By Robert Zeglinski
It would be hard to confuse Sunday’s battle for last place between the Detroit Lions and Bears as some kind of monumental tilt with playoff implications. The Bears’ 17-14 win over Detroit was every bit what you’d expect from two objectively mediocre teams at the moment. Sloppy miscommunications, untimely penalties, missed coverage, all defined what will be a potential quality jumping off point for these Bears.
A record of 1-3 and you’re still playing for something meaningful, looking to build off of previous efforts and believing in the overall mission. Now if you’re winless through a month? That begins tuning out coaches territory and a lack of faith in the overall process. Even while circumstances paint the Bears as a likely non-playoff team right now – who knows what could change – it’s important for one of the youngest teams in the NFL to develop a semblance of positivity.
You could say their victory was “just” a victory over Detroit but that’s a flawed sentiment. Laugh at the Lions’ franchise misfortunes all you want but they’ve had Chicago’s number recently. The Bears had lost six straight games to their division rival. The Lions came in with the NFL’s fourth ranked offense. They were every bit the gorilla and stepping stone this franchise needed to overcome. Don’t beat this team that seemingly had a hex over you and you’ve also gone a year without a home win. In the NFL, wins like this are oh so precious. You take them, run, and don’t say another word. Every triumph should be celebrated. Not another peep.
With two struggling 1-3 teams on the docket in the next couple of weeks in the Colts and Jaguars, now the Bears have an opportunity to work their way back to .500. After an utterly hopeless start to the season that had many questioning the franchise’s direction, there’s an ideal they can work for. There’s a new chance. As long as the overall health of Chicago’s roster improves, who knows what happens from here. Destiny is still in their hands.
You see it in the belief of new guys like defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. Said Hicks of the team’s ups-and-downs, “I think the guys have been very resilient. I think we’ve seen our faults and tried to make the best of them.”
For now, that’s all these Bears can do. They are a very flawed but young team. Growing pains will continue and the plan will veer off, but at least they’re prepared for that development in any event.
But we need to have a conversation. Something the Bears no doubt want to intentionally dig at the core of their team. Ah, yes a quarterback controversy. Where are the streamers? Where’s the confetti? Please set it all up.
Brian Hoyer has admirably filled in for the injured Jay Cutler. Sunday’s performance where he went 28/36 for 302 yards and two touchdowns to no turnovers, was the perfect back-up quarterback performance. Hoyer has thrown for at least 300 yards and not thrown an interception in two straight starts, while Cutler only has two such games in 99 career starts with the same mark and lack of blemishes. (We’ll get to why this can be misleading in a minute)
Hoyer played within the confines of the offense. He let his receivers make plays such as Eddie Royal’s 64-yard catch-and-run late in the contest. Occasionally, he created a play out of his own accord outside the pocket like on the game’s first touchdown to Royal in the first quarter. Again, he didn’t turnover the ball. Seriously, this was the most important aspect of his game. And then, he turned it around and handed it off to a budding young star tailback in Jordan Howard – who enjoyed his first career 100-yard game – with 111 yards on 23 carries.
There wasn’t anything flashy or particularly spectacular about the performance. Hoyer had and or has a set responsibility as a backup passer. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains understands his limitations and is now game-planning an offense the way he should when or if Cutler returns. Yes I said if, because it seems the Bears aren’t shying away from creating a story.
Just listen to head coach John Fox on the matter.
“Anybody that’s performing well, I don’t think we’re going to be likely to change.” said Fox of Hoyer’s play and the Cutler conundrum.
Fox has been around the NFL for decades. He’s been the leader of three separate organizations now. He knows exactly what he’s doing in planting seeds of dissent or doubt. It’s not casting a light on Cutler and it’s not necessarily praising Hoyer’s “transcendent” performance of late. Simply put, while Cutler heals – and who knows how long that will take – Hoyer is entrenching himself into the starting position.
Though, entrenching himself only in the way of gamesmanship to keep people guessing.
Cutler, while never living up to the immeasurable bar set, is the superior player and leader, despite what anyone will have you believe. “Smoking Jay” isn’t the long-term answer, but it shouldn’t preclude him from giving this team the best chance to win. Keep teams guessing but the Bears can’t handicap their own team. There’s no controversy. You may well win a championship with a different passer but Cutler is the guy to keep in his stead until then. Yes that’s even while some will want him to continue to be everyone’s NFL villain.
And Hoyer’s statistical anomaly is just that. They are the only 300-yard games of his journeyman career. That benchmark doesn’t illustrate team success either. Cutler has thrown for 300 yards 16 times in his Bears career and they are just 6-10 in those efforts. There are extrapolating factors as to why they don’t mean as much as the flashy box score will tell you. In particular for a Bears team built around it’s defense and running game in this era. The fact that Hoyer didn’t turn over the ball should be commended but not seen as some magical outlet. The Bears scored 17 points on one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Their defense only allowed six points. That’s why they’re off the hook. Not because of anything remarkable the wizard Hoyer managed. Let’s also not forget that most of Hoyer’s production has come against two of the league’s worst defenses with one being mostly in garbage time against Dallas.
In any case, as mentioned, Cutler’s had plenty of high output games in the same manner but in those games he’s had an interception or two, because he takes chances and stretches the field more. Something Hoyer doesn’t or will ever have the ability to do.
No matter how you feel about either stopgap – because that’s what both men are – Cutler is the better player here. Anything Hoyer does, Cutler does better. This is his team until further notice. He’s not perfect but it’s guaranteed he gives the Bears a better chance to move the ball and win in the meantime.
There’s no doubt Cutler should start when healthy and able. Whether anyone likes it or not.
Week 5 at Indianapolis Colts
When the Bears first met Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, they harassed him to the tune of three interceptions in a 41-21 win for Chicago in 2012. The future seemed bright then for Luck even while his debut was spoiled by the Bears.
When the Bears are on defense: Luck is one of the league’s best. It’s exemplified in how he’s able to make something out of nothing even while having one of the worst offensive lines and overall supporting casts around him. He’s dragged this awful Colts team to the playoffs on multiple occasions through sheer will.
That isn’t the case recently.
Last season Luck missed most of the year due to a rib injury, from accumulated punishment, and the Colts missed the postseason. This year, the roster has not changed whatsoever under the “careful” hand of general manager Ryan Grigson, and you’re seeing the same results.
Indianapolis is one of the worst teams in the league. Any talk of negativity with Chicago mostly concerns their heavy injuries. At least there’s upside with youthful talent. The Colts have no such luxury. They have the league’s 12th most efficient offense DVOA-wise simply on the merits of Luck creating well, luck. Even while Luck’s been sacked 15 times in four games – the most in the league – somehow the Colts are hanging on, but by a thread.
But he’s all they have sans receiver TY Hilton and some other moderately dangerous weapons like Donte Moncrief. There should be no reason the Bears can’t lock this team down and pressure Luck even with their own assortment of ailments. This is the kind of game you hope where it could be a coming out party for Leonard Floyd and Willie Young. Luck will force the ball allowing young playmakers on the back end like Deiondre’ Hall and Bryce Callahan to jump on mistakes.
If they can’t shut down a Colts offense with no protection, they won’t be able to do it against anyone. Have no fear.
When the Bears are on offense: Enough about the horrid Colts attack. Let’s talk about the defense that can’t stop anyone.
While Luck has been the miracle man on one side, there’s no such worker for the defense. This is the NFL’s 28th ranked defense DVOA-wise. They’ve allowed the 25th most yards and are currently giving up 31.3 points per-game, good for a sparkling 30th in the league.
There are no impact guys that could change the game for Indianapolis. Corner Vontae Davis would normally be a player to watch out for, but with no discernible pass rush, his effectiveness is hindered altogether. Seven sacks is right smack in the middle of mediocre. The Colts don’t pressure the quarterback enough for anyone on the back end to have an effect. Defensive end Robert Mathis – once a star of epic proportions – can’t get it done on his own. Age plays a factor for the 35-year-old this team was counting on, as he has zero sacks on the season.
Whether it’s Hoyer or Cutler, a balanced attack that was used against the Lions should be enough to grind out a victory here. You don’t need to create big plays against Indianapolis. They make enough mistakes to gift them to you.
If the Bears employ that control method, the Colts defense will have no say.
Early pick: Bears 29 Colts 21