The Lions haven’t seen the Bears since Week 4, when the team was probably at its lowest point after Matthew Stafford made multiple turnovers and the Lions staggered to a 1-3 record. Since then the Lions have only lost once, while the Bears have only eked out a couple wins on their way to the bottom of the NFC and the top of the NFL draft order. We spoke with Jeff Berckes of Windy City Gridiron about the time between the meetings.
1. Well, it's been a minute. What's the biggest thing about this team that you would say has changed between when the Lions met the Bears last at Soldier Field and right now?
If we're being charitable, I'd say it's all about the injuries piling up. We're on our 3rd string QB, both Pro Bowl guards have missed time (Long is on IR), the receiving corps is down to replacement-level players, and that's just the offense. The defense has its share of issues as well with Pernell McPhee just now rounding back to form, Kyle Fuller hasn't played a down, and Lamarr Houston and Danny Trevathan are on IR. As a result, a lot of young guys have been thrust into playing time. Some have performed well, others have shown their youth and, in some cases, lack of talent.
Since the first Lions game, the Bears have dropped three 1-score games to the pitiful AFC South, split against the NFC North rivals, blew out the 49ers, and were not competitive against NFC playoff hopefuls Tampa Bay and New York. Maybe a few of the top level guys stay healthy and 3-9 turns into 5-7 and it's not so bad.
2. Last time we saw y'all it was Brian Hoyer and he ripped apart the Lions defense in ways that make me feel nauseous. Now the Lions get to face Matt Barkley. How is he different from Hoyer? What kind of a game should Lions fans expect to see from him?
Hoyer did a nice job of protecting the football and moving the offense between the 20s. I call it a PG-13 offense - he gets close but never scores. Hoyer was throwing for a lot of yards against some suspect secondaries but only threw 6 scores in 6 games, which included games against Jacksonville and Indianapolis. I really like Hoyer...as a backup.
Barkley is going to give it away with bad throws, bad reads, and bad luck. He's on his third team since 2013 and he's not some kind of overlooked diamond in the rough. But, he is willing to make a throw to give his receivers a chance to make plays. He's got 3 TDs against 4 interceptions in 2+ games so expect some opportunities to take the ball away but don't be shocked if he gets a couple good ones too. He played well last week in the snow in a win against the hapless 49ers and gave the Bears a legitimate chance to beat a decent Titans squad if not for a modern record of 10 receiver drops. I think he could keep it competitive if he gets a couple breaks.
3. Staying on quarterbacks, it's probably the biggest issue regarding the Bears moving into the future. Are we going to see Jay Cutler be the undisputed starter again? Is Matt Barkley going to be the future or will Chicago look to take a quarterback in the 2017 draft?
I can't possibly see how Matt Barkley is the future. If he is proving to be a good locker room guy, I can see him coming back to compete for a backup role. He's getting some valuable experience to close out 2016 but I don't know that anyone is going to be giving him starter money.
Jay Cutler is a little more difficult to diagnose. He's through the end of his guaranteed money, so parting ways will cost the Bears very little against the cap. On the flip side, Cutler now has an attractive contract for a league-average quarterback. So, what's the motivation for cutting ties with Jay other than just making a clean break? Why not bring him back as the starter until a young player is ready to take over? If nothing else, try to make a draft day trade. Sam Bradford earned a 1st rounder from the Vikings in trade negotiations...just sayin'. He can still sling it and a change of scenery would do him well. I think he would fit really well in Houston, to be honest. He would unlock DeAndre Hopkins and I think Bill O'Brien is the type of guy who might take a shot.
As for the draft...there's a lot to be learned but right now, I'm hoping for an all-star defensive player in the 1st and using a 2nd or 3rd on a quarterback. I'm already falling for Jabrill Peppers - a player I'm sure many Lions fans love on Big Blue. The best thing the Bears can do is create a monster defense and reestablish the identity of this franchise.
4. Although much of this team has stalled and faltered, the passing defense ranks 15th in DVOA at 4.9%. I know injuries have been a concern, but what are the top names that Lions fans will look out for as Chicago attempts to cover this Lions receiver corps?
Tracy Porter is the CB1 on this team and is a legitimate starting-caliber corner. He'd be better as a #2, but he's got talent. Bryce Callahan was the projected slot corner but he'll likely play outside in base sets and is a real nice young player out of Rice. Some young guys that get snaps are Deiondre' Hall from University of Northern Iowa and Cre'Von Leblanc, a rookie free agent from Florida Atlantic. Porter and Hall have been limited in practice this week.
At safety, Adrian Amos is turning in a solid sophomore campaign but he's battling a foot injury. Harold Jones-Quartey has shown flashes, but still has a long way to go. Deon Bush, rookie out of Miami, has finally rounded into form after a hamstring issue in camp. He's made a few starts and is starting to catch up to full speed. Again, Jabrill Peppers would look really good in navy and orange.
5. There's a good number of rumors that suddenly flared up this week regarding defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. It doesn't look like he's out of Chicago any time soon, at least not by the decision of John Fox himself. That said, what's the future of this coaching staff? Are they surviving this offseason? How bad will any shakeup be? Is John Fox on the chopping block himself?
I don't know. It's like celebrity gossip - I honestly couldn't possibly care less about rumors like this. The guy who reported this should go work for TMZ if the standard for reporting is that low. I honestly doubt that any decision has been made by Ryan Pace or by John Fox and Vic Fangio. Do these guys really have enough time in their week to think about this?
I'd say the majority of Bears fans and certainly the majority of WCG writers believe that Fox should be shown the door. I really worry about that. The Bears are in year 2 of digging out of the Marc Trestman hole, they've endured a lot of injuries, and they've lost some close games. Players seem to still be upbeat and competitive. It appears to me that Fox runs a pretty tight ship and that his players like him. Vic Fangio has done a great job with the defense and I really want to see where this unit is in 2017 and 2018 when enough talent has been added and developed to fully implement this defense.