Talent Vs. Attitude. The Debate Continues But Not for the Bears.

Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune makes some good points and some not so good points:

This is so [head coach JohnFox: dumping talented players [Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett and Alshon Jeffery] because he doesn’t like something about them, no matter how productive they are, but standing fiercely behind Dowell Loggains and his oft-inexplicable play-calling.

While some reasons for letting players leave are understandable, the Bears still have lost four offensive Pro Bowlers  and replaced them with a rookie Pro Bowler in Jordan Howard and, what, Josh Bellamy and a biology graduate from Harvard.

That, see, is the issue here and now: If you’re a coach who can’t coach or won’t coach players with personality or players who aren’t all-football all the time but still produce, then you’d better produce as a coach.

But the only thing Fox has produced is the lame consolation that his players tried hard, the sure sign of someone desperate to hold a job.
The Bears had better be good in free agency, I guess. Or Fox had better be good picking the players he thinks he can coach.

But then, maybe that’s part of Ryan Pace’s plan: Let Fox have his way with these player decisions so the general manager has solid reasons to fire the head coach when the Bears go 3-13 again and then hire a coach he wants instead of someone who appears passive-aggressively forced on him by a consultant and a Bears Senior Disorganizational Figure or two.

I certainly understand the argument about coaching talented but less than ideal players. But it’s worth noting that Fox was trying to institute a culture change in Chicago when he was hired. This was a team that was starting over and to this point, the project has been one of tearing down to the core, then building back up.  Bennett and Marshall just weren’t what he was looking for as a part of that core that was supposed to show young, often less talented players who actually need to maximize what they’ve got how its done.

With Jeffery, it’s probably got more to do with monetary value but I’d still claim that things would have been totally different had he trained in Chicago with the team last offseason.  The Bears were looking for him to show that kind of commitment to the team and you have to believe that they’re pretty sure there’s no PED suspension with them able to keep an eye on Jeffery in town.  As it is, there’s not nearly as much motivation to overpay a guy whose actions indicate that he may not be 100% on board no matter what hot air he blows about believing that the Bear swill win the Super Bowl next year.

In any case, the Bears situation puts Fox and Pace in a different position than the Patriots, who got a great deal out of Bennett because they have a solid locker room and a winning culture established. They didn’t need him to lead young, less talented undrafted free agents by example.  They had plenty of other guys for that and the Patriots could afford to absorb Bennett. The Bears, who have had to rebuild from scratch with a young locker room that still doesn’t know how to win, couldn’t.

I might add that, in my opinion, the odds that Bennett resigns with the Patriots are slim. Taking on his baggage for a year at a reasonable rate is one thing. Doing it now will be something else. It’s says here that the odds are good he ends up with a loser next year and plays his part, overly or covertly, in contributing to it with his attitude, just as Marshall did this year with the Jets.

The last part about Pace letting Fox fail so he can fire him after being forced to hire him in the first place is, of course, utter nonsense  based upon revisionist history. Pace interviewed Fox almost immediately after he separated with the Broncos, even following him to Denver immediately after talking to him in Chicago. Pace couldn’t wait to hire him and I’m still not convinced he wasn’t right to do so.

The Bears will have to show progress this season to convince the fans and the press that they’re doing the right things. But as far as I’m concerned, they’ve had no choice but to do what they’ve done to this point.

The Cutler Camp Is Taking a Big Risk by Floating Retirement Rumors in 2017

Chris Wesseling at nfl.com comments on the rumor floated by Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s camp that he may opt to retire in 2017:

“What is Jay Cutler’s football future if the Chicago Bears are unsuccessful in their quest to trade the veteran quarterback leading up to the new league year on March 9?

“If he is left without an attractive home once the offseason’s game of quarterback musical chairs comes to a close, it’s not inconceivable that Cutler will opt for early retirement.

“’He’s one of several veterans who are still considering whether they want to play, whether they want to not play, retire, walk away,’ NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport explained on Wednesday’s edition of NFL Total Access. ‘A lot of things in play here for Jay Cutler.’”

The thought among most NFL media people is that Cutler’s agent, Bus Cook, is floating the rumor to kill Cutler’s trade value and to force the Bears to release him.  If so, he may be making a serious mistake.

Cutler has slim hope of finding a new team in time to be under serious consideration as a starter unless he’s traded.  Cook obviously believes that the Bears will be unwilling to carry Cutler’s cap number deep into the offseason.  If so, he’s wrong.

The Bears are going to carry Cutler until they find another solution at the quarterback position.  There’s no possible way they do otherwise, leaving themselves with no sure options at the position.

That could mean that the Bears trade for Jimmy Garoppolo or A.J. McCarron early in the offseason.  That would be a win for Cutler and Cook.  The Bears would undoubtedly release Cutler, freeing up his salary so that the new quarterback could be easily signed long-term.  There would be little reason to carry the extra $13 million in cap space that Cutler would cost to keep around and he would, indeed, hit the market in a reasonable amount of time.

But there’s going to be a lot of competition for Garoppolo and most people believe that if the Browns really want him, they’ll get him.  They have the most draft capital to spend in a trade.  No one knows if the Bears (or anyone else) are interested enough in McCarron to make it worth the while for a contender like Cincinnati to trade away a good back up quarterback.

If the Bears miss out on Garoppolo, they may well opt to sign a cheap bridge quarterback like Brian Hoyer or a Mike Glennon.  In that case, there would be no reason to release Cutler until they are absolutely sure that they won’t need him and/or won’t be able to trade him.  That may mean waiting until after the NFL draft where they may or may not be able to find a future starter.  It may mean waiting longer than that, well beyond the time when every team has made its plans at quarterback.

Publicly Cutler’s been a reasonably good soldier the last few years and the Bears could opt to do him “a solid” and release him early.  But Cook is giving them little reason to want to do that by standing in the way of their efforts to maximize Cutler’s potential on the trade market.  All in all, it’s a big gamble, one that may well not pay off for Cutler.

Facts Ooze Out as Jay Cutler Appears to Be Near the End of His Time in Chicago

John Mullin at CSNChicago.com let’s this little tidbit slip out as he addresses the Bears quarterback situation:

“The Bears may find themselves in a situation not entirely dissimilar from where they stood in the 2014 offseason and were faced with a decision on Josh McCown after his career-best stretch in relief of Cutler. Then-GM Phil Emery wanted [Jay] Cutler over the feelings of the coaching staff and signed Cutler to that $126 million contract.”

The coaching staff didn’t want Cutler?  Since when?

Answer:  Since Cutler appears to have one foot out the door and reporters can safely tell the real story.

Cutler in 2014 was coming off of one of his best seasons with the Bears.  Though many still doubted whether he would be worth the money long-term, reports at the time were that everything was rainbows and roses between Cutler and the organization, that head coach Marc Trestman had turned Cutler around and and that the younger and more athletic Cutler had earned the contract extension over McCown.

It’s a funny thing about reports like this.  You never really get the whole story until the players are out of the reporter’s sphere of influence.  In this case, reporters are almost to a man positive that Cutler will not be with the organization next year.  Trestman and Emery are already gone and with all of those involved safely out of town, these are the things that eke out.

I think its safe to say that more will come to light in the near future, especially after Cutler is finally released.  It will, to say the least, be interesting reading.

Positioning the Bears for Success

John Mullin at CSN Chicago brings up a good point about the Bears search for a quarterback:

“How good is [general manager Ryan Pace] at finding a potential franchise quarterback, given that he’s never picked a quarterback in his two Bears drafts?

“Former GM Jerry Angelo admitted that he and his staff had more than their share of difficulties identifying good offensive linemen in the draft. Maybe it was because Angelo himself was a former college linebacker and defensive lineman; who knows?’

‘Pace is a former college defensive end and his personnel moves on that side of the football have generally been solid – Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman, Nick Kwiatkowski, plus free agents Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Tracy Porter and Jerrell Freeman.

“But can Pace, who certainly knows things about chasing quarterbacks with malicious intent, draft success at the single most important position in perhaps all of sports?’

It’s a legitimate question and it’s not just Pace.  He’s working in an organization full of scouts and personnel men who apparently have consistently under-rated and/or failed to understand the position, as demonstrated by the fact that the Bears have so rarely taken one high in the draft and have so rarely been successful if they did.  How qualified are they to identify the qualities of a good rookie quarterback?  Would they know one if they saw one?

For years I pushed hard for the Bears to hire a head coach with a background in coaching quarterbacks.  They eventually did hire one in Marc Trestman and it didn’t work out.  But that doesn’t mean I was wrong.

I have no problem with current head coach John Fox, a defensive head coach, mostly because he’s demonstrated elsewhere that he can hire a good offensive staff.  Neither offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains nor quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone have ever coached a rookie to a successful NFL career.  Now we’re all crossing out fingers and hoping that his judgement that they can, despite the lack of evidence, is sound.

Has Pace earned the same benefit of the doubt?

There’s a lot to like about what’s happening with the Bears right now.  And it’s not like bears fans have a choice.  You have to have faith and wait and see what happens.

But the number of “ifs” that are stacking up becomes more and more mind boggling the more you think about them.  An awful lot of things are going to have to go right with an awful lot of people who have no history of success with the quarterback position if the Bears are going to be able to draft and develop a rookie quarterback along.

Bottom line, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that the Bears as an organization still haven’t set themselves up for success because they continue to under-value the most important position in sports.  And that perhaps can be demonstrated no more clearly than when seeing how they’ve set up their organizational structure all the way from the top down.

Taking a Quarterback Is Not Optional.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“If the Bears do retain the third pick in the draft they will be able to choose a defensive player who is a difference maker at either the edge, 5-technique or safety depending on the first two picks. The second round should also produce an excellent player at tight end or on defense. And another starter should be found with the best available player in the third round. This is a great draft for certain positions. This is if the Bears ignore quarterback in the first three rounds. With five or six quarterbacks worthy of being drafted in the first round in 2018, why not wait till then? I am ok with Brian Hoyer next season. The Bears are not going to be a playoff or even a .500 team next season so improve the areas that can be most improved in this draft. There may well be a new coaching staff in 2018. Why not let them develop the quarterback of the future? We have waited this long after all. — Thomas H., Parts Unknown”

The idea of waiting to address the quarterback position is precisely the kind of thinking that has gotten the Bears in this predicament in the first place. I agree that there look to be some strong positions in this draft and some of them happen to match up with need areas for the Bears. But this franchise does not have a greater need than at quarterback and the longer the Bears put off the pursuit of finding the next franchise quarterback, the longer it’s going to take to actually land that guy. There’s no guarantee that quarterback is waiting for them in the 2018 draft. None. Zero. There is no guarantee that player is in this draft either. But you’ve got to swing and swing and swing and swing until you find that player. You can’t stop swinging until you get that player. The Bears’ biggest problem? They’ve been unwilling to swing for far too long. I’d also be very careful saying there will be five or six quarterbacks worthy of a first-round pick in the 2018 draft. A lot can change between now and then.”

I’m going to add one comment in my strong support of Biggs’s comment:  Not only should the Bears not wait until 2018 to take a quarterback, they should take one BOTH YEARS.  And EVERY YEAR after that until they find (at least) one.

Quarterback is a hit and miss proposition at the best of times.  You are going to miss on some, even the best in the class.  But statistically the truth is that good quarterbacks are more consistently found high in the draft, particularly in the first round.   And it’s not even close.  That means that you have to live with the occasional bust and keep taking your swings.  Over and over and over again until you get it right.

The Bears need to draft a quarterback at every opportunity every year.  It’s not an either or proposition.

Building from the Top Down

Dan Pompei , writing for The Athletic, addresses the Bears quarterback situation:

Brian Hoyer’s contract is up. He signed a one-year deal last spring. There will be many worse options to bringing him back as the No. 2 guy. Hoyer was criticized for not getting the ball in the end zone and not playing winning football, but he fills the requirements of a backup pretty well.

“Anytime you get the No. 2 in, you want the guy to not to lose the game,” an NFC North pro scout said. “He did that. He’s a better than average backup.”

There might not be another backup in the league who would give the Bears’ better return on salary.”

“Unlike Hoyer, [Connor] Shaw is an electric performer who stresses defenses by extending plays, playing with instinct and getting creative. Shaw deserves to be in the pole position for the developmental quarterback slot on the roster. That isn’t to say he shouldn’t have competition, either from a young player or from a draft pick, but he should be given a chance to stick.”

I like both Hoyer and Shaw.  But I really wonder if signing them is the right thing to do.

NFL personnel men talk about adding to the roster from the top down.  In other words, when you add a player, you add someone with the potential to start.  He and the other men at the position compete and the losers become backups.  But they become very good backups because the whole reason you signed them in the first place was because you thought they could start.  That’s how you build quality depth.

That’s particularly true of the Bears quarterback situation where they have essentially no one right now (assuming Jay Cutler is released or traded).  And the position is a particularly difficult one because, more than any other spot on the field, you are often taking a stab in the dark and hoping you get lucky.

That’s why the Bears can’t waste time signing “a better than average backup” or a guy who has been in the NFL for three years and is still considered to be “developmental”. You have to at least four guys that you think can be quality starters and let the second and third best be your back ups.

Having one of those be a solid veteran with a high floor and a ceiling high enough to make a very good starter in the right situation wouldn’t be a bad idea.  That way you have a worst case scenario if all of the younger players don’t pan out.  But if the Bears are debating whether to resign Hoyer, it should be whether he fits that profile, not if he is a guy who, at his best, is a good back up.  The same goes for Shaw.  Either he can compete to start or he can’t.

The Bears  need to be looking for players with the potential to play at the highest level.  Anything else is a waste of a roster spot at this point.

Quick Game Comments: Bears at Vikings 1/1/17


      1. Minnesota came out mixing it up and did a lot of damage with big plays on the Bears young defensive backs.  Cre’Von LeBlanc gave up a big catch to Cordarrelle Patterson as he let him get too far behind him while training him – which seems to be a habit with him.  Adrian Amos missed a tackle on Jerick McKinnon which allowed him to score the touchdown.

        The sequence highlights one problem with the Bears.  Yes, they’re playing lots of young players.  But are they really any good?  You wouldn’t know it by this series.

        In any case, despite some better play from both of these guys in the second half, I have very serious doubts about the future of both with the Bears.

      2. I’m really tired of seeing missed tackles play after play from these guys.  Something needs to be done about this.
      3. The Bears struggled to get pressure on Sam Bradford through a totally miserable Vikings offensive line.  That exposed a young and evidently less talented than people think Bears defensive backfield.  Very disappointing.
      4. The Vikings evidently decided that they could attack the Bears linebackers and safeties.  Bradford fed the ball effectively to the running backs and the tight ends, especially Kyle Rudolph who it seems the Bears simply couldn’t cover.


      1. Dowell Loggains apparently decided to quiet critics by running the ball more.  The first 3 plays and 10 of the first 12 plays were runs.  They ran the ball 22 of 31 total plays in the first half and were very successful at over 6 yards per rush.It was really nice to watch Howard run today as he broke the Bears rookie rushing record.  He broke tackles everywhere and ran with great vision.
      2. The Vikings evidently decided to let Xavier Rhoades cover Jeffery man-to-man.  The Bears tried to take advantage but Barkley and Jeffery had trouble getting on the same page.
      3. Had a great time watching the pass from former college quarterback turned receiver Cam Meredith to current quarterback Matt Barkley.  Some how I don’t see them risking that with Jay Cutler.  In any case, it’s the kind of fun play you run to keep everyone interested in the end of a crappy season.
      4. The Bears frequently looked to me like they weren’t concentrating and offensively they just weren’t always on the same page.  But there  were a couple of plays where Vikings ran right past Bears blockers to disrupt plays in the backfield that were especially bothersome.One was a miss of Eric Kendricks, where he ran right past tight end Daniel Brown in the red zone to disrupt a play.  Everson Giffen disrupted a Howard fourth down run that ultimately didn’t make it after running right by Charles Leno.  This supposedly was a missed block by Cameron Meredith but in any case Griffen was barely touched.

        These plays were either poorly designed, poorly executed or both.  They were very costly and very annoying.


      1. Dick Stockton, David Diehl, and Kristina Pink were your announcers.  I didn’t think they added anything special to the broadcast.  But I won’t say that they injured it, either.  Sometimes I guess you have to just be happy with that.
      2. Not a good day for Bears special teams.  Marcus Sherels had a 36 yard punt return to the Chicago 42.  Braylon Addison fumbled a punt late in the first half in Bears territory.  That set up a Viking touchdown.Deonte Thompson did have a very nice 60 yard kick return with 9 seconds left in the first half.  That set up a field goal.
      3. Drops weren’t a major issue.
      4. Six penalties for 49 yards isn’t a terrible game but it wasn’t good, given that the Vikings only had 2.Willie Young was off sides near the goal line early in the second quarter.  The Bears held but it could have been pretty damaging.

        The Bears sustained a long drive at the end of the first half for a touchdown despite a couple of holding calls on Bobby Massie and Josh Sitton.  Part of me was disgusted and part of me was glad to see them over come the problems to score.

      5. Very disappointing to see Matt Barkley throw an interception at the goal line on only his second pass of the game.   The pass was under thrown and behind Alshon Jeffery.  He followed that with another one in the red zone on the first drive of the second half. Both were his fault and both took points off the board.  Finally, he had a fumble in the fourth quarter that was returned for a touchdown.It was critical for Barkley to adjust after miserable showings the two previous games to demonstrate that he could protect the football.  If there’s one thing John Fox won’t put up with, its turnovers from his quarterback.  Barkley may not be back in any capacity next year.  Frankly, I don’t think he should.

        Jeremy Langford did his future no good by fumbling early in the second quarter in Bears territory.  The Vikings turned it into a touchdown.

        The Bears did (finally) get one back as Cre’Von LeBlanc did pick one off in the end zone.

      6. It isn’t very hard to figure this one out, boys and girls.  You can’t turn the ball over like this and win football games.The Bears keep saying that effort isn’t a problem.  Great.  But does it matter if you can’t play smart?

        Sorry.  It’s not brilliant analysis.  It’s just the truth.


In Defense of John Fox

The easiest thing to do as the Bears wrap up what is currently a three win season is to call for a new head coach.  Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune has basically been making his living doing it for weeks.  Here’s the most recent example:

[John] Fox always says this is a production-based business, but his production is worse than Rex Ryan and Jeff Fisher, two coaches who have already been fired and still have more wins than Fox.”

It’s not Rosenbloom’s job to be a balanced observer and so its not a surprise that he would constantly write such things (over and over again).

Fox is dealing with a complete tear down of the Bears roster that lacked cohesion and was full of front runners when he arrived, something that could be said of neither Ryan nor Fisher.

To a segment of the population, I’m sure this is entertaining and, after all, that’s really what Rosenbloom is there for.

But when Mike Mulligan, also at the Tribune, starts to imply that maybe replacing Fox wouldn’t be a bad thing, you sit up and take more notice.

“Belief is not a permanent state. Without it, a program is lost. So you have to establish it, nurture it and nourish it. If anyone in town still believes in Fox, well, let’s just say they’re waiting for a thunderbolt to strike.

“If the emperor isn’t entirely unclothed, he’s certainly nearing an inappropriate state of undress.”

Perhaps this makes me a fool but I still believe.

It would be totally unfair to let him Fox before he had the chance to prove that he can help build the talent back up from scratch.  But life isn’t fair and I’m not suggesting that Fox should be retained simply because he’s should be allowed to be in a better position before the decision is made.  I’m suggesting that he should be retained because he’s simply a better head coach than anyone else the Bears would possibly hope to hire.

For years this franchise labored under head coach Lovie Smith.  Smith was a good head coach and he had a knack for getting the most out of his players.  But he lacked one thing and it was a fatal flaw – he wasn’t connected enough around the league to attract a top notch coaching staff.

In fact, there were times when you wondered if Smith passed up better candidates for those who wouldn’t threaten his job if they did well.  But more likely, he was like everyone else.  He wanted friendly people that he knew and trusted like Bob Babich rather then more talented coordinators like, for instance, Ron Rivera, who he let walk away rather than re-hire after the Bears last Super Bowl run.

This is the mark of a good head coach.  He manages players but, perhaps even more important, he coaches the coaches.  Fox is much better connected around the league and, as a result, has attracted a top notch coaching staff.

Adam Gase could have gone anywhere after he failed to get a head coaching position in 2015.  He stayed with Fox.  Fox attracated the best defensive coordinator on the market in Vic Fangio along with a wonderfully talented group of assistants.

Neither Smith nor a number of other current head coaches including Gase could have put together such a staff.

Fox evidently has to make a decision on offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.  Rather than look outside after Gase left, he chose to promote a young, promising coordinator from within in the same way that he hired Gase and Mike McCoy before him.  Whether Fox keeps Loggains or lets him go, I’m history tells me he’ll make the right decision.  And if he lets him go, history tells that he’ll be able to attract a good candidate to replace him.

How many other franchises can say that about their head coach?

NFL Points of View Week 16

Parts of this article were originally published to Phinmaniacs on December 23.

Here are some thoughts on he state of the NFL entering week 16

1.  The major issue in Buffalo right now is whether Rex Ryan will keep his job.  Reports for weeks have indicated that he will be fired any time now as the team will look to get an early jump on the market for coaches in the offseason.  However, one report in particular is more puzzling than the rest.
Adam Schefter of ESPN has said that the Bills are not only “preparing to move on from Ryan” once the season comes to a close, which would end his run with the team after two years, but that 1)  Ryan is aware of this and 2) general manager Doug Whaley will remain and will hire the new coach.

Both aspects of this report defy logic.  Let’s concentrate on the first.

If ownership had, indeed, decided to fire Ryan there would be no reason to tell him or, if they did, it would only be to, you know, fire him.

No one could expect a head coach to do his job optimally under conditions where he already knew he was gone and there would be no reason to expect him to.  Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula would surely pick an interim coach.

It is possible that ownership has, indeed, decided to fire Ryan but would rather see him coach out the string than give an interim coach a chance simply because they want a fresh start and don’t want an interim coach to make a case that he’s earned the job.  That would be understandable but there would be no way you would tell Ryan if that were the case.

2.  I also find the second aspect of this report, that Whaley will remain, to be less that logical.
Sure, it’s possible that Whaley has a good relationship with ownership and that they’d be more comfortable with him staying on. But good owners won’t let that stop them from making a change where the evidence indicates that its necessary.  The suggestion that Whaley should be given the opportunity to blow a third head coaching hire is less than sane.  Whaley also hired Doug Marrone in 2013.

The question here is what has Whaley ever done to deserve the loyalty of ownership?  He’s been with the team since 2010 and general manager since 2013 and the team has seen nothing but misery ever since.

Most importantly, Whaley’s draft record has not been exactly stellar.  For instance, he was integral in convincing the organization to draft E.J. Manual in the first round, far above the value most people put on him.  All agree it was a major mistake that crippled the franchise for years.

More recently in 2016 he took Shaq Lawson despite the fact that NFL teams had flagged his shoulder injury during medical checks at the Combine in February. Lawson was eventually shut down for half the season as the shoulder required surgery.  One league source told Pro Football Talk that, “His shoulder was so bad it would have dislocated tying his shoes.”  And yet the Bills still drafted him.

It also didn’t help that second round pick Reggie Ragland landed on IR before the season started after he tore his ACL.  Third round pick Adolphus Washington has been only so-so with 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Whaley, himself, said before the season that he bears responsibility for the performance of his draft classes.

“If they don’t perform, then they’re not going to play,” Whaley said. “We’re going to play the best people. We think they’re the best people, and if they come in and don’t perform that well, then we didn’t do our job right. So that’s on us. I have no problem with that.”

And yet here we are with Ryan shouldering the blame for a lost season while Whaley reportedly escapes Scott-free.  Go figure.

3.  The Dolphins have been emphasizing that the declining production from running back Jay Ajayi is “not his fault” over and over again through the last couple of weeks. And I could not agree more with this message.  It is, in fact, no one’s “fault”.
No matter who the team is and no matter what their position, one message that defensive players repeat constantly is that they have to stop the run.  Running plays are generally “safe” and assuming the running back can simply hold on to the ball, few bad things can come from doing it.  No defense can afford to allow an offense to simply run over them.  It is a sure path to defeat.

Because of this, teams must concentrate on stopping Ajayi and the Dolphin running game, usually by bring an extra man into the box (i.e. close to the line of scrimmage where he can be more effective at helping against the running game).  That leaves one fewer man to cover receivers deep.  So the harder a team has to concentrate on stopping your running game, the more it opens up the pass.

That is why Dolphins head coach Adam Gase has stuck with the run despite its apparently lack of success.  Against the Jets they ran the ball a staggering 60% of the time despite gaining only 2.5 yards per carry.  The game before that it was 55% and only 2.7 ypc in a win against Arizona.  And perhaps not coincidentally, they ran the ball only 16 times and 29% of the time in their only loss in the last three games against the Ravens.

Yes, a really great offensive line like the Cowboys could run the ball effectively against an eight man front and ideally you would like the Dolphins to have that.

“We don’t want [Ajayi] to be frustrated because we haven’t quite got the results we are looking for,” Gase said. “We’ve run into some tough defenses. We have another one ahead of us this week. They are going to try to stop the run and make us one-dimensional. That’s what most teams have tried to do with us the last nine games.”

Nevertheless, no matter how many yards it results in directly, the more Gase sticks with the run, the more good things will happen.

On Saturday, Ajayi faces a Buffalo team that he trampled for 214 yards on 28 carries (a 7.6 average) in their Oct. 23 meeting.  “We’re going to make some adjustments,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan said. “He’s a heck of a back.”

And better news the Dolphins could not have received.

4.  One more Buffalo note. I find their situation with quarterback Tyrod Taylor to be interesting.  He’s on what amounts to a contract year.
The Bills’ extension with Taylor, signed in August, already puts the quarterback under contract for $27.5 million in 2017 — a salary that is guaranteed if Taylor suffers an injury that prevents him from playing next season. The Bills have until March 11 to exercise an option on Taylor’s contract that would trigger the 2018 through 2021 years of the deal, paying him $15.5 million immediately and lowering his 2017 salary to a fully-guaranteed $12 million.

If the Bills do not exercise Taylor’s option by March 11, then the entirety of his $27.5 million salary in 2017 becomes fully guaranteed March 12, and Taylor would be slated for unrestricted free agency after the 2017 season.  But it’s highly unlikely that the Bills will do that so under the current deal it comes down to 1) trigger the 3 year option or 2) release Taylor before March 11.

There is, of course, one other consideration – they could try to renegotiate the contract.  The Bills probably will want to do this but the question is, what would it take on Taylor’s end to motivate him to agree to a change?  The answer is, the same amount of money or more that he’d get as a free agent.

There are going to be a number of teams looking for a quarterback in the offseason including the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, and potentially the Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos.  In 2016 through 14 games Taylor has completed 62% of his passes at 6.8 yards per completion with a passer rating of 91.  He’s also gained over 500 yards on the ground.

Those numbers are pretty average and they belie Taylors vexing inconsistency.  The Bills have found that the quarterback that they have in quarter 1 will often not be the same as the one that they get in quarter 4.

So they are stuck with an interesting conundrum.  Paying Taylor what he’ll get as an average starting quarterback on the free agent might be more than they would like.  On the other hand, not paying him means starting over with someone else who may well not be as good.

It will be interesting to see how Taylor does against the Dolphins defense, one that isn’t exactly the ’85 Bears but on the other hand can cause you some serious headaches with a defensive line that is finally starting to perform up to its reputation. In other words, it’s a defense that a quality quarterback should be able to perform against.

5.  The Chicago Bears and injured 2014 first round pick Kyle Fuller find themselves having an interesting but common problem amongst NFL teams. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio summed things up in an unusually candid way for a modern NFL coach.
“Any time a guy’s hurt, there’s three stages to getting back to the field,” Fangio said. “One is you’ve got to get medical clearance. Two, the player’s got to say he’s ready to go and feels confident and he’s champing at the bit to go play. And then the coaches get involved and see if he’s better than what the other choices are and if he really is back to being able to play. A has happened. B hasn’t. So C is a non-issue.”

Translation: We think he can play but he doesn’t want to.  The Bears eventually gave up and put Fuller on IR this week.

The problem is that you can’t climb into the head of a player and figure out what the issue is.  Fuller is a former track star and there is some thought that perhaps he just doesn’t want to play unless he’s close to 100%.

Tracy Porter summed up the attitude amongst most NFL players, one that most teams would prefer was the predominant one.  “If doctors or trainers say it’s not going to damage you in the long run, then if you can tough it out, that’s what some guys try to do.”

“Overall, it’s a very fine line trying to be tough versus trying to be responsible and (not) further damage yourself and your team.”

But that doesn’t appear to be what’s upper most in Fuller’s mind.  Presumably, being medically cleared, he can’t damage his knee further by playing.  But he’s still not on board.  His comments on the matter are interesting.

Said Fuller: “I just listen to my body. It tells me what I can and can’t do. Right now I can’t go out there and play. That’s the line, I guess.”

I suppose.  But I really wonder how many players “listen to their body”.  And I wonder if they do, how many times it says, “don’t play football” but they do anyway.  My guess is a lot.  Once you’ve played one game in the NFL, my bet is that every player in the league has a body telling him not to play.  That’s professional football.

Availability is a talent.  Football is going to punish your body and there’s no getting around that.  If you don’t accept it, you don’t’ play.  And if they don’t play, Fuller and those like him aren’t going to be around long even after they’re healthy.

6.  I mentioned last week that players like the Seahawks Richard Sherman, who fans and media insist are intelligent despite the ridiculously stupid things that pour out of their mouths, irritate me.
Sherman has again inserted himself into my consciousness as he abused Jim Moore of ESPN 710 in Seattle, one of the members of the sycophantic media I referred to. The exchange came as a result of a sideline exchange where Sherman screamed at Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell after the Seahawks had tried a pass play at the goal line rather a run play. The play choice stirred up dark memories of Seattle’s goal-line interception in Super Bowl XLIX.

Sherman: “You don’t want to go there. You do not. I’ll ruin your career.”

Moore: “You’ll ruin my career? How are you going to do that?”

Sherman: “I’ll make sure you don’t get your media pass anymore.”

Moore: “Is that right?”

Sherman: “Yes, it is.”

Sherman later apologized but it was too late.  Setting aside whether Sherman could actually see that Moore never gts another press pass (my guess is that he could), he once again showed his stupidity in, like so many players, looking at the working press as the enemy.

Sherman fails to understand that most reporters are actually fans.  If not fans of the team, then fans of the sport.  Virtually all of them are happier when they are writing positive things.  But they need help from players and coaches in order to do that.

Moore was giving Sherman an opportunity to explain himself and put the incident in a positive light )if possible).  Responding with threats instead of quotes leaves reporters with no choice but to put the most negative spin possible on this incident and those like it.

Players and coaches would do well to treat reporters as partners rather than adversaries.  Many of the truly smart ones know that and many are treated well far past the time that they deserve to be when they act upon that knowledge.  Rams head coach Jeff Fisher lasted far longer than his record would have indicated that he should have because his relationship with the press was excellent and many refused to attack him for years because of it.

Unfortunately Sherman has once again proven to be less than the intelligent person that his fans insist that he is.  In fairness, he is unfortunately far from alone.

7.  The Cleveland Browns are becoming more and more likely to be the second team in NFL history to go 0-16 and not win a game. The experience is obviously wearing on head coach Hue Jackson.
Jackson reportedly spoke with Browns Executive Vice President Sashi Brown for an extra 30 minutes after a recent loss to the Giants before addressing the media.  When he emerged from his office, his eyes welled up with tears in his postgame press conference while explaining that being winless “is probably the hardest thing ever.”
It is evident that this season is getting to him emotionally and that he’s seeking answers from the front office for how things will be different going forward.

I hope Jackson’s not holding his breath.  Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam recently held a full staff meeting at the team facility in Berea, OH and preached continuity.  Speakers at the meeting also included Brown and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta.  The meeting was intended to calm the waters and boost morale of a staff that’s lived through the Browns 3-30 record since the end of 2014.

For the record, continuity is a good thing.  If you’ve got the right people in place, that is.  But whether the Browns do is highly, highly questionable.  The two men in charge are Brown, a lawyer, and DePodesta, a statistician who helped oversee the “money ball” success of baseball’s Oakland As.  And that has to be leaving the well-regarded Jackson feeling like he’s been cut a drift in strange NFL waters with no land in sight.

Haslam is trying an admittedly innovative, analytics-based front office model but there’s no evidence it’s working. In fact, there’s data to the contrary — the Browns’ winless record and a lackluster 2016 draft class.

You feel for Jackson but, similarly, you have to feel even worse for the fan base.  Dolphin fans can certainly identify to some extent as they prepare to break out of their own streak of seasons without a playoff win.  This writer follows the Chicago Bears who haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1986 and have only sniffed the playoffs once in the last ten years.  Before that I grew up with the old St. Louis Cardinals. Try following a team that would typically select a player in the first round only to have draft rooms around the league break out into open laughter.

But all of that pales in the face of the brutal way that the Browns franchise has treated its fans over the course of more than 50 years.  The NFL lives by selling its fans hope for the future.  The Bears in Ryan Pace have a real general manager in charge who was previously with a reasonably successful franchise in the Saints.  The Dolphins are run by executive Mike Tannenbaum but at least general manager Chris Greer, with 17 years experience with the Dolphins, is right there with him.

Imagine what it’s like knowing that the only way your franchise of choice is going to be able to build is through a draft run by two guys who have never worked in an NFL personnel department.  This might be the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed in a league that produces incredible things almost for its living.  That Browns fans manage to hang on in quiet desperation year after year is a testament to either their fortitude or their stupidity.  Probably both.

In either case, both they and their head coach deserve better.  But I don’t see how they’re going to get it any time soon.

8.  The Jacksonville Jaguars joined the Los Angeles Rams by firing their head coach last week in order to get an early jump on finding a new coaching staff. The Jaguars (2-12) fired Gus Bradley after the franchise’s ninth consecutive loss Sunday. Bradley went 14-48 in four seasons in Jacksonville, the worst winning percentage (.225) of any NFL coach with at least 60 games.
General manager Dave Caldwell said Monday that former New York Giants Tom Coughlin “would be somebody we’d be interested in talking to” about the team’s coaching vacancy.

The 70-year-old Coughlin was Jacksonville’s first head coach, leading the Jaguars to a 68-60 record in eight seasons (1995-2002). Coughlin resigned last January after 12 seasons with the Giants, but has made it clear he wants to return to the NFL. He is currently serving as a senior adviser to the league’s football operations department.
Caldwell could give him a shot at getting back on the sidelines.
“Tom’s a great man and a great person, and we’ll see where it goes,” Caldwell said. “There will be a lot of guys we’re interested in talking to.”
There are plenty of hot young names that are undoubtedly high on the Jaguars list.  Current interim head coach Doug Marrone will undoubtedly get a good look.  Former San Francisco 49ers coach and current University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley should get varying degrees of consideration.

But in some ways, Coughlin does make a great deal of sense.  His history with the franchise would make him a popular hire despite his age.  He’s also an offensive coach with some history developing quarterbacks, most recently and famously, Eli Manning with the Giants with whom he won two Super Bowls.  Fixing young Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who has regressed dramatically this year, will be the first and most important thing on the agenda for a new head coach in Jacksonville no matter who they hire.

There is some talent on the Jaguars that may make potential hires feel that they can win immediately in a very weak AFC South division if they can get the quarterback situation squared away quickly.  This will be a popular job amongst the candidates and it’s one to keep an eye on.

9.  With the Jaguars job and the Rams job now both open, here’s one absolute dead solid guarantee that I will make. There is no way on heaven’s green earth that Jim Harbaugh is leaving the University of Michigan to take an NFL head coaching job.  It’s possible he’ll do it someday.  But absolutely not this year.
Why?    He hasn’t beaten Ohio State and he hasn’t won a national championship.

When Harbaugh was at Stanford he flat out hated Pete Carroll at USC once actually prodding the normally easy going Carroll to exclaim, “What is your problem?!”  I sense the same passion when it comes to Urban Myer and the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Harbaugh is on a mission and he’s not going to be side tracked by the NFL now that he’s got his teeth into the rivalry.

In my opinion he’s well on his way to accomplishing both goals as Ohio State didn’t so much beat Michigan as Michigan beat itself this year.  The less talented but more disciplined team won the 2016 match up but that won’t last long and if Michigan isn’t in the national championship playoff next year, I’ll be surprised.  If Harbaugh ever gets to the point where he’s actually won that playoff a couple times, yes, I can see him taking on the challenge of an NFL job.

But he’s got plenty of time in the future for that.  Ohio State is right now and that’s all that’s driving him.

No Game Comments: Washington at Chicago 12/24/16

Sorry.  Traveling for Christmas and won’t see this game against the Redskins until Christmas morning at the earliest.

I know a lot of you are pulling for a loss to get a higher draft pick but I’d rather see the team finish on the upswing.  I’m going to go so far as to buck the odds and predict a victory.

Go Bears.