Pick Your Poison

Do the Beas start David Fales (left) or Jimmy Clausen (right)?
Do the Bears start David Fales (left) or Jimmy Clausen (right)?

I loved head coach John Fox‘s answer when he was asked if quarterback Jay Cutler would be able to practice on Wednesday:

“Is (the coin flip) going to be heads or tails on Sunday? I don’t know.

He knows. Cutler is reportedly out for two weeks and it looks like it’s time for his back ups to step up.

Fans and media have been pretty harsh on Jimmy Clausen after Sunday’s performance and it’s hard to defend. Clausen was 14/23 for 121 yards, an average of 5.3 yards per attempt and a turnover. He didn’t exactly look like a guy who was waiting for his chance to show what he could do in this league.

I’m inclined to go easier on him than most but there’s no doubt that, going in cold with no practice reps or not, he was unprepared on Sunday. The question is, how much better is he going to be when he is prepared. And, more to the point, is it time to take a good look at David Fales?

Everyone understands this is a rebuilding year for the Bears so the first instinct is to say, “Throw the youngster in and see what he can do.” But the problem is that the quarterback isn’t the only position where development has to take place. What will it do to the development of other young players on the team without a veteran quarterback who can make the required throws. Clausen was 23/39 for 181 yards in his only start of 2014 against the Detroit Lions and his QBR was 77.

Those statistics aren’t earth shattering  but they are at least competent and I’d say that Clausen is good enough to allow other young players to progress, something that we won’t know about Fales until we see him under real game conditions. But Clausen’s performances for the Bears haven’t been starting quarterback of the future material and Clausen has a long history of below average quarterback play in the NFL before that to judge him on, indicating that he’s not likely to do a whole lot better given the chance.

Fales is currently on the Bears practice squad but will almost certainly be promoted before the game this week. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 draft. However, the last coaching staff didn’t deem him ready to play very often and when Clausen sustained a concussion last year in his only start, the team chose to go back to the benched Cutler rather than put Fales on to the field to see what he could do.

The good news for Fales is that the current regime chose to keep him despite the fact that they did not draft him and he missed a significant portion of training camp with an illness. So they must see something in him. But is he that much more ready now than he was late last year when the staff that drafted him wouldn’t play him?

What the coaching staff does here may tell us a lot about what they think about Fales. They could see him as a guy whose ceiling is a good back up. If that’s the case, Clausen is your man. If they see him as something more, then the decision gets more tricky. Take a huge chance on the young guy or go with the devil that you know? As Fox would undoubtedly say, “Flip a coin”.

Speed Kills

I couldn’t agree more with Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune on the Bears pass rush:

“This is a major issue for the Bears right now. They have no pass rush and that’s deeply troubling because the team stance through the offseason and then training camp was outside linebacker was the deepest position on the roster or at least on the defensive side of the ball. That was supposed to be a strength. Right now, it looks like a real problem area, one that’s making a talent-deficient secondary look worse.”

It was supposed to be deep in that they’ve got a lot of guys at the position. But none of us really knew how good those guys were going to be. Biggs quotes Cardinals left tackle Jared Veldheer as he addresses the problem:

“They are big for outside ’backers. They’re almost all 4-3 D-ends that have been converted.’

“With that size, there isn’t a lot of speed coming off the edge. Veldheer agreed with that and said he found himself misjudging the pass rush a couple times because he expected a defender to be on top of him sooner than they were.”

Exactly. Speed. The Bears lack speed virtually everywhere on their defense. They lack speed at linebacker and they lack it in the defensive backfield where the cornerbacks don’t have the necessary recovery speed to effectively play man coverage and the safeties, particularly the aging Antrel Rolle, can’t get over to help.

This was a large part of the problem last year when defensive coordinator Mel Tucker took much of the blame for the Bears defensive woes. And like last year, I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t going to be another historically bad defense. Indeed, 48 points was the most the Bears have ever allowed in a home game. Only the expected development of the younger players, the hope that everyone will react quicker and more instinctually as they get more familiar with the defense, and the better coaching gives me any hope that won’t happen.Running-Turkey405

But I’m starting to look more and more at that Thanksgiving game against the Packers at Lambeau Field with trepidation. Something tells me I’m going to once again be the deeply humiliated Bears fan surrounded by family in another city as the team gets a 50 burger hung on them. Or more.

Use of the Zone Read Adds a Nice New Wrinkle to the Bears Offense

Bears-Jay-Cutler1One positive from Sunday’s game is highlighted by Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points to offensive coordinator Adam Gase‘s use of the zone read with quarterback Jay Cutler as a positive from Sunday’s game:

“‘We did it the last two years with Peyton [Manning],’ Gase said. ‘Peyton didn’t keep any. But that’s been going on for a long time. That was different stuff (that what we ran with Tim Tebow in Denver). A lot of this stuff we do, everybody is doing it in the league right now. It’s just kind of the decision making. If you watch Philly, even when (Mark) Sanchez was playing, he’d pull it and get 4 and slide. Jay just decided like he felt like dropping the shoulder. He does a good job and does a good job of making the right decisions.'”

I like this for a number of reasons. First it gives the defense another runner to worry about. Despite putting it on tape against the Green Bay Packers the week before, the Cardinals were clearly surprised when Cutler kept the ball and scrambled for a couple of good gains of 10 and 8 yards. Second it takes advantage of Cutler’s underrated mobility and physical toughness. At a time when the offense lacks talent at wide receiver with Alshon Jeffery hurting, Gase is using every weapon in his arsenal to compensate. Cutler’s willingness to run and take a hit when necessary (though they’d rather he slides) could be a big part of that.