The Reality of the Bears Situation

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune reviews the problems that the Bears have to overcome in order to continue to win football games.

Jay Cutler’s turnover-free night? Well, Quentin Rollins dropped a shoulda-been interception in the first quarter. And Cutler had to make a desperate hustle recovery to avoid disaster on a fumbled fourth-quarter snap.

“That spirited defensive effort? The Bears still are getting pushed around up front and proving way too vulnerable against the run.

“This list could go on for awhile. And it’s why the Bears can’t take their newfound position as favorites against the 49ers and Redskins as a sign that they can exhale. They still have a razor-thin margin for error and haven’t enjoyed a three-game winning streak since September 2013.”

He’s got a good point. In talking to Bears fans around town and around the Internet, there’s considerable optimism about how this team is going to finish the year. What I’m hearing a lot is, “With that schedule? They’re going to the playoffs.” Much though I like what I see, I think fans are setting themselves for disappointment.

Looking ahead, I see San Fransisco, Washington, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and Detroit. Are those winnable games? You bet. But I feel compelled to point out that those teams are saying the same thing about their game against the 5-6 Bears. And with the exception of the Vikings, all of them are on the upswing, just as the Bears are. And the Vikings were pretty good to begin with.

San Fransisco just limited the Cardinals, possibly the best team in the NFC, to 19 points. Tampa Bay has won three of their last five and is in contention for a playoff spot. Washington has also won three of five and are the favorites to win their division. The Lions just beat the Packers three weeks ago in Lambeau, matching what the Bears just did, and they absolutely destroyed the Eagles on Thanksgiving. And both the Vikings and the Lions beat the Bears earlier in the year.

Could the Bears finish strong and be in contention for the playoffs? No doubt. But much more likely fans will be sitting at the end of the year and be happy that the Bears gradually improved over the course of the season with a bright future ahead of them. But only if they stay grounded in reality.

Fales Starting Quarterback in Waiting?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune documents the process by which Bears quarterback David Fales because the primary back up behind starting quarterback Jay Cutler. Fales got offers to join the rosters of both the 49ers and the Ravens before choosing to remain with the Bears after they agreed to promote him from the practice squad to the roster.

“‘Yeah, but it’s all about being in the right system,’ Fales said. ‘Eventually you are going to get an opportunity and no one knows when that will come. It doesn’t matter if you are not in the right spot.'”

San Fransisco is starting Blaine Gabbert, whose long-term future as the starter is questionable. Former starter Colin Kaepernick had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and his future with the organization is in serious doubt. The Ravens were probably following up on the recommendation of former Bears head coach Marc Trestman, now their offensive coordinator. Starting quarterback Joe Flacco is out for the season after suffering a serious knee injury November 22.

Both of these teams were searching for someone to be a back up after starters became unavailable. But Fale’s popularity around the league, which is why the Bears had to add him to the roster, makes me wonder if he doesn’t have the potential to be a starter. When former Bears general manager Phil Emery drafted him, Emery said it was with the idea that that Fales had the potential to be a solid back up, thus setting the ceiling for him. But does anyone ever draft a player anywhere with the idea that he’ll never be more than a backup? Could it be that Emery was just trying to publicly re-assure Cutler that he wasn’t drafting his replacement even while he took a swing at doing so?

Regardless, Fales may have been given a gift by starting with such apparently low expectations.  He’s had the chance to develop slowly behind other quarterbacks rather than being thrown into the fire too early.  It’s debatable but this is the way many of us still believe it should be done.  No greater example of the benefits could be seen than in the person of Denver quarterback  Brock Osweiler, who beat the Bears and was named AFC offensive player of the week after a solid first start last week.

I’ve very consistently claimed that the Bears need to draft a quarterback of the future sooner rather than later. And I still believe that. But drafting quarterbacks in the first three rounds is a risky business. At minimum Fales may be a good fall back option if the process requires more than one bite at the apple. But you also have to wonder if the Bears aren’t eventually going to find that they were forced to add the quarterback of the future to the roster by necessity last week.

Revising Expectations for the Bears

Jon Greenberg at ESPN is revising his expectations for the Bears:

“In the beginning … we predicted 6-10 for the Chicago Bears and it seemed just about right.”

“But then Jay Cutler returned [from injury] ahead of schedule and things settled down, and now, weeks after fans stopped watching games between their outstretched fingers, this looks like, knock on Mike Ditka’s pompadour, it could be a wholly respectable team with a longshot chance of making the postseason.”

The Bears are on a hot streak and Cutler is certainly a big part of that. But Cutler or not, I’m sticking with 6-10.

The Bears are 4-5 and at this point in the season, I think that’s great. But let’s not forget that they are the same team that lost to the Lions a month ago. They’ve won two games since then but they’ve gotten a lot of help from two teams that, frankly, played well below their talent level. Such things have a bd habit of evening out and more often than not, given decent coaching and a good environment, teams end up right where their talent level says they should.

I’m not disparaging the Bears here. I think they’re a well-coached team that is making progress every week. But Denver is a much better team that is unlikely to give the game away with poor discipline in the same manner that the Rams did. And I don’t care how badly the Packers are slipping at the moment, I can’t believe that they won’t pull it together and beat the Bears on Thanksgiving. I also see the Vikings as a loss in Minnesota. After that, the Bears are still a team that’s going to be no more than a coin flip against Washington, San Fransisco, Tampa Bay, and Detroit. If they win half of those, that’s two more wins. And that’s where I’m still sitting.

Quick Comments on the Monday Night Games

Eagles  – Falcons:

  • Sam Bradford didn’t look sharp early. Too many missed passes and miscommunications. This was exacerbated by the job the Falcons did stopping the run. Eagles head coach Chip Kelley gave up on it and decided to lean on Bradford’s arm. It wasn’t a good decision. The Eagles had 8 yards rushing, 117 yards passing and an INT while only scoring three points at half time. Despite running the ball better, the Eagles stuck with the pass in the second half. They had more success in the second half but still lost this game in large part because they the refused to run the ball more.
  • The Eagles had a lot of trouble getting pressure on Matt Ryan and that exposed their biggest apparent weakness. That secondary’s not good.
  • Speaking of Ryan, he was very lucky that he didn’t give this game away.  Two interceptions that really should have been five.  He’ll want to clean that up.  He won’t get away with it often.
  • The Falcons were running the ball surprisingly well and they did a good job of setting up the play action pass.
  • I heard all off season about how the Falcons were quietly building that defense up.  I didn’t get it, myself, until tonight.  They’re far better than I thought.  They’re much faster and much better at the line of scrimmage.  I was damned impressed.

Vikings – 49ers

I was doing a podcast and could only occasionally glance at this game.  I went to bed not long after that.  But I do have some thoughts on what I saw.

The biggest knock on the Vikings going into the season was their offensive line. They did nothing that I saw during this game to ease anyone’s mind. The 49ers harassed QB Teddy Bridgewater and limited running back Adrian Peterson to 14 yards on 4 carries in the first half. The Vikings have been touted as a playoff team. They’re going to have to do better if that’s going to be the case.

The Key to Defending the Packers? Get to the Ball and Tackle.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune asks NFL scouts for a report on Packers wide receiver Davante Adams:

“‘He really came on at the end of the season,’ one scout said. ‘You look at him and he’s tall, real long and he has good change of direction for someone his size. He’s not an absolute burner, but he really fits what they do well in that hybrid West Coast system. He can run the curl and the fade and he’s pretty good in space. He has shown that he’s good at probably the most important thing in that Green Bay offense — what can you do in space? Yards after the catch. This guy will get explosive gains. He’ll turn a 5-yard catch into 15. He’ll turn 15 into a touchdown.'”

A couple thoughts on this report.

First notice what the scout does not emphasize – the ability to get separation. Adams doesn’t need that because quarterback Aaron Rogers has the ability to throw him open. It’s yet another reminder of why the Bears offense will always trail behind the Packers. It’s all about the quarterback. You can surround Jay Cutler with all of the talent in the world. Unless he learns to throw with anticipation to a receiver, the Bears will never be where they need to be.

Second its a reminder of the one thing the Bears must do really well on defense on Sunday. Tackle. That’s always true but its particularly true against the Packers. Defensive backs must be quick to the ball and must tackle immediately to limit yards after the catch. This is why Lovie Smith‘s teams always were competitive against the Packers. The cover two emphasize these very points and the Packers always had to work hard to get anywhere against it. Indeed, that’s how the cover two gained popularity. It was specifically designed to defeat the West Coast offense run so well by the San Fransisco 49ers in the 1980s. The Packers version is, of couse, more evolved. But the defense is still effective against it.

Unfortunately this isn’t defensive coordinator Vic Fangio‘s style. His defensive backs typically play more man coverage. This can work, as it did regularly against the Packers when Fangio coached the 49ers. Fangio’s defensive backs are also more physical, knocking receivers off their routes. And he disguises his defenses well, something Rogers apparently appreciates:

“‘He always had a lot of moving pieces, but they always seem to be very well prepared,’ Rodgers said Wednesday. ‘There weren’t any mental errors or breakdowns.'”

And there better not be Sunday, either. As Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune emphasizes with this quote from Saints Hall of Fame linebacker Ricky Jackson, it’s not going to be easy:

“‘If he gets a team that has some good closers, he’s going to make some noise,’ Jackson said. ‘And if you ever give him a good secondary, he’s going to kill people.'”

If you give him a good secondary. The Packers passing offense was ranked 8th in the league last year. The Bears passing defense? 30th. And so far this years version looks worse to me. If the defensive backs are a step slow Sunday, as they were in all four preseason games, the Bears aren’t going to get it done.

In fairness, that’s probably true no matter what scheme they play. But its particularly true if Fangio relies on man coverage. Trying to deny receivers the ball in such a scheme is fine as long as players are in a position to make the tackle after a catch. Good fundamentals are going to be the key on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how Fangio and the rest of the Bears defense handle the situation.

Nowhere Is Safe Against the Packers. And Other Point of View.

Bears

  • Color me surprised that the Bears put quarterback Zac Dysert on waivers. It probably means that Jimmy Clausen will be OK for the Packers game but, still, I thought Dysert might have a chance to make the practice squad. It makes you wonder if the Bears might not try to sneak David Fales through instead and, more to the point, whether he’ll make it.
  • Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune on outside linebacker Willie Young surviving the cuts Saturday:

    “Young is now one of five outside linebackers left in Lake Forest, joining Pernell McPhee, Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Sam Acho.

    “Still, the 53-man roster the Bears established Saturday will face revisions in the coming days as [head coach John] Fox and general manager Ryan Pace scan the league’s waiver wire, searching for castoffs from other teams who might fill a need.”

    But they’re probably not going to find any decent pass rushers. Those just don’t shake loose and if they do, someone ahead of them in the waiver process will scoop them up. Young’s about as safe as anyone on the roster at this point.

  • You have to wonder, given Zack Miller‘s injury history, if the Bears aren’t going to be sorry they didn’t keep another tight end. They need to be able to run from the double tight end formation and rookie Khari Lee is the only other player opposite Martellus Bennett.
  • I’m also mildly surprised that the Bears didn’t try to sneak tackle Tayo Fabuluje on to the practice squad. They’ve only got one back up at guard: Vlad Ducasse.
  • Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times answers the biggest questions entering the season:

    “Biggest area of concern .?.?.”

    “The secondary. The Bears are looking at four new starters in the secondary, if you include nickel back Sherrick McManis. The depth is razor thin. The Bears need cornerback Kyle Fuller to be the player they think he can be and veteran safety Antrel Rolle to show off his old Pro Bowl skills at times.”

    Couldn’t agree more. I’m starting to suspect that Fuller isn’t the player we thought he was and I’m positive that Rolle has lost a step. Right now there isn’t a single player I have any confidence in and the secondary is weak at every position.

Elsewhere

  • The Giants have cut wide receiver James Jones. You have to wonder if the Bears ar desperate enough to give him a try.
  • The Vikings cut second year offensive lineman David Yankey. Yankey didn’t play much last season and didn’t survive an unsuccessful move to the tackle position. Patrick Omameh was a starting guard for the Bucs but couldn’t make the same transition. Once again, both are the type of player I have to think that the Bears are at least considering claiming. As a guard, signing him would move Kyle Long to right tackle. I’d say that former first round pick Derek Sherrod might be on this list of potential claims, as well.
  • Jo-Lonn Dunbar might look good in a Bears uniform.
  • The “independent” neurologist who evaluated RGIII has resigned from the neurological consultant program leading once again to the question: “What the hell is going on in Washington?”
  • Sounds like the Packers have yet another wide receiver to worry about. It isn’t fair.

    Can you imagine how good Alshon Jeffery would be with Aaron Rogers throwing to him? My guess is that he’d be right behind Calvin Johnson as one of the best in the league.

  • Once again, its not easy to be a Bears fan lately. But its nothing compared to being a Washington Redskins fan. Via Jerry Brewer at the Washington Post:

    “The lewd news is that Jessica McCloughan, the wife of the GM, had to apologize Wednesday night after it was discovered that she took to Twitter to accuse ESPN’s Dianna Russini, a former WRC (Channel 4) Washington sports anchor, of having an affair with her husband and exchanging sexual favors for news tips. When Jessica issued a statement via the team, it turned gossip into mainstream discourse and added more humiliation to the franchise’s farcical preseason.

    “It also should be used as a delicate precaution: Despite how much McCloughan has thrived in Washington the past eight months, his off-field behavior will always warrant concern and monitoring.”

    McCloughan has admitted to having a drinking problem, one that got him fired from the 49ers. Things like this won’t help.

One Final Thought

Having mentioned my feelings above about the defensive backfield, I should add that Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com has a point about the linebacker position:

“I believe the Bears should have cut Shea McClellin – as Fox has explained to us, there is absolutely nothing personal in this – and kept Mason Foster, because I’m convinced Foster is the better player.”

Vic Fangio went all in early on McClellin and now will continue to roll the dice even though he got progressively worse as the preseason went on, and that is complicated by Christian Jones’ youth and Jon Bostic’s multiple boo boos.”

I have to agree. My initial thought was that the Bears started McClellin and have kept him because he’s the younger player. But Foster is only 26 and he’s clearly the better of the two. I can only assume that the Bears believe that Foster has peaked whereas McClellin still has some upside. In any case, Arkush continues:

“With Jeremiah Ratliff out the next three weeks, and only Eddie Goldman seemingly able on the nose, if you’re Packers coach Mike McCarthy and you’ve got running back Eddie Lacy, where are you going to attack the Bears next Sunday?”

Everywhere, Hub. Everywhere.

Road to Front Office Relationship Success Filled with Potholes

Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com is surprisingly definitive after highlighting former 49er Jeff Garcia‘s comments on the current state of the team:

“Garcia said the decision of [owner Jed] York and [general manager Trent] Baalke to fire Harbaugh reminds him of his own playing days, when York’s father and then-General Manager Terry Donahue decided to fire Steve Mariucci after a 10-6 season. That turned out to be a disaster, as the 49ers wouldn’t have a winning record for the next eight years — until they hired [Jim] Harbaugh.”

I can only agree.

Baalke_2

The capacity of team management to make a mess of a good thing all over the league amazes me. In this case, pride and control were undoubtedly the major factors. Harbaugh (left) and Baalke (right) are both the kind of men that simply refuse to compromise. It ruined their relationship and is well on its way to ruining the team.

BRONCOS_PRESSER_2JL0065

Though the differences were likely more fundamental you have to wonder whether former Broncos and now Bears head coach John Fox (left) and Broncos General Manager and Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway (right) didn’t do the same thing. The guess is that Fox wanted to return to his roots – a run oriented defensive team, while Elway wanted to remain the high-flying passing team that the Broncos became through 2/3 of last season until quarterback Peyton Manning got hurt. The parting was amicable but the effect may be the same – I think it’s unlikely that new head coach Gary Kubiac will be as good at it as Fox was nor do I believe that the loss of offensive coordinator Adam Gase will be without effect. Add in the loss of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to the Raiders as head coach and you’ve got the recipe for a serious decline.

ESPN
ESPN

The relationship between Fox and Bears general manager Ryan Pace (left) seems to be off to a good start. Philosophically they seem to share the same vision. That might what Elway and Fox started with but Fox likely subordinated his vision to Elway with the acquisition of Manning.  Baalke and Harbaugh probably got off to a good start, too.

Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. The key to prosperity will be that both Fox and Pace be reasonable people (unlike Baalke and Harbaugh) who are both very good at what they do. That will engender respect and that will lead to continued willingness to compromise without loss of quality. They also need to stay in agreement philosophically through seasons of change. A dose of early success wouldn’t hurt.

That all seems like a lot to navigate over a course full of obstacles. But if the Pace and Fox do it, they’ll be set up for the kind of long-term success that has eluded some wonderful relationships that started so well and then went south to the ruin of all.

Time Is a Quarterback’s Best Friend. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune interviews new Bears cornerback Alan Ball. Ball is a big defensive back at 6-2, 197 lb. You can’t have too many of them. Bears general manager Ryan Pace would seem to agree.
  • Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times goes down the Bears defensive depth chart. A couple thing become clear in this exercise. Defensive line is still by far the biggest need with Ego Ferguson backing up all three positions. The cornerback position is interesting with Demontre Hurts, Ball, Tim Jennings and Kyle Fuller lining up to compete for two spots. The guess here is that Fuller is established at one outside spot and that one of the other three ends up playing nickel.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com is down right enthusiastic about the signing of linebacker Mason Foster.
  • The 49ers are continuing to stick with Blaine Gabbert (left) as their backup quarterback. Similar to Bears backup Jimmy Clausen (right), Gabbert got thrown into the fire immediately his first season and performed poorly. Also like Clausen, he never got another chance to prove himself.

    Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 6.25.40 AM

    There was a time when quarterbacks sat for years developing behind an established starter. Former Packers head coach Mike Holmgren once famously said that quarterbacks didn’t really pick up the offense until the THIRD YEAR. High round picks don’t get that kind of time anymore. But you have to wonder if both Gabbert and Clausen aren’t benefiting from their roles as backups in the same way that those quarterbacks of long ago did. If so, we may not have seen the last of either of them as starters.

  • Say what you want about former Bears head coach Marc Trestman, he apparently knew many of his players better then some would think. From John Mullin at csnchicago.com:

    “A footnote to the 2014 ‘leadership’ season: Trestman, who began naming weekly last season rather than the traditional team-vote method, appears to have had some sense of what he did and didn’t have as far as locker room leaders. Through 15 games, [Jared] Allen and [Jeremiah] Ratliff were captains six times each, Jay Cutler three times.

    Brandon Marshall was a captain just twice, the second and last time being the Miami game, after which Marshall erupted with a postgame rant at teammates.”

Elsewhere

  • Conor Orr at nfl.com passes on that Mike McCarthy wants to put Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers in the pistol more often next year. The formation has most of the advantages of being in the shotgun but puts the runningback behind you, allowing for runs and making play action effective. I don’t see much of a downside.
  • Orr assesses the effectiveness of the NFL general managers in the draft by looking at the percentage of their picks that make the all-rookie team.

    “Jags GM Dave Caldwell is only two years in, but there’s no doubt he’ll need to hit on one this year. Three years without an All-Rookie selection is unheard of for gainfully employed GMs.”

    Carolina’s Dave Gettleman ranks at the top of the list. Bears general manager Ryan Pace isn’t ranked as he hasn’t made a pick yet.

  • Chris Wessling, also at nfl.com, comments on the staff’s division power rankings. The NFC North ranked third amongst the eight divisions:

    “Even with the acknowledgment that the Lions and Vikings are potential wild-card teams, the NFC North’s third-place ranking reflects respect for the Packers as the primary threat to the Seahawks’ NFC hegemony. Nobody knows what to think of Chicago, mirroring the Bears’ puzzlement at quarterback.”

  • Texans owner Bob McNair defended their signing of nose tackle Vince Wilfork by saying that players are more likely to lose speed than strength with age. Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com calls the notion “a bit simplistic”. I call it dead wrong.
  • Former Bears head coach Lovie Smith is returning to his familiar ways, limiting himself to free agents he either knows (Henry Melton, Chris Conte) or that people he knows know (Bruce Carter and Sterling Moore). That’s a similar strategy to the one he employed as head coach of the Bears when hiring assistants and, like the players he’s signing now, that meant he was drawing them from a very limited pool. There’s always going to be a cap on how much success coaches like Smith have. From the Tampa Tribune.
  • Still wondering why teams don’t spend high round picks on running backs anymore? The Broncos selected Ronnie Hillman in the third round of 2012, took Montee Ball in the second round and signed C.J. Anderson as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Guess which one is going into OTAs as the starter? Via Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com.

One Final Thought

A reminder to everyone not to forget to register to get tickets for you and a guest to the NFL Draft in Chicago at NFL.com/DraftTown. As long as I get the second ticket.

Not the Only Thing. Thank Goodness. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • The signing of new outside linebacker/defensive lineman Pernell McPhee reminded me ominously of the Lamarr Houston. The description of the versatility of each was so similar it was chilling. But Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune put me more at ease as he describes the history of previous Baltimore rejects:

    “Former Ravens Arthur Jones (Colts), Paul Kruger (Browns) and Dannell Ellerbe (Dolphins) all left for big paydays elsewhere the last two years. Total it up and they signed for $108.5 million with $43 million guaranteed on the way out of Baltimore. Ellerbe will reportedly be released in Miami. Jones was a solid player up front for the Colts last year and Kruger followed 41/2 sacks in 2013 with 11 this past season in Cleveland.”

    “Kruger was more than a system player for the Ravens and McPhee, who has terrific size at 6-foot-3, 280 pounds, is a better pass rusher. Kruger can’t put his hand in the dirt and rush like McPhee.”

    Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune comforts me a bit as well on this signing by quoting general manager Ryan Pace:

    “‘I don’t think it’s a scheme thing where he’s getting this production — he’s beating his man one on one,’ Pace said at Halas Hall. ‘What’s exciting about him is it might be a tackle, it might be a guard, it might be a center. He’s all over the place winning one-on-one matchups.'”

    We have to hope that he’s more Kruger than Ellerbe. But at least there’s a history of singing these free agents with success and Pace’s reasoning seems sound.

  • Biggs reports that the Bears appear to be playing it smart in free agency, looking for moderately priced bargains. These guys won’t be play makers but they’ll fill holes until the draft can replenish their young talent.
  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times when asked if the Bears are rebuilding:

    “They’re rebuilding on the fly, which means they’re reconstructing their defense from the ground up, but still could contend if they stay healthy. Their offense was second in the NFL in points in 2013. They’re missing Brandon Marshall from that equation. But if he’s truly addition by subtraction, the Bears at least have the chance to contend in an NFL where almost every team’s expectations are fluid.”

    I disagree. There’s no way the Bears will contend for anything while transitioning to a 3-4 defense. They have square pegs fitting round holes all over the place and you can’t sign enough free agents to fill all the holes.

    The Bears built false hope amongst the fan base last year that they had a team that could go to the Super Bowl. Here’s hoping this regime is smart enough to control expectations. This team belongs near the bottom of the division next year.

  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times responds to “The Bears will fail in free agency if” with this surprising answer:

    “A quality receiver isn’t signed. Brandon Marshall’s production may be overblown, but the Bears still need help at the position. Pace wants to address needs in free agency to allow for taking the best player available in the draft. So it’s best to find a receiver, too, while still addressing the defense.”

    With needs all over the defense, I didn’t expect Jahns to push for an offensive player. But he’s got a point. You could argue that the Bears need two receivers and the odds are that they couldn’t take more than one in the draft.

  • Jeff Dickerson at ESPN passes on the rumor that the Bears have serious interest in Terrance Knighton. Knighton is a classic 2-gap, space eating nose tackle and such a signing would be an indication of what kind of 3-4 defense the Bears plan to run.
  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune indicates that the bears are in the bidding for center Sefen Wisniewski. Signing him might mean moving Roberto Garza to right guard, Kyle Long to left tackle and Jermon Bushrod to right tackle. That’s a shuffle that will make a lot of Bears fans who have been calling for the Long move happy.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune didn’t think much of the rumor that the Bears were interested in trading Jay Cutler for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick

“Kaepernick drove the Niners crazy with the same inconsistency and inaccuracy that defined Cutler’s season. Kaepernick’s contract contains more outs than Cutler’s, but would a team give up draft picks for a starting quarterback without making a commensurate financial commitment? A younger quarterback prone to similar poor judgment would represent change merely for the sake of change, not to mention the draft picks the Bears likely would have to give up in any package for Kaepernick.”

The difference is, of course, that Kaepernick has the mental attitude of a winner and Cutler is the text book definition of a loser.

People in the media defending Cutler over a weak free agent crop is understandable. I don’t agree with it but its understandable. But defending him over a proven winner like Kaepernick is insane.

I think Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times probably has the best handle on the situation:

“My head has told me for years that Cutler isn’t the answer for the Bears. My head told me that they should have cut ties with him this week. The argument we’ve been hearing for years – ‘Who are you going to find who’s better than Jay?’’ — isn’t an argument at all. It’s a capitulation. It’s defeatist thinking. It’s spinning your wheels and convincing yourself that you’re getting somewhere.

“If your job is to evaluate football players for a living and you’re confident in your abilities, you should be able to come to two conclusions after putting Cutler on a microscope slide:

“I can’t win with this guy.”

Having said that, Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune at least makes me feel a little better about the current regime at Halas Hall, if not about the decision to stick with Cutler in 2015:

“[As] many times as we’ve lived this news conference, the thing that came through this time was the lack of love for Cutler from Pace and Fox.

“That’s a welcome change if they weren’t going to change quarterbacks.

“Past regimes cast Cutler as a franchise quarterback. They marveled at the physical skills and his knowledge of the game. They dreamed big dreams.

“And they got a nightmare.

“A nightmare that will continue with the quarterback who led the NFL in turnovers.

“Pace and [head coach JohnFox, however, sounded more like they were stuck with the $126.7 million quarterback than they won the lottery.”

I’m entering the stage of acceptance over this. The biggest problem is that, if you’re a fan that has any hope at all that the team can quickly turn it around this year, your season is already over in March. It’s not that the Bears can’t win games with Cutler at quarterback – they can. But I think it’s well established now that, for instance, they aren’t going to win a playoff game. Effectively the success of the team will always be capped as long as Cutler is here.

So now it’s all about watching the team develop. Development of the new schemes on offense and defense. Development and evaluation of new players and old. It’s about learning more and more about the nuances of the game.

Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” For the Bears, it’s not really too much about winning anymore.

Why Could the Bears Be Winners as Soon as 2015 And Other Points of View

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune quotes former Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner on what new Bears head coach John Fox said in his first team meeting after taking over the 1-15 team:

    “‘He said, ‘You were 1-15 and they got rid of all the coaches,’ Buckner recalled. ‘None of those coaches played. None of those coaches dressed on Sunday. A lot of reasons you were 1-15 are sitting in this room, and it’s my job to weed you out.'”

    I’d say there are a few Bears that need to hear that. Its all roses and sunshine right now between Fox and Bears fans. But this alone makes me think the Bears probably got their man.

  • For some reason David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune is under the impression that we care what Brian Urlacher thinks.
  • Former NFL safety Matt Bowen at the Chicago Tribune tells us what we want to hear.
  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune tries to allay my fears that Fox won’t be able to fix the quarterback position. It didn’t work.My only comfort in this regard is that Bears general manager Ryan Pace will ultimately make the final decision on Jay Cutler. He’s’ has been watching Drew Brees for a good chunk of his career so he knows what a quarterback looks like.

    Pace is certainly going to watch a lot of tape before he comes to a decision. That means eventually he’s going to put on the tape of the game his New Orleans Saints played against the Bears on December 15. At that point he’ll know that he has to get rid of Cutler.

  • Biggs addresses what will be the next media topic, one that might drive the offseason until March:

    “No one knows yet, but the guess here is Fox is comfortable going into 2015 with [quarterback Jay] Cutler as his quarterback.”

    Yeah, that’s the way I read it, too. Fox will, at least, probably do his best to de-emphasize Cutler’s role to the extent you can with a quarterback. I’d expect a heavy dose of running back Matt Forte next year.

  • Biggs also quotes former Panthers and Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad:

    “‘One of the things I appreciated from Fox that he did for every single player was you knew your role on the team. So if you’re the third receiver and you’re fighting for that No. 2 spot in training camp and you don’t win it — you’re not going to have a coach who says, ‘Keep trying, you can get there.’ No, he’s gonna go, ‘Hey my man, No. 2 is No. 2 for a reason and you’re No. 3 for a reason. When we go to three receivers, you are going to be in the game. Right now, I need you to focus on being the gunner on the punt team and I need you to be the best gunner you can be.’”

    One of the things that every successful head coach seems to get through to his players is the mantra, “Do your job.” Step one is probably being crystal clear on what that job is. Fox seems to be able to do that.

  • Denver Post columnist Benjamin Hochman on the Fox hire. Via Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times:

    “Chicago should be a good fit for him – and if he ever wins a Super Bowl, he’ll be remembered not only as the coach to win a Super Bowl, but to do so with Winnie The Pooh’s Eeyore at quarterback.”

  • Kudos to Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times for addressing the delicate issue of Fox’s health.
  • John Mullin at csnchicago.com does a nice job of describing some of the differences in the defensive scheme that we might see next year:

    “Fox has run a 4-3 defense since his time in Carolina, but it has been substantially different than what the Bears ran under Lovie Smith and radically different from the strange hybrid the Bears evolved into under Mel Tucker.

    “The Broncos under Fox were a 4-3 team. But they operated with massive tackles Terrance Knighton (331 pounds) and Sylvester Williams (313) and a defensive left end Derek Wolfe (285) in the mold of Phillip Daniels and Bryan Robinson from the days of Dick JauronGreg Blache’s two-gap jumbo front four.”

    “Fox, like the Seattle Seahawks’ 4-3 and some of the so-called 3-4 schemes, employed a smaller speed rusher as the fourth member of his front four. This season in Denver it was DeMarcus Ware (258 pounds, 10 sacks).”

    Fox also normally played a 4-3 over front in Denver (where the three technique tackle is on the strong-side) whereas the Bears played an under front last year.

    Do the Bears have the players to make this adjustment? Mullin thinks DE Jared Allen is more suited to the Denver scheme and points out that Ego Ferguson and Jeremiah Ratliff both might be successful. But they won’t have much defensive line depth. Add in the needs at linebacker and in the defensive backfield (which remain no matter what the scheme) and it seems clear that there’s considerable work to do on personnel if Fox makes this philosophical shift happen.

  • On a related note, Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com comments on Fox’s search for coordinators.

    “I am fascinated by [Vic] Fangio off the job he’s done in Frisco, and although I couldn’t care less whether the Bears play a 4-3 or a 3-4 as long as they play it well, there are a number of 3-4 fanatics out there in Bears nation who might finally get their wish.”

    Fangio ran a 3-4 when he was defensive coordinator for the 49ers.

    I’m with Arkush. I don’t care what they run. But I’m having a hard time believing they’ll try to run a 3-4 base. I’d say that it’s more likely that Fox wants to run a hybrid defense of the type that’s in vogue in the NFL now. Fox probably figures he has the experience to coach a 40 front and might want to bring in Fangio to provide the needed expertise to occasionally switch to a three man line.

  • Arthur Arkush at chicagofootball.com looks back at the Bears 2014 special teams:

    Phil Emery allowing Devin Hester to escape to Atlanta last spring without a clear contingency plan backfired. Hester showed he had plenty left in the tank for the Falcons, while the Bears cycled through returners.”

    In fairness, Emery had a clear contingency plan. It just didn’t work.

    The Bears couldn’t keep Hester. He was going to demand too much money and the Bears couldn’t pay what the Falcons paid for a guy that Cutler flat out refused to throw to. Letting Hester go was best for everybody, especially him.

    Reading this article was actually painful. You forget how bad they really were until you see so many of the errors collected in one spot. Special teams was a clown show last season.

Elsewhere

  • Scott Osler at the San Fransisco Chronicle is worried about the 49ers. Most of us are. New coach Jim Tomsula sounds like Forrest Gump at the podium which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that he’s going to be a team motivator. But Osler is worried about a deeper problem:

    “Coaches come and go. York and Baalke are as cemented in place as Levi’s Stadium, and, well, gulp.

    “This is not a coach-friendly setup. [General manager Trent] Baalke is [owner Jed] York’s football guide and mentor, so Jed will always side with and give power to Baalke, putting the head coach in a weak spot.

    “And what has either man shown to instill faith in their ability to lead a team to the Super Bowl?”

    Not much. The roster is loaded with talent but that’s obviously not enough. Tomsula looks like Baalke’s version of Jerry Jones‘s “F- you Jimmy Johnson I can even win with Barry Switzer” than a winning choice. In fact, the guess here is that Tomsula’s best qualification is that he’s a good solider who won’t ever contradict Baalke. That’s not a good sign for either man.

  • Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com passes on the fact that Rex Ryan has hired former Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer as his offensive line coach. That’s probably a good move for both of them.

One Final Thought

There is something strange when a new guy takes over at a company the way that Pace and Fox are taking over the Bears. Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune quotes former Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross as he elaborates:

“You’ve got an opportunity when you come in right off the bat as a new head coach to utilize the excitement guys are going to have about you.”

There’s also a certain degree of fear. Suddenly the guy in charge doesn’t know you from Adam and your comfort level is gone. Suddenly, you wonder if your job is still going to be there in a few months. That leads to a focus that’s hard to replicate in any other way.

Most people believe that the Bears have embarked upon a multi-year rebuilding process. I think that belief is justified – if you are talking about building a consistent winner. But almost anyone can win for one year if the stars align correctly (e.g. the 2006 Bears).

The Bears actually have the talent to win if they stay healthy next year, if the ball falls their way enough and, especially, if enough guys play above their heads and have what amounts to career years. I’m not saying that they will – a lot of things have to go right. But they have a unique opportunity by starting fresh with new management. Here’s hoping they can take advantage of it.