Brian Hoyer using time-honored simple approach to running Bears offense

Brian Hoyer using time-honored simple approach to running Bears offense

Bears coaches awarded Brian Hoyer the offensive game ball for his performance in the Bears’ 17-14 win over the Detroit Lions, a game in which he methodically directed the Bears offense to 408 yards and controlled the ball for more than 33 minutes.

With many more efforts like last Sunday’s – 28-for-36 passing, 302 yards, 2 touchdowns, zero interceptions – he will be awarded the Bears starting-quarterback job, which would make the Bears the third team he has started for in his career. Hoyer, who’d started 26 career games before joining the Bears on a one-year contract last offseason, may have gotten his Chicago shot because of injury but is now positioned to keep the job through performance.

His first task, however, is keep it simple and direct, because that is precisely what has put him in this position.

With every situation that I’ve dealt with in my career, dealing with the quarterback situation, at this point I’m just trying to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Hoyer, whose NFL record as a starter is 16-12 going into next Sunday in Indianapolis. “Keep doing what I’m asked, and when I get a chance to play, play the best I can. That’s really all I’m trying to focus on.”

That’s not always easy. Quarterbacks are centerpieces of football teams, Chicago is a Bears town, which makes Hoyer the primary non-Cubs story rippling through sports coverage. Even if Hoyer is living in a cone of silence, others close to him aren’t.

“I try not to pay attention to the media, but when friends, family members reach out to you, you kind of figure it out,” Hoyer said. But for me, I’m not putting too much into it. I’m just trying to prepare the best I can and do what I’m asked of.”

Hoyer’s strength in coaches’ evaluations is obvious: He has thrown zero interceptions in 97 pass attempts spanning the last two games and part of a third (Philadelphia). The offense has incurred no delay-of-game penalties on Hoyer’s watch.

“He’s been very efficient moving the offense, done a nice job getting us in and out of the huddle, and distributing the ball to the right guy,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.

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Maybe none of Hoyer’s success, however small the Chicago sample size so far, should be a surprise. He suffered through some of the Johnny Manziel quarterback circus while with the Cleveland Browns in 2014 and was 10-6 in starts for the Browns over 2013-14.

Hoyer is older now (31) but “he’s not a different player,” Loggains said. “You know, he had a really good year for us in 2014. I think he’s a little more confident because he’s played more, and taken a team to the playoffs. I see his personality coming out a little more. He’s just excited to be out there with the guys and helping us win a game last week.”

Interestingly, Hoyer’s Bears course has roughly paralleled that of Josh McCown, whose career high point came in 2013 when he replaced Cutler on two injury occasions. McCown approached the one-season heights of his 2013 (101.0 passer rating) once in his career, ironically in Cleveland as Hoyer’s successor in 2015 (93.3 rating).

Hoyer play over his two-plus games has produced a lofty 103.3, like McCown’s the reflection of being nearly interception-free. For his career, Hoyer has a respectable interception rate of 2.4 percent. By comparison, Cutler had a solid 2015, with a pick-rate of 2.3 percent but is a below-average 3.3 percent over his career.

The Hoyer mission statement is precisely matched with Loggains’ notion of a quarterback’s job: Facilitate and enable the other 10 members of the offense to do theirs.

The approach that has worked is virtually identical with that of McCown: “Just trying to go out and execute the game plan,” Hoyer said. “I think Dowell has done a good job of coming up with plays and knowing where our strengths are and I think really the offense kind of coming together.

“The offensive line really kind of jelling together. They’ve been playing better, giving me some time to throw the ball. And you know, a bunch of receivers, tight ends, everybody making plays, the running game going. So I think it’s just the total of the whole offense improving each week and that’s what we touched on. Just learn from the mistakes, keep doing the things we’re doing well, keep doing those and keep progressing.”

Could the Bears have done more to help their offensive line in loss to the Packers?

Could the Bears have done more to help their offensive line in loss to the Packers?

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mitch Trubisky finished the Bears’ season-ending loss to the Green Bay Packers with his second-highest passing yards total of the season (334). The obvious and obligatory caveat: he reached that total on 53 attempts, good for a meager 6.3 yards per attempt.

That point has been central the popular laments of Trubisky and the Bears offense. When things tighten up and the pocket constricts — as happened early and often against a boisterous Packers pass rush on Sunday — Trubisky is often prone to shoddy footwork, erratic backfoot throws and general checkdownery. 

Those themes pervaded Sunday’s game. Kenny Clark, specifically, feasted, notching two sacks on the afternoon and seemingly disrupting every rush the Bears attempted between the tackles. Trubisky completed 29 of his 53 passes, good for a 54.7 completion percentage. 

“I felt like they were pretty good,” Trubisky said. “They had a really good front.”

The protection around Trubisky was inconsistent all day, but on plays when Trubisky found success, he operated with a clean line-of-sight and space to step up into. According to Trubisky, that’s not a matter of coincidence.

“I felt like our O-line played really well. I thought we could’ve taken more pressure off them moving in the pocket a little more and me getting out,” Trubisky said after the game. “We’ve got to continue to find ways to take pressure off our O-line. With a good rush like that, continue to mix it up, whether it’s with screens, running it, draws — all that kind of stuff helps.

“Could’ve done a lot of stuff, yeah,” Trubisky added, when asked if he thought the team could have done more to help the offensive line.

But he also credited the Packers’ defense for making things difficult on them. Matt Nagy did the same.

“There’s some things they did. We know what some of that is, and that’s just week-to-week how that goes,” Nagy said. “We’ve got to find out how to communicate that. Not every week is going to be like last week running the football. That’s just how it goes.”

Juxtaposing those sentiments seems to illustrate a rift between quarterback and coach, which would explain the stilted, hot-and-cold nature of  the Bears’ 2019 offense. As the team now turns the page towards the final chapter of a largely forgettable season, the interplay between Trubisky and Nagy is worth monitoring — even without potential postseason contention to fixate on. 

After all, regardless of your thoughts on either, the most likely scenario for the Bears’ 2020 season involves each of them again dictating the fates. As for today, though, the feeling of wanting more stings.

But it wasn’t an entirely discouraging outing for Trubisky. Embedded in a 13-point team performance that fell woefully short of keeping the Bears’ season alive were the flashes we’ve come to expect from him — flashes that make you wonder if, in the right situations, Trubisky could be capable of helming a potent NFL offense. 

One sequence stands out in this respect: Late in the second quarter, with the Bears trailing 7-0, Trubisky sold a play-action fake and grooved a 33-yard pass to Anthony Miller in stride, taking the Bears down to the Packers’ 28-yard line. The team rushed to the line, then Trubisky ran a timely RPO keeper, on which a fake to David Montgomery opened enough space for Trubisky to scramble for nine yards and into the red zone. 

To that point in the game, the Bears had not run the ball effectively (after the first quarter, Montgomery and Tarik Cohen had combined for -2 yards on five rush attempts). But they’d done enough establishing the run to open up some inventive actions for Trubisky, actions that allowed him to utilize his most valuable asset: his feet. 

Two of Trubisky’s other most dazzling throws of the day — one an across-the-body sling to Riley Ridley to convert a 3rd-and-5 early in the second quarter, and a play-action rope down the sideline to Allen Robinson in the third — both featured a moving pocket. 

It’s no secret he and the Bears offense are at their best and most unpredictable when he’s free and loose.

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Bears' WR tandem shows elite upside despite Week 15 loss to Packers

Bears' WR tandem shows elite upside despite Week 15 loss to Packers

The Bears' Week 15 loss to the Packers brings to an end any far-fetched hope that Chicago would complete a miraculous late-season turnaround and sneak into the playoffs as an NFC wild-card team. And while there's still a chance the Bears can finish 2019 above .500, the theme of this year will be disappointment.

There will be plenty of time to nitpick the 2019 Bears and identify what went wrong to derail a club with Super Bowl aspirations over the summer. For now, though, it's worth pointing out a positive development from Sunday's loss that advanced a recent trend of production in Chicago's passing game.

Wide receivers Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller each eclipsed 100 receiving yards against the Packers and continued to provide the Bears with a look at what could emerge as one of the best receiver tandems in the NFL next season.

Miller caught nine passes for 118 yards and a touchdown while Robinson secured seven catches for 125 yards. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky targeted the duo a total of 29 times in the game.

"We are just trying to make plays," Robinson said Sunday after the game. "Anthony Miller is a very competitive dude. He makes plays when he gets his chance. So for me I am just trying to do the same thing; make plays and give our offense a shot to move the ball and score some touchdowns.”

Robinson's big afternoon brings his season totals to 83 catches, 1,023 yards and seven scores. It's the first time A-Rob has gone over 1,000 receiving yards since his breakout 1,400-yard season in 2015.

Miller, who was an afterthought in the passing offense for the first month of the season, now has career-highs in receptions (50) and yards (649). He's averaged 86 receiving yards per game over the last five weeks.

Trubisky's stat line has benefited quite a bit from Miller's recent surge, too. He's averaging 298 passing yards per game over the last four weeks, which spread across an entire season would total more than 4,700 yards.

It's OK to be frustrated with how 2019 turned out for the Bears. The season got off to an unbearably slow start and didn't come anywhere near the lofty expectations fans had when training camp broke. But it's become very clear over the last several games that the Bears have a strong foundation for an explosive passing game in place with Robinson and Miller.

The goal in 2020 should be to make sure the explosive duo is unleashed much sooner in the season.

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