Bears

Prove it: Bears need Jay Cutler to take next step vs. Eagles

Prove it: Bears need Jay Cutler to take next step vs. Eagles

There were plenty of questions following the Bears' season-opening loss to the Houston Texans.

Can Kevin White play? And can he play with Jay Cutler?

Can Cody Whitehair be an NFL center and do silent counts with Josh Sitton?

Why didn’t John Fox challenge one Houston third-down conversion?

After matching its second-worst conversion-allowed rate (60 percent) from last year, can the defense get off the field on third downs?

But the performance that will bear most heavily on the Bears’ 2016 season — and beyond — lay with the player who threw the ball that White failed to get in the way of, the one who didn’t get Whitehair’s snap on the failed first-quarter quarterback sneak: Cutler.

Consider that White, Whitehair, Sitton — even Fox — aren’t going anywhere after this season. The Bears don’t want to be moving on from Cutler, either, but that’s kind of up to Cutler.

And teammates don’t want to see Cutler going anywhere but down the field. He was elected one of the co-captains on offense, and his stock in the locker room is solid, even given his turnover history.

“I’d rather have a gunslinger who’s going to try to make a play, rather than a guy who’s just going to stand back there, pat the ball and take sacks,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman told CSNChicago.com. “I like a guy who’s willing to try to make plays.”

[SHOP BEARS: Get a Jay Cutler jersey right here]

So do the Bears. But more even than 2015, the 2016 season is Cutler’s prove-it year.

This is the last season in which the Bears have any guaranteed money tied up in Cutler. With the Bears debating a roster decision last March that committed $10 million this year, chairman George McCaskey said last year that money would not dictate decisions. But interestingly perhaps, Cutler’s money situation now could swing from burden to bargain.

The Bears looked at options in the 2015 offseason and draft, if not actively shopping Cutler, but their ideal situation would be for his level of play to take another tick upward, given that the Bears have him under contract at a very favorable $15 million for 2017 and $16 million for 2018.

Adam Gase was a driving force behind staying the Cutler course last year after he made exhaustive inquiries with numerous previous Cutler coaches. Gase came to understand from those phone calls that Cutler’s issues were never his talents but rather his decision-making, which Gase and then-quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains hammered in on.

Gase is now the head coach in Miami, and the next-stage handling of Cutler falls to Loggains and current quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone. Early indications are that the lessons of 2015 were not false-positives. Cutler followed his interception-free preseason with the one interception at Houston, which he took responsibility for but was not his mistake. He threw the one White-induced pick, getting sacked five times (13 total hits). Once upon a time (in a 2009 game at San Francisco), Cutler threw five interceptions and wasn't sacked at all, hit a total of three times.

Cutler’s first half vs. Houston was exemplary: 10-of-13 passing for 156 yards, a touchdowns and a 141.8 passer rating. The offense had at least one first down on four of its five possessions.

The second half? Not so good: 6-of-16 passing, zero touchdowns, the one interception and a 22.9 rating, with either a sack of Cutler or an offensive penalty on five of the Bears’ six possessions.

Some of the hits on Cutler came when he held the ball, which happens when quarterbacks don’t completely trust their receivers, or got happy feet, which happens when quarterbacks don’t trust their protection. Not to absolve Cutler of all responsibility, but this was a situation where it is unlikely that even channeling his inner Tom Brady, Cutler could have taken the team on his back and carried it to victory.

That said, those times will come, even as early as next Monday night at Soldier Field. Cutler, who once appeared to struggle more in night games, is now a career 10-5 on Mondays. With his team in extreme need of a win to right the season, this is Cutler’s chance to begin proving it.

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

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USA Today

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

Take a look over the NFC landscape and try to find me a team that can compete with the Rams. 

Packers? Held back by Rodgers' knee and Rodgers' coach. Saints? Might not even win their own division. Washington? Does Alex Smith really scare anyone in the playoffs? 

The Rams have one of the easier paths to the Championship Round/Super Bowl that we've seen in some time. Will it likely stay that way? Probably not. But there's a difference between parity and mediocrity and right now the NFC is toeing the line HARD. 

Outside the NFC's "elite", how did your team do this week? 

You can take a look here and see where they landed. 

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

QUARTERBACKS: C+

While the context of Mitch Trubisky still learning and developing in his second year in the NFL, and first in Matt Nagy’s offense, is important, there were too many missed throws and poor decisions to overlook on Sunday. One of his interceptions wasn’t his fault — Josh Bellamy can’t let a pass that hits him in the hands and chest, while falling to the ground, wind up in the arms of a waiting defensive back. But Trubisky’s second interception was on the quarterback: Anthony Miller ran an excellent corner route and flashed open, but Trubisky’s timing was slightly off and he under threw the ball, turning what should’ve been a breezy touchdown into a 50-50 ball. Jonathan Jones made a spectacular play to come down with it for an interception, but the point is it shouldn’t have been a contested throw in the first place. Trubisky missed three throws to Miller that all could’ve resulted in touchdowns throughout the game. 

Trubisky nearly was intercepted in the end zone twice, too, a week after throwing an end zone pick against Miami. Throwing in the vicinity of offensive lineman Bradley Sowell and reserve tight end Ben Braunecker was a poor decision, one Trubisky knew immediately he shouldn’t have made. 

And Trubisky’s accuracy on deep balls was disappointing — he only completed one of 10 throws that traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, with that one being the one-yard-short Hail Mary to Kevin White as time expired. In fact, on throws of 15 or more yards, he wasn’t much better, completing only two of 14 passes, including the Hail Mary. 

But the Bears still managed 31 points, and Trubisky did well to diagnose a Patriots’ defense that was neither containing nor spying him, gouging them for 81 yards on six scrambles. That showed an important skill of Trubisky’s — even when things aren’t going well for him through the air, his ability to make plays with this legs was critical in keeping this offense afloat. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

Tarik Cohen again had an impactful game catching the ball, with eight catches on 12 targets for 69 yards with a touchdown. What he’s able to do out of the backfield props up the grade for a group that, otherwise, didn’t have much success on the ground: Cohen rushed six times for 14 yards, while Jordan Howard gained 39 yards on 12 carries. Cohen’s longest run was five yards; Howard’s was six, and combined they averaged barely over three yards per carry. The Bears have shown they can score points without an effective running game, but how long can that last?

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Allen Robinson was hampered by a groin injury and only caught one of five targets for four yards, and dropped what would’ve been a third-down conversion in Patriots territory in the first quarter, leading to a field goal instead of an extended drive into the red zone. New England’s defensive strategy was to take away Taylor Gabriel, which is executed successfully — Gabriel only had one target until midway through the fourth quarter and finished with three catches for 26 yards. 

Miller had the best game of anyone in this group, consistently running open — only with Trubisky missing him frequently to the tune of two catches seven targets for 35 yards (there were, probably, three touchdowns to Miller Trubisky left on the board with over- or under-thrown passes). Kevin White caught his first two passes of the year, including a career-long 54-yarder on the game-ending Hail Mary, and also drew a penalty in the end zone on a one-on-one fade route. Josh Bellamy, conversely, did not have a good game, going 0-for-4 on targets and aiding J.C. Jackson’s interception of Trubisky by not cleanly coming down with a pass along the sideline. 

TIGHT ENDS: A-

Trey Burton had his breakout game, catching nine of 11 targets for 126 yards with a touchdown and doing an excellent job to be a reliable target over the middle for Trubisky with Gabriel taken away by New England’s defense. Seven of Burton’s nine receptions were for a first down, with another one gaining 11 yards on a first-and-15. Dinging this unit’s grade was Dion Sims dropping his only target, which would’ve gone for a first down late in the second quarter. It was Sims’ first target since Week 1. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

The entire offensive line did well to protect Trubisky, especially after New England sent a few early blitzes that seemed to cause confusion up front. But even when the Bears brought in Sowell to be a sixth offensive lineman, the run blocking wasn’t there — on the five running plays on which Sowell was on the field, the Bears only gained nine yards. The Bears’ ineffectiveness running the ball has been a recurring issue, with blame spread evenly between the running backs and offensive line. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

Bilal Nichols made three splash plays — a hit on Tom Brady, a forced fumble and a run stuff — and continues to look like an excellent mid-round find by Ryan Pace. Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman did well to make sure the Patriots’ didn’t get much on the ground after Sony Michel was injured, and that interior pair combined for five pressures — nearly half the Bears’ total of 11. But when the Bears needed a quick stop, knowing New England would run the ball late in the fourth quarter, the defensive line didn’t manage an impact, allowing the Patriots to chew up 3:49 of the remaining 4:13 left on the clock. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: D

Could this have been an F? Definitely. But it’s not based on this factor alone: The scheme deployed by Vic Fangio didn’t ask Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd to rush the passer as much as usual, with those two players combining to drop into coverage more (31 times) than rush the passer (29 times). Yes, when Mack and Floyd rushed — which was a one-or-the-other thing, not both at the same time — they weren’t effective. And Floyd, especially, was picked on by Brady and James White, who easily juked him for a touchdown in the first half. This was not a good game for either player, as well as Aaron Lynch, who only had one pressure in 10 pass rushing snaps. But given what this unit was asked to do, it wasn’t a failure — though it was close. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: C-

Danny Trevathan thumped 10 tackles and was solid in run defense, but did allow three receptions on four targets, two of which went for first downs. Roquan Smith, too, was solid against the run but was targeted five times, allowing four receptions for 35 yards with three first downs and a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus. Smith did well to pressure and sack Tom Brady on a third down play near the end zone, resulting in a field goal. Smith only played 34 snaps, though, his lowest total since Week 1. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: C-

Kyle Fuller played well outside of getting beat on a perfectly-thrown back shoulder pass from Brady to Josh Gordon on fourth down, and his interception — which was aided by a good play by Adrian Amos — set up Trubisky’s touchdown to Burton that brought the Bears within one. Both Fuller and Prince Amukamara tackled well, as did Sherrick McManis the two times he was targeted. Gordon’s 55-yarder in the fourth quarter, though, can’t be overlooked — Amukamara was in coverage on that play, and Eddie Jackson missed a tackle that would’ve brought Gordon down around the 32-yard line. Instead, he gained another 30 yards on the play, setting up White’s second score of the game. Concerningly, this is now the third game of six in 2018 in which the Bears have allowed at least one big-chunk passing play in the fourth quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Opponents are 1-10 when allowing two or more special teams touchdowns against the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. More recently, teams are 44-8 when scoring two or more special teams touchdowns in the last five years (as an aside, the Bears managed to beat the Baltimore Ravens in 2017 despite allowing a pair of ‘teams scores). 

Things started off well for this unit, with Nick Kwiatkoski punching the ball out of Cordarrelle Patterson’s hands into the waiting arms of DeAndre Houston-Carson on a kick return, leading to a Bears touchdown. Cody Parkey forced Patterson to return his next kickoff, and the Bears swarmed the returner to drop him at the Patriots’ 18. But the Bears lost a good chunk of their momentum when Patterson scythed 95 yards for a return score on his next return attempt, with Kevin Toliver II missing a tackle — though he was the only player who even had a chance to bring down Patterson, so the return hardly was solely the fault of the rookie. Toliver, though, did later commit a holding penalty on a Patriots punt that sailed out of bounds. 

Ben Braunecker, who’s been a generally solid special teams contributor over the last few years, wound up on his back on Dont’a Hightower’s blocked punt. It doesn’t count for much, but credit Benny Cunningham’s effort to try to get to Kyle Van Noy on that play — but there was no way he was going to get to the Patriots linebacker, who was surrounded by a gaggle of teammates to get into the end zone. 

Similarly frustrating for this unit was, after Trubisky found Burton for touchdown that cut the Bears’ deficit to seven, they allowed Patterson to take the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the New England 41-yard line. 

COACHING: B

This may seem high given how Fangio’s defensive plan didn’t result in much success and how Chris Tabor’s special teams units coughed up 14 points. But worth noting is more than half the Patriots’ offensive possessions didn’t end in points (six of 10), which is hardly awful against an offense that scored 20 touchdowns and kicked 13 field goals while only punting 21 times in its first six games. That’s not to completely absolve the Bears’ defense, as the execution and scheming needed to be better. But this wasn’t a total failure on that side of the ball, at least in terms of holding New England to 24 points. 

That being said, this grade is mostly about Nagy doing well to scheme the Bears’ offense in a game in which his quarterback was uneven and his quarterback’s two top receivers were limited either due to injury (Robinson) or the Patriots’ defense (Gabriel). Scoring 31 points in any week is impressive, and the Bears were a few better-executed plays away from not needing a Hail Mary to get one more yards to tie it at the end of the game. Complain all you want about the ineffective of the Bears’ running plays, but this offense has scored 48, 28 and 31 points in its last three games. What Nagy’s been able to do has been a big reason why, even if the Bears are only 1-2 in those contests.