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.

Brandon Marshall responds to tweet asking if he misses Jay Cutler

Brandon Marshall responds to tweet asking if he misses Jay Cutler

The bromance of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall began in Denver when they were drafted together in 2006, and then shifted to Chicago in 2012 via a trade to complete the reunion.

The two instantly hit it off and developed a close relationship on and off the field, a large reason why the Bears acquired Marshall to help spark some old magic.

But things took a turn when Marshall was traded to the New York Jets last offseason.

Asked on Twitter if he misses his former quarterback, Marshall responded with a genuine answer:

Bears sign Chicago native Tony Moeaki, defensive lineman Marquis Jackson

Bears sign Chicago native Tony Moeaki, defensive lineman Marquis Jackson

Tony Moeaki is coming home.

The Bears announced on Thursday that they have signed the former Wheaton Warrenville South standout.

Moeaki attended Bears minicamp on a tryout and impressed the coaching staff enough to secure a deal.

The 29-year-old Moeaki appeared in 11 games for the Atlanta Falcons last season and recorded three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. Moeaki was originally selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the third-round (93rd overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Iowa. He has 91 receptions for 1,201 yards and six touchdowns in 48 career games.

Moeaki is expected to provide tight end depth and compete for a backup spot behind starter Zach Miller.

The Bears also announced the signing of defensive lineman Marquis Jackson, the twin brother of former Denver Broncos Super Bowl champion and current Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson. Marquis Jackson entered the NFL in 2013 with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent out of Portland State, but has not appeared in a regular-season NFL game. 

In corresponding roster moves, the Bears waived defensive lineman Kenton Adeyemi and linebacker Don Cherry.

Minicamp wrap: Three answers to 'So, how do the Bears look?'

Minicamp wrap: Three answers to 'So, how do the Bears look?'

The Bears concluded their three-day mandatory minicamp on Thursday, ending on a short-term feel-good — coach John Fox canceling the last offseason practice before training camp starts on July 27.

“They’ve earned it,” Fox said with a tone that suggested a degree of satisfaction in what he’d seen at this point of his 15th NFL head coaching season. “I don’t just do that because I feel like it. They worked real hard. We had great participation and they worked extremely hard. They earned it.”

Positive beliefs are frequently easy to find this far in advance of games that matter. But within the work of the OTA’s and minicamp were “tells,” signs that the Bears clearly believe they are nothing like the squad that wobbled through four losses in its final five games to finish 6-10.

But how exactly DO the Bears look as their pre-camp work wraps up? Three answers to that question emerged over the past several weeks:

1. They really AREN’T the same team from a year ago, or even six months ago.

Fox is among those who maintain that big jumps occur from year one to year two for players, particularly young ones. But more than individual players make year-one-to-year-two leaps.

Fox’s Carolina Panthers improved from seven to 11 wins from his first to second seasons with them, reaching the Super Bowl in year two (2003). His Denver Broncos teams went from eight wins in Fox’s year-one (2011) to 13 in year two.

“It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen,” Fox said. “But I’m pleased with where we are this year. If I had to compare to something, it would be this time last year and I feel much better about where we are now than I did at this time a year ago.”

Easy to say, but consider: This time a year ago, six current starters on defense (Mitch Unrein, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Tracy Porter, Harold Jones-Quartey) were not practicing. Jones-Quartey and Unrein were not even Bears.

This time a year ago, Jared Allen was trying to be a linebacker. Brock Vereen was a starting safety. Eddie Goldman was out of shape and barely practicing. Kevin White was busy stress-fracturing his left leg. Jordan Mills was the starting right tackle.

Yes, Fox should feel “much better.”

2.  Bears D is visibly “night and day from last year”

The 2015 Bears defense went into Week 17 last season with exactly one defensive lineman (Will Sutton) who’d been with the team going into training camp. The unit finished 29th allowing third-down conversions and 30th in interception rate, among other less-than-stellar indicators.

Through this minicamp, the practice field frequently echoed with whoops from a defense that had picked off a pass or knocked a football loose. Quarterback Jay Cutler was rarely intercepted through camp last year, a sign of what was to come under coordinator Adam Gase through the regular season. This year he has not had his way with the defense.

“Just going against them from my perspective, it seems like night and day from last year,” Cutler said. “Just going against these guys, it’s a much different group, much different group. They’re faster, they’re quicker and they’ve got a confidence about them. I think Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] really doing a good job of mixing it up and showing us different looks.

“They’re going to help us out, get some short fields, get some turnovers, put some pressure on us to do our job on offense.”

3. Meshing vets adamant: “We can accomplish a lot here.”

Simply bringing a bunch of even talented veterans assures absolutely nothing (insert Daniel Snyder joke here). The Bears experienced that when in 2014 they brought in Allen, Houston and Young, then saw the defense remain at epic lows as the Bears went from 8-8 to 5-11.

This offseason the Bears brought in two starting inside linebackers (Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan) behind a massive defensive end (Akiem Hicks). On offense, Kyle Long returned to guard from tackle as the Bears signed workout-mate Bobby Massie, among other changes.

And the result of bringing together multiple players from winning programs has contributed to a palpable attitude adjustment to one that was conspicuously absent last year.

“I feel like, that you know a lot of people doubt [teammates] or some guys were hurt last year or this and that,” said Trevathan, a Super Bowl winner with Denver last season and who had his ring on display for teammates on Wednesday. “But you know, they're playing like they're hungry, with a chip on their shoulder. They're playing like they're hungry and that's what I'm used to and that's where you need to start.”

“Hungry” in June doesn’t necessarily mean wins in Fall. But a lack of hunger or shoulder-chip typically does point to looming problems, so the strong attitude the other way does count for something.

“There’s a lot of great talent here,” said Massie, a playoff veteran from the Arizona Cardinals under coach Bruce Arians. “And this team can accomplish a lot of good things. From the past team I’ve been with I see a lot of the things that we had with those past teams here. So we can accomplish a lot here.”