Bears

Moon: Bears finally have a 'Pro Bowl quarterback'

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Moon: Bears finally have a 'Pro Bowl quarterback'

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted: 10:56 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears have a Pro Bowl quarterback (whatever that means and implies, which is a topic for another time). They traded for one 20 months ago who had been to a Pro Bowl but now they actually have one.

Jay Cutler probably won't get to the All-Star game this year he'd have to vault one of Michael Vick, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan at this point and he's trailing too far in Q Factor behind those guys -- but Cutler is a "Pro Bowl quarterback" in 2010. And he is more of one now than he was when he was voted to the all-star game in 2008.

(What he needs to do, and the Bears desperately need him to do, is to lapse into the post-selection spiral that finished his 2008. More on that in a moment.)

Cutler piled up 4,526 yards and 18 touchdown passes in his Pro Bowl year, but he was in a Mike Shanahan offense that had him throw 616 passes. Of those, 18 were intercepted, a rate of 2.9 percent that is roughly comparable to the 3.1 percent he's throwing to wrong jerseys this season.

What will hold him back in the voting that's wrapping up now is those 17 TD passes. Brees has 25 (oh, and a Super Bowl ring and TV commercials). Rodgers has 23 and has the love of the national media and better track record. Ryan has 21 touchdown passes (and a cool nickname, "Matty Ice"). And Vick has 15 (and a Sports Illustrated cover story). Those are tough numbers and images to overcome in a selection process that is one-third fan recognition.

But Cutler currently has his team (and make no mistake about it; it is his play that has keyed the five-game win streak) at 9-3 and in the discussion of "NFL's best" if for no other reason than they keep winning while some of the others (like Vick and the Eagles, or the Giants, or the Chargers, or ... pick one) stumble. He also is doing what he's doing so effectively that the focus of the Bears' offense suddenly is Matt Forte, quietly adding 201 rushing yards of his own when things have broken down.

And Cutler is simply a better passer and, more important, a better quarterback than he was when he put up the eye-popping '08 numbers. He has been an offensive player of the week twice in 12 games. He is completing 63.2 percent of his passes, second only to the 63.6 he connected on in 2007. He is fifth in the NFL in yards per attempt (Vick and Rodgers are among the top four), one of the key single statistical indicators of team success.

Cutler is far and away the NFL's best at third-down completions to pick up third downs over the last five weeks.

He has a 92.8 passer rating this season, higher than any year in his career and dramatically reversing a trend that has seen his ratings begin at 88.5 as a rookie and fall to 88.1, 86.0 and 76.8.
But here's the thing ...
Most of the voting for Pro Bowls is done before the final weeks of seasons. Cutler virtually made his Pro Bowl in 2008 when his team was 8-5 and he'd posted ratings of near 95 or better in four of his previous five games; he'd had five 100-ratings in 13 games.

Then he laid three eggs with ratings below 75 in all three of those final games, throwing two TD passes vs. four INTs. His Pro Bowl billet was secured by then but that was hardly the finishing kick of a true "Pro Bowl quarterback." He wasn't.

Now he is, whether the voting says so or not. What he needs to do, though, to earn that de facto distinction for the year is to avoid a meltdown in the tradition of '08. Then the Bears will have the Pro Bowl quarterback they thought they were getting back in April 2009.

"John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Pro Football Focus: Bears could be surprise playoff team in 2018

Pro Football Focus: Bears could be surprise playoff team in 2018

There's a lot of optimism about the Chicago Bears in 2018  because of the incredible offseason had by GM Ryan Pace. It started in free agency with several big-name additions on offense and continued in the NFL Draft with the selection of Roquan Smith, arguably the top all-around defender in the class.

Pace now finds himself in unfamiliar territory. He's entering a season with actual expectations. While those expectations vary, one thing is consistent: Improvement is expected.

According to Pro Football Focus, Chicago should end up challenging for a playoff spot.

No less than five additions on offense this offseason could make key impacts for the Bears, including wide receiver Allen Robinson who was one of the NFL’s best in 2015 before a down year in 2016 and essentially missing all of 2017 through injury. He’s joined at the position by Taylor Gabriel, who had three touchdowns on throws 20 yards or further downfield in 2016 and rookie Anthony Miller, who was tied for fourth among wide receivers in this draft class with 19 missed tackles forced on receptions. Add in tight end Trey Burton, who had three touchdowns from just 16 targets when lined up in the slot and rookie offensive lineman James Daniels from Iowa and it’s easy to see why this offense led by Mitchell Trubisky has the potential to trend upwards big time in 2018.

The Bears were one of five teams PFF listed as a surprise wildcard candidate. The road to the post-season will be challenging, however. Not only do all of the new pieces have to gel, but they have to do it while playing in one of the toughest divisions in football.

The NFC North could have three teams -- not including the Bears --  playing in January. The Vikings may be the most talented club in the NFC and the Packers will always be a contender with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The Lions have some vulnerability, but they've had more success than Chicago in recent seasons.

Still, Pace deserves credit for winning the offseason.

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

NFL owners voted for sweeping changes to the kickoff play Tuesday, a decision that presents a new challenge for Bears special teams coach Chris Tabor.

Player safety was the focus of the rule change. Collisions will be reduced and the play will look more like a punt than the traditional kickoff fans have become used to. Here's a breakdown of what's coming in 2018:

With less contact and physicality in the play, Tabor's game planning will be tested. Kickoffs won't require as many power players like the ones traditionally seen in the wedge block. Skill players like receivers, running backs and tight ends could be viewed as more valuable special teams pieces, as was suggested by NFL Network's Bucky Brooks.

Tarik Cohen could become even more lethal under the new rules. If kick returners end up with more space to navigate, Cohen will improve on the 583 return yards he managed as a rookie. He'll conjure memories of the recently retired Devin Hester.

The ability to contribute on special teams is critically important for players on the roster bubble. It'll be interesting to see if the Bears apply the approach suggested by Brooks. If they do, undrafted players like Matt Fleming and John Franklin III suddenly have more value and a better chance to make the team. 

For a complete breakdown of the new kickoff rule, click here.