Jerry Angelo

The Bears need more than just a win vs. Browns this week

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USA TODAY

The Bears need more than just a win vs. Browns this week

NBCS colleague JJ Stankevitz and I do a quick “key to the game” before each Bears outing but this week did more than just look at two tipping points we see in the Bears-Browns game. More important at this point of the season has become more than simply winning the game, the point of it all until they stop using scoreboards, is the “how” that happens, looking at more than just the Browns.

First, some context:

The Bears are 0-6 in games when they fail to attempt at least 20 rushes. Those losses include the true embarrassments vs. Green Bay, vs. San Francisco and at Detroit. They also include vs. Atlanta.

Why I cite these four out of the nine total is that the Bears rarely have been so far behind so late in a game that they were forced to pass. And those four in particular are all games decided by a touchdown or less (I’m including Detroit II because that was an opponent against whom the Bears had rushed for 222 yards month earlier, and because it deserves to be in this cluster of aberrant performances for reasons to follow).

O-coordinator Dowell Loggains has been savaged for stating a simple football fact, that defenses can dictate what an offense does, like it or not. The reality is that if you are willing to sacrifice enough in other areas, you can take something away from an opponent.

“As a defense, they really do get to control how they decide to play us," Loggains said. "And [at Detroit], if we were going to throw for 500 yards, they were going to let us throw for 500 yards and say, ‘Hey, can you guys beat us? Can you guys win outside one-one? We’ve got Slay and these other guys. We’ll take out chances.’ They’re going to play an eight-man box, put the safety in the box and they’re going to take it away. You can beat your head in the wall or you can be pragmatic and throw the football.”

The Browns are among the NFL’s best at limiting the run – 3.3 yards per carry – and they stack the box. “We’ve seen more of that of late,” Fox said. “We’ve got to execute better in the passing game to counteract that.”

Which is absolutely true. But what the Bears have too often failed to do is to impose their will on a game or opponent, with both personnel and scheme, and that right now is the key to watch in this game. If the Browns are willing to sell out to stop the run, and the run is axiomatic in the Bears identity, then what do the Bears do to impose their will on a woeful opponent? Are Loggains and Trubisky capable of using the pass, formations and personnel to loosen a defense packed to take away exactly what the Bears need to be?

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It is a throwaway game in the greater NFL universe but the best hope is that this Bears-Browns tilt avoids becoming another theater of the absurd as some prior ones have been, particularly involving the quarterback position.

The last time quarterback Mitch Trubisky saw the Browns, they were landing on him in the form of a sack on the final play of a 25-0 blowout to wrap up the preseason – a game that began with Trubisky handing off nine straight times on three straight three-and-outs, then finished with coaches calling two pass plays in the final 11 seconds for Trubisky, who was forced back into the game when Connor Shaw was injured scrambling on a – yep – pass play. And the defensive lineman who sacked Trubisky – defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi – who was not a throwaway Browns scrub, making the final 53.

John Fox and staff may have done a spectrum of positives in the course of developing Trubisky, which will stand as a positive in their post-season evaluations. If the decision is made that not enough positives unfolded for Fox to keep his job, the bizarre handling and unnecessary exposure to risk of the franchise quarterback vs. Cleveland may head the column of negatives in a pivotal year for Fox.

Trubisky is not the first Bears quarterback involved in a head-scratching Cleveland situation.

Then-GM Phil Emery cited the comeback engineered by Jay Cutler in the 2013 Bears-Browns game as the tipping point for giving Cutler a seven-year contract that impaled the organization (and Fox ultimately) on a deal with $54 million guaranteed.

This was a comeback against a Browns team that would finish 4-12 and came the week before Cutler gagged away a chance to clinch the playoffs against the Philadelphia Eagles. The latter was not enough for Emery, who mentioned, “I was really fascinated by his press conference [after] the Cleveland game.” Not sure how many GM’s use press conferences as any benchmarking standard for quarterback evaluations, but hey….

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Looking beyond 2017 at positions that the Bears might address in the offseason, this probably won’t happen, and maybe shouldn’t happen (some thought is that his snakebitten injury run followed his last switch involving this position), but…

…should Kyle Long stay at right or left guard? Or would he and the Bears be better served with him at tackle? Either tackle.

People close to Long say no, and Long himself has said flatly, “I’m a guard.” But by way of context: Back in 2012 when Kyle Long was headed for Oregon, father Howie Long told the Oregonian that he’d always seen Kyle as a true offensive tackle, telling the Oregonian, “I’ve always found it to be more of a natural for him.”

As Kyle recovers from neck surgery this week, the latest procedure to address a succession of significant injuries since he returned to guard from his one-year (2015) stint at right tackle, the Bears (and Long) might be served considering getting Long out of the interior and to an edge spot with an offseason (when he’s not in rehab) to settle into the job. The injury litany has exploded since his return to guard. Perhaps there’s a message lying there amid the braces and tape.

After just seven days of orientation at tackle and then playing the entire 2015 season there, Long, by consensus already one of the NFL’s best guards, went to the Pro Bowl as a replacement for Philadelphia tackle Jason Peters. This was after a Bears linemate and Long booster confided that Long wasn’t yet temperamentally suited for tackle – reason being, pass blocking in particular was a different enterprise in space, requiring the ability to regroup mid-play and stay under control when you start to get beaten by a speed rusher. Long’s instinct, his teammate said, was to just react and try to hammer the guy.

Again, probably not something that’ll happen, under this staff or any presumed next one. But Long’s physiology has taken a beating both on the field and in the medical arena, and he has missed 15 games since going back to guard. So maybe…

Drafting first round QB's despite starters in place something of a Bears tradition

Drafting first round QB's despite starters in place something of a Bears tradition

The good thing about a draft scenario like the Bears’ selecting Mitch Trubisky on top of having signed Mike Glennon for starter-grade money is that it provides an almost inexhaustible quiver of talking and writing points. To wit...

... the 2017 draft is far from the first time that the Bears have invested a lofty pick in a player at a position that had been staffed not all that long before with a pricey free agent or still had a distinguished veteran. Don’tcha kind of wonder how Sid Luckman, 32, All-Pro as recently as 1947, felt seeing George Halas use the No. 3 pick of the 1948 draft on Bobby Layne?

The Bears had Jim McMahon in harness (literally and figuratively) in 1987 when they used their first-round pick on Jim Harbaugh. They went QB at No. 12 overall (Cade McNown) in 1999 despite the coaching staff believing they could make something out of Shane Matthews. The San Francisco 49ers had Joe Montana in place when they dealt for Steve Young. Montana didn’t like it but 49ers history was obviously the better for it. Not that Montana ever wanted for motivation, but he earned the first of his three All-Pro designations in — take a guess — 1987.

GM Jerry Angelo dramatically out-bid the market for running back Thomas Jones in 2004. Jones was OK that season, but the Bears came back in 2005 to use the No. 4 pick of that draft on Cedric Benson because, as former Bear and longtime NFL analyst Dan Jiggetts said at the time, Jones still had questions after the first season in which he’d started more than nine games.

Jones didn’t like it, and didn’t like Benson, who exacerbated his overall situation with a long holdout that didn’t sit well with veterans. Jones eventually forced a trade after the 2006 season and Benson wound up a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, albeit for the Cincinnati Bengals. Jones appeared to get the situation; after never rushing for 1,000 yards in his career, he piled up five straight of 1,100 yards or more after the Benson pick. Just sayin’ ... 

... any assessment of Ryan Pace’s competence or lack of same is beyond silly at this point. The object of his affections hasn’t even put on a Bears jersey yet, just held one up for cameras. The obvious tack here is that if Trubisky is franchise-grade as the Bears project, then the acquisition was the right one.

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]

But the deeper perspective, on whether Pace was bidding against himself in the absence of known real offers, gets increasingly debunked. On top of Pace’s own experience of getting multiple calls from teams looking to trade up to No. 3 for a quarterback, and Pace knowing that when he didn’t want to deal that the next speed-dial by those callers would be to 49ers GM John Lynch, Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson suggested that Pace not only had reason for fear poachers, but also that multiple other teams shared Pace’s conclusion that Trubisky was the best quarterback in this draft.

Robinson said via SiriusXM NFL Radio that the Titans had gotten calls inquiring about acquiring their pick at No. 5. Those calls stopped when the Bears dealt up and grabbed Trubisky. Because Pat Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and every other quarterback was still on the board, the conclusion was that those other teams also had targeted Trubisky, as Pace had ... 

... the brouhaha over whether Glennon felt betrayed/bemused/befuddled/belittled/beheaded over the Trubisky selection borders on the comical. (No comments directly from Glennon about his reaction, but nevermind that.) But If Glennon purports to know some of the history of the NFL’s charter franchise (and others), he should not only have known this was a possibility, but also should have expected it. And he’s a big reason why — specifically, if it were clear that Glennon was a 27-year-old No. 1 quarterback, the Bears can be more casual in filling out the QB depth chart. The Green Bay Packers didn’t use anything higher than a fourth-round pick on a quarterback until Brett Favre was 36 because they knew they didn’t need to. The Bears are far from in that spot. Had they traded for Kirk Cousins, maybe; they didn’t.

To even link the Glennon signing to the Trubisky drafting is failing to grasp how teams try to staff the most important spot in their game.

Cases in point: the Seattle Seahawks signing Matt Flynn away from the Packers in 2012 for $20.5 million over three years, $9 million guaranteed. Flynn had all of two NFL starts at the time. The Seahawks rightly hedged their bet: They drafted Russell Wilson in the third round. Flynn then lost his job to Wilson by Week 1.

Glennon has 18 starts so maybe that’s why he got $18 million over two years. In any case, the Bears weren’t going to hang the future solely on a twice-replaced quarterback (by Josh McCown and Jameis Winston with Tampa Buccaneers) any more than Seattle was going Flynn-only.

Another in point: the Washington Redskins traded massively up in 2012 to draft Robert Griffin III. Then Washington turned around and invested a fourth-rounder in Cousins.

Timeline: Looking back on Jay Cutler's eight seasons with the Bears

Timeline: Looking back on Jay Cutler's eight seasons with the Bears

Jay Cutler’s time with the Bears has come to an end. Check out an overview of Cutler's eight seasons in Chicago:

2009        

Apr. 2: Bears trade Kyle Orton, 2009 first-and-third round selections, and 2010 first-rounder to the Denver Broncos for Cutler and a 2009 fifth-round pick.
 
Oct. 20: Five games into his first Bears season, Cutler is given a two-year, $30 million extension. Bears lose seven of next nine games on the way to 7-9 finish in Cutler’s only 16-game Bears season. Cutler leads NFL with 26 INT’s. Bears fire offensive coordinator Ron Turner.

2010

- Bears finish 11-5, including 10-5 in Cutler starts with Mike Martz as offensive coordinator.

2011

Jan. 16: Bears defeat the Seattle Seahawks for Cutler’s only career playoff win.
 
Jan. 23: Cutler injures knee, misses second half in loss to the Green Bay Packers in NFC Championship game.
 
Nov. 20: Cutler breaks right thumb attempting a tackle vs. the San Diego Chargers. Bears 7-3 with Cutler, fall to 8-8 under Caleb Hanie. Martz fired.

2012

- Phil Emery replaces Jerry Angelo as GM.

- Mike Tice installed as offensive coordinator, clashes with Cutler during 10-6 season. Lovie Smith fired along with Tice and staff.

2013

- Marc Trestman replaces Smith, Aaron Kromer hired as offensive coordinator, Bears open 4-2 with Cutler passer-rating of 90-plus in five of six games.

[RELATED: Jay Cutler left his mark in the Bears record books]

Oct. 20: Cutler injures groin against the Washington Redskins, misses four games, Josh McCown excels. Cutler eventually returns to start over coaches’ preference for McCown.

2014

Jan. 2: Bears eschew franchise tag, sign Cutler for $126.7 million over seven years, $54 million guaranteed first three years.
 
Oct. 14: Emery calls Cutler “elite” by virtue of having a winning record as NFL starter.
 
Dec. 4: Bears crushed by the Dallas Cowboys. Kromer vents coaches’ frustration with Cutler to NFL reporter, later apologizes to Cutler and team.
 
Dec. 21: Cutler benched, Jimmy Clausen starts, suffers concussion vs. Detroit. Cutler reinstalled as starter.
 
Dec. 29: Emery fired along with Trestman and staff.

2015

- Ryan Pace hired as general manager, John Fox as head coach, Adam Gase as offensive coordinator. Cutler not endorsed as starter.

- Cutler posts career-best 92.3 passer rating.

2016     

- Gase leaves to be the Miami Dilphins head coach, replaced by Dowell Loggains.

Sept. 19: Cutler injures thumb, replaced for five games by Brian Hoyer.

Oct. 31: Cutler returns for three games, injures shoulder Nov. 20 vs. New York Giants. Out for season.

2017 

Mar. 9: Cutler released by Bears.