15 on 6: Bears need quick trigger with Cutler


15 on 6: Bears need quick trigger with Cutler

Friday, Nov. 5, 2010
5:49 PM

By Jim Miller

At some point, the Bears can no longer blame the system and the play calling of Mike Martz when it comes to the lack of productivity of the offense. You can either execute a timing offense, or you cannot!

It was absolutely by design that Caleb Hanie logged extra repetitions with the starting offense during the bye week. Sure, it sounds innocent enough by the Bears to say "we are just resting Jay," but there is a lot more to it than that. If Jay struggles early versus the Bills in the great white north, Hanie will see the field!

It really would be the right time to make such a bold move. Hanie played enough meaningful snaps against Carolina on the road for Lovie to think it's possible, and basically secured a victory showing he can manage the game with a lead. He displayed more poise than teammate Todd Collins, a 16-year NFL veteran, who got the nod before him and the offensive line may be in the best shape it has been in all year with the return of Roberto Garza.

Caleb would also force Martz to focus on the run game more, as even he may not trust Caleb's reactions when exposed to certain defensive alignments and coverages. Plus, Lovie has the ultimate veto power if Caleb is in the game. If it's a crucial situation, Lovie will just say "run the ball" into Martz's headset.

When I have been on the sideline with the headset on, many defensive-minded head coaches have made that call with a young QB or even with veterans, on the field.

All we have heard since Martz arrived at Halas Hall is how imperative it is that QB and receiver need to be in sync with the timing of QB drops and coinciding routes. Many I have interviewed on Sirius NFL radio, but the Chicago media has also dived into the subject. Included in this massive list are former QB's who played in a Martz system: Trent Green, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Marc Bulger, J.T. O'Sullivan, Jon Kitna - and the most telling statements - from Superbowl MVP in a Martz system, Kurt Warner.

Kurt's comment was "Jay is not comfortable in the system yet."

In my analysis, Kurt was just being kind. Losses to Seattle and Washington right before the bye can be directly related to the QB. Furthermore, if timing of the passing game is an issue, then why does your franchise QB get two days off during a bye week?

It's ok to give your starter a breather during the bye, but no starting QB in the league is shut down altogether. Normally, coaches just reduce reps or take a starter out of an inside run drill. The whole purpose of the bye week is to self scout and correct any the issues with the team.

If Jay struggles on Sunday, the Bears will have to make a decision on whether to pull him, and if Caleb showed growth and command in the system enough during the bye week to instill confidence in Lovie, then Lovie will not hesitate to make a change.

No player is above being yanked for lack of performance. Coaches may try to cover for a player like Mike Shannahan explaining why Donovan Mcnabb was pulled in Detroit for...wait.... Rex Grossman, but at the end of the day, Donovan was not pulled for his poor play in that game, it was a result of Donovan's poor performances the three weeks prior as well.

Same goes for Brett Favre in Minnesota. Brad Childress even called out the legendary QB in the post game presser. He stated "Brett should not try to play outside the offense and throw costly interceptions." Childress was very close to starting Tavaris Jackson versus the Patriots last week. Wisely, knowing how Brett responds, Childress let Brett get the start, but if he did not respond, Brad would have quickly turned to Jackson.

Arizona, Carolina, Washington, Minnesota, San Francisco, and now I would throw the Bears into this group who may have to make a change if their starting QB does not respond this weekend.

Game Plan

Run the Ball! Yes!

The Bills have allowed 200 yards or more rushing four times in the last five games and Martz is on a short leash to ensure this happens.

Greg Olsen, Where have you been? Seems all the offseason fodder about tight ends being underutilized in a Martz system has come true. Running the ball sets up play action and Bills Safety Donte Whitner has been roasted this year by opposing TE's to the tune of 37 receptions and seven touchdowns.

It's called matchups. Jay has to work these matchups. Let's keep it simple with just these two things. After all, the Bears defense only allows 17 points a game, meaning you only need 18.

No need to get too elaborate. It may throw off the timing.

Jim Miller, an 11-year former NFL quarterback, is a Comcast SportsNet Bears analyst who can be seen each week on U.S. Cellular Bears Postgame Live. Miller, who spent five seasons with the Bears, analyzes current Chicago QB Jay Cutler in his "15 on 6" blog on CSNChicago.com and can be followed on Twitter @15miller.

Bears get Jay Cutler back as QB competition with Brian Hoyer fades to black

Bears get Jay Cutler back as QB competition with Brian Hoyer fades to black

If there was any quarterback “controversy” swirling about the Bears – and one likely will be after this season – this one is safely resolved with Jay Cutler cleared by team medical staff to return from his injured thumb and begin practicing this week, all of this about the time that Brian Hoyer was undergoing surgery for his broken right arm suffered in the loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Whether Cutler would have been re-installed as the starter had Hoyer remained healthy, and throwing for 300 yards per game, is a moot point now. Indications were that Hoyer would not lose the job if he was playing well.

But now, “obviously Jay’s our starter,” said coach John Fox. “He was injured, not permitted to play medically. And now that he’s healed he’s back to being our starter.

“That’s really the facts and kind of what happened and where we’re at now. So I don’t know that there was a ‘competition’ to speak of. Just like there wasn’t a competition when Matt Barkley went in [at Green Bay]; he was our only quarterback left. So it’s good to have Jay back. We’re excited to have him back and hopefully he can remain healthy.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Team chemisty is difficult if not impossible to gauge from the outside. And whether teammates prefer Cutler or Hoyer personally is only marginally relevant anyway.

But Cutler was voted an offensive co-captain (along with Alshon Jeffery) and the offense ostensibly is more dangerous with Cutler and his deep-threat capability. Still, the Bears scored just 21 points in the combined seven quarters behind Cutler, while reaching 17-17-23-16 in whole games under Hoyer.

Cutler’s return is expected to have a ripple effect on the rest of the team.“We don’t really play into that much,” said center Cody Whitehair. “[Whoever’s] back there, we’re going to try and do our best to protect them and do our thing on the run.

“But you know, it is nice to have him back. He’s been a leader on the sideline even while he wasn’t playing and it’ll be nice to have him back out there.”

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.