The narrative has been forming for some weeks and even months, that the Bears have an overarching, franchise-grade issue at offensive coordinator. The story stretches from a present season in which the Bears have regressed offensively under Dowell Loggains, into a future which anticipates the organization investing in and committing to a young quarterback. That doubts exist about Loggains being entrusted with what will be the cornerstone of the franchise for years to come would be an understatement.
The reasons are simple enough: The Bears scored 20 or more points 11 times last year, only four times so far in 2016. The identity of becoming an effective running team has been spotty, with the run declining from 45.7 percent of plays last season to 38.3 through the loss to the Detroit Lions. A 3-10 record and offensive shortcomings have made Loggains nothing short of a target.
Except that maybe it all isn’t that simple at all. Something feels decidedly overly oversimplified, in fact.
Because three different Bears quarterbacks have played stretches of their best football in the NFL over the past 29 games. Jay Cutler. Brian Hoyer. Matt Barkley. The constant in Bears quarterback development is not Adam Gase, now Miami Dolphins coach, but Loggains.
“Dowell coached Jay; he was Jay’s position coach [in 2015],” said coach John Fox. “This year, Dave Ragone is the position coach and he’s done an outstanding job. It’s he and Dowell.”
Vs. last season when Jay Cutler started 15 games and played 92.1 percent of the snaps, and all but the Seattle game (concussion), the Bears have started three different quarterbacks in 2016 and won games with all three in 2016.
With Loggains as quarterbacks coach last season, Cutler eliminated turnovers and posted the highest passer rating (92.3) of his 11-yard NFL career. Hoyer filled in for Cutler this year and went on the best four-game streak of his career, all 300-yard passing games, six TD passes vs. zero interceptions.
Now has come Barkley, a two-team castoff who has started the last three games with Cutler and Hoyer gone to IR, and has emerged as perhaps the coaching resume highlight of 2016.
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“Truth be told, if we don’t have 18 drops in three games, this kid might be 3-0,” Fox said. “I don’t know that, but he’s played well enough to be 3-0.”
(Parenthetically since it was only preseason, but Connor Shaw played to a 132 passer rating before he was lost to a broken leg late in the Kansas City game.)
Beyond the quarterback work, Loggains has tweaked other elements of the offense, although injuries have thwarted more than a few hoped-for improvements.
The Bears have needed five different starting offensive line combinations and started the same five in consecutive weeks just once since the first Green Bay game. Wide receiver Eddie Royal played 12 snaps in the Tennessee game, then was inactive for San Francisco and Detroit. Alshon Jeffery has not played since Tampa Bay, and Kevin White was done after the first Detroit game, on Oct. 2.
Yet the Bears are averaging 4.4 yards per rush this season, a 10-percent jump from last year’s 4.0.
“We’re doing a lot different things on offense than we were a year ago,” Fox said. “We’re running the football better, I know that.”
Loggains’ resume suffers from results in Cleveland and Tennessee when those teams were bottom-feeders without personnel. But Loggains’ NFL pedigree includes time with Mike Munchak and the late Mike Heimerdinger at Tennessee, as well as Bill Parcells when the latter was a consultant with the Browns.. “He’s been around some really good coaches,” Fox said, “and that’s what I looked at when I came here.”
Expect Loggains to be firmly in place through this offseason, the draft and the immediate future. Members of the coaching staff say privately that Loggains is more inclusive than and a better internal communicator than Gase, which doesn’t mean much without wins, but builds continuity of message.
And he has had a hand in getting the best out of three Bears quarterbacks in less than two years. Which also doesn’t mean much without wins, but suggests that the guy may know something about the position as the organization looks presumably toward a next step at the position.
“I think our staff as a whole,” Fox said, “with the cards we’ve been dealt, some of the things that’ve happened, have done a tremendous job, Dowell included.”