It takes a village to improve Bears' passing offense

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It takes a village to improve Bears' passing offense

Not everything is as simple as it seems sometimes. And sometimes the reasons for a problem are so obvious as to be overlooked.

Take the Bears passing offense, for instance.

Brandon Marshall has been targeted 175 times this season by Jay Cutler. All other Bears wideouts have had a total of 129.

The numbers are nothing short of warped. But Marshall also has been on the field for more than twice the number of snaps as any other Bears receiver. His 927 dwarf the 401 played by next-closest Earl Bennett, followed by Alshon Jeffery (391) and Devin Hester (366). Marshall and Eric Weems are the only Bears wide receivers to be active for all 15 games to date.

Cutler offered a dismissive Dont know to a question last Wednesday as to why other Bears receivers have not been more involved in the passing game. Best guess is that Cutler does know.

Jason Campbell started one game this season, in San Francisco. It was one of the few times all season that the Bears have had a full complement of receivers. Perhaps not surprisingly, Hester, Jeffery, Marshall and Matt Forte were each targeted four times, and Bennett and Kellen Davis each twice.

The result wasnt necessarily any better than when Cutler has been throwing 43.4 percent (175 of 403) of his passes to Marshall. But since the same game-planning was in place, the results suggest pretty strongly where the preponderance of Marshall targets are coming from and it doesnt appear to have been Mike Tice.

Citing the number of drops by Bears receivers as a key reason why Jay Cutler is not a more effective quarterback is convenient. But is it accurate?

Bears receivers have been guilty of 33 drops this season, according to the stats analysts at ProFootballFocus.com. By contrast, Denver receivers have dropped 39 of Peyton Mannings throws. Aaron Rodgers should have 42 more completions based on his receivers drops. And while Tom Brady has the Patriots rolling into the postseason with his passing, he has done it with receivers dropping 43 of his passes.

Aah, but heres the rest of the story:

Rodgers has thrown nearly one-third more passes (522) than Cutler (403). Manning has thrown 554 passes. And Brady has thrown nearly 50 percent more passes than Cutler: 600. Cutlers receivers have dropped a higher percentage of his passes than those of top quarterbacks.

But wait, theres more.

Something that virtually all bad teams have in common is a quarterback who throws interceptions. Indeed, the dropped passes factor less into Jay Cutlers mediocre passer rating (80.2) than his own follies of 14 interceptions, which count heavily in passer-rating calculations.

Manning has thrown an uncharacteristic 11 but is completing 68.1 percent of his passes; not many balls hit the ground, right or wrong. And Brady and Rodgers have thrown just eight each.

Cutlers interception rate of 3.5 percent places him in very suspect, dubious company, better than just 5-10 Tennessees Jake Locker (3.7); 6-9 New York Jet Mark Sanchez (4.1); and 2-13 Kansas Citys Matt Cassel (4.3).

Others with interceptions above 3.0: Brandon Weeden of 5-10 Cleveland; Josh Freeman of 6-9 Tampa Bay; Ryan Fitzpatrick of 5-10 Buffalo.

The only quarterback with an interception percentage higher than 3.0 and whose team is winning is Andy Dalton, whose 9-6 Cincinnati Bengals are tied for allowing the third-fewest points in the AFC.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.