Bears will learn first-time lessons about Matt Barkley vs. Vikings

Bears will learn first-time lessons about Matt Barkley vs. Vikings

Every game that Matt Barkley plays this season is its own evaluation opportunity for a Bears organization looking to put in place a quarterback depth chart designed for success in 2017 and far beyond. One game doesn’t represent a really meaningful sample size for an Aaron Rodgers or any quarterback with more than a multiple of the five NFL starts Barkley has amassed in his personal hurry-up season.

But the Minnesota game represents a more meaningful case study of Barkley that any of his others in this, his first meaningful NFL look.

The obvious reason is that the Vikings represent the best defense that the inexperienced quarterback will have faced out of Green Bay, Washington, Tennessee, San Francisco and Detroit. The Vikings are No. 8 in points allowed (19.3 ppg.) and No. 2 in yardage allowed. Only the New York Giants (18.3 ppg.) are allowing fewer points per game but the Giants are giving up 40 more yards per game. The Vikings also are No. 4 in sacks and are fifth in the NFL in passer rating and completion percentage against.

Which is why coach John Fox had a ready answer for what he most needed to see from Barkley after the latter’s five interceptions in the loss to Green Bay.

“Avoiding interceptions,” Fox said. “Ball security I think is critical. You play one of the top four best offenses in the league, the main idea is to keep it away from them, not give it to them more. So I think cleaning that up … it’s all correctable things. Our coaching staff will work hard on that.

‘We’re going against a very good Minnesota Vikings defense I think ranked second in a lot of important categories anyways at their place with crowd noise, so it’s not an ideal situation for a young quarterback, but one we have to improve quickly.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

As important as Barkley’s turnovers, or lack of same, will be, however, the degree to which he puts his problems behind him may be the more important evaluation point for the Bears, and for Barkley. One point in Fox’s philosophical foundation is that the measure of someone is not whether they make mistakes, but how they respond to the ones they and everyone inevitably do make.

Barkley’s five starts produced just the one win, against San Francisco. But those starts were stunningly successful in terms of producing points (more per game than the Bears under either Jay Cutler or Brian Hoyer) or yardage (281 per game, which would be No. 4 behind only New Orleans, Washington and Atlanta on a full-season basis).

And Barkley became more accurate with each passing week, with completion percentages of 51.9, 61.1, 62.5 and 69.8.

Until last week: 58.9 vs. Washington.

Barkley’s response after a step backwards is something the Bears haven’t seen from him. That process was clearly underway already, with Barkley hinting that he understood what went wrong, which would be the first, biggest step.

“Not because of the game, but maybe once we got down in points, then I felt like we needed to kind of get back into it,” Barkley said on Wednesday. “Sometimes during that [Washington] game, I was forcing the ball or two to try and get some chunk plays, trying to get more yards, trying to win the game in one play, and that wasn’t going to happen.

“It was calming down, take my reads, go through, let my feet make the right decisions.”

Why Tom Waddle believes Nick Foles will be Bears' QB1, not Mitch Trubisky

Why Tom Waddle believes Nick Foles will be Bears' QB1, not Mitch Trubisky

The central issue surrounding the Bears heading into the upcoming season concerns the starting quarterback situation, and that previous statement could apply to many more seasons than just 2020. Longtime ESPN 1000 host Tom Waddle is no stranger to QB drama, as the former Bears receiver has been a leading voice in analyzing the team for over a decade on the station’s highly-successful “Waddle & Silvy” show. When the Bears made their move to trade for Nick Foles in March, Waddle’s immediate reaction was a strong one, as he recounted to Laurence Holmes on the Under Center podcast.

“You don’t trade a fourth-round pick and give up $20 million guaranteed to a quarterback and sit him behind a QB that you don’t have full faith in,” Waddle explained. “I immediately thought this is going to be their starting quarterback. I think the familiarity that Nick Foles has with John DeFilippo and Bill Lazor and Juan Castillo and obviously Matt Nagy, I think you put that all together and you couple the familiarity with the uncertainty that is in the mind of the head coach about what the existing quarterback is capable of doing, and to me, it all added up to they got a guy that they trust and a guy that they see as their starter from Day 1.”

That doesn’t mean Foles will be an automatic savior. Of course, he led the Eagles to a Super Bowl title with a brilliant string of play in January and February of 2018, eventually outdueling Tom Brady to win the title in a shootout. But Foles has started more than eight games in a season just twice in his eight-year pro career, the last coming in 2015 with the then-St. Louis Rams.

RELATED: 2020 Bears Roster Review: Breaking down the Mitch Trubisky-Nick Foles battle

However, the fact that the Bears were aggressive in identifying Foles and then trading with Jacksonville speaks volumes about how they feel about him and it’s that conviction that truly sells Waddle on Foles being the starter. “If you were just looking for somebody to compete with Mitch, you could have waited out the Bengals, who were more likely to release Andy Dalton,” hypothesized the former Boston College Eagle. “You could have signed Case Keenum, but I don’t think the Jags were releasing Nick Foles at any point because of the contractual obligation they had to him. They had to go get him and once they went and got Nick Foles, that was the surest sign of all, in my world, that Nick’s got the edge.”

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Khalil Mack didn't rank as high as you might think on PFF's top 50 players

Khalil Mack didn't rank as high as you might think on PFF's top 50 players

Chicago Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack didn't have the kind of season fans were expecting in 2019, but to be fair, Chicago's entire defense went through a bit of regression last year. Mack ended 2019 with just 8.5 sacks. It was the first season that he failed to crack double-digit sacks since his rookie year (2014).

Still, there's no denying Mack's place among the NFL's elite players, regardless of position. Barring injury, he's a surefire Hall-of-Famer and certainly one of the 10-best players in the league.

According to Pro Football Focus, that may not be the case.

In PFF's ranking of the NFL's top 50 players, Mack ranks 18th.

Pro Football Focus is counting down their top 50 on Twitter, and so far the following players have been ranked higher than Mack:

17: Bobby Wagner
16: Chris Jones
15: Fletcher Cox
14: Richard Sherman
13: J.J. Watt
12: Stephon Gilmore
11: Drew Brees

All of those names are worthy of being ranked in this range, especially following a 2019 campaign that brought Mack back to the pack. 

2020 should produce different results for Mack and the Bears after adding Robert Quinn in free agency. The healthy return of Akiem Hicks will be a huge plus, too, giving Mack some much-needed help along the Bears' front-seven.

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