Chicago Bears: NFC East

Cowboys vs. Bears preview

December, 4, 2014
12/04/14
8:00
AM ET
When: 8:25 p.m. ET, Thursday Where: Soldier Field, Chicago TV: NFL Network

The Chicago Bears relegated themselves to the spoiler role by virtue of their 5-7 mark, while the Dallas Cowboys enter Thursday's game trying to exorcise their December demons in an attempt to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

Bears reporter Michael C. Wright breaks down the matchup with Cowboys reporter Todd Archer:

Wright: You always hear about Dallas' struggles in December, and I remember how the Cowboys struggled in the cold last season around this time at Soldier Field. Is there really anything to that, and, if so, what's gone into those struggles?

Archer: The Cowboys swear there is nothing to it. I'm kind of with them, but I do think the recent past does affect this team to the point at which they expect something bad to happen. Ultimately, however, I think it has come down to them just not having been good enough. That's the real issue. They have been bad in late-season games because they're just good enough to be good enough and have not been able to raise their level of play when the games matter most. I don't think it has anything to do with choking or the other team wanting it more. It comes down to they haven't had enough good players and coaches to get the job done. Will that change this season? I can't call it. Even when they were 6-1, I had doubts about this team, especially defensively. They don't have enough playmakers and they can't scheme their way to enough stops. The offense will have to carry the day if the Cowboys are to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. I do believe the offense is good enough, but is it good enough to carry the defense?

Jason Garrett entered the season coaching for his future, and I think it's still up in the air even with an 8-4 record. I didn't think Marc Trestman would be coaching for his future in his second season, but do you think he will return in 2015?

Wright: I believe he'll be back. Bears general manager Phil Emery wanted to provide security for Jay Cutler with the hiring of Trestman because the quarterback, prior to 2013, had played in three different systems for three offensive coordinators over a four-year period. Once Emery put Cutler with a coach and a system he believed in, the general manager opted to lock up the quarterback for the long haul with a seven-year deal worth $126.7 million. I just don't see Emery blowing up everything after all he's done to build around Cutler with the staff, free-agent additions, draft picks and the quarterback's long-term contract. Now, obviously, there's no guarantee the decision on Trestman won't be taken out of Emery's hands. But that would be the only way I could see Trestman not making it to his third season, and I do believe that decision could be taken out of Emery's hands depending on how Chicago finishes out the season. Three of this team's last four games are at Soldier Field, and if the Bears lose every one of those outings, I could see ownership forcing Emery to part ways with Trestman.

Dallas' offensive line from this vantage point has been one of the strengths of the team. What happened against the Philadelphia Eagles, because it appeared the Cowboys really struggled to protect Tony Romo?

Archer: It was their worst game of the season, with the overtime loss to the Washington Redskins a close second. They all had issues. Travis Frederick snapped the ball too early on a third down, leading to a sack. Ronald Leary gave up two sacks. The run game was slowed for the first time. This is the first time they have really been punched in the nose. It's been all ice cream and candy for these guys for the bulk of the season. Three of them lead Pro Bowl voting at their positions -- Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Frederick. It will be interesting to see what happens this week. The Bears have 29 sacks, and 23 of them come from four players, so it's not about tricking anybody. The Cowboys were beaten physically by the Eagles' front. Each one of them had a breakdown that led to multiple poor plays. For the Cowboys to win, they have to follow a specific formula: run the ball, control the tempo of the game and convert on third down. That puts a lot of pressure on the line to perform, but there's a reason three of its members were first-round picks. I think they will be a lot better this week, and not just because they can't be worse.

A few short years ago when you thought of the Bears, you thought of defense. Now, they are near the bottom in yards allowed and giving up 28.1 points per game. What in the name of Brian Urlacher has happened?

Wright: Todd, a combination of factors have led to what you're seeing, and I could probably go way over our word limits trying to explain. So let me give you the condensed version. First off, it starts with the draft, through which Emery has selected 11 defensive players since 2012. Of those players, three -- Shea McClellin, Jonathan Bostic (due to injury) and Kyle Fuller -- are starters. Four of the defensive picks came in 2014, while three more are no longer with the team. You've also got to factor in those players were drafted to eventually replace aging stars such as Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Urlacher. Sure, the Bears freshened up the front last offseason by bringing aboard Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen, in addition to drafting players such as Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, but the team didn't do much to address issues on the back end, where poor safety play has long been a problem, dating all the way back to Lovie Smith's tenure (the Bears don't value safeties and refuse to spend on the position). Basically, I say all of that to say this: The Bears are seriously lacking in the talent department on defense, which is partially a result of all the resources allocated to the offensive side of the ball.

The Cowboys have missed the playoffs each of the past four seasons, but it seems this team is a little different than the squads from years past in the way it seems to handle the roller-coaster ride of the season. Why is this team different, and do you believe the Cowboys absolutely have to make the playoffs for Garrett to receive a new contract?

Archer: I'm not sure it is different just yet. They got on a really good run after losing the season opener, winning six games in a row. Since then, they have gone 2-3. As a whole, this is not a hugely talented team, but I say that mostly because of the defense. Maybe some of those defensive players were playing over their heads earlier in the season and now don't have gas in the tank. Rolando McClain has been their best defender, but I do wonder how much he has in the tank. They haven't been able to affect the quarterback enough, and that matters even more in big games late in the season. This is the pivotal game of the season. Win this one and they know they can contend. Lose this one and they'll need help to make the playoffs, most likely. And that brings us to Garrett. I do think he needs credit for what this team has done considering the low expectations entering the season, but if they don't make the playoffs it will be a failed season. And it would be the third time in his four seasons they entered December with a winning mark and didn't make the playoffs. I know Jerry Jones wants Garrett to be his version of Tom Landry, but I don't know for sure he will get a new contract if he misses the playoffs for the fourth straight season. There's a lot on the line for everybody: the players, the coaches and the front office.

I look at the Bears on offense and I see nothing but talent. Cutler can throw it as well as anybody. He has Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. He has Matt Forte. He has Martellus Bennett. What's missing with these guys?

Wright: Obviously quite a bit considering this team went six consecutive games without scoring a first-quarter touchdown until last week's loss to the Detroit Lions. But for me, it all starts with the quarterback, and Cutler received "elite" money in his new deal but certainly isn't performing at that level. Cutler leads the NFL in turnovers (20), and opponents have scored a total of 85 points off the club's 23 giveaways. So Cutler is the biggest issue.

But Trestman certainly hasn't helped out the quarterback with his play calling. Forte is averaging 4.1 yards per attempt, yet the club handed off to the running back just five times in last week's loss to the Lions. I think last season the Bears caught teams by surprise because nobody knew what to expect from Trestman's offense. Then, after the team put an entire 2013 season on tape, opponents figured out how to shut down the Bears.

Chemistry plays into it, too. When there are players in the locker room who believe Cutler looks only to Marshall and Bennett in the passing game, what's the incentive for the club's other pass-catchers to go all-out running routes? There are several issues plaguing the Bears on offense, but Cutler is the most significant. Nobody wants to admit it, but the Bears made a huge mistake in signing him to the new deal.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- During his nine-year tenure as head coach of the Chicago Bears, current Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith established a takeaway mentality on defense.

Forte
Forte
That’s why running back Matt Forte sees ball security as one of the major keys for Chicago’s offense Sunday against the Buccaneers.

“They’re similar to our defense now, too, with that Cover 2-type defense,” Forte said. “Obviously, they try to get pressure on the quarterback with their front four, and then they play takeaway football. That’s all they preach is takeaway, takeaway; especially when he was here. So I know he’s been teaching the same thing to them. The key is to guard the ball at all times.”

Despite Smith’s reputation for preaching the importance of taking away the ball, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are currently tied for 16th in the NFL in takeaways (15). The Bears are ranked fourth in the league in giveaways (20).

Tampa Bay forced three takeaways last week in its victory over the Redskins.

During Smith's tenure in Chicago, the Bears led the NFL in takeaways (310), three-and-out drives forced (485), three-and-out drive percentage (26.4), third-down percentage (34.1) and red-zone scoring efficiency (79.3). Under Smith, the Bears returned 34 of their 310 takeaways for touchdowns, including 26 interceptions returned for touchdowns, which tied for the most in the NFL during the coach’s tenure.

“As much as we know about the Chicago Bears, they know about us,” Smith said. “It’s not like we’re changing defenses or anything like that. We’re both familiar with each other, but that’s kind of the case in the league a lot. You play teams that you’re both familiar with each other, but it’s about what happens after the ball is snapped and that’s what it comes down to.”

The Bears fired Smith at the conclusion of the 2012 season, after the team finished with a 10-6 record. So while the revenge factor “probably plays a little bit into it,” according to Forte, what makes the Bucs a serious threat despite their 2-8 record is the way they’re coached.

“Just from the experience of him being here, me being on offense and watching the defense play, they want to stop the run and get turnovers,” Forte said. “That’s what they want to do, force us to try to throw the ball, and then get strips, interceptions and sacks. If we can stay out of the way of that and control the game by running the ball and converting third downs, it’ll be advantageous to us.”
Based on initial numbers thrown out regarding the value of Colin Kaepernick's new contract, Jay Cutler's deal screams that perhaps the Chicago Bears overpaid.

Or did they? It's a difficult comparison to make, but we'll certainly try.

Jones
Kaepernick
Cutler
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reports that Kaepernick's deal is for six years and worth more than $100 million, including $61 million guaranteed. Cutler signed a seven-year extension in January worth $126.7 million and $54 million guaranteed.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kaepernick is the third-highest-rated quarterback in the NFL since his first start in Week 11 of 2012 -- which was against the Bears in a 32-7 rout -- with a Total QBR of 69.6, behind only Peyton Manning (83.3) and Aaron Rodgers (71.3). During that span, Kaepernick is tied for fourth in the league in victories (17) and ranks in the top 7 in yards per pass attempt and yards per rush.

In the postseason, Kaepernick owns a record of 4-2, which includes two playoff comebacks capped by game-winning drives.

Meanwhile, Cutler is 1-1 in the playoffs, completing just 50 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 84.8.

So it would be easy -- but also perhaps shortsighted -- to say Kaepernick deserved the big money, while Cutler didn't. But you'd need to look at it a little deeper to get a sense for why the Bears upped the ante to extend Cutler.

First off, general managers do like to reward players for what they've accomplished. But when making big-money moves such as the deals struck with Cutler and Kaepernick, it's more about projecting what the player will do in the future, as opposed to what he's done in the past.

In Cutler's case, he's coming off a 2013 season playing with an almost entirely new offensive line, new head coach, and new scheme run by his fourth offensive coordinator in five seasons, yet he produced a career-best passer rating (89.2), while posting the highest completion percentage (63.1) since his second year in the NFL. So after four years of bad offensive lines, turnover with offensive coordinators and changes in offensive philosophy, not to mention a serious lack of offensive weapons, the Bears finally put together the conditions necessary for Cutler to thrive in his fifth season in Chicago.

Kaepernick already had them when he shredded Chicago in his first start, throwing for 243 yards and two touchdowns to go with a passer rating of 133.1 against a Bears defense that entered that game allowing 14.8 points per game while leading the NFL in takeaways (30).

Again, it's about projecting what the player will do moving forward moreso than rewarding him for what he did in the past. And if we're projecting, what's interesting is San Francisco unloaded the Brinks truck on a player who seemed to regress in 2013 after a strong campaign in 2012. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kaepernick completed 60.5 percent of his passes in the pocket in 2013, after completing 65.7 of his throws from the pocket in 2012, his first year as a starter.

That's not to say Kaepernick isn't worth the big payday because from this vantage point, he is.

But so is Cutler, who seems poised to take yet another step forward under Marc Trestman, operating out of the same scheme with the same coordinator for consecutive years for just the second time during his tenure in Chicago.

Dallas' Tony Romo has participated in four postseason contests over his career and owns a 1-3 in the playoffs with a completion percentage of 59.26 and a passer rating of 80.8. Yet in the new contract signed back in March, Romo received $1 million more in guarantees than Cutler over six years as opposed to seven years.

But would you rather have Romo than Cutler?

Chicago didn't overpay. The Bears simply paid the going rate on team-friendly terms for a player that could ultimately turn out to be bargain if he continues to grow.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Backup quarterback Josh McCown wants to remain in Chicago, but a market that seems to be heating up for his services could change that.

McCown
Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht wants to add a veteran quarterback to compete with Mike Glennon, as does new Bucs coach Lovie Smith. Given Smith’s familiarity with McCown from their time together in Chicago, the veteran quarterback is a logical option to battle Glennon for the starting job.

“There’s a lot of positions on our team that I’m sure Lovie would agree that we want to anoint as the starter,” Licht said when asked if Glennon is the starting quarterback. “We want competition for Mike.”

There’s a good chance the Jets could also want competition for Geno Smith, based on a report from the New York Daily News.

McCown produced a 3-2 record last season filling in for Jay Cutler, generating a passer rating of 109 and throwing 13 touchdown passes and only one interception. McCown has expressed a desire on multiple occasions to remain with the Chicago Bears, as he was an integral part of the team's implementing a new offense under first-year Bears coach Marc Trestman.

But the Bears are expected to face competition for McCown, who at this point appears to be inclined to remain in Chicago unless he’s given an opportunity to start or handed significantly better financial terms in a contract than his current team can offer.

“I talk to Josh pretty much weekly, or biweekly. I’ve talked to him two or three times, anyway, and I’ve texted with him,” Trestman said Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “He’s in the loop into what’s going on. I’ve just called him on a personal level just to catch up with him and see how he sees the league and what’s going on. We just like to talk football. He knows exactly where he stands with us. I think that he’s going to take his time, see where things are at. When he’s ready to say, ‘I want to come back,’ I know [general manager] Phil [Emery] is going to do everything he can, and we’re going to do everything can to make sure he is.”

The Bears haven’t yet submitted an offer to McCown, and because he signed a one-year contract in 2013 under the minimum-salary benefit, the team can’t officially sign him until the start of free agency (March 11), although the sides could agree to a deal anytime before that date. So McCown could be exposed to the market (if the sides don’t agree to a new deal before the league new year), where he’s sure to have plenty of suitors.

“I’d like to see him come back,” Cutler said at the end of last season. “There’s talks about him getting other opportunities, which I think, rightfully so, he’ll have. We’ve had candid talks about what he wants to do. I’ll let Josh address that when he wants to. I know we’d love to have him back. We’d like to have him back in the building. Just the amount of work he does behind the scenes with the younger players and myself, just the experience he brings to the quarterback room, it’s very valuable. We’ll see how it works out. The guys in the locker room are hoping to see Number 12 back next year.”

QB Watch: Bears' Jay Cutler

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly analysis of the Bears’ quarterback play.

Cutler
Rewind: Forget about the paltry 159-yard passing performance and focus on the impact of what Jay Cutler did against the Steelers on Sunday. Cutler completed 67 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 90.8, but he stayed within the confines of the system as opposed to improvising and taking chances. Then, when the Bears asked Cutler to step up, he did just that during the game-defining drive in which he scrambled for a 13-yard gain (while running over a Steelers defensive back in the process) before firing pinpoint throws on third downs to Brandon Marshall for a 41-yard gain and Earl Bennett for a touchdown to put the game out of reach.

Fast-forward: Detroit sacked Cutler seven times in two meetings last season, including five times the first time the teams clashed last October. Don’t count on those types of sack totals this time around, as the protection is greatly improved and Cutler is getting rid of the ball much more quickly than he did in the past. Cutler likely will be forced to play dink-and-dunk ball Sunday to advance down the field as opposed to striking the Lions for big chunks of yardage. But the new Cutler has proved disciplined enough to do just that.

Stay consistent: Cutler was responsible for three turnovers in Week 2: two interceptions and a fumble returned for a touchdown. However, he eliminated such mistakes against a desperate Pittsburgh team in difficult circumstances on the road at Heinz Field. Now, Cutler must do that again at Ford Field. Cutler currently ranks No. 3 in the NFL in total QBR and needs to ride the momentum he has established by remaining consistent.

Prediction: Cutler’s passer rating will be in the 90s again, and he’ll finish with at least two TD passes.

Countdown Live: Packers-Bears

December, 16, 2012
12/16/12
9:00
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts for an NFC North throwdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. See you there.

Monday Night Live: Bears-Cowboys

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
5:19
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they bring you the Monday Night Football match up between the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

How you feeling? Cowboys-Bears

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
3:43
PM ET

As the Dallas Cowboys prepare to host the Chicago Bears tonight on "Monday Night Football" on ESPN, here's one reason for Cowboys fans to feel good and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: The Cowboys' defensive front, even if linebacker Anthony Spencer is unable to play, should be able to generate pressure on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. And when that happens, Cutler gets upset and starts making mistakes and poor decisions. Given the Cowboys' strength on defense at linebacker and cornerback this year, that should offer the Cowboys a chance to make plays at the second level of the defense and flip the field, and possibly even score on defense.

Cause for concern: The Cowboys may have to win the game on defense, because it sets up very poorly for their struggling offense. The Bears excel at generating quarterback pressure with their four defensive linemen, which allows them to commit everyone else in coverage. And given the struggles the Cowboys have had so far on the offensive line, that's a recipe for big trouble in terms of Tony Romo's ability to give his receivers time to get open. The Cowboys' receivers also have struggled this year with the kind of press coverage they're likely to see from the Bears' defensive backs. This could be a very low-scoring game that favors the team that makes the fewest mistakes.

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