Moon: Bears finally have a 'Pro Bowl quarterback'

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Moon: Bears finally have a 'Pro Bowl quarterback'

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted: 10:56 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears have a Pro Bowl quarterback (whatever that means and implies, which is a topic for another time). They traded for one 20 months ago who had been to a Pro Bowl but now they actually have one.

Jay Cutler probably won't get to the All-Star game this year he'd have to vault one of Michael Vick, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan at this point and he's trailing too far in Q Factor behind those guys -- but Cutler is a "Pro Bowl quarterback" in 2010. And he is more of one now than he was when he was voted to the all-star game in 2008.

(What he needs to do, and the Bears desperately need him to do, is to lapse into the post-selection spiral that finished his 2008. More on that in a moment.)

Cutler piled up 4,526 yards and 18 touchdown passes in his Pro Bowl year, but he was in a Mike Shanahan offense that had him throw 616 passes. Of those, 18 were intercepted, a rate of 2.9 percent that is roughly comparable to the 3.1 percent he's throwing to wrong jerseys this season.

What will hold him back in the voting that's wrapping up now is those 17 TD passes. Brees has 25 (oh, and a Super Bowl ring and TV commercials). Rodgers has 23 and has the love of the national media and better track record. Ryan has 21 touchdown passes (and a cool nickname, "Matty Ice"). And Vick has 15 (and a Sports Illustrated cover story). Those are tough numbers and images to overcome in a selection process that is one-third fan recognition.

But Cutler currently has his team (and make no mistake about it; it is his play that has keyed the five-game win streak) at 9-3 and in the discussion of "NFL's best" if for no other reason than they keep winning while some of the others (like Vick and the Eagles, or the Giants, or the Chargers, or ... pick one) stumble. He also is doing what he's doing so effectively that the focus of the Bears' offense suddenly is Matt Forte, quietly adding 201 rushing yards of his own when things have broken down.

And Cutler is simply a better passer and, more important, a better quarterback than he was when he put up the eye-popping '08 numbers. He has been an offensive player of the week twice in 12 games. He is completing 63.2 percent of his passes, second only to the 63.6 he connected on in 2007. He is fifth in the NFL in yards per attempt (Vick and Rodgers are among the top four), one of the key single statistical indicators of team success.

Cutler is far and away the NFL's best at third-down completions to pick up third downs over the last five weeks.

He has a 92.8 passer rating this season, higher than any year in his career and dramatically reversing a trend that has seen his ratings begin at 88.5 as a rookie and fall to 88.1, 86.0 and 76.8.
But here's the thing ...
Most of the voting for Pro Bowls is done before the final weeks of seasons. Cutler virtually made his Pro Bowl in 2008 when his team was 8-5 and he'd posted ratings of near 95 or better in four of his previous five games; he'd had five 100-ratings in 13 games.

Then he laid three eggs with ratings below 75 in all three of those final games, throwing two TD passes vs. four INTs. His Pro Bowl billet was secured by then but that was hardly the finishing kick of a true "Pro Bowl quarterback." He wasn't.

Now he is, whether the voting says so or not. What he needs to do, though, to earn that de facto distinction for the year is to avoid a meltdown in the tradition of '08. Then the Bears will have the Pro Bowl quarterback they thought they were getting back in April 2009.

"John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears defensive problems vs. Cowboys not complicated (unfortunately)

Bears defensive problems vs. Cowboys not complicated (unfortunately)

That the Dallas Cowboys were able to put 447 yards, almost 200 of them running the football, and 31 points on the Bears was concerning in itself. The way much of it happened, however, was perhaps more concerning, even if not completely surprising.

And the issues were in more than one area.

The rushing yards, of which 140 were provided on 30 carries by rookie Ezekiel Elliott, were largely gained by simply pounding away on an undermanned Bears front seven. The Bears have allowed 10 runs of 10 yards or more; five of those came in Dallas.

The problem was an alarmingly simple one. Not scheme, not missed assignments.

“We were getting blocked and not getting off blocks well enough,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said on Wednesday. “But basically getting blocked most of the time, a guy or two every time was just getting blocked.”

The defense was without linchpin and nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle) as well as inside linebacker and co-captain Danny Trevathan. In Trevathan’s spot, rookie Nick Kwiatkoski started and played on 18 of Dallas’ snaps (26 percent).

He did OK,” Fangio said. “Again, he was part of those guys that got blocked some. Had some good plays, some not so good. The first play of the game that popped out of there for 21 yards, he was at the point of attack on that one. It was OK, hope for better, expect better moving forward.”

The Bears use something of a hybrid form of gap control, not strictly two-gap with linemen responsible for gaps on either side of the blocker in front of them, and not strictly one-gap, with a tighter responsibility but with expectations that the defender get more penetration and disruption.

The system is what one lineman described as “gap-and-a-half,” playing their assigned gap but also with responsibility to help out with one other assigned gap. They are not head-up on offensive linemen, being slightly shaded toward a gap a’la one-gap schemes most of the time.

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The Bears generally were unable to control either their assigned or their secondary gaps.

The issues were not confined to the run defense. The Bears’ pass rush was virtually non-existent (zero sacks, one hit on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott) and yet it allowed Prescott to scramble free three times, converting first downs on all three.

“Our rush wasn’t good enough when they weren’t throwing it quick,” Fangio said, “and it was evident by the times [Prescott] scrambled. He scrambled three times for first downs and they hurt us.

“Our rush wasn’t good enough. There are a lot of passes that the rush won’t be a factor because it is coming out fast. But we have to get better coverage to make them hold the ball longer, too.”

Bears have run hurry-up offense, Brian Hoyer style

Bears have run hurry-up offense, Brian Hoyer style

Brian Hoyer spent Wednesday’s practice as the presumptive No. 1 quarterback, sources said, and with Jay Cutler limited due to his thumb injury, the Bears began prep for the Detroit Lions next Sunday in Soldier Field with Hoyer getting more used to the offense that he has only sparingly run since training camp.

Some of Hoyer’s teammates spent Wednesday’s practice getting a little more used to him.

A veteran of 27 NFL starts, Hoyer doesn’t do things the way Cutler does them. He doesn’t throw as hard. He doesn’t throw as far. And he runs a sort-of hurry-up offense compared to Cutler.

“Hoyer has a real good sense of urgency to him,” said left tackle Charles Leno Jr. “He’s more fast paced. He likes to quicken up things, whether it’s the cadence, the flow – he just has a real natural sense of urgency about himself.”

This involves more than just a feeling. The Bears ARE faster under Hoyer, based on one very unofficial measure, because game situations differ even though the Bears ultimately lost all three games.

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Based on snaps and time played, the Bears have run 2.2 plays per minute with Cutler. They have run 2.6 per minute, approaching 20 percent more, under “urgent” Hoyer.

The play rate, however, is not entirely on the quarterback. Like all teams, the Bears build tempos into their system, and defenses also dictate some of how the Bears elect to work.

Still, “Jay is more laid back, more relaxed, even-keeled,” Leno said, smiling. “But that’s just Hoyer, more sense of urgency."