Bears

Playoffs? Cutler, Bears thinking Super Bowl

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Playoffs? Cutler, Bears thinking Super Bowl

Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010
5:03 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears dont have the NFLs permission yet to start printing playoff tickets. They really dont have permission to start talking about playoffs, although thats going to happen anyway. Sometimes the talk is going to go beyond just making the playoffs.

As far as being good enough to win the Super Bowl, quarterback Jay Cutler gave a frank opinion. I think so, he said. Of course, he added, Youve got to believe that or theres no use playing right now.

Cutler has not been to the playoffs, or even had a winning season in his NFL career for that matter. So his sense of what a championship team at this level really looks like can be considered somewhat limited.

But Israel Idonije was on the 2006 team, which was dramatically different in many ways from this edition, but that same kind of energy, you kind of feel it around here, he said. Guys are excited, working hard, and theres a lot of rumbling throughout the city. It feels good.

We want to end up in Dallas this year, and just to get there is not enough. Weve been there. Weve got to get the ring.

The one individual most responsible for both getting them to think like a Super Bowl team without talking now about the Super Bowl is not concerned about a loss of focus and with that a loss to the Detroit Lions.

We wont look too far ahead, Lovie Smith said. You have to have long-term goals. When you start the season, we have three goals for our program and that last goal is to win the Super Bowl. So thats there. You cant run from it and we dont want them to run from it.

But you dont talk about that now. Theres no time to talk about that now. That wont change with our guys and Id be surprised if you heard anything else except for that. The guys know whats at stake.

Hurtin

The Bears were without linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) practicing Wednesday and receiver Rashied Davis was limited with a sore shoulder. The Detroit Lions were not nearly so healthy.

Quarterbacks Matthew Stafford (shoulder) and Shaun Hill (finger) were joined on the DNP list by defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (neck) and kicker Jason Hanson (knee). Four other starters were limited in practice: running back Jahvid Best (toe), receiver Nate Burleson (hamstring), linebacker DeAndre Levy (groin), tight end Tony Scheffler (rib).

Distinguished gentlemen

The performances that were instrumental in the Bears being 4-0 in November have been noticed, and rewarded.

Defensive end Julius Peppers was named NFC defensive player of the month for November after recording 4 sacks, tied for second in the NFL. His 29 yards in losses off those sacks were tops in the NFC and tied for fourth in the NFL. Peppers added 13 tackles, deflected a pass that led to an interception and recorded 2 additional tackles for losses during the month.

The Bears defense held opponents to just 65 rushing yards in the month of November (lowest in the NFL) and held opponent quarterbacks to a 69.5 passer rating during the month (lowest in the NFL).

This is Peppers third NFC Defensive Player of the Month award (Nov. 2004, Oct. 2006). Peppers is the first Bears player to win the award since Trace Armstrong in Sept.1990 and the third overall since the award first started in 1986 (Wilber Marshall, Dec. 1986).

Quarterback Jay Cutler was named NFC offensive player of the Week after completing 14 of 21 passing attempts for 247 yards and four touchdowns en route to a career-high 146.2 passer rating in the Bears 31-26 victory over the Eagles. The four touchdown passes tied a career high for Cutler, who now has three such games as a member of the Bears, tied for second most in franchise history.

When you have a game like Philadelphia, you deserve to get an award like, as does Julius Peppers, Lovie Smith said. When you play the way he has this past month, were really pleased with the progress theyre making along with the team right now.

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.

Three questions for Bears OL: What kind of an impact will Harry Hiestand make?

Three questions for Bears OL: What kind of an impact will Harry Hiestand make?

Pre-camp depth chart
LT
1. Charles Leno
2. Bradley Sowell
3. Matt McCants

LG
1. Eric Kush
2. James Daniels
3. Jordan Morgan
4. Will Pericak

C
1. Cody Whitehair
2. James Daniels
3. Hroniss Grasu

RG
1. Kyle Long
2. Earl Watford
3. Brandon Greene
4. Jeremi Hall

RT
1. Bobby Massie
2. Bradley Sowell
3. Dejon Allen

1. Can Kyle Long get and stay healthy?

The expectation is that Long will be cleared to practice for the beginning of training camp, paving the way for him to be part of the Bears’ Week 1 starting lineup (Matt Nagy said in June that Long will be “good to go” for camp, for what it’s worth). Long has played less than 50 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps in the last two years due to a string of injuries, and the 29-year-old underwent procedures on his shoulder, elbow and neck after his season ended. 

Long’s toughness isn’t in question — that he still started nine games last year despite never being 100 percent is a testament to that — but the Bears need him to play more for their offensive line to be at its best. Long’s health, and if he gets any planned rest days, will be a daily storyline in Bourbonnais. 

The good news, though, is Long already impressed his new offensive line coach during OTAs and minicamp despite not being able to do much on the field. 

“He really wants to be good,” Harry Hiestand said. “He’s fun to be around, he comes in the meeting room every day with a smile on his face, looking forward to working. He’s very interested in helping the other guys. I didn’t know that about him. But after I’ll say something, the meeting will break and they’ll be walking out to get a break and he’ll be like, you know what coach was talking about there to the young guys. So that part’s been really good about him.” 

2. Where will James Daniels wind up?

The snap assumption — pun intended — when the Bears drafted Daniels in the second round was that he’d play center and Cody Whitehair would shift over to left guard, where he played in college. But the Bears quickly quashed that theory, with Ryan Pace telling the media shortly after drafting Daniels that the Iowa product would begin his pro career practicing as a guard and cross-training at center. 

Daniels, indeed, worked at both positions during OTAs and minicamp, and trying to read any tea leaves from non-padded practices for offensive linemen can be a bit of a stretch. So we’ll get a good idea of where the Bears envision Daniels’ long-term position during training camp practices and then, more importantly, in preseason games. 

Wherever the 20-year-old Daniels winds up, though, the Bears are confident they added a solid piece to protect Mitch Trubisky and pave the way for Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. 

“The benefit of having a guy like James Daniels, he’s versatile, he can play different positions,” Nagy said in May. “So (we’re) able to let him come in here and play guard and see what he can do, learn from the other guys, let Harry teach these guys the technique.”

3. Can Charles Leno keep growing under Harry Hiestand?

Pro Football Focus ranked Leno as the 15th best tackle in the NFL in 2017, while Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 rankings slotted him 20th among left tackles. Somewhere in that range probably seems right — Leno is a solid player but not among the best tackles in the league.

And here’s the thing: That’s fine. Leno’s four-year contract carries an average annual salary of $9.25 million, which ranks 16th among tackles. Ryan Pace believed in Leno’s upside when he signed him to that deal last August, and if Hiestand — who never coached a game without a future first-round pick at left tackle in six years at Notre Dame — can help Leno realize that potential, the Bears will have an absolute bargain at left tackle for years to come. 

“He’s going to push us,” Leno said. “He’s going to make sure we’re working every single day. Everybody’s coming to work every single day grinding, trying to get better at something, whether it’s putting your hands inside, or hands up, whatever it may be, you’re getting better at something. He’s pushing us to do that. so that just makes us better.”

Even if Leno doesn’t hit that upside and maintains being “solid” or “fine” or whatever you want to call it, that won’t necessarily be a deterrent to the Bears’ success. Ten of the top 20 tackles in Pro Football Focus’ rankings played for a team that didn’t make the playoffs in 2017 — and while, of course, having an elite left tackle is preferable, the Bears can still be competitive with Leno manning that position in 2018.

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 9 - Charles Leno, Jr.

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 9 - Charles Leno, Jr.

All the high-flying receivers and the playmaking tight end that GM Ryan Pace added to the Chicago Bears this offseason will be rendered powerless if Mitch Trubisky doesn't have time to throw, making left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. one of the most important players on the roster this season.

The good news is Leno has already proven he's a solid starting tackle. He was the 15th-best offensive tackle in the NFL last season on Pro Football Focus' grading scale, earning an 80.4 (the highest grade of his career). Dig a little deeper into PFF's stats, however, and Leno ranked 20th in pass protection, suggesting he's in the bottom half of NFL starters in the aspect of his game the Bears need him to be reliable at. As a run blocker, Leno ranked 11th.

Still, Leno has steadily improved in each year of his career. The analytics show that. Here are his grades since his rookie season from PFF: 53.5 (2014); 56.3 (2015); 71.2 (2016); 80.4 (2017). His improvement should continue in 2018, especially with new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand fine-tuning his game. 

Leno has enjoyed an unexpected rise from seventh-round pick to a player who signed a four-year, $38 million extension at the start of last season. If his development continues, the Bears have a salary-cap bargain with Leno, whose average annual salary ranks 14th among left tackles at the start of 2018.

Chicago invested big money in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton as well as draft capital in Anthony Miller, who they selected in the second round this year by trading away a second-round pick next year to move up and grab him. The only way they'll get a return on that investment is if Leno establishes, early in the season, that Trubisky can trust him. That trust is critically important not only for an effective offense this year but also for Trubisky's overall development. If he starts seeing ghosts in the pocket because of constant pressure from his blindside, Chicago's long-term plan can easily get derailed.

Leno will benefit from Trubisky's mobility and coach Matt Nagy's creativity. He doesn't have to be a perfect left tackle. But there will be a devastating ripple effect on the rest of the offense if he struggles, making him one of the Bears' most critical players in 2018.