Chicago Bears: Jeff Dickerson
1. JD, what is your best guess for what the Bears do with Jay Cutler? Franchise tag, long-term deal or let him walk? Thank you for the weekly mailbag posting. Happy Holidays. -- Marcus, Loves Park, Ill.
Dickerson: My best guess is that Cutler signs a new deal with the Bears in the offseason. My sense is the Bears have already decided that Cutler is their guy -- even though Monday he will miss his fifth game due to injury in 2013 -- and will look to finalize a contract with him in next couple of months. The new trend in the NFL is for free-agent players to sign shorter deals for as much guaranteed money as possible. So it wouldn't surprise me if the Bears and Cutler eventually ink a three-, or maybe four-year contract somewhere north of $16 million per season. The franchise tag is always a negotiating tool for a team to use if the negotiations fall apart, but in this case, I think the scenario of Cutler receiving a new multi-year contract is the most likely.
2. DICKERSON, YOUR BUDDY MCNOWN STUNK UP THE PLACE IN MINNESOTA. ARE THEY GOING TO MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT THAT? GO PACK!!! -- Alex, Ashland, Wis.
Dickerson: Alex, I can assure you Cade McNown did not start for the Bears at quarterback last Sunday in the Metrodome. Maybe your television reception is a little fuzzy living that far up north. Now if you're taking about Josh McCown, he struggled at times in the 23-20 loss to the Vikings. Let's just say it wasn't his best performance. But for all the people criticizing McCown for his lack of arm strength or the methodical manner in which he guides the offense down the field, let me ask you this question: how many NFL general managers would love to have a backup quarterback on their roster, who in six appearances is capable of completing 120 of 184 passes for 1,461 yards, nine touchdowns, one interception for a passer-rating of 103.6? Without the benefit of a scientific poll, I'd say most league executives would find McCown's contributions this year to be acceptable. Not to mention the fact that he almost brought the Bears back versus Washington and Detroit, and had the team up 20-10 versus the Vikings in the second half. This is not about McCown being the Bears' quarterback of the future. This is about acknowledging that an incredible job he's done so far in relief of Cutler. McCown is a backup quarterback. But he's a very good one, and the Bears are lucky to have him.
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Using the franchise tag on Jay Cutler would be a mistake because it ties up too much cap space on one player.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. The tag is supposed to be used as a placeholder so the two sides, player and team, can hammer out a long-term deal. The tag value, rising north of $15 million, would handicap the Bears next season, especially as they try to restock the aging, flagging defense. As most everyone knows by now, the franchise tag insures that all the money is paid in one season, whereas a long-term contract allows a team to creatively structure the payouts for salary cap purposes. With that in mind, I don’t quite understand the point of tagging Cutler for the purpose of a one-year “tryout” deal. What don’t they know about him? Sure, health is a concern but that’s true of any NFL player. The one question the Bears must have had about Cutler before the season was: How would he relate to Marc Trestman? The answer seems to be: Quite well, actually. Since taking over as general manager, Phil Emery has made it a mission to give Cutler the tools to succeed, from receivers to linemen to coaches. Now it’s time to negotiate a long-term deal.
Fact or Fiction: The emergence of Alshon Jeffery might actually make Brandon Marshall expendable when his deal is up.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. While Marshall has been, arguably, the most productive receiver not named Calvin Johnson since coming to the Bears, Emery has to consider his salary cap situation when Marshall’s deal comes up. Marshall still has another year on his contract, but he turns 30 in March. He’s in great shape, it seems, but that’s the “magic number” for skill position players. So don’t be surprised if the Bears make Jeffery the No. 1 while looking for a complementary receiver. Still, I think it’s likely that they extend Marshall in a cap-friendly way this offseason. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they decide to move on early. That’s just life in the NFL.
Fact or Fiction: Jeremiah Ratliff is in for a big game against his former team on Monday.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Not sure this is a real storyline anyone cares about outside of the Chicago and Dallas media, and probably not even then. Sure, some guys play better using slights as fuel, but Ratliff just played his first game in a year last week in Minneapolis. He’s probably more concerned about just existing out there in the trenches than making a statement. But hey, there’s not much time left in the season, so a big game would be nice.
Fact or Fiction: DeMarco Murray will post just his second 100-yard rushing game of the season on Monday.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. The Bears rushing defense stinks, and their pass defense isn’t much better lately. Since linebacker Lance Briggs got injured in the Washington game, the Bears are giving up more than 200 rushing yards a game, and they’ve given up at least 100 yards rushing in every game since Oct. 10. So, yeah, start Murray in your fantasy league. I know I am.
In this week’s edition, Dickerson rightfully gives receiver Alshon Jeffery some love for his outstanding performance in Sunday’s loss to Minnesota. Dickerson writes:
"Marc Trestman's questionable decision-making in the 23-20 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings obscured Jeffery's brilliant performance in the Metrodome, in which he caught 12 passes for a team-record 249 yards and two touchdowns. In just his second year in the NFL, Jeffery is only the eighth player in NFL history to have two 200-yard receiving games in one season. On the year, Jeffery has 70 catches for 1,109 yards and five touchdowns, not bad production from a second-round pick who some viewed as a malcontent coming out of South Carolina. Jeffery and Brandon Marshall are rewriting the Bears' record book at wide receiver, and the duo has been together for less than two seasons."
Hopefully Jeffery and Marshall can stay together a few more seasons. Let’s not forget Marshall’s deal is up in 2014, and the club would be wise to try to re-up with him before that contract actually comes up on its final season.
-- Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times believes Jay Cutler is the better quarterback for the Bears at this point than backup Josh McCown, which is obvious. But the difference between the two isn’t as night-and-day as you might think. Yes, with McCown under center the Bears are gaining more yards but scoring fewer points than they did with Cutler running the show. But all the variables need to be taken into account when looking at the situation, instead of relying solely on statistics. See, the Bears scored four of their five touchdowns on defense this season with a healthy Cutler starting at quarterback, which skews the scoring average somewhat. With McCown under center, the Bears scored one defensive TD, on David Bass’ interception return against Baltimore. Taking that into account, which means we subtract the defensive TDs and freebie extra-point kicks, the Bears averaged 21.75 points with Cutler engineering the offense and 19 with McCown at the helm. And just two games -- one Bears win and one loss -- this season were decided by two points or fewer.
We won’t even get into comparing the turnover numbers.
When Cutler first went down against the Redskins on Oct. 20, he had completed 3 of 8 passes for 28 yards, with an interception and a passer rating of 8.3, before leaving the contest with 9:56 left in the first half. McCown led Chicago’s offense to 24 points in that 45-41 shootout. Then, when Cutler went down again Nov. 10 at Detroit, the Bears trailed 21-13. So McCown accounted for six of the club’s points in that loss by virtue of an 11-yard touchdown pass to Marshall in the final minute.
If we’re looking at it from the standpoint of physical skill set, sure, Cutler undoubtedly is the man to lead the Bears over the next four games, provided he’s healthy. But McCown certainly hasn’t been a slouch, and he deserves some credit. He’s played well, generating a passer rating of 103.6 and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9-to-1 that supports that assertion.
-- CSNChicago.com’s John Mullin ponders whether the loss of Cutler to the offense was more significant than the loss of linebacker Lance Briggs to the defense.
1. Bears seasons continue to unravel in the Metrodome: Fittingly, the Bears' final game in the Metrodome turned out to be a complete disaster. That might sound a bit dramatic, but when you factor in the importance of the game with all the opportunities the Bears were given to win it, this is one of the most painful losses in recent memory. The Bears have won just two games in this old and run-down building since 2002, with several of those defeats altering the outcome of the season -- and that includes Sunday’s overtime thriller. With the Detroit Lions now holding essentially a two-game lead over the Bears in the NFC North with four left to play, you have to wonder if the Bears ruined their chances to make the playoffs. As far as the Bears are concerned, they can’t tear this place down fast enough.
2. Bears' botched overtime field goal attempt: Robbie Gould has made so many clutch kicks for the Bears in his nine-year career that I completely understand why Marc Trestman felt confident with Gould from 47 yards with 4:12 left in overtime. But Trestman’s decision to kick the ball on second-and-7 from the Vikings' 29-yard line was curious. Coaches tend to attempt game-winning kicks before fourth down to guard against a possible bad snap, but the Bears have the best long snapper in the NFL, Patrick Mannelly. So that rationale doesn’t make a ton of sense. Matt Forte was also averaging 5.2 yards per carry on Sunday. Why not hand him the ball a couple of times to give Gould a shorter kick? Forte fumbled the ball last week in the first quarter in St. Louis, but he’s generally pretty careful with the football. In the end, Gould missed the kick. That’s the bottom line. But Trestman had an opportunity to help out one of his players win the game for the team, and he failed to pull the trigger.
Josh McCown did his job: McCown made his share of mistakes versus Minnesota, but he passed for 355 yards and two touchdowns for a 114.9 quarterback rating. That means McCown is 120-of-184 for 1,461 yards, 9 touchdowns and 1 interception on the season. That’s a passer rating of 103.6. I know we mention this every week, but what McCown has done in 2013 is remarkable. It’s a pity the Bears went only 2-2 when McCown started. He played well enough for the team to win every game he appeared in. As McCown gracefully moves aside for Jay Cutler to return, likely next Monday night versus the Dallas Cowboys, one has to marvel at how efficient McCown looked since entering the mix when Cutler tore his groin muscle in Washington. We spent a lot of time in the preseason wondering if Cutler could be the next Rich Gannon, a former quarterback that tasted an inordinate amount of success with Trestman later in his career. This might sound crazy, but maybe the next Rich Gannon is actually McCown. That’s not to say that McCown is a better player than Cutler, but you have to wonder what McCown, 34, could accomplish with a full season running this system.
4. Defense played hard; results were the same: The Bears' defense showed some fight on Sunday, aggressively stacking the box in an attempt to slow down Minnesota’s star tailback, Adrian Peterson. Strong safety Craig Steltz, who filled in for the injured Major Wright, made several key stops and led the team with 12 tackles, while Julius Peppers ignited the pass rush with 2.5 sacks. The return of nose tackle Stephen Paea and the debut of defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff seemed to help the defensive line, but in the end, Peterson still rushed for 211 yards and veteran reserve quarterback Matt Cassel came off the bench to pass for 243 yards and one touchdown. Individual improvements are great, but collectively, it was the same old story for the Bears on defense.
5. Alshon Jeffery is in rare company: Outside of Matt Forte in 2008, Jeffery is the Bears’ best offensive draft choice since the 1980s produced the likes of running back Neal Anderson, left tackle Jimbo Covert and quarterback Jim McMahon. Bears general manager Phil Emery hit a home run when he moved up in the second round to grab Jeffery out of South Carolina in 2012. Jeffery broke his own single-game franchise record for receiving yards with 249 on 12 catches, including two impressive touchdown receptions. Jeffery is now over 1,000 receiving yards on the season. He has some of the strongest hands in the NFL. He can do it all. The future seems full of all kinds of exciting possibilities for the Bears and Jeffery in this offense.
“There is no excuse at all,” Gould said. “My wife did awesome. There were a lot of lessons in one day. It was one of the greatest days of my life, and I’m happy for my wife and my little boy. Sorry I couldn’t do it for my teammates like I did for my wife. It’s hard to swallow. We’re in a playoff hunt. I love my teammates just like I love my wife and my baby, and I just didn’t do it today.
“I didn’t come through for my teammates in the end. I had two chances today to get it done. It’s very unlike me, but there are no excuses for it. I didn’t have it. I missed it. I wasn’t nervous, I just missed.”
Gould finished the game 2-for-4 on field goal attempts, although one of the kicks was from 66 yards at the end of regulation. One of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, Gould has just three misses this season.
Week 13 Report Card: Minnesota Vikings 23, Chicago Bears 20
Despite hyperextending his right knee in last week's loss to the St. Louis Rams, Matt Forte rushed for 120 yards on 23 attempts and became the Bears' second career all-time leader in yards from scrimmage. Michael Bush even made the most of his lone rushing attempt by gaining 15 yards. However, the Bears are still having a difficult time in short-yardage situations and were just 2-of-11 on third downs versus the Vikings.
Josh McCown didn't play his best game of the season, but he finished with 355 passing yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 114.9. He was lucky not to have a couple of throws picked up. Alshon Jeffery broke his own franchise record with 249 receiving yards on 12 catches, two for touchdowns. There wasn't a ton of production after Jeffery, with Brandon Marshall finishing second on the team with four receptions for 45 yards.
The Bears sold out to stop Adrian Peterson, especially safety Craig Stetlz -- who recorded a team-high 12 tackles in place of injured starter Major Wright -- but Peterson still crushed the Bears with 211 rushing yards. Bears defenders appeared to be in the correct spot for most of the game, but their tackling was subpar. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson gashed the defense for a 33-yard touchdown run, on which both Steltz and linebacker Khaseem Greene had legitimate shots to bring him down but came up empty.
Under no circumstances should Matt Cassel be allowed to enter the game and pass for 243 yards and one touchdown. The Bears had success rushing the quarterback with five sacks, but veterans Greg Jennings, John Carlson and Jerome Simpson had too much room to operate on numerous occasions. Maybe the worst thing to happen to the Bears was Christian Ponder leaving the game with a concussion.
Robbie Gould is basically automatic from almost any range, but he missed a potential game-winning, 47-yard field goal in overtime, although Marc Trestman made a curious decision to kick it on second down instead of trying to run more plays to give Gould a shorter kick. Devin Hester had an impressive 57-yard kickoff return at the end of regulation, but his decision-making was suspect for most of the afternoon. Punter Adam Podlesh had a 33.7-yard net average. The Bears kicked the ball away from Patterson the entire afternoon, a sound strategy.
Again, it's tough to understand Trestman's decision to attempt the overtime field goal on second down. Forte was averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and the Bears have the luxury of the best long snapper in the NFL, Patrick Mannelly, on the roster. The odds of the Bears screwing up on second or third downs seem remote. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker definitely set a more aggressive tone with his unit, but the results were largely the same.
1. JD, huge Devin Hester fan here. I almost cried when they took away his punt return touchdown last week. Can we expect Devin to light it up against Minnesota? -- Brendan, Peoria, Ill.
Dickerson: Brendan, Hester has torched the Vikings' special teams in 14 career games, returning three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns. Hester was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts against the Vikings in Week 2, when he set a franchise single-game record with 249 kick-return yards. However, it is important to note that Sunday's game will played inside the Metrodome. It's much tougher for a return man to get his hands on the football when the game is played in a controlled climate. Maybe Hester's best shot this weekend is to hope that Vikings rookie punter Jeff Locke kicks him a returnable ball.
2. Why are the Bears going back to Jay Cutler? Josh McCown has found the fountain of youth. Ride with him! GO BEARS! -- Chester, Cicero, Ill.
Dickerson: Cutler is the unquestioned starting quarterback. He has too much talent and is earning too much money to sit on the bench if medically cleared to play. But I believe the Bears are taking the correct approach by sitting Cutler on Sunday and letting McCown start against the Vikings. High-ankle sprains are serious injuries. Cutler needs extra time to let his ankle heal before he's ready to return. McCown is clearly capable of beating the Vikings, who own the league's 30th overall defense (allowing 401 yards per game), so there was no need to rush Cutler back, even if he is pushing hard to come back. But when Cutler is ready, likely for the Bears' Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 9, he will be back in the starting lineup.
Forte hurt his knee last weekend in the Bears’ loss to the St. Louis Rams but managed to finish the game, gaining 117 all-purpose yards. Forte, the NFL’s sixth-leading rusher (851 yards) and third in yards from scrimmage (1,265), has been inactive only five times in his six seasons in the league.
Safety Anthony Walters and cornerback Derrick Martin were also sidelined on Wednesday.
Defensive tackles Stephen Paea (toe) and Jeremiah Ratliff (groin) were both limited during the workout. Paea sat out last week after re-injuring his toe in the Bears’ Week 11 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, while Ratliff has yet to make his 2013 debut after signing a one-year deal with the club on Nov. 2.
Trestman officially ruled out linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle) for the Vikings game.
Further up the field, Long went after St. Louis defensive end William Hayes near the Rams’ sideline and had to be restrained by several players, including Long’s older brother Chris, a star defensive end for the Rams who left his team’s bench to try to break up the fight.
Long received a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty but was not ejected from the game. He did not elaborate on what sparked the incident when speaking with reporters in the postgame locker room, but did apologize via his official Twitter account (@Ky1eLong).
“I want to apologize to the fans for losing my cool today,” Long tweeted on Sunday. “Not a representation of the person that I am or the Bears. Shouldn’t happen.”
Long, the Bears' 2013 first round draft choice, has started all 11 games this season at right guard.
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Adrian Peterson and the Vikings will run for at least 275 yards against the Bears on Sunday.
Jeff Dickerson:Fiction. If the Bears fail to stack the box with a minimum of eight defenders on every snap with the exception of third-and-long, then fire the entire coaching staff immediately after the game. The Vikings and Peterson are the NFL's 11th-best rushing offense (122.5) and the 25th overall passing offense (207.0). Make them throw to win. Last I checked, the Bears still do a decent job in the secondary defending the pass (No. 13), but are No. 32 out of 32 teams when it comes to run defense (145.2). If Minnesota tops 275 yards on the ground Sunday, there needs to be a formal investigation.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Peterson won't get a yard over 255. Seriously, the Bears, who have given up 123-plus rushing yards in six straight games (258 last week), will need to do some serious scheming to keep Peterson from winning this game. They've had some success in the past, but they just don't have the players. When your defensive line is Julius Peppers, projects and waiver-wire guys and your linebackers are two-thirds rookies, it's tough enough. But then you have breakdowns in gap discipline and, well, it's going to be a long day. Still, under 275.
Fact or Fiction: Chris Conte will be a Bear in 2014.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. I understand the frustration over the safety position, but what Conte needs is competition, not to be flat-out released at the end of the season. Major Wright is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason so if he finds a team willing to pay more on the open market, let him go. But Conte's salary-cap number for 2014 is only $788,400. That's a reasonable figure for a player who will be 25 next year with roughly 40 career starts. Conte has made his share of mistakes this season, but his struggles have been magnified by the awful performance of the front seven. Were fans screaming about Conte last season when Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach and Lance Briggs were the three starting linebackers? That doesn't excuse the errors or poor angles, but Conte can be an effective free safety. However, I would strongly advocate the Bears have Conte compete for his job next summer. As we've written before, competition brings out the best in everybody.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bears should have two new safeties. Look at how Phil Emery handled the offensive line this year. No more chances, no more "developing" the tackles of the "future." Just get rid of them and move on. The Bears' brain trust will say the right things now to boost up Conte and Wright, but I'm guessing we'll see a very different defense.
Fact or Fiction: Jon Bostic has shown enough to warrant a starting job in 2014.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I put Bostic in the same boat as Conte. Bostic is clearly part of the Bears' future, being a 2013 second-round draft choice, but to simply hand him a starting job next season seems a tad premature. To put it nicely, Bostic has not played particularly well the past couple of weeks. Maybe if he closes the season out on a strong note, the Bears will feel better about handing him the job next year. But I'd make him earn it. However, this is the NFL, and the trend in the league is hand high-draft picks starting jobs, even if they don't deserve them. So it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the Bears go that route with Bostic.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Though you wonder if he'll be in the middle. The Bears need wholesale changes on defense, but Bostic will be one of the few holdovers. He's been thrust into a difficult position, especially with the defensive line turnover, but he has the spark and he has the IQ to be a starter.
Fact or Fiction: Julius Peppers is playing his final season as a Bear.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Peppers seems like a goner unless he agrees to take a drastic reduction in pay in 2014. The Bears can't afford to carry a player on the 53-man roster with a projected cap hit of $18,183,333 unless that player is a franchise quarterback. Peppers has shown the ability to still have good games from time to time, but he is no longer one of the NFL's premiere pass-rushers. If you can no longer get to the quarterback, then you can no longer cash the really big checks. For a couple million dollars, I'd bring Peppers back for another season. But not for the $14 million he's scheduled to earn in 2014 under his current deal.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. His cap number is more than $18 million next season. Peppers has already had his contract restructured twice, but I wouldn't count on a third time. Peppers was a good signing, and he still his moments but the Bears need depth. It's best to use that money elsewhere. But hey, if he wants to play for a lot less money, I'm sure the Bears would be up to re-sign him. I just don't see it happening.