Bears

Emery backing Cutler as 'franchise' quarterback

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Emery backing Cutler as 'franchise' quarterback

Even as coach Lovie Smith was being fired as head coach for failures of the Bears offenses under him, quarterback Jay Cutler was being given another vote of confidence as a franchise quarterback in Chicago.

At least for one more year.

Jays won a lot of games, GM Phil Emery said on Tuesday. I think the important thing is we continue to build around him. That to me is part of the equation.

And as to whether Cutler is the long-term answer for the Bears, that answer is going to come as we move forward with a new head coach, said Emery, whose fate as a general manager now rests very heavily on Cutlers success. Am I convinced that Jay has the talent to be that? Yes, I am.

Ill say the same thing that I said this summer: I see Jay as a franchise quarterback. Weve got to build around him. Thats been the goal from the beginning, to build around Jay and to build our team towards championships.

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Emery did stop short of stating that the new Bears coach will be handcuffed to Cutler the way Emery was for a year with Smith. But any candidate who does not see in Cutler what Emery does will need to be very, very convincing in his job interview.

Im not saying that the new coach has to buy in on Cutler, Emery said. Im saying that Im looking for a head coach that can take all the unique talents that we have and bring them together toward winning championships.

The future in the middle

Emery refused to commit to a contract extension for middle linebacker Brian Urlacher back before the season, with Urlacher coming off a knee injury. But while doubters focused on what Urlacher wasnt (the same as he was a decade ago), Emery was seeing significant progress through the season before Urlacher went down with a hamstring injury in the loss to Seattle.

Urlacher looked a little rusty early in the year, Emery said, which Urlacher himself admitted. By the Seattle game Urlacher had speed and burst back. And Emery was satisfied with how Urlacher also functioned in pass drops.

What makes Urlachers return difficult to gauge is how the new head coach will value Urlachers leadership and fit into possibly a new scheme.

The things that are very difficult to replace for Brian and would be to replace for Brian, if we were ever to move in a different direction, is the leadership that he has and the knowledge base that he has with our system, Emery said.

The three-technique

Smiths defensive scheme relied heavily on a defensive tackle capable of consistently winning against single blocking and generating an inside pass rush. He had that with Tommie Harris.

Henry Melton provided some of that last season and was voted a starter in the Pro Bowl despite a chest injury that took him out for a couple of games.

But Melton is a free agent at one of the NFLs most expensive positions and is coming off seasons of seven and six sacks. Re-signing him will be a priority.

Henry had a good year, Emery said. I know he was probably disappointed because he didnt get to finish as well as he wanted because he had a chest injury. He was productive and got better as a run player.

Offensive line

Emery adamantly defended his offseason actions as far as improving the offensive line but conceded that pass protection needed to be improved. The process last offseason was to look at a thin market for unrestricted free agent tackles (several possibilities were not available) and the decision was made in the draft to add to the pass rush with Shea McClellin and add to the stable of playmakers on offense with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

My though process was, before we went into the draft, to analyze with our coaches and with our staff, weve got two tackles and we had determined that was our greatest need, Emery said. That area will be looked at closely again this offseason.

Emery also stated that tight end Kellen Davis had a rough year as a receiver. Indications are that efforts will be made for an upgrade at the position, with input from the new head coach.

Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, a sign he's cut out for this

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USA Today

Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, a sign he's cut out for this

As a large group of TV cameras gathered around Charles Leno Jr.’s space in the Bears’ locker room, Eddy Piñeiro quickly finished getting dressed in the shadows to Leno’s left. The kicker has stayed out of the spotlight since losing the trust of his head coach on a nationally-televised game three weeks ago, but he’s played as well as anyone during the Bears’ three-game return to relevance. 

“Yeah, I would definitely say I’m more confident,” he said after the Bears’ 31-24 win on Thursday night. “There’s just good rhythm – good snap, good hold.” 

He hasn’t had to attempt a kick over 40 yards (!!) over the three games, but Piñeiro’s accuracy issues, at least for now, seem at bay. He hit all five of his kicks against the Cowboys – four extra points and one 36-yard field goal. The kicker hasn’t missed a field goal (5-5) since LA, and has gone 9-10 on extra points. More importantly, they haven’t lost since either. 

“It feels great,” Piñeiro said. “Everyone in the locker room is super excited and happy. Everybody’s in a good mood. When you win, everybody’s in a good mood.” 

He hasn’t been physically tested much over the last month, but just ask Aldrick Rosas or Brett Maher how easy kicking at Soldier Field is, even in nice conditions. The Bears have always loved Piñeiro’s response to adversity and it’s starting to look like he’s rewarded them again. 

“Just gaining experience, honestly,” he said. “I think the biggest thing for me has just been gaining experience. Playing the game, I obviously don’t have the most experience, but I think trying to gain that experience has been the biggest thing for me.” 

Piñeiro mentioned that he’s still getting used to the adjustments that come with kicking in colder temperatures – which may help explain some of his more recent lackluster kickoffs. It’s easy to see how a nationally-televised game in unusually pleasant conditions could have been a trap for a young player who’s maybe pressing a bit, but after getting the full Bears Kicker Experience stuffed into half a season, Piñeiro knows better. 

“In my opinion, you’ve got to play well in every single game,” he said. “[it’s] not like just because you’re on national TV, you’ve got to play better. It felt good to get out there and hit a couple kicks.” 

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Run Mitch Run! Trubisky dominates Cowboys with his legs in Week 14

Run Mitch Run! Trubisky dominates Cowboys with his legs in Week 14

Mitch Trubisky looked like a quarterback who was selected second overall in the NFL draft with his performance against the Dallas Cowboys in Thursday night's 31-24 win. In fact, he's looked every bit the part over the last four weeks, but Week 14 showcased the complete skill set that made Trubisky the first quarterback drafted in 2017.

Against a Cowboys defense that was ranked as a top-10 unit coming into the game, Trubisky threw for 244 yards, ran for 63 yards and totaled four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). He threw the ball with conviction and completed passes that an average quarterback never could have. His eight-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson with 10 seconds remaining in the first half was special. Despite blanket coverage by Dallas linebacker Jaylon Smith, Trubisky put the ball where only Robinson could catch it. It was a heater, too. 

Trubisky had more than one throw like that Thursday night. His first touchdown to Robinson came earlier in the second quarter with 12:18 remaining in the half. This time it was Cowboys defensive back Byron Jones in coverage, and he didn't stand a chance despite being in position to make the play. There was no way to defend against the accuracy of Trubisky's five-yard strike.

But what really made Trubisky's game a signature performance was his running. He regained the form that made him such an exciting player in 2018 and a guy who had a sleeper MVP candidacy in the preseason.

Last season, Trubisky ran the ball 68 times for 421 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. His legs kept opposing defenses honest and opened easier throws for his arm. Prior to Thursday night's win, Trubisky had only run the ball 26 times for 80 yards in 2019. He upped his carry total by nearly 40% (10 rushes against the Cowboys) and nearly doubled his yardage in just one game. It helped the offense stay on schedule and produced one of the night's most memorable moments when Trubisky broke the pocket and juked his way to a 23-yard touchdown run with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter. He earned his highest rushing grade on the season from Pro Football Focus, too.

"Just pulled it," Trubisky said of the touchdown run after the game. "Really an awesome block by Leno. We knew they were a squeeze-scrape team. The backer is going to scrape over top. He does a good job of locking him out. I just cut up in there, made a guy miss, got in the end zone.

"The best part of that for me was how excited my teammates got afterwards. Really cool moment. It was good."

Trubisky's running does more than just make his job easier. It also hides some flaws in the offensive line, which has struggled in pass protection this season. After Week 14's game, pass-rushers will have to think twice about pinning their ears back and going all-out for a sack. Trubisky reminded the league he's a dangerous quarterback who will make defenses pay if they take too many chances against him.

Trubisky's growth over the last month of the season has been pretty remarkable. It took him longer than expected to get to this place he's at now, i.e. a quarterback who can put Chicago on his shoulders and win a football game, but he appears to have arrived. At least, if his last three games are any indication, he's become the kind of productive playmaker the Bears have so desperately need. He's completed 70% of his passes for 860 yards (seven touchdowns, four interceptions) and a passer rating of 99.1 over that stretch.

Spread over 16 games, this three-week run would equate to 4,586 yards and 37 touchdowns. His 99.1 passer rating would rank among the top-10 starters in the league, too. 

Trubisky tucked and ran with more frequency Thursday night and it paid off. It made the Bears' offense look almost unstoppable at times. It's been a while since that could be said about this squad, but it's better late than never.

"We've gotten better over the last couple weeks, I'm talking about as a team, that's what's most important to me," Trubisky said. "That is what allows you to get better as an individual, is if you focus on the team first, focus on the guys around you."

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