Chicago’s precarious situation sees them yawning over the gap of oblivion, staring down at 0-3 and nowhere to go but down, deeper into the earth. For years, Bears fans have clung to the notion that a return to glory was just around the corner, but the first three games of the season have done them no favors. How’d they get here? What ill awaits them? Is this the end of the line for Jay Cutler? We talked with Jeff Berckes of Windy City Gridiron, SB Nation’s Chicago Bears blog, to get the answers to this. We answered questions from Windy City Gridiron yesterday and you can read our responses here.
Because Ryan is on me about my lack of #WeOwnTheBears, I am now obligated to put this here before beginning the questions.
1. Looking back at the first three games, what has been the fatal flaw of the Bears? Was it something different each game or is there a pattern early on here?
I guess if there's one common theme, it's injuries. This is not a deep team to begin with and heading into this Sunday's game, Chicago will be without their starting QB, top two RBs and five starters on defense including arguably the best player at each level on that side of the ball (Pernell McPhee, Kyle Fuller, and Eddie Goldman). That's not to mention Kyle Long playing with a torn labrum and Alshon Jeffery playing at something less than 100%.
Get past the injuries though and it hasn't been any one thing. The offensive line had a lot of issues against the Texans and Eagles talented fronts, but that's to be expected with a largely new cast of characters. Chicago's receivers left some plays on the field against the Texans that could have turned the game in their favor, but the Eagles and Cowboys games were national embarrassments. There's nothing good to say about either of those games and that's the alarming thing about the start to the year. The Bears were at least competitive in the majority of their games last year but haven't been competitive after halftime of week 1. The pattern seems to be that the Bears just simply aren't very good at football right now.
2. This defense is bad. 27th in defensive DVOA bad. This is surprising to me if only because I thought the Bears had put a lot of investment into making it better. What happened?
27th? They're that high? That's surprising... They've been terrible and the expectation was to see this defense rise to an average to above average unit. Say what you will about the "next man up" philosophy but it is difficult to be the best you can be during a rebuild with your best players watching in street clothes from the sidelines. This team is simply not deep enough to cover for missing stars. They were already suspect on the back end to start the year but Kyle Fuller starting the year on IR doesn't help. The linebackers were thought to be a potential strength, but Danny Trevathan (thumb surgery), Pernell McPhee (PUP list - knee), and Lamarr Houston (IR - torn ACL) are all out. That's not good. The players behind them are young and learning, with plenty of growing pains.
3. We were dissecting a remarkable column from the Chicago Tribune the other night that speculated that head coach John Fox is signaling the end of the Jay Cutler era. I understand he’s a rather tough sort to defend, but what do you see of the situation? Is that take bunk or is it really almost closing time for Cutler?
If you're referring to the Rosenbloom article: he trades in satire and BS so take it for what it is. I think the media has blown that out of proportion. It's a mix of coach speak and frustration with an 0-3 start. John Fox is a smart guy, he's been around the NFL for too long to not realize that his job isn't guaranteed if he can't show some semblance of competitiveness. Jay Cutler is a tough SOB and has fought back from injuries and played hurt many times in his eight years in Chicago. Of all the criticism he receives, calling him soft is the most ridiculous and absolutely untrue. He tries to play hurt and if anything, Fox is suggesting that a healthy Brian Hoyer is a better option for the team than a hurt Cutler. That seems fair to me and I agree with not putting an injured guy back out there too soon. But to think that Brian Hoyer or *gasp* Matt Barkley is the future of the team is ridiculous. Clearly, the fan base is bemoaning the lack of a developmental quarterback like Dak Prescott as there would be some silver lining to a losing season.
As for the future of Cutler on the Bears... that all depends on what happens this offseason. Can the Bears pull off a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo? Draft a QB at the top of the draft? Even if it's a draft pick, Cutler is likely to remain on the team until they can pull off a Sam Bradford type trade. Cutting Cutler without a succession plan when he's currently under a reasonable, pay as you go contract would be a mistake.
4. How would you grade rookies Cody Whitehair and Leonard Floyd thus far? Feel free to grade other rookie performances too.
Cody Whitehair just got some nice pub in PFF as one of the top 10 rookies by their grading system through three weeks. A Left Tackle in college, Whitehair was expected to step into the left guard role all offseason. Then Josh Sitton was a surprise cut by the Packers and all the sudden, Whitehair was playing center. I watched the Texans film while trying to breakdown the passing game and he was slow to react in dealing with stunts, staying on his block too long and allowing the DE to loop back around him and up the middle. The pivot is not an easy position to pick up on the fly and it will take some time to gel with his guards. Overall, I'd say the future is bright for Whitehair and if you're looking for some kind of positives for this team, it very well could be the interior of the offensive line. If Jordan Howard can start running the football effectively this weekend (another rookie), it will be because the offensive line is starting to work together.
Floyd was a fairly polarizing pick to the fan base given the disagreement on where the biggest needs were and spending valuable draft capital to move up two spots. Chicago sat and watched two straight years as Aaron Donald and Leonard Williams were drafted one slot in front of them to teams that seemingly were stacked at defensive line. As a Bears fan, it makes me sick to think about how close the Bears were to drafting those guys and couldn't move up to get them. I didn't have a similar feeling about Floyd, but General Manager Ryan Pace did and jumped in front of the Giants to get him when there were reports that New York was going to take Floyd. Results? Way too early to tell. He has a half sack and is running around a lot in pass coverage. For a 3-4 OLB pass rusher, the jury needs to stay out and deliberate for about 2 seasons before we decide whether or not he was worth a top 10 pick. With the injuries at OLB, he won't lack in playing time the rest of the season.
5. Give me your best tricks to avoid paying those extravagant “event parking” fees in the South Loop.
Ummm, take the bus? The best tricks are handed out to Bears fans when you get inducted into the secret society. It comes with a lifetime supply of Old Style in the summer and a higher risk of heart disease from the Polish sausage and deep dish.