As we do every week, we try to get the lowdown on the opposition by talking to people who know them best. This week, it’s the fine fellows over at Windy City Gridiron for a little game of Five Questions about the Chicago Bears.
Blogging The Boys: Where do you stand on Jay Cutler as the Bears quarterback? Should the Bears continue to build a team around him, or is it time for them to search for a new starting quarterback? How does having Brian Hoyer start affect the Bears on Sunday night?
Windy City Gridiron: Personally, I would put myself in the minority as a Cutler backer. He's got a great arm, he's smart, and he is a tough guy who has gotten knocked around a lot in his 8 years here. He gets washed away in the national media narrative as a bad teammate (lazy observation and seemingly untrue) and someone who can't win anything significant. I think that's an unfair evaluation of his football game and more about his body language and seeming hatred of the media, but the national narrative likes to put quarterbacks into buckets and shape the narrative around it (similar to Tony Romo). For example, Cutler led the league in interceptions in 2014 with 18 and that information was everywhere but he was tied with Philip Rivers that same year and Rivers is thought of as a good QB. Plus, I've never heard the "led the league in interceptions" argument before or since that year so it's tough as a Bears fan to defend your QB against the national narrative. He's never going to be elite, but he's not nearly as bad as people seem to think.
In terms of team building, Cutler is 33 and obviously has his deficiencies as he will force throws when he's trying to make something happen and has been nicked up over the years, derailing a few promising campaigns. The shifting in Bears coaching staffs and General Managers have all failed to bring in a young QB to develop. If this season continues to head in the direction of disaster, there's no question in my mind the Bears are taking a QB at the top of the draft. Cutler is still under contract and the Bears have plenty of cap room, so you may see a transition year next season or maybe they try to trade him. Before you laugh, the Vikings gave up a first round pick for Sam Bradford a few weeks ago.
Brian Hoyer is a legit professional backup quarterback in this league and I expect him to be able to run the offense. I can see him force feeding the ball to Alshon Jeffery like he did with DeAndre Hopkins last year in Houston. If Dallas plans on stacking the box and playing man coverage against Alshon, I suspect the Bears could get a big play or two.
BTB: The Bears offensive line seems like an issue for the team. Talk about the personnel there and how they have been playing so far.
WCG: Left tackle is Charles Leno Jr., 3rd year 7th-round Boise State tackle who has shown real promise and the hope is he'll be an average to above average left tackle by the end of the year. He's been beat by some good pash rushers in the first two weeks but has stretches of solid play. The guards are manned by perennial pro-bowlers Josh Sitton, newly signed from Green Bay, and Kyle Long, playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The pivot is being manned by a rookie second rounder out of Kansas State named Cody Whitehair, who is making a big transition from left tackle in college, to guard throughout preseason, and now center to cover for injuries and make room for Sitton. The interior of the line has a chance to be among the top three units in the league by years end. From watching film of the first two games though, they're doing a poor job handling stunts and communicating with each other to pick up rushers. That takes time and I'd expect it to improve. Finally, big Bobbie Massie starts at right tackle and has quickly proven that he's a huge liability in the passing game. The Bears absolutely have to focus on helping Bobbie Massie in pass pro with tight ends and running backs or Matt Barkley is going to finish the game on Sunday night.
BTB: Out of all the injuries on defense from last week, which one is going to be the most problematic on Sunday? Do the Bears have any depth on defense to replace the injured?
WCG: The biggest two injuries happened before last week's game with Pernell McPhee on the PUP List recovering from an injured knee, and Kyle Fuller, arguably the most talented member of the secondary recovering from a knee injury of his own. In terms of last week's injury, the one that could really impact Sunday's matchup further is losing Eddie Goldman at Nose Tackle. Goldman played incredibly well last year and is seemingly on his way to anchoring that defensive line for years to come. A high ankle sprain keeps him out and we'll see a rotation of players to fill that void. The Bears didn't have enough talent to fill 11 professional defensive starters last season so we'll see what a year of roster turnover has done for depth. My sense is it will be trouble as in addition to Goldman, three linebackers will miss the game as well (McPhee, Lamaar Houston, and Danny Trevathan). This may very well be the game Ezekiel Elliot runs for 200 yards (and Alfred Morris vultures 3 scores).
BTB: Which players are the bright lights for the team? Who will need to have big games for the Bears to win on Sunday?
WCG: It sure seems like they're all injured! I would argue the best player at every level of the defense is hurt (Goldman, McPhee, Fuller). So on defense, I'm watching for how young corners Jacoby Glenn and Deiondre Hall, rookie out of Northern Iowa, play against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys wideouts. If one of those guys develops into a good starting corner it will be a huge win for the future of this team. On offense, Alshon Jeffery has to take over the game for Chicago to have a chance in this one. He has all the tools to be a top 5 wide receiver and Hoyer might just force feed him in desperation. We might also start to see rookie Jordan Howard carve out a role for himself in the running game. If Chicago is going to be effective this year, they need a back who can keep them on schedule on first and second down and Howard has the best skill set to do just that.
BTB: Do you like John Fox as the head coach? Is he getting things turned around for Chicago or would you like to see them go in a different direction?
WCG: Well...the Bears are recovering from two years of Marc Trestman who was an absolute disaster for this franchise. It was such a bad hire that it got the GM fired after only 3 years. What's even worse about the Trestman hire is that Bruce Arians was offered the job with the stipulation that he keep Rod Marinelli on as Defensive Coordinator. Arians wanted to bring in Todd Bowles and refused the deal. The Bears watch Arians walk to Arizona where all he's done is win 10 or more games the last 3 years (and Bowles be so successful he was hired away to New York), and went down the dark path of hiring away a CFL coach. What's worse - Marinelli left for Dallas!
So, coming off that debacle, John Fox seemed like a great hire, someone who would re-institute a good defense and be able to control a locker room. The Bears were competitive all year last season and it certainly seemed as though this franchise was on the right track. The first two games this season have been seemingly worse and that's not what you want to see out of a 6 win team a year ago. Losing Adam Gase is almost certainly having a real effect on this offense. I'll keep the faith that he will turn things around, but getting embarrassed two weeks in a row against rookie quarterbacks on national television will cause pitchforks at Halas Hall to appear.
Thank for the knowledge, Windy City Gridiron.