We know what kind of defense the Bears are going to play and their next three opponents – Kansas City, Denver, Seattle – will have very little success moving the ball up and down the field. We know what kind of special teams the Bears have and there isn’t another team in the NFL (and perhaps history of the NFL) who can neutralize their return game the way Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski did Sunday. We know what kind of rushing attack the Bears possess, showcased by their exceeding triple-digits when the Raiders did everything in their power to shut them down.
Is Jay Cutler going to return to the Bears this year? I certainly think so. But the Bears cannot expect his return before the end of the regular season. Most have predicted he will begin throwing again in the week leading up to the Christmas night showdown with Green Bay and Jay Glazer reported Sunday morning Cutty is expected by some inside Halas Hall to return to the field in Minneapolis the following week. I’ll take a more conservative approach and say the Bears won’t have #6 back at full strength until they travel in the wildcard round of the postseason to San Francisco, New Orleans, New Jersey or Dallas.
But they have to get there. And after watching them play four quarters against a playoff-caliber opponent Sunday, I don’t think they’ll be able to hide Caleb Hanie. Fixing his play won’t be easy.
Decrease Number of Timing Routes
I understand the need to get Hanie comfortable early in games but the type of slants the Bears were running Sunday require a rapport between quarterback and receivers it would be impossible for Hanie and the pass catchers to have. If the Bears determine Hanie needs a couple easy completions to find his footing, insert Hester for a bubble screen or two or design ways to get Kellen Davis in space.
The other fear I have with Hanie and the quick slant is his size. He looked small behind the Bears offensive line and those routes are too easy to knock down at the line of scrimmage.
Maybe I’m losing my mind but I thought Hanie’s play improved significantly once he started gaining yardage with his legs. Hanie is not just a mobile quarterback but he’s a legitimate threat running the football. Using his speed (instead of, say, throwback screens in the red zone) when the play breaks down, and perhaps even in the play-calling, might be the best tool for the Bears to avoid costly, field-position killing turnovers.
Opposing defenses know Jay Cutler can throw the ball with every other quarterback in the league and they respect his arm on game day. No one respects the arm of Caleb Hanie because no one has enough tape on it. Seeing him hit Johnny Knox deep (and seeing his rapport with Knox in general) made it clear that Hanie has the ability to stretch secondaries and take pressure off not only the run game but also the short passing game.
Throw It Away
Just throw it away, Caleb. If it’s not there and you can’t run, throw it to Mike Tice. He’s the giant man on the sideline who looks like he should be a short order cook in a highway diner. There used to be a chorus of “throw it away” filling Josie Woods whenever Rex Grossman looked a bit confused. Don’t make us pull the old scripts from the file cabinet.
It is on Caleb Hanie to prevent a good team from missing the postseason. He’s the caretaker. But it is on Mike Martz and the Bears coaching staff to create an atmosphere in which he can succeed. I did not come away from Sunday believing Hanie is incapable of leading the Bears to victories. I came away from Sunday believing that Hanie’s success will be determined by game management: how the Bears coaching staff manages him and how he manages the football. If there Bears are going to make the postseason, they’ll need to be successful on both accounts.