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.

Want to be in on Bears QB deliberations? 'Look at the film'

Want to be in on Bears QB deliberations? 'Look at the film'

Back in 1992 the Dallas Cowboys were in draft deliberations around the No. 17 spot of the first round, looking for upgrades on defense. A scout made a suggestion that they target Ohio State defensive end Alonzo Spellman, one of the most physically imposing (6-4, 280 pounds) players and best athletes in that draft.
 
Coach Jimmy Johnson responded, "Tell me about the production."
 
Came back the answer: Three years at OSU, nine total sacks.
 
"Oh, please!" Johnson scoffed, calling in cornerback Kevin Smith and leaving Spellman to the Bears at No. 22. Spellman had several respectable seasons but never more than 8.5 sacks in nine NFL seasons.
 
As investment advisers counsel, past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future results. But past performance can be, and an axiom in NFL personnel rooms is, look at the film.
 
CSNChicago.com is doing that as the NFL Scouting Combine approaches (Feb. 29) along with free agency and the start of the league year and its trading window. It becomes an increasingly relevant exercise to look at the intricacies behind some of the key players and positions the Bears will be addressing through the upcoming weeks. CSNChicago.com previously looked at the need to evaluate quarterbacks from the intangible standpoints first, then the measurables.
 
Using Jay Cutler as an object lesson for how immense physical skills have questionable correlations to immense NFL performance, a look at one aspect of quarterback "film" warrants more attention than the measurables that command a disproportionate share of attention and scrutiny.
 
Ball security.
 
It has been Cutler's single biggest issue through his eight Bears seasons, was a reason why coaches once wanted to stay with Josh McCown instead of returning to Cutler following a Cutler injury absence, and why Brian Hoyer played his way into prominence in the discussion of 2017 Bears plans. Adam Gase went from offensive coordinator to hottest head-coach prospect in no small measure because he managed Cutler into better ball security.

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But the point here is less Cutler – expected to be traded or released within the near future – than the level of ball security in the available options beyond Hoyer.
 
So, look at the film:
 
The widespread drooling over a possible trade with New England for Jimmy Garoppolo. The best thing in Garoppolo's favor is that he has been a Patriots backup to Tom Brady. Garoppolo, drawing distant comparisons to a Matt Flynn, Matt Cassel and other past experience-lite quarterback options, has thrown 94 NFL passes without an interception, which is impressive until matched against Hoyer's 200 last season without an interception, for comparison purposes.
 
But evaluating Garoppolo against the coming chief draft competition – DeShone Kizer, Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson – suggests comparing apples to apples, meaning college ball security, since that's all the kids have to this point.
 
Garoppolo vaulted up draft boards (to New England's second round) on the strength of an Eastern Illinois senior season with 53 touchdown passes vs. nine interceptions, against chiefly FCS opposition. But in his first three seasons Garoppolo threw for 65 touchdowns and was intercepted 42 times.
 
Kizer? In his two Notre Dame seasons, 47 touchdowns, 19 interceptions.
 
Trubisky? 30 touchdowns last season, six interceptions. Including his two years as a North Carolina backup, 41 touchdowns, 10 interceptions.
 
Watson? 90 touchdowns, 32 interceptions in three Clemson seasons, the last two as Tigers starter.
 
Observations:
 
Garoppolo put in four college seasons, but has a little of the Trubisky/Flynn/Cassel, one-year-wonder feel. 
 
Kizer and Watson have more starting seasons, but the Watson intangible of getting his team to two national-championship games speaks to another level of "intangible."
 
GM Ryan Pace will incorporate heavy input from coach John Fox and coordinator Dowell Loggains. Coaches love ball security. Garoppolo? Watson? Trubisky? Kizer?
 
Look at the film.

BearsTalk Podcast: The risk and reward for Bears in trading for Jimmy Garoppolo

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USA TODAY

BearsTalk Podcast: The risk and reward for Bears in trading for Jimmy Garoppolo

In this edition of the BearsTalk podcast, CSN's Chris Boden, Sun-Times Bears beat writer Patrick Finley, and CSNChicago.com's Scott Krinch discuss the Bears' approach to the two-week window opening to franchise-tag Alshon Jeffery again, the risk/reward in trading for Jimmy Garoppolo or drafting a QB (and how high to draft one), Scott's 2.0 mock draft, plus the workers' compensation controversy the team found itself in last week and the club's decision to raise ticket prices.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: