Bears

Jay Cutler experience should push Bears far away from just measurables when choosing next QB

Jay Cutler experience should push Bears far away from just measurables when choosing next QB

Teams routinely evaluate draft candidates starting with measurable traits. Then, once the 40-times, height/weight results and such are tabulated, intangibles like leadership and “football character” enter in as tipping points.

For what the Bears need and want to do this offseason at their  most important position, the Bears need to reverse the process. Do it backwards.

The Bears’ first turn on the draft clock does not come around for upwards of two months, maybe effectively before that if trading draft choices for a Jimmy Garoppolo happens in the meantime. But with the start of the league year and its trading window approach, the talk around Jay Cutler is popping up more and more, whether he’ll command anything in a trade or whether to just cut ties and move on.

But the Cutler experience should be and quite possibly is figuring into what the Bears will do if a quarterback is what they target and select, presumably in the first round. And based on Cutler as a case study, subtle and not-so-subtle indications are that GM Ryan Pace is looking beyond the usual “measurables” in evaluating quarterback prospects, as he absolutely should be.

In this one position, it becomes imperative that the Bears go off-script, outside the box, and look first, hardest and longest at something that won’t show up on any stopwatch or tape measure.

“You want to look for a player who has lifted his program for the most part,” Pace said during his time at this year’s Senior Bowl last month. “That's something that's there. Quarterbacks we've been around, I think Drew Brees, for example, when he was at Purdue, he lifted that program. That's one of the things we look for. That's definitely a factor added into about 30 other things you factor into that position.”

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Why this resonance so loudly over the Bears is because for the last eight years they had a designer quarterback who unquestionably checked every measurable box: size (6-3, 225 pounds, mobility, footspeed, arm strength), yet failed to lift his team the way Pace was accustomed to from his time in New Orleans around Brees.

North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky is Cutler: 6-3, 209 pounds, big arm. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer is Cutler: 6-4, 230 pounds, big arm, mobility.

Tellingly perhaps, Pace also cited another intangible in a way that suggests it will influence his and the Bears’ draft board: “It's your football intelligence, it's your accuracy, it's your ability to quickly process.”

But Trubisky was a starter just one year (2016). Kizer “led” the Irish to a 4-8 season and a 14-11 overall mark in his starts over two years.

Deshaun Watson, in the National Championship game the past two years, is similar in physical stature (6-3, 209) to Kizer and Trubisky, Garoppolo, too, for that matter. But “lifted his program” should be a monumental tipping point here.

And experience. Garoppolo had one spectacular year, his senior season, at Eastern Illinois. His first three years were nothing special, marked by heavy interception totals and barely 60 percent completions. Pace’s weighted criteria have experience high up.

“Yeah, [experience] carries a lot of weight,” Pace said. “I think there’s nothing that can really substitute [for] that. It’s already a big jump from college to the NFL as it is, so the more of that you have, the more beneficial it is.”

Measurables were why Russell Wilson (size) didn’t go until the third round, and why Tom Brady (foot speed) lasted until the sixth. For the Bears, the hard-to-gauge intangibles should be their first evaluation points, far ahead of the physical skills and talents that they have had here since 2009.

Bears grades: Leonard Floyd keeps getting better and better

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Bears grades: Leonard Floyd keeps getting better and better

QUARTERBACKS: B+

Mitch Trubisky had a solid take-what-the-defense-gave-him game, completing 20 of 28 passes for 235 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 120.4. More than anything, though, Trubisky’s game can be summed up like this: He didn’t make any blatantly bad decisions, and he made a few special plays when he needed to. 

Some of those special plays: Avoiding a cornerback blitz from his left, scrambling away from it and then sliding back to his left while floating a perfect strike to Adam Shaheen for 23 yards; a 14-yard scramble on third down to pick up a first down and avoid a three-and-out after Green Bay tied the game; and another excellent throw avoiding pressure while sliding to his left to Taylor Gabriel to pick up 15 yards on second and 13. 

This was the kind of game the Bears need from Trubisky in the playoffs. The strong efficiency, sound decision-making and occasional play with his feet was enough to earn the Bears a win on the back of another excellent showing by the defense. 

A few other notes: Trubisky had good rhythm on the handful of run-pass options called, and did make the correct decision on an RP hand off to Taquan Mizzell on third-and-2 that was ultimately stopped short of the line to gain, Nagy said. His knack for sensing pressure and avoiding it showed up, too, and is one of the reasons why no regular starting quarterback has been sacked fewer than Trubisky this year (21 times). 

RUNNING BACKS: B-

Tarik Cohen set up his acrobatic dive into the end zone at with a scything 22-yard dash, with those two plays helping provide the Bears with a critical seven points just before halftime. Cohen, though, did strangely go out of bounds a yard short of the line to gain in the red zone in the fourth quarter, and knew he made a mistake as soon as the play ended. 

Jordan Howard ran tough to start the game, but finished with only 60 yards on 19 carries. He powered the Bears’ first scoring drive, though, with five carries for 22 yards — including an untouched nine-yard touchdown run — and one catch for 15 yards. 

Dinging this unit’s grade is the bungled read option between Cohen and Howard, which resulted in a fumble recovered by the Packers. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Sunday wasn’t the most productive day for this group, but Allen Robinson, Gabriel and Josh Bellamy all made some excellent plays. Robinson picked up two chunk plays early, first bodying up cornerback Jaire Alexander to catch a quick Trubisky throw and dash for a 30-yard gain, and in the second quarter bouncing off a weak tackle attempt for a 19-yard gain. Bellamy’s 18-yard snag was an outstanding catch that helped set up Cohen’s touchdown. And Gabriel caught all three of his targets, picking up some well-earned yards in the process. Anthony Miller, notably, wasn’t targeted on the 20 receiving snaps he played, per Pro Football Focus. 

TIGHT ENDS: B

Trey Burton delivered a good block coming across the line of scrimmage to help spring Howard’s touchdown run, and he slipped open in the end zone for a go-ahead 13-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Adam Shaheen had a solid game, too, catching two passes from Trubisky for 39 yards and doing some good things as a run blocker, too. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B+

Credit Charles Leno, James Daniels and Cody Whitehair for solidly blocking up Howard’s touchdown run and Bobby Massie and Bryan Witzmann for paving the way for Cohen’s 22-yard run in the second quarter. This group did well in pass protection, too, though it was penalized three times. We’ll forgive Leno for his false start on the first play of the game given he was probably a little jittery about proposing to his girlfriend after the game

DEFENSIVE LINE: A-

Holding Aaron Jones (four carries, eight yards) and Jamaal Williams (12 carries, 55 yards) to an average of 3.8 yards per carry is a good starting point here. This group was only gouged on the ground twice: First, on a run toward the end of the first half, which can be forgiven; second, at the end of Green Bay’s lone touchdown drive, which came after the Bears’ blew a fake punt and had to bring their defense back on the field. 

Akiem Hicks had another solid game, totaling four pressures while tipping a screen on third-and-15 to force a punt after the Bears took a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter. Bilal Nichols combined with Khalil Mack on a sack, while Roy Robertson-Harris and Eddie Goldman had some disruptive moments in the second half. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A

Leonard Floyd followed what was his best game of the year last week against Los Angeles with a new best game of the year, sacking Aaron Rodgers twice while providing a constantly-disruptive pass rushing presence and defending the run well. Floyd led the Bears with five “stops,” defined by Pro Football Focus as plays that constitute a loss for the offense. He also held his own while occasionally dropping into coverage, too. 

Mack, of course, had another monster game, with 2 1/2 sacks and seven pressures while making Green Bay’s offensive line and Rodgers uncomfortable all afternoon. Aaron Lynch had a big-time tackle for a loss, dropping Williams for a loss of four as soon as Green Bay entered the red zone for the first time Sunday — a drive that ended in a field goal. Isaiah Irving chipped in with a fourth quarter pressure of Rodgers, too, after Lynch left the game with an elbow injury. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A-

Roquan Smith led the Bears with 10 tackles, and a well-designed and well-executed blitz set both him and Mack free on Rodgers, with Mack getting the sack to end Green Bay’s first drive of the game. Smith’s tight coverage and pass deflection in the end zone on Jimmy Graham led to Eddie Jackson ending Rodgers’ streak of passes without an interception at 402. Danny Trevathan had a solid game while playing all 68 defensive snaps, too. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-

Massive credit goes to Sherrick McManis for how well he played in his first full game as part of the Bears’ defense since 2015 — he played 62 of 68 snaps and made a critical pass break-up of a throw to Randall Cobb that Nagy said Monday usually would’ve gone for a touchdown. The Bears’ coverage was largely good, allowing the front seven to get after Rodgers with some second-effort pass rushes. Kyle Fuller had an excellent break-up of a pass to Davante Adams early in the third quarter, while Adrian Amos made five sure-handed tackles. Jackson, of course, was in position to be only the second player to pick off Rodgers in 2018. And while Prince Amukamara was beat a few times by Adams — one of which on a perfectly-placed throw by Rodgers — he helped make sure Green Bay didn’t get any truly game-breaking plays on offense. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

We’ll put the fake punt that didn’t work more on coaching than execution from this group, because otherwise, it was a strong day for Chris Tabor’s unit. Pat O’Donnell is probably punting his way into a job next year — he’s only on a one-year, $1.5 million contract in 2018 — as he dropped two punts inside the five-yard line, both of which were downed by Bellamy. And Cohen’s 44-yard punt return — which was sprung by good blocks by Daniel Brown and DeAndre Houston-Carson — gave the Bears a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter when Cody Parkey hit a chip-shot field goal. 

COACHING: C+

Nagy’s aggressiveness and creativity, which on the whole have been a significant positive for the Bears in 2018, wound up backfiring twice on Sunday: First, with a fake punt near midfield on which Benny Cunningham lost a yard, allowing the Packers convert a short field into a game-tying touchdown. And second, when on third and 1 Nagy called for a read option between Cohen and Howard that resulted in a lost fumble in Packers territory. 

So those two miscues drop the coaching grade. But from a larger picture, this was still a well-coached game. On a smaller scale, Vic Fangio’s defensive calls confused Rodgers — which is no small feat — and the Bears’ defense didn’t allow the Packers’ quarterback to throw for a touchdown as a result. And after Nagy preached finishing all week, the Bears did just that to clinch their first NFC North title in eight years. 

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Matt Nagy won’t let Bears take their foot off the gas: ‘Right now, we have to win’

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Matt Nagy won’t let Bears take their foot off the gas: ‘Right now, we have to win’

With two games remaining in the 2018 regular season, the only thing that’s been decided for the Bears is that they’ll host a home playoff game at some point next month. Beyond that? Everything remains on the table. 

Without anything else locked in, Matt Nagy isn’t going to change the week-by-week approach that’s worked so well for this team through its first 14 games. And that means the NFC North champion Bears aren’t looking ahead to the playoffs yet. 

“It’s okay to celebrate and enjoy last night and yesterday,” Nagy said. “But we have bigger things that we’re trying to achieve. And I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge for us where we’re at is understanding, okay, we accomplished a good goal but that’s not enough. And so how do you make sure everyone understands that?”

The odds may be slim, but the Bears do still have a shot at earning a first-round bye. They can do so if, first and foremost, they beat the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings in consecutive road games to end the regular season. And if they do that to go 12-4, the Bears would need either the Los Angeles Rams to lose one more game or the New Orleans Saints to lose two of their final three games, starting with Monday night’s road game against the Carolina Panthers. 

That’s the best-case scenario, one Football Outsiders gives the Bears a 20.6 percent chance of achieving prior to tonight’s Saints-Panthers tilt. That’s to say there will be plenty of folks around the Chicago area rooting for old friend Ron Rivera on Monday night. 

While the Bears lost their only game coming off a true off week (to the Dolphins) as well as a game following a mini off week (to the Giants), the situation if the Bears were to earn a week off in January would be different. First, the Bears would play at home, and very well could draw the Rams again in the cold conditions of Soldier Field. Second, it would give safety Eddie Jackson (ankle) and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch (arm) another week to heal from the injuries they sustained against the Green Bay Packers. Perhaps it increases the likelihood guard Kyle Long is able to return from injured reserve, too. 

“Oh, of course, I mean, you wanna ask me if I want the first-round bye, or the No. 1 seed?” Nagy said. “Absolutely, give it to me right now.”

But the Bears also don’t yet have the No. 3 seed locked up yet, either, though the Dallas Cowboys’ comprehensive loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday made that look more like an inevitability than a question. The Bears will clinch at least the No. 3 seed with one win or one Cowboys loss in the final two games. 

So with that in mind, Nagy isn’t ready to take his foot off the gas — which would mean resting players against the 49ers and Vikings with an eye on the playoffs. 

“It makes it easy,” Nagy said. “You go play, and you play to win and nothing changes. You literally control what you can control.

“… (Looking at resting players) would be probably after next week, when you have an idea of what happens with other teams, what happens with us. But, for the most part, all of that, unless you’re locked in and you can’t move, then you have to decide, to me that’s when you have to decide what you want to do. But right now, we have to win.”