard drive that includes fourth-down conversion on punt fake run despite Bears leaving No. 1 defensive unit in, anticipating fake.

Guess which highly-paid NFL kicker is only making 58% of his field goals?

USA Today

Guess which highly-paid NFL kicker is only making 58% of his field goals?

Remember that time when the Bears tried out like 47 kickers and put them through a wide variety of arbitrary tests all while fan favorite Robby Gould was using the team's desperation as leverage to become the NFL's highest-paid kicker? Classic! 

It's been like three months since those totally-sane summer days, and reader, things have not gone so hot for Gould: 

Meanwhile, Eddy P is not only 8/9 on the season, but is already well on his way to becomming a fan favorite. We're already calling him Eddy P! After 5 games! 

That said, we won't truly know if the Bears made the right decision until Piñeiro beats out several Hall of Famers -- including someone credited for literally starting the NFL -- on the path to winning an offseason bracket-style fan vote.