Chicago Bears: Jeff Dickerson
-- ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson puts out his latest edition of Stock Watch, and finally a Bears defensive player makes the cut in linebacker James Anderson.
Dickerson writes this about Anderson: The veteran strongside linebacker recorded a team-high and season-best 14 tackles in the win against the Browns. Anderson, along with rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic (eight tackles), were around the football much of the afternoon. The past couple of months have not been easy for Anderson. With veterans Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams unavailable because of injuries, Anderson was thrust into the leadership role at linebacker, playing alongside rookies Bostic and Khaseem Greene.
-- Want an idea of how the playoffs will pan out? Well, you can plug in your scenarios in the ESPN.com Playoffs Machine and get all the information you’re looking for. Check it out here.
-- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune outlines how Bears receiver Earl Bennett can earn back some of the money he lost from taking a $1 million pay cut earlier in the season. Bennett has caught touchdown passes in back-to-back games, and has a legitimate chance to make back all the money he was scheduled to earn if he comes up with 10 more catches over the next two games.
-- CSNChicago.com took the time to run down the tweets of Bears players reacting to the 61-yard field goal nailed by Justin Tucker that knocked Detroit out of first place in the NFC North and gave Chicago control of its own postseason destiny.
Although Cutler finished 22-of-31 for 265 yards, three touchdown passes and a 102.2 quarterback rating, he had some notable misfires in the first half.
Cutler failed to connect with Marshall on a pair of first-half throws that resulted in turnovers. With the Bears driving on the game’s opening drive, Cutler zipped a pass to Marshall in the front of the end zone, but Browns safety T.J. Ward cut in front of Marshall and deflected the pass to fellow safety Tashaun Gipson for Cutler’s first interception. Later in the half, Cutler badly overthrew Marshall on a medium-range route near the Browns’ sideline. Marshall got his fingers on the ball, but Gipson came from the backside to pick off the pass and race 44 yards for a touchdown.
“Well, the ball in the end zone, that interception was on me,” Marshall said. “It was one of our favorite plays, a play that we are really efficient on, one of our better plays. The linebacker kind of got underneath me a little bit, made me widen, then the safety came down and I didn’t get around like we worked on all week. I put Jay in a bad bind, so that’s really on me.
"The second one, he just threw a terrible ball, so that’s on Jay. He was rusty. Coming in, we knew this was the type of game we were going to have. The guys have been on ice for weeks now. It was a good thing that we were able to get through it, get a victory, and still have hope. Hats off to him. We expected to win, we expected it to be a little rough, and we came out on top.”
Marshall, who led the Bears with six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, said Cutler was under immense pressure to play well after Josh McCown earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.
“Well, you guys have been around Jay for a while now, so he’s not going to show it,” Marshall said. “The human side of things, you have a guy in Josh McCown playing lights-out, probably playing the best football of any quarterback in the National Football League. I can only imagine the commentators and fans back home after the first and second picks, what they were saying. I’m sure they were ready to hang [Cutler]. This team has been resilient all year, faced adversity really well all year. It was nothing short of that today.”
1. Marc Trestman can exhale: The reaction in Chicago if the Bears had lost to Cleveland after Trestman decided to start Jay Cutler over Josh McCown would have been ugly. Trestman left himself open to tons of criticism by sitting the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week in favor of Cutler, but in the end, Cutler responded in the second half to finish with 265 yards and three touchdowns to go along with two first-half interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He didn’t play his best game of the season, but Cutler shook off the rust of sitting out the past four weeks with a high-ankle sprain to make enough plays to defeat the pesky Browns. Now that Cutler is back in the win column for the first time since Oct. 10, he clearly gives the Bears the best shot to win at the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday night in a game many expect to be a shootout.
2. Cutler handled national reports in stride: Cutler didn’t appear rattled when confronted with the information that two national reports surfaced prior to the game that questioned the level of commitment to the quarterback inside Halas Hall. Cutler described how he received reassurances from the offensive line that he “was the guy” despite McCown’s success running the offense the past four weeks. There is no reason to doubt the accuracy of either report, but the notion of a mutiny in Lake Forest, Ill., seems unlikely now that Cutler won a game for the Bears on the road. Winning cures everything in the NFL. Players might still prefer McCown to Cutler, but the decision is set in stone: Cutler is the Bears’ quarterback for the rest of 2013, and perhaps beyond.
3. Career season for Matt Forte: Amid all the attention paid to the quarterback position, Forte is quietly having his best professional season. Already with a career-high 66 receptions, Forte’s 127 rushing yards against the Browns give the tailback 1,200 for the season. Forte is just 38 rushing yards shy of his career-best mark, 1,238, that he tallied his rookie season of 2008. With the effort in Cleveland, Forte has four 100-yard rushing games on the season and appears to be hitting his stride right in time for the Bears’ playoff push. For all the talk about running backs falling of a cliff in terms of production when they reach a certain age, Forte, 28, looks to be getting stronger.
4. Zack Bowman in the 2014 mix? With the Pro Bowl cornerback duo of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman set to be free agents in the offseason, Bowman, who’s contract also expires after the season, could be a candidate to return next season and compete for a starting spot in the event Tillman or Jennings signs with another team. Bowman’s best game of the season came Sunday, when he intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown, but the veteran has done a serviceable job since replacing Tillman in the starting lineup on Nov. 17 versus the Baltimore Ravens. Bowman’s size and speed, 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, lends itself to playing both zone and man coverage, depending on what style of defense the Bears ultimately run in 2014.
5. Alshon Jeffery deserves to be a Pro Bowler: No disrespect to Brandon Marshall (90 catches for 1,185 yards and 10 touchdowns), but Jeffery is the Bears' most dangerous weapon in the passing game. Jeffery’s catch radius is off the charts. The latest in Jeffery’s long list of highlight-reel receptions occurred in the fourth quarter Sunday, when he somehow managed to haul in a Cutler Hail Mary pass in the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown. In the past three weeks, Jeffery has a combined 23 catches for 404 yards and four touchdowns. Three of the touchdowns were worthy of NFL play of the week honors. The upside for Jeffery appears to be limitless. He now has 80 receptions for 1,265 yards and seven touchdowns. If the Pro Bowl is designed to showcase the very best the league has to offer, then Jeffery ought to be included.
Week 15 Report Card: Bears vs. Browns
Matt Forte notched his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season when he gained 127 yards on 24 carries. Michael Bush even busted loose for a 40-yard touchdown run. As a team, the Bears averaged 5.8 yards per rushing attempt. Much of the credit goes to the offensive line. The Bears have done a tremendous job up front opening up running lanes in recent weeks.
Jay Cutler tossed a pair of first-half interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, but the quarterback settled down in the second half to finish with 265 yards passing and three touchdowns for a 102.2 quarterback rating. Brandon Marshall led the Bears with six catches for 95 yards, but Alshon Jeffery stole the show the third straight week with a 45-yard jump ball touchdown in the fourth quarter. Earl Bennett also caught a score.
The Bears held the Browns to just 93 yards rushing on 17 carries. Even though Cleveland averaged 5.5 yards per rushing attempt, it's the first time the Bears have held a team to under 100 rushing yards since the New Orleans Saints game on Oct. 6. Consider it a moral victory.
Jason Campbell did throw for 273 yards, but almost all of his completions were on check-downs. Josh Gordon was a non-factor until catching a 43-yard touchdown near the end of the game. Dangerous tight end Jordan Cameron had only three catches for 23 yards. The Bears received solid performances from cornerbacks Zack Bowman (two interceptions, one touchdown) and Tim Jennings.
Marc Trestman weathered the storm when Cutler struggled in the first half, and continued to call a smart and effective game on offense. Trestman's decision to insert Cutler back into the starting lineup did not cost his team a victory. Mel Tucker's defense has improved in recent weeks. The Bears (8-6) now appear poised to finish out the season on a high note and perhaps win the division for the first time since 2010, although the team still needs help.
Briggs will miss his seventh straight game when the team travels to face the Cleveland Browns, but he practiced this week for the first time since fracturing his shoulder in the Bears’ loss to the Washington Redskins on Oct. 20.
Briggs was officially listed as limited on Thursday and Friday.
“I’d be much more optimistic next week that he [could return],” Trestman said. “He got more work today, and we’ll see how he is doing at the start of next week. But it raises our optimism, certainly.”
Bears safety Major Wright said Friday that the defense is eager to welcome back Briggs. The Bears rank No. 27 in total defense and No. 32 in rushing defense. Briggs recorded 75 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and nine tackles for loss before the injury.
“It’s always fun having Lance around,” Wright said. “We enjoy his leadership and his demeanor. It’s great having him back out there with us running around. We definitely have to get it going and Lance can definitely help a lot.”
1. JD, why are you so convinced Jay Cutler will get a new deal? The writing seems to be on the wall. There have been numerous national reports that suggest Cutler is as good as gone. Looks to me that you local guys are all getting scooped. Wear it! McCown for Bears quarterback in 2014! -- Dr. Steve, Woodstock, Ill.
Dickerson: Maybe we are getting "scooped," Dr. Steve. Or maybe the two parties are intent on negotiating this deal through the media. Whatever you may think of Cutler, the Bears are starting him on Sunday instead of a quarterback (McCown) who has the third-highest passer-rating (109.8) in the league and is the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Why would the Bears go back to Cutler, at such a defining moment of the season, if they believed McCown is the best quarterback on the roster? The Bears have never wavered in their stance that, when healthy, Cutler is their starting quarterback.
Now, there are certain variables that I do believe are true. I think the Bears will try to get Cutler to sign a shorter deal for less annual money than Cutler probably wants to play for. I've written that maybe a three-year deal for $17 million per season gets it done, but I wonder if the Bears will offer less than that per year based on recent events. Also, the idea of the Tennessee Titans being Cutler's No. 2 choice makes sense because of his ties to Nashville. Finally, I do think McCown's performance has lowered Cutler's asking price, and that GM Phil Emery will try to re-sign McCown in the offseason.
But none of that means the Bears and Cutler won't be able to ultimately strike a deal.
So here at Bears Essentials, we've decided to give you a cross-section of some of the takes being written.
Until Cutler actually plays in the game and proves or disproves Trestman’s steadfastness in making the enigmatic quarterback his starter over McCown, nobody’s right or wrong. So let’s get into this.
-- In case you missed it, ESPNChicago.com columnist Jon Greenberg digs into the Cutler-McCown debate and makes some salient points. Nobody’s arguing whether Cutler is the better quarterback. The question is whether now is the right time to throw Cutler back into the lineup. Greenberg writes:
"Cutler versus McCown, two good friends pitted against each other in the public forum, was a fun storyline, and maybe a legitimate debate about the short-term moreso than the long-term viability of re-signing Cutler. It's not risky to start Cutler. It just might be safer to start McCown."
To me, that last line is the crux of the argument.
Greenberg adds: "Cutler should be the missing piece of the puzzle. He needs to be efficient and deadly from the opening series. 'There's pressure to make the playoffs every game,' he said. 'This is my eighth year. I've been down this road before.' That's kind of what we're afraid of."
-- The crew over at ESPNChicago.com debate on Four Downs whether starting Cutler is the right move. I think it is. Jeff Dickerson writes:
"The Bears have no reason to sit Cutler on Sunday if the quarterback is medically cleared to play. That has been the organization's stance since Cutler suffered the high ankle-sprain in the Detroit Lions game on Nov. 10. Cutler is the starting quarterback when healthy. It's too late to go back. Plus, it would be nice to see what Cutler can accomplish in the offense over the final three games given that McCown basically lit the world on fire coming off the bench. Cutler's effort down the stretch is likely to directly impact the kind of money he can demand on the open market. This is a crucial stretch for Cutler that could shape the remainder of his career. He deserves the right to play Sunday. And the Bears can always go back to McCown if Cutler struggles badly against the Browns."
-- Ross Tucker at the Sporting News believes Trestman made the wrong call in naming Cutler the starter over McCown.
-- Chris Burke over at Sports Illustrated dives into the debate, using an interesting baseball analogy to kick things off. Burke writes:
"There is a vocal group among baseball analysts who believe that the use of a closer is a fabricated, unnecessary strategy. There are inherent flaws, they argue, in using the same pitcher to attempt to finish games regardless of the situation.
"And, in essence, that’s what Marc Trestman is doing by going back to Jay Cutler for Week 15. Cutler was the Bears’ starting quarterback prior to getting hurt, players and coaches said they still considered Cutler the starter even when he was out of the lineup, and now he is back in the No. 1 role.
"Trestman has deemed Cutler his closer, regardless of what stats and possibly even common sense tells him."
Fact or Fiction: It's a good decision to play Cutler this week.
Jeff Dickerson:Fact. The Bears have no reason to sit Cutler on Sunday if the quarterback is medically cleared to play. That has been the organization's stance since Cutler suffered the high ankle-sprain in the Detroit Lions game on Nov. 10. Cutler is the starting quarterback when healthy. It's too late to go back. Plus, it would be nice to see what Cutler can accomplish in the offense over the final three games given that McCown basically lit the world on fire coming off the bench. Cutler's effort down the stretch is likely to directly impact the kind of money he can demand on the open market. This is a crucial stretch for Cutler that could shape the remainder of his career. He deserves the right to play Sunday. And the Bears can always go back to McCown if Cutler struggles badly against the Browns.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. This basically goes against the column I just wrote about McCown being the best option right now, but if you're going to start Cutler this season with the playoffs in mind, you have to start him now. No sense in letting him go another week without real reps. The Browns have good defensive numbers, but they're vulnerable in certain areas. If he's healthy, Cutler should be more than capable of beating Cleveland. With three games left, I have to say I'm more confident in the hot hand, McCown, than Cutler, who had back-to-back lower-body injuries. But the reality of the NFL is you stick with your starter, all things being equal anyway.
Fact or Fiction: Regardless of Cutler's status for 2014, the Bears have to draft a quarterback in May.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I don't necessarily think the Bears have to draft a quarterback if they re-sign both Cutler and McCown in the offseason. Bears general manager Phil Emery has a ton of work to do on the defensive side of the football, and limited draft picks to do so. Of course, the Bears might swing a couple of deals and acquire more picks, a real possibility with an aggressive general manager such as Emery calling the shots. Bringing back Cutler and McCown would give the Bears more time to find a young quarterback. Sure, if the Bears have an opportunity to draft a quarterback they love in May, then absolutely, go for it. But what if that guy isn't on the 2014 board for the Bears? Then what? A good team never reaches for a player. Emery doesn't strike me as the type of general manager who would draft a quarterback just for the sake of drafting one. The player needs to make sense for the Bears and fit into what Trestman demands from the quarterback position in his offense. Cutler and McCown back in the fold next season allows the Bears to be patient. In the end, that patience could pay off for the organization in a big way.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I know there's a big buzz about this draft, given the supposed number of NFL-caliber quarterbacks, but the Bears should just commit to drafting the best available player, with an emphasis on defense. They have major holes on the defensive line and the secondary. Now if they think they can great value on a quarterback after the third round, go for it. But if you're going to re-sign Cutler, which I think the Bears will do, what's the sense in grooming an understudy so early? If he signs, Cutler will probably get a four-year deal, so in my mind you have a couple drafts to find a young quarterback to take his place.
Fact or Fiction: Lance Briggs won't play again for the Bears this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I don't particularly feel good about this one, but isn't it too early to rule out Briggs for the rest of the season? After all, Briggs did return to the practice field in limited fashion on Thursday, a good first step toward playing before the season is over. Truth be told, I'm surprised Briggs isn't back at this point. The initial timeline when he suffered a small fracture in his left shoulder Oct. 20 in Washington called for Briggs to miss four to six weeks. This is Week 8 and counting. The Bears claim Briggs' bone still isn't completely healed. I'm not a doctor. I have no other choice but to take their word for it. Briggs is one of the best linebackers in franchise history. The Bears have to hope he does everything in his power to return and help the ailing defense before the season runs out.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Briggs, who is out with a fractured left shoulder, told the Sun-Times he was evaluated by doctors on Tuesday and wasn't cleared to play. Marc Trestman told reporters Wednesday that he isn't optimistic about Briggs playing in Cleveland. There are three games left, so it doesn't look good, especially since he was thought to have a four-to-six week injury, and we're past that timeline. If they beat Cleveland, the Bears desperately need him next week in Philadelphia. The Eagles are the top rushing team in football with 2,061 yards, and the Bears are the worst rushing defense in football, having given up 2,041 yards. Briggs' absence could be key to making or missing the playoffs.
Fact or Fiction: Joe Haden will shut down Alshon Jeffery.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Hayden is a fine cornerback with 52 tackles, four interceptions and 18 pass break-ups this season, but Jeffery is on a tear with a combined 17 receptions for 333 yards and three touchdowns in the past two weeks. Hayden is 5-foot-11 and weighs 190 pounds. Jeffery stands 6-foot-3 and checks in at 216 pounds. Teams have tried to get physical this season with Jeffery, but his overall results speak for themselves: 75 catches for 1,193 yards and six touchdowns. Even if Hayden somehow stifles Jeffery on Sunday, the Bears can always just feature Brandon Marshall, who has 84 receptions for 1,090 yards and nine touchdowns. Good luck, Cleveland.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I'm not even sure Haden will cover Jeffery. The Browns might decide to sic him on Marshall. It's impossible to shut down both receivers, unless of course the Browns' defensive line punctures the Bears' pocket. But it's tough to stop Jeffery period, especially one-on-one. He's too athletic and nonpareil hands and reach. Look at his catches the past two weeks. When I told Bears cornerback Tim Jennings that Jeffery's back-corner end-zone catch at the end of the first half Monday night was one of the best catches I've seen in person, he said, "Better than last week?" These are the questions we have to answer as Jeffery's star shines.
This would mark the seventh straight game Briggs has missed since he hurt the shoulder Oct. 20 in Washington.
"I’m not optimistic. We’ll know a little more today and tomorrow. He did some running last week. Will that be upgraded to limited work in practice? We won’t be in pads tomorrow. We’ll be in shells. He was not in shells last week. We’ll see what the trainers want to do and what he wants to do tomorrow.”
When asked what is preventing Briggs from returning to the field, Trestman responded, “the healing of the bone.”
Prior to 2013, Briggs had been a model of durability for the Bears, sitting out just four games due to injury in 10 NFL seasons. The defense has clearly suffered without Briggs, ranking No. 27 in total defense (381.5), No. 28 in points allowed (27.7) and No. 32 in run defense (157.0) going into Sunday’s road game in Cleveland.
“Where Lance is right now is kind of to be determined,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “I’m not quite certain at this point. But the focus is on the guys that are available. The guys that can help us right now.”
The Bears have started rookie fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene in place of Briggs the past six games, but while Tucker and the organization are high on the club’s younger linebackers, asking first-year players to fill the void left by Briggs is virtually impossible.
“Lance is a playmaker in the run game and the passing game,” Tucker said. “It’s not just the intangibles that he brings in terms of leadership and experience and things like that, in confidence. But he can actually make plays. He can win one-on-one. He can get off blocks. He can run sideline to sideline. He can win one-on-one on running backs on blitzes and things like that. He’s an excellent blitzer. In the pass game he’s quick, very instinctive. He’s quick to diagnose and because of ... his experience, there’s not a whole lot of plays he hasn’t seen at some point in time, so he’s quick to recognize those things.
Those are just some of the things he brings to the table.”
It really shouldn't be that way. It’s OK to appreciate what McCown has done for the Bears without it being a slight in any way to Cutler, who is the unquestioned starting quarterback of this team.
But ESPNChicago.com's Jon Greenberg thinks the Bears should ride the hot hand at quarterback and go with McCown for the rest of the season. Greenberg writes:
The McCown lovefest has been going on since he started, and won, in Green Bay. That's something Cutler hasn't been able to do.
The overall theme of his latest postgame news conference was veering close to: "How can we get you to say you should start over Cutler?"
"I'm the backup, Jay's our starter," McCown said Monday night. "When Jay is healthy, Jay should be the starting quarterback. That's really it. I don't go out here going, 'You know what, if I do this now I'll be the starter.' That's not my mindset. I've told you guys that. My mindset is to serve this team as the backup quarterback as best I can and play efficient football and winning football in this situation to keep us in contention. So, whenever he takes back over, we're in position to make a playoff run."
Trestman hasn't wavered from that message, either, obviously. If he did, we'd have a full-scale public relations disaster.
While Cutler, from this vantage point, is the superior player, I've got a tough time arguing Greenberg’s rationale here. It seems every time this subject becomes a conversation, it’s taken to extremes, to a black-and-white, one-is-better-than-the-other argument of absolutes. But the truth is it’s far from that. Cutler is the best quarterback on the roster of the Chicago Bears. No doubt about that. But I’m not sure he’s the team’s best option at this very moment.
Let’s remember, it’s been a month since Cutler last played in a game. What type of shape will he be in once he returns? How much rust will Cutler have to knock off to get back to playing at peak efficiency? Will knocking the rust off result in mistakes and turnovers the Bears can't rebound from at Cleveland or Philadelphia, or wherever the club decides to start him next?
The team allowed Cutler to return to practice for two days last week. Before that, he had only run on a treadmill two days before the Bears brought him back to the practice field. So even if you count those two days last week of practice, and give Cutler an additional week of work leading into Sunday’s game at Cleveland, I’d still be at least a little apprehensive about how the he would perform given the long layoff.
So take personal feelings and preferences out of the equation when looking at this thing and use common sense. McCown is on a hot streak, coming off three consecutive 300-yard passing games. And don’t give me the argument that McCown has faced a slew of bad defenses. Sure he has. But in five years with the Bears, Cutler faced horrid defenses, too. The fact is nobody in Bears history has accomplished what McCown has done over his last three starts.
Does it make him better than Cutler? No. But it might make McCown the better option right now given the situation. At the very least, he's given this staff something to strongly consider in the coming days.
-- ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson put together his weekly Stock Watch, and surprise, surprise, receiver Alshon Jeffery’s stock continues to rise. Dickerson writes:
"Every week Jeffery seems to make a ridiculous, highlight-reel catch. The second-year wide receiver struck again Monday night when he hauled in a deep McCown pass in the back corner of the south end zone and managed to drag both feet in as he fell out of bounds with two Dallas defenders in the area. Jeffery is on fire. He has a combined 17 catches for 333 yards and three touchdowns in the past two weeks. Already with 75 receptions for 1,193 yards and six touchdowns on the season, Jeffery is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Brandon Marshall is having another incredibly productive season (84-1,090-9), but Jeffery's emergence has been the No. 1 storyline this year in the wide receiver room. The exciting part is the best is yet to come for Jeffery, who doesn't turn 24 until February."