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Across The Middle — Week Nine

| November 2nd, 2016

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There were a lot of reasons why the Bears beat the Vikings. The biggest is the simplest: the Bears had a QB who could make plays under duress and the Vikings didn’t.

That’s right, Jay Cutler is back and he reminded us all why the talk of moving on from him is premature (and probably stupid).

Everyone wants to talk about the arm but the arm isn’t what makes Cutler so good. Against arguably the best defense in the NFL, without his two best offensive linemen and two of his three or four best receivers, Cutler was in complete control. After a shaky start, he threw strike after strike, converting third down after third down, time after time.

When the shit hit the fan — and it did quite often — Cutler stayed cool and made the throws he needed to make. The Bears came into the game as one of the worst third-down offenses in the league. Thry were 7-for-14 against the Vikings.

This came days after a report that John Fox was “done” with Cutler. The report clearly got to the quarterback, who showed as much emotion as he ever has, including an somewhat teary embrace with QB Coach Dave Ragone after the Bears clinched the win.

I don’t know if these last eight games will be Cutler’s last with the team. I don’t think anybody really knows. But Cutler has the ability to control his own destiny. And regardless of what anyone in the front office thinks, it has been made crystal clear that the guys in the locker room love him.

If Cutler keeps playing like he did Monday night and like he has for most of the last two seasons, the Bears would be crazy to move on for an unknown.

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Across The Middle — Week Eight

| October 26th, 2016

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Suddenly, the 2016 Bears season has a chance to be productive.

The loss to the Packers dropped the team to 1-6 and they’ll almost surely fall to 1-7 on Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings. But with Jay Cutler back at quarterback, it feels like they can accomplish something, even while not making the playoffs. The Bears need to figure out who their quarterback is going to be going forward. (It was never going to be Brian Hoyer.) It might be Cutler and we finally have a situation where we can get an accurate read on him.

Cutler played well in the Bears first two games but they were facing two of the ten best defenses in the league with a makeshift offensive line, no running game and Kevin White still trying to figure out what was happening. While Cutler was out, the line came into its own, Cameron Meredith proved to be an upgrade (at least in the short term) and Jordan Howard went off. The only thing they were missing was a quarterback who could put the ball in the end zone. If Cutler is playing with a full deck and can’t put points on the board, the Bears need to find a new quarterback.

These next nine games just might be among the most important in the history of the franchise because they may determine who is playing quarterback for the foreseeable future.

Getting After the QB

He didn’t have much of an impact on the game but if Pernell McPhee can become the player he was last year, the Bears are going to be a team no quarterback wants to face.

One thing the Bears did against the Packers last week that they’ve really never done was pressure Aaron Rodgers. I had the Bears down for 23 quarterback disruptions in the game. (They had 10 on Green Bay’s first two possessions.) The Packers eventually realized the Bears had Bausby and, at times, Glenn at cornerback and changed their offense. But they had to make that change or they wouldn’t have done jack against the Bears. If the Bears had better cornerback play, they would’ve shut Green Bay down.

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Across The Middle – Week Seven

| October 19th, 2016

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We entered this season believing in John Fox for one reason above all else: Thanksgiving 2015. He needs a repeat performance to restore the faith.

As mediocre as the Packers have been this season, the Bears roster should not be able to compete in this game. They’ll likely be down their top four cornerbacks and three of their top four pass rushers. Oh, and Brian Hoyer is going to be the quarterback. The same argument was made about the Thanksgiving night game last year, but the Bears won because they played their butts off and John Fox was a large part of the reason why.

Fox has never been and is never going to be a good in-game coach. His teams are never going to be known for their discipline and his philosophies will always be simple. But Fox has survived because his players fight for him and give him everything they have. Fox needs to show he can still get that out of them this week.

I don’t know if winning the game is realistic. The Packers are ticked off and the “what’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers” questions are guaranteed to bring out his best. As important as wins and losses are, this Bears season should have never been defined that way.

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Across The Middle — Week 6

| October 12th, 2016

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Well, now what?

The loss to the Colts may have been the most disappointing of the season to me because it ended any chance the Bears had of becoming relevant this season.

I didn’t think they’d make the playoffs but I expected the Bears to be relevant. I expected them to a be a team nobody wanted to play and I expected to see serious signs of growth. A win over Indianapolis would’ve put them at 2-3 with a  chance to go 3-3 next week before they played the Packers in a Thursday night game. At that point, anything would’ve been possible.

But they lost to the Colts, a bad team. Making the loss worse, they Colts are a bad team that was coming off of a trip to another country, while the Bears were coming off of their first win. It was a game the Bears had to win and didn’t.

There are still bright spots this season and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think the Bears have a very good GM and a lot of excellent young talent. They actually have a better record through Pace’s first 21 games than the Packers did with Ted Thompson. But that doesn’t make me feel better today.

There’s always next year, for most of us anyway. Depending on how the rest of this season goes, that could bring some very difficult questions.

The biggest question is the coach and there is no easy answer.

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Across The Middle — Week Five

| October 5th, 2016

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After parading my son around the house while playing “Bear Dowwwwwnnn Chicago Bears…” my wife gave me a puzzled look and said: “The Bears won?”

“Of course they did,” I replied.

To which she asked one question: “Jay Cutler is going to get fired, isn’t he?”

I had to think for a second, but I could only come to one answer: “Probably.”

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Across The Middle – Week Four

| September 28th, 2016

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I’ve tried to calm myself down and think about the loss to the Cowboys logically. But I can’t help but come to the same conclusion I came to while watching the game: this team is suffering from coaching malpractice.

Any team missing their three best defensive players and starting quarterback is going to struggle. Add to the fact that those three defensive players were all playing in the front seven and they were going against the team with the best offensive line in the league and a blowout makes sense.

But I don’t give a shit about any of that.

The Bears should’ve been blown out several times last year, but they weren’t.

They weren’t because they fought.

They weren’t because they either had a sound game plan or adjusted well.

They weren’t because their coaching was a legitimate advantage.

That isn’t the case right now and I’m not sure what the answer is.

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Across The Middle – Week Three

| September 21st, 2016

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As I rewatched the Bears with my son in my arms, I looked down at him, he looked up at me and I knew he was thinking: “Why should I sign up for this?”

At this point, it’s a legitimate question: Why should anyone be optimistic about the Bears? And at this point, it’s hard to find an answer. I’d like to tell you it wasn’t as bad as it looked on Monday night, but that would be a lie. It was every bit that bad and probably a little worse.

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Across The Middle – Week 2

| September 14th, 2016

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The word of the day is perspective.

I like to think I’m as passionate a Bears fan as there is. I typically get nervous about the Sunday games on Friday and, when the Bears have a performance like they did against Houston, it ticks me off until the next Wednesday. But none of my common symptoms were there this week.

The reason is simple. The day after the Bears played their opener, my wife was scheduled to be induced and we welcomed the world’s newest Bears fan on Tuesday.

The Bears didn’t mean much to me last week and they don’t this week and I suppose that’s how it should be. But what happened last week shouldn’t mean much to you either. Just like the preseason, there’s a ton of instant reaction. But historically it hasn’t proven to be an indication of things to come.

Surely everyone remembers last season when the Rams beat the Seahawks and the 49ers thumped the Vikings? There were three playoff teams that lost to non-playoff teams last year and it seems to happen every year. Most of the teams in the league are still figuring out who they are the first three weeks of the season.

The Texans seem better than I thought (mostly because of Will Fuller) and the Bears have work to do. We knew the Bears wouldn’t be a finished product coming in. But what happened in Week 1 shouldn’t change your opinion of what kind of team the Bears have this year.

Coaches Have to Be Better

While I’m a big believer in the importance of winning in the trenches, the biggest area in which the Bears were out-classed Sunday was on the sidelines. John Fox single-handily cost the Bears a minimum of 11 points by not challenging two easy plays.

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Across The Middle: Week One

| September 7th, 2016

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How can anyone be sure the Bears were right on both Robbie Gould and Josh Sitton?

Both players were released for the exact same reasons:

  • Age
  • Money
  • Declining skills

The Bears got an up-close look at it with Gould. S0 did the Packers with Sitton.

With Gould, the Bears must think his leg is either dead or going to die before long. There is some evidence to back that up since 9 of his 12 misses over the last three seasons have come after November 1st. Maybe his leg has gotten tired or maybe he isn’t able to cut through the cold wind as well.

But, if they were even considering cutting him, why didn’t they bring competition in? That lack of competition tell us this can’t be based on last season’s performance. Gould made nearly 85 percent of his kicks last year with 9 attempts coming from at least 50 yards away. By comparison, Baltimore’s Justin Tucker was under 83 percent with 10 attempts from 50 yards away. Gould missed the game-winner against San Francisco. Minnesota’s Blair Walsh missed a gimme in a playoff game. Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point that could’ve put the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

It happens. Teams in cold-weather cities need good kickers and they recognize the value in keeping them.

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Across The Middle: Preseason Week Four

| August 31st, 2016

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Admin Note: the five things I wish the Bears had columns will return Thursday & Friday.

John Fox made it very clear: Preseason games are just more practice and should be evaluated and valued as such. So why won’t people listen?

Like most people, I’m sure, my Twitter timeline was full of people freaking out over how the Bears were practicing on Saturday. Fox told the world before the game that it wasn’t crucial.

“It’s not the season. They call it preseason for a reason, it’s to evaluate, put your players in positions, take a look at players,” Fox said last week before the game. “We put a lot of stock in practice as well.”

After the game, his attitude was the same saying “we got a chance to look at some young guys and make some evaluations. That’s what preseason is for.” He later referenced preseason as “practice games” and spoke multiple times about playing players in different positions.

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