Chicago Bears Week 11: Takeaways
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6.) The Bears finally figured out that Marshall and Jeffrey are tall
I’ve been bitching about the Bears not throwing deep balls and back shoulder fades all season, it was one of their most effective plays last year, but the Bears finally got back to it this week. Maybe it was Cutler trying to avoid INTs (unlikely) or maybe Trestman’s incomprehensible play-calling (more likely), but for some reason the Bears had stopped taking advantage of their 2 WRs that are about half a foot taller than most CBs. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey both showed Sunday what they can do if the ball is in their general vicinity. They both have struggled this year with injuries, but this was the first time they both looked like their 2013 versions. If Trestman keeps letting his receivers go deep, both WRs stay healthy, and Cutler can get the ball withing a few yards of them… I think the Bears offense can still breakout the last six games of the year and average close to the 27 points per game they averaged in 2013. The season is probably a lost cause, but the Bears are most likely stuck with Cutler for the next two years so some signs of the offensive potency that we expected all year will at least give Bears fans some hope that 2015 won’t be a disaster as well.
7.) The Bears coaches are sacrificing player development to save their jobs.
I wrote 5,000 or so words about a potential Bears plan for blowing it all up and rebuilding in 2015-2016, but I never posted it because it will never happen. No one in particular is really to blame. At the top, the McCaskey’s don’t want to lose money from decreased attendance and merchandise sales during the rebuild. One level down, Phil Emery doesn’t have the job security to blow it all up and rebuild because it’s mostly players he acquired that will be shipped out, and coach Marc Trestman is living week to week as the Bears coach as is so has no incentive to do anything but win.
A Cubs’ style rebuild is a pipe dream, but unfortunately that is the Bears best chance to build a consistent Super Bowl contender within the next 2-3 years. The only way a rebuild would be feasible is if everyone were on board from the McCaskey’s down to Marc Trestman. The Bears clearly couldn’t extend Trestman or Emery’s contracts after that horrific loss to Green Bay, but if they came to an under the table agreement that both guys had 3-4 years of job security to turn things around then maybe they could pull it off. NFL teams rarely attempt the blow it up / rebuild strategy because of the conflict of interest between the owner/GM/HC hierarchy, the unpredictability of the NFL draft, and the parity of the league that fosters the dream of one-year turn arounds with a few lucky bounces, an easy schedule and no major injuries (2013 Chiefs, 2012 Colts, 2001 Bears).
So I sat down to watch Sunday’s Bears game, bloody mary in hand, hoping to see some signs that the Bears were at least considering the future. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about tanking. I’m talking about developing the young players on the roster and identifying if any of them has the ability to be a core piece for the future. If the Bears lose while developing talent, well a high draft pick and maybe even the shot at a potential franchise QB in Marcus Mariota from Oregon (Kaepernick with a brain and humility) wouldn’t be the worst possible outcome. As expected though the Bears went the other direction and went all out for the win. As I mentioned earlier in this post, it was nice to see the Bears try some new things on both sides of the ball to get the win, but there is one thing that really bothered me. The Bears decided to bench most of their young talent. I understand Trestman’s job is on the line, but someone (Emery/McCaskey) should put a stop to benching rookies in a year that the Bears are a serious long shot to make the playoffs.
Rookie Kyle Fuller played most of the game because he’s already the Bears best CB and rookie Michael Ola started at RT because the Bears have no one else that can handle the position competently. For most of the season the Bears have been integrating rookies like DT Will Sutton, DT Ego Ferguson, FS Brock Vereen, and LB Christian Jones into the lineup for anywhere between 25%-75% of the total team snaps. Sunday, none of them played more than 9 total snaps (Vereen). If the Bears were in a legitimate playoff hunt I would understand benching rookies due to their inexperience, but when your team is likely going to finish around 7-9, wasting a chance to develop young talent in order to beat the dregs of the division is a Pyrrhic victory. The Bears should be seeing if Sutton, Ferguson, Vereen, Jones and the rest of the Bears young talent can be core pieces for future, but instead they are on the bench missing key development time so Trestman can try to save his job.
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8.) Lance Briggs and Tim Jennings can still play at a high level
For most of the season it has seemed like two of the Bears best defensive players from the last few seasons were washed up, but on Sunday they were both back to their old Pro Bowl form. It seems like Briggs has been out with injury most of the season but has only missed 3 games. Jennings has been healthy, but hasn’t made an impact this season and was awful against the Packers in week 10.
Granted the Bears were playing against a Vikings team that isn’t very talented, but the difference in talent on most NFL teams is negligible and both players showed signs of playing at their previous Pro Bowl level. The Bears will need both players to keep playing that well if they are going to get back in the playoff hunt. Or if the Bears end up falling out of contention and decide to rebuild in the off-season, strong second halfs from Briggs and Jennings could convince a team that they are worth a mid-round pick next year. (4th for Jennings, 5th for Briggs?).
9.) Demontre Hurst deserves another chance at slot corner
The Bears defense played one of it’s best games of the season on Sunday and one of the keys was slot corner Demontre Hurst. He wasn’t perfect, he gave up 5 catches for 54 yards on the day and was completely fooled on the fake punt , but his tackling in the secondary was excellent and he pressured Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater into an incomplete on a key 3rd down blitz. Hurst ended up leading the Bears in tackles with 6 and also had a key 3rd down, open-field tackle on a play that was ultimately wiped out due to a penalty. Hurst is probably the most aggressive corner the Bears have against both the run and pass and there are going to be some mistakes, but his sure tackling improves the run defense and if he continues to show a knack for blitzing off the edge it could improve the Bears pass defense as well. There will be some growing pains with Hurst but the 2nd year player did enough to earn another start next week.
10.) Marc Trestman finally won a coaching battle
This may be a first, but Trestman clearly out-coached Vikings HC Mike Zimmer. The Vikings stayed in Cover 3 most of the game which led to 1-1 match-ups outside the hash marks and Trestman was savvy enough to notice and take advantage with multiple deep routes. It also took the Vikings offense until the 4th quarter to start calling the short slants and crossing patterns that have been killing the Bears D all season. I hope Zimmer is properly embarrassed.
11.) Would you rather have Teddy Bridgewater or Jay Cutler?
There has been plenty of talk the last few weeks about trading Cutler and starting over at the QB position. After watching rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, a former 1st round pick who some considered the best rookie QB in the draft, struggle with his accuracy, progressions and pocket awareness… I’m not in as much of a rush to give up on Cutler and deal with the learning curve and growing pains involved with rookie QBs. Even guys like Manning and Luck struggled their first seasons in the league. If the Bears go the rookie QB route next season, fans might soon miss Jay Cutler, the guy they couldn’t wait to run out of town.