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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.”

In reality, I don’t think anyone knows what is going to happen with the Bears quarterback situation. But if I have to guess what John Fox is going to do, my guess is that he’s going to stick with Brian Hoyer until Hoyer gives him a reason to make a change.

There are two undeniable facts:

1. Jay Cutler is better than Brian Hoyer.

2. Brian Hoyer played really well on Sunday.

We have a decade to base Cutler being better than Hoyer on and, really, this season hasn’t given us too much to dispel that. It doesn’t matter, though, because Fox pretty much said he wouldn’t pull Hoyer if the journeyman kept playing well.

It’s been common to discredit Hoyer, but I find it really hard to fault him. I charted him with:

  • Just three inaccurate passes and as being accurate on 5 of the 6 passes he threw beyond 20 yards — although only 2 were caught.
  • He was eight-for-nine with 134 yards and a touchdown on third down.
  • They converted 4 of the 10 third downs in which he threw the ball, all 4 of which came on passes that traveled beyond the third down marker.

There are, of course, some things that need to be taken into consideration, starting with the opponent, a team Aaron Rodgers torched for four touchdowns in the first half a week earlier. With that comes the fact that the Bears’ offensive line was absolutely brilliant, allowing just three disruptions and paving the way for Jordan Howard to control the game on the ground.

We don’t know how Cutler would’ve played under those circumstances. His history suggests he would’ve been great, but we’ve also seen him throw up some stinkers for no apparent reason. Cutler is better than Hoyer, so logically, it seems Cutler would’ve played better than Hoyer, but we don’t really know. While the last time Cutler passed for 300 yards in a game with two touchdowns and no interceptions was against Washington last year, it isn’t something that has happened often in his career. The last time he had consecutive 300-yard games without an interception was, well, never.

If it were me making the call, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Cutler and try to max out the potential of the offense. They’ll never be better than mediocre with Hoyer. If they run the ball like they did against Detroit they could be great with Cutler. Cutler is still good enough to win a Super Bowl with, even if the Bears are a long way away from that right now. But I don’t get to make the call. Fox does and Fox has already told us what he likes.

Fox is a defensive coach and defensive coaches tend to like the quarterback who protects the ball better. Not only has Hoyer not thrown an interception in his two starts, he really hasn’t had many passes that were even close to being picked off. Even at his best, Cutler has a few throws you’d rather he didn’t attempt.

When mentioning Hoyer and a possible quarterback controversy, we can’t ignore his first game in which I charted him with SEVENTEEN!! inaccurate passes, but none of those inaccurate passes were intercepted.

Hoyer moves through his progressions very quickly and gets the ball out. He may not be able to threaten defenses vertically and may not be particularly accurate, but he isn’t turning the ball over. He gets the ball out into the hands of the playmakers and maybe that’s what the Bears need right now? Cutler is better at making chicken salad out of chicken shit, but maybe the Bears already have chicken salad and Hoyer is better at seasoning it. 

Ultimately, Jay Cutler is better than Brian Hoyer, but we don’t know if the Bears are better with Jay Cutler or Brian Hoyer. If you were John Fox — and your NFL life depended on not being terrible this season — how could you bench a hot hand?

The Rook Can Play

While Fox hasn’t committed to a quarterback, he left no question who his running back is going to be going forward.

After the game Fox said: “I think he’s outstanding and we will ride him pretty good moving forward.” And, really, what’s not to like?

We all knew Howard was powerful coming into the draft, but I think everybody — including NFL scouts — underestimated his quickness and burst. Once he sees the hole, he cuts up field gets through it and packs a punch. While the offensive line was good, I also had Howard down for seven broken tackles and five runs for more than 10 yards.

I still think Jeremy Langford has a role on the team and, ultimately, I think Langford has a higher ceiling. But Langford wasn’t seeing the holes and exploding like he did last year. Add in the fact that Langford doesn’t break a lot of tackles or make people miss and you see the problem.

Send Floyd After the QB

I get that Leonard Floyd is versatile and can be an asset in space, but when they’re not getting any pressure on the quarterback, they need to start sending their first round pick.

The Bears have barely asked Floyd to go after the quarterback, but he did manage one hurry — thanks, in part to good coverage. It isn’t as if he’s been unproductive. He had two hurries and half a sack against Houston, had another hurry against Philadelphia and drew a holding penalty as he pressured Dak Prescott. He should’ve drawn two more holding penalties against Dallas but Jason Witten always gets the calls.

Part of the reason the Bears didn’t get pressure against Detroit is that they didn’t really try to. They rushed three quite often and I’m not sure they ever sent more than four in the game. It’s a sound strategy against a team that relied on quick passes, but they did get burnt a few times simply because they couldn’t get any pressure. The expected return of Pernell McPhee in two weeks will help that, but asking a high first round pick to do what you drafted him to do should also be part of the plan.

From The Chart

• I feel like Akiem Hicks gets better every week. I had him for two hurries, a quarterback hit and a sack, giving him four disruptions by himself. That actually tied with Willie Young for the team-lead (both season-highs for any Bears player this season), but a few of Young’s came when the Bears already had a big lead.

• I’ve seen John Timu, Jonathan Anderson and Christian Jones and I don’t understand why any of them would take snaps from Nick Kwiatkoski. Timu missed a couple of tackles, gave up a catch for 22 yards and was out of position a few times. His instincts are a strength, but if he’s not fundamentally sound, he doesn’t have the athleticism to make up for it. I just don’t see him as someone who can play much in the modern NFL. Kwiatkoski will make more mistakes, but they need to see him play.

• This was a much better matchup for Will Sutton. I had him with three tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. He isn’t a terrible player, but asking him to play over the best center in the league like the Bears did against Dallas is asking for a disaster. He should be OK this week against Indianapolis too.

• The Bears line was great in pass protection, but I still had them down for five bad runs. Long and Leno both had two, while Whitehair had one and was called for holding. Every week Josh Sitton is proving he has gas left in the tank.

• As mentioned earlier, I had Hoyer as being accurate on eight of his 10 passes that went beyond 10 yards. Not all of them were caught as Kevin White had a drop and another pass that was batted away, but he hit two money balls right down the middle, including the 64-yard pass (21 yards in the air) to Eddie Royal on third-and-11.

Breaking Andrew Luck

My biggest fear early in the Jay Cutler era with the Bears was that they were going to break him and the Colts are well on their way to doing just that with Andrew Luck.

Luck will still make big plays, but they don’t protect him well enough for him to do it consistently. The Colts started three rookies on their offensive line last week and probably will again. The Bears have to get pressure and they have to bring Luck down when they do. This could be a huge game for Young, Hicks and Floyd (you know, if they send him).

If the Bears can’t get pressure or the play breaks down, they’ll be in trouble because the Colts have some fast players who can make big plays. We saw what Will Fuller did to them and the Bears have allowed receivers to run free on deep passes in pretty much every other game this season. They have gotten lucky with drops and over-throws.

It should be another big day for Jordan Howard and it shouldn’t matter who the Bears play at quarterback against one of the worst pass defenses in the league.

If the Bears can contain Luck, they should come away with a win. And if they can get a win against Indianapolis, they’ll have a good chance at getting back to .500 against Jacksonville.

Not quite the lost season so many were talking about two weeks ago. What a difference a win can make.

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