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.”
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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.”