Don't panic, but Bears' offense needs work

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Don't panic, but Bears' offense needs work

This was not the Bears offense anybody expected to see.

Just because starting quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte were held out, there is no excuse for the unit to perform so poorly. The running game was non-existent and until the second half the passing game was equally abysmal.

That being said, there is no reason to push the panic button. Teams have gone 0-4 in the preseason while looking terrible and then end up having great regular seasons. I covered the Colts and they were notorious for pitiful exhibition play and then consistently delivered 12-win seasons and a Super Bowl.

The offensive line needs to play better, but the same could be said about the first-team defensive line. They couldn't pressure Peyton Manning on the opening Broncos series as he drove them right down the field before he threw an interception.

There were some good signs and those are easier to point out.

Shea McClellin flashed quickness in space and all of the young receivers looked good. The prettiest play in the game was Matt Blanchard's pass to Chris Summers along the Bears sideline. It was a great throw and effort by Summers to go up and get the ball.

Rookie safety Brandon Hardin showed good range when he broke up a deep pass along the Broncos sideline. His fellow rookie corners, Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy, appeared to play well in their debuts. Frey was in the game early and looked confident.

If there is a change, maybe it will be giving a shot to Chris Williams at left tackle with the first unit. JMarcus Webb doesn't talk like a guy that believes he belongs in the starting group. Other than that, the Bears need to improve in all areas.

Its not time to panic, unless you see the same things in Week 1 versus the Indianapolis Colts.

John Fox, Vic Fangio nix report of rift in Bears coaching ranks

John Fox, Vic Fangio nix report of rift in Bears coaching ranks

Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was game-planning for the Detroit Lions on Wednesday morning when he got a visit from his boss. A story had appeared that Fangio and coach John Fox were at odds to the point where Fangio was planning on leaving the Bears at the end of this season.

“I wasn't aware of [the story] and he told me about it because he was all nervous about it,” Fangio said. “So I said 'Don't worry about it… . [Fox was nervous] because it wasn't true and thought I might take it the wrong way.”

The Bears have more than enough to worry about, taking their 3-9 record to Detroit to face the streaking Lions. A looming staff upheaval could send the remainder of the season into a total collapse given that in this case, for instance, Fangio is very popular with his players.

Fangio said expressly that he plans on being back for 2017. Fox added his own staff statement.

“Well, I think when you spend as much time as we do as coaches, I think we get along great,” Fox said of Fangio and himself. “I want our whole staff back. Now, whether that proves to be a reality or not, things happen.”

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The surprise would be if the Bears 3-9 situation were without some tension. Linebacker Pernell McPhee verbally went after quarterback Jay Cutler earlier this season after the latter threw a costly interception. And whole units have had reason to harbor unkind thoughts about each other.

Fangio’s defense has maintained respectability through its injuries and even improved through the season. Their efforts have not always been rewarded by complimentary success or apparent game plans by the offense.

Conversely, the offense gave the defense a 13-point lead to start the fourth quarter against Jacksonville and the Jaguars won 17-16. The Bears led the Indianapolis Colts 23-19 midway through the fourth quarter and lost. The Bears led Houston 14-10 after three quarters and lost.

Still, “I think our staff is tremendous,” Fox said. “I think right now, if you flashback two years ago this defense was 32nd in the league; right now it is seventh. I think you even look at offensively, similar numbers even from a year ago. We were 24th. This offense is 16th. So with going on our fourth quarterback, I couldn’t be more proud of our staff. I’ll just leave it at I am very, very pleased with our staff.”

The standard for Bears evaluating Matt Barkley? Use what John Fox uses

The standard for Bears evaluating Matt Barkley? Use what John Fox uses

The play of Matt Barkley in the past two games catapulted the previously dismissed young quarterback deep into the Great Bears Quarterback Debate (GBQD), which may not be a particularly exclusive confab, but it does mean that Barkley has gone from castoff to contender for a job somewhere beyond this season. And one particular aspect of his game is the key to what has transpired, as well as what happens going forward.

The law of averages suggests that Barkley will put up a clunker at some point, maybe even more than one. Then again, maybe not. Of the four remaining defenses (Detroit, Green Bay, Washington, Minnesota), only the Vikings rank in the top 10 defensively in either points or yardage allowed through the first 13 weeks of the 2016 season. So Barkley won’t exactly be looking at a Murderer’s Row of the ’85 Bears, ’76 Steelers, ’00 Ravens and ’15 Broncos.

But there’s a bigger Barkley picture that serves as the real framework for evaluating whether or not he’s truly got the right stuff, regardless of whom he faces.

It is not what he’s done – getting his team in position to win in consecutive fourth quarters. It’s what he hasn’t done – turn the football over.

The measure of Barkley, as it was with Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer, will be ball security. In a FoxWorld, that is axiomatic.

The second question to Fox after Sunday’s game was on Barkley’s performance. Fox’s mindset was evident in his answer: “He improved,” Fox began, followed immediately by, “He eliminated any interceptions.”

Barkley’s huge leap forward has indeed come, not with his TD passes (including the should-have-been ones), but with his control of the football.

Barkley may have been undone with drops against Tennessee. But he undercut his team with two appalling red-zone interceptions, one in the end zone.

After the interception on the Bears’ opening second-half possession, which turned into Titans points, Barkley proceeded to throw his next 33 passes without a pick. Then against San Francisco, Barkley stayed INT-free on 19 dropbacks (18 passes, one sack). The result was a season-high for Bears points and a win.

Barkley threw two interceptions in his emergency step-in for Hoyer at Green Bay. Given his situation there, no real surprise, and rightfully not a referendum on his quarterbacking.

But consider:

Before his broken arm against the Packers, Hoyer played his way into the GBQD less with his weekly 300-yard passing production than with his 200 pass attempts without an interception. Cutler, in his truncated season, revealed a regression from his step-forward ’15 and its ball security, sliding back up to an interception percentage in the unacceptable mid-3’s where it’s been for his career. This was the prove-it year for Cutler and he rendered ’15 as the exception, not a career turning point.

Barkley’s accuracy in the Soldier Field conditions last Sunday was exceptional. Not only did he not throw interceptions (which is how to earn a 97.5 passer rating), but also repeatedly put footballs where either his guy or nobody was catching them. Too often certain of his guys didn’t catch them, but that’s not on Barkley, who stayed with Josh Bellamy in a team-building statement.

Only the Vikings (No. 5) among the final four Bears opponents have interception percentages ranked better than 14th. Washington (95.0), Detroit (101.9) and Green Bay (102.1) are allowing egregious opponent-quarterback passer ratings (the Bears are at 94.3). Meaning: Barkley will have opportunities to stay his ball-security course against beatable defenses.

The inability of the Bears defense to generate takeaways is a significant 2016 storyline. But the ability of the Bears offense – specifically their quarterbacks – to hold onto the football is a potential tipping point in the most significant position-decision for the franchise.