How to evaluate Bears quarterback Matt Barkley through three games

How to evaluate Bears quarterback Matt Barkley through three games

The last seven games of the Bears' 2016 season represent the extended case study (barring injury) of one Matt Barkley, and no evaluation is conclusive until information is in. But on the basis of my favorite James Bond axiom — “once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action” — Barkley now having a book of business consisting of three games invites some conclusions, if only interim ones based on the limited sample size, particularly since the samples come from games in good weather, bad weather and indoors.

The issue, incidentally, is not whether Barkley is or even should be the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2017. The organization’s mantra last offseason was competition, and ideally general manager Ryan Pace secures someone better than Barkley, who could sign elsewhere but will need to win a job then, not now.

More than any statistical points of reference, the current Bears administration is placing a priority on fit, specifically how a quarterback works within the concept of complementary football, rather than simple points or yardage production. More is involved, and by those measures, Barkley’s three games have bordered on startling.

Ball security

For casual comparison purposes, consider Jay Cutler. As a Denver rookie in 2006, Cutler’s first three games proved an interestingly early window into what he would become as an NFL quarterback: passer rating 90.1 (vs. an 86.0 full-career mark), six touchdowns, three interceptions and an interception rate of 3.7 percent (vs. 3.3 for his career).

Since being parachuted in against Green Bay, Barkley has thrown 104 passes, two of which were intercepted — a rate of 1.9 percent, which is in the sub-2.0 range where the Aaron Rodgerses (1.4) live. For a team dependent upon complementary football, ball security ranks among the most prized traits.

If the Bears look at past as prologue, Brian Hoyer was performing similarly at ball security (200 pass attempts, zero interceptions).

Ball security begins with composure, which was an unknown with Barkley. Now, not so unknown. In particular, Barkley has operated in must-pass situations and run two-minute offenses nearly flawlessly, with no turnovers with the game on the line, in three consecutive weeks.

“He does have the mental makeup and the intangibles, the qualities that you look for in a quarterback,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said, adding. “That part was impressive, the way he was able to handle the two-minute situation and really played the fourth quarter in two-minute and gave us a chance at the end to win.”

O-line mesh

Complementary football involves the entire offense, including fitting with the capabilities and limitations within the offensive line and receiving corps.

Again parenthetically, using him only as a point of reference, Cutler was sacked once every 11.3 dropbacks in those first three Denver games he started in 2006. For his career he has been sacked once every 15.9 pass plays.

Despite the injury-based turmoil on the offensive line the past month, Barkley has taken just two sacks in 106 dropbacks — one every 53 pass plays. Hoyer was being sacked once every 51 pass plays.

The ability to throw on time and extend plays is registering with receivers.

“He did a great job (against Detroit) in the pocket making plays with his feet, extending those plays down the field,” said wide receiver Cameron Meredith, who caught six passes against the Lions, one for a 31-yard touchdown. “I think it speaks a lot about him as an athlete. It’s good to have a guy back there that can extend those plays and keep his eyes down field looking for us.”

Performance under pressure

Evaluating Barkley through three games becomes more than a statistical exercise (just as Cutler’s ultimately was, as well). The Bears are 1-2 in his starts (the Broncos were 1-2 in Cutler’s first three starts, too), but more notably perhaps, they came from behind in the win over San Francisco and were end-of-game dropped passes away from winning against Tennessee and tying or defeating Detroit.

“I don’t think you ever really know until they get thrown in there," coach John Fox said. "I mentioned yesterday it’s not so much surprise but pleased how he’s handled it. You don’t know until you put guys in and that’s why it so hard in this league to develop quarterbacks because they don’t get a lot of playing time. Until they do and they get their opportunity, you don’t really know.”

AP writers vote Matt Nagy for 2018's best coaching job

AP writers vote Matt Nagy for 2018's best coaching job

It may only be Week 15, but Matt Nagy's already winning awards. 

Earlier today, Nagy was chosen as "having done the NFL’s best coaching job in 2018 in voting released Friday by a panel of 10 football writers for The Associated Press." 

AP football writer Howard Fendrich explained the decision, saying,″(Nagy’s) overseen a total turnaround of the Bears in just his first year as an NFL head coach, taking a team that hadn’t finished above .500 since 2012 and turning them into the best of the NFC North. He’s an offensive guru who learned from former boss Andy Reid, and Chicago’s play calling has been creative and fun — and overcome limitations at the QB spot to be good enough to let a superb defense lead the way.”

Nagy's led the Bears to a 9-4 record in his first year as head coach, with a chance to win the division if the Bears can beat the Packers this weekend. 

Nagy came in ahead of Pete Carroll, who finished in 2nd place. Andy Reid, Nagy's mentor in Kansas City, rounded out the top 3. 

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Lack of flags another reason why the Bears’ defense is the NFL’s best

USA Today Sports Images

Lack of flags another reason why the Bears’ defense is the NFL’s best

A thought here after watching Thursday night’s Chargers-Chiefs tilt, which featured eight flags for either defensive pass interference or defensive holding...

As the NFL makes it harder for defensive players to play defense (and as TV ratings go up), the Bears are one of the cleanest teams when it comes to their opponents’ passing game. They rank second among teams with only eight combined defensive holding and defensive pass interference penalties: 

1. Dallas (5)
2. Chicago (8)
3. Oakland (10)
4. Tennessee, Los Angeles Chargers (11)
6. Arizona, Indianapolis (12)
8. Carolina, Cleveland, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Houston, Philadelphia (13)
14. Cincinnati, New York Jets, Seattle, Tampa Bay (14)
18. Baltimore, Pittsburgh (15)
20. Los Angeles Rams (16)
21. Buffalo, Minnesota, New England (17)
24. Denver, Detroit, New York Giants, San Francisco (18)
29. Atlanta, Miami (20)
31. New Orleans (23)
32. Kansas City (36)

The Chargers entered Thursday night’s game tied with the Bears with eight holding/pass interference penalties, but where whistled for three during the game — and not all were clear fouls, either. And that kind of stuff can be annoying for defensive players around the league to see. 

“100 percent,” Bears safety Eddie Jackson said. “.. .I’ve seen some things, I’m like come on, man. But there’s some things you can’t control. Control what you can control, and that’s go out there and play ball and to the best of your ability try not to hold or get a flag for pass interference called on you.”

Jackson credited four members of the coaching staff with the Bears’ ability to avoid holding/interference penalties: Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, assistant defensive backs coach Roy Anderson and quality control assistant Sean Desai. From teaching proper technique for being told what to watch out for, this is a well-coached group. Only cornerback Prince Amukamara — who’s usually in press coverage, subjecting him to the most contact — has been whistled for multiple interference or holding flags this year (he actually has half the Bears’ total, with four). 

“It’s a combination of both (coaching and technique) I would say,” coach Matt Nagy said. “The players, technique-wise is a big part of it. You’ve got to be really disciplined in that area. And then I think the other part of it is with the coaching is making sure that they’re watching to make sure to see where they’re at with it. So far, to have that, you want that overall as a team to be the least penalized, specifically in that area, that’s always a good thing.”

Consider it another feather in the cap of the league’s best defense: Even when passing-oriented rule changes and tweaks supposedly make it harder to play defense, the Bears largely haven’t suffered for it. 

“It’s more difficult for the referees, too,” Nagy said. “It’s difficult for them. It’s difficult for the players. There’s some subjectiveness to it. But you gotta try to not be too grabby.”  

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