Published by Jerz on 9/12/2014
There is a strange phenomenon about being a true fan of an NFL team. This is more evident in fans that grew up rooting for the team that represents where they were born and raised. As a fan of the Chicago Bears for as long as I can remember, I am no stranger to this phenomenon. The BEARS have been an interesting team to watch, since the arrival of one Jay Christopher Cutler in 2009. The debates amongst the fan base (and outsiders alike) have been heated about whether Cutler could be “the guy” or is he a modern day Jeff George? A guy who had tumultuous run ins with coaches who would “WOW” you with his throwing prowess and put up big passing numbers from time to time but lacked that “it” factor as a leader. To this day, George is regarded by many as one of the best pure throwing arms the game has ever seen. Ironically, both Cutler and George are from Indiana but one has the chance to fully live up to the potential he came into the league with in 2006 while the other’s career ended almost 13 years ago. At the ripe age of 31, Cutler is in the BEST position he can be in as it relates to skill positioned players to get the ball to, one of the better running backs to hand the ball off to and check down to, an offensive system with proven success and an offensive line to sufficiently protect him. Coming into the 2014 season, it would ALL be up to him how far this team will go.
Looking at Cutler’s stat line from last Sunday’s home loss to Buffalo, you’d say he had a great game right? He did complete 34 of 49 pass attempts for 349 yards and 2 touchdowns. The problem is he threw a critical interception (his 2nd of the game) to a defensive tackle no less, in the middle of the 4th quarter, on a 3rd and 1 play that the team called a timeout prior to. It was later discovered that the team would’ve gone for it on 4th down if they didn’t convert on 3rd down. This very play brought back memories that some fans were trying to suppress forever while others in the fan base were saying “I knew it, that’s who this guy is”. I’ve been on the side of “look what he had to work with his first 4-5 years here?” but have been pulled closer to the middle. I still believe fans are overreacting entirely too much, after one game, as Cutler (even after the “bonehead” pick) had 2 chances to win the game late. I blame the play calling down the stretch (for getting too “cute” at times) as much as Cutler and as much as the defense (for NOT being able to get off the field on 3rd downs and taking the ball away more). Trust me, there is enough “blame” to go around. I think the BIGGEST issue people have with Jay is he doesn’t step up and chug down his share of it which is fair.
The schedule makers didn’t do the BEARS any favors, in the first half of the season (with 5 of their next 7 on the road), and they will have to “lick their wounds” quickly and try to bounce back against a San Francisco team that has given them absolute problems when they’ve traveled West to face them. The Niners re-loaded at wide receiver, this off season, after already being one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. It’s no secret that defending the run has been the defense’s “Achilles heel”, in the brief Mel Tucker Era. Giving up almost 200 yards rushing to Buffalo can be looked at 2 ways. The Bills were one of the best rushing teams in the NFL, last season, so they were expected to have some level of success in the run game and this was week 1 where tackling is expected to be a “work in progress” out of the gate. The problem is the BEARS showed a lack of lane discipline and were often times out of position much like they were last season. THIS is why Tucker comes under immediate fire because these are supposed to be “correctible mistakes” that we saw over and over. Seeing these SAME kinds of mistakes, after almost re-hauling the defense in the off season, sends red flags up everywhere. Again, we shouldn’t be so quick to overreact. The BEARS simply didn’t close out a winnable game at home and it’s magnified by the expectations this team came into 2014 with AND the fact 5 of the next 7 are away from Soldier Field against the Niners, Jets, Panthers, Falcons and Patriots respectively. The 2 home games in this span are no “layups” either (against hated rival Green Bay and up and coming Miami). San Francisco is a winnable game but the reality is Cutler and the defense will almost have to pitch a perfect game neither of which has been seen on the same field at the same time. It’s a difficult task, no doubt, but far from impossible. The bottom line is if the BEARS are as terrible versus the run as they have been for most of Mel Tucker’s short tenure as defensive coordinator and Jay Cutler makes poor decisions with the football this team will be on their backs looking up at (0-2).
Fans can point their fingers in multiple directions and harp on game 1 of the season if they want to. The reality is the BEARS have a chance to right the ship in a game they’ve had marked on their calendars since the schedule was released. I see all kinds of problems on defense starting with stopping the run and ending with Vernon Davis having a field day running free in that gaping space behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. The defense will have to pitch an almost perfect game and find a way to take the ball away and get OFF the field on 3rd down. It 1st starts with creating 3rd and long situations that ONLY occur when you make stops on 1st and 2nd down. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s mobility only adds to the defense’s issues. On offense the BEARS are going to have to be patient with the run against one of the better run defenses in the NFL (though they struggled to stop the run against Dallas). Matt Forte can be a HUGE asset and must be involved in the passing game as well. The injury situation with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery (on top of starting offensive linemen Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson) only add to the already tall task of trying to crack a very stingy Niners defense. The road is rough and the task is tall but I’m thinking the BEARS pull off an upset 27-24…