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Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Four Downs: Nowhere but up for Hanie?

By ESPNChicago.com

Hanie
After a rough first half against the Raiders, Caleb Hanie passed for 175 yards in the fourth quarter.
Caleb Hanie's performance against the Raiders on Sunday was what you would expect from a quarterback making his first NFL start: There was plenty of bad (three interceptions) but some good, too (two touchdown passes).

So what can Bears fans expect out of Hanie in starth No. 2? Our Four Downs panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: We've seen the worst of Caleb Hanie already.


Jeff Dickerson: Fact. There is no excuse for turning the ball over three times in a half of football, but it's important to remember Hanie was making his first career NFL start in a very difficult road venue. He'll learn from the experience and be a much better quarterback when the Bears face Kansas City Sunday at Soldier field. He can play. Now it's a matter of being a better decision maker, which generally comes with increased playing time. We've seen the worst of Hanie, hopefully we can see the best of Hanie before Jay Cutler returns from thumb surgery.
Caleb Hanie
Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie figures to be much better against the Chiefs at Soldier Field on Sunday.

Michael C. Wright: Fact. For the team’s sake, that better had been the worst. I think it’s fair to cut Hanie a little slack for his shaky debut as a starter. When Jay Cutler first suffered his injury and it was announced he’d miss time, everyone started looking at the next several games on the schedule to see how Hanie would fare. I think everyone considered Sunday’s outing at Oakland to be potentially the most dangerous for Hanie, and despite the rocky start, he played fairly well once he settled in. For me, there are positives to draw from that loss for Hanie. Let’s not forget that the Raiders are a 7-4 team with a young, attacking defense and stout front that is playing good football, and Hanie took their best shot on the road in a hostile environment. If anything, Hanie’s ability to bounce back from early adversity in that game should give him confidence over the long haul. Hanie will be fine, and Cutler will play an integral role in making sure he is by relaying his experiences to the new signal caller.

Melissa Isaacson Fact. It’s pretty likely Hanie will throw another interception before his shot as the Bears starting quarterback is over. But all you have to do is look at the fourth quarter of Hanie’s regular season debut as starter last Sunday in Oakland to see the potential for improvement. After throwing all three of his picks in the first half -- two that were awful and one that should at least in part be attributed to the heady play of two Raiders linebackers -- Hanie did not throw another in the second half and completed 10 of 18 passes for 175 yards in the final quarter alone for a 107.4 quarterback rating as the Bears scored 13 points to keep them in the game. Granted, the Raiders were trying to protect their lead and playing a softer zone defense in the fourth quarter, but Hanie settled down and there is every reason to believe he will reduce mistakes with more experience and practice with the first team.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Hanie’s first half was abysmal. He improved in the second half, but still didn’t look sharp. Yes, he hit on a home run pass to Johnny Knox, but the deep ball is down my list of quarterback qualities. Hanie showed promise in other areas, too. He just needs to put it all together. I still have faith he’ll get better, but more game tape might equal more struggles.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: Mike Martz has to alter his game plan to suit Hanie.


Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Martz called a decent game in Oakland. There wasn't a play he called that Hanie is incapable of executing. The problem with Martz is every week, without fail, he loses his mind at some point and calls a terrible play given the situation. A tight end screen on second-and-1 from the Raiders' 7-yard line with :35 seconds left in the first half? Come on, just run the football and settle for a field goal if necessary. Don't get me wrong, Hanie needed to put more zip on the pass that was deflected by Aaron Curry and intercepted by Kamerion Wimbley, but the call was silly. Martz doesn't need to alter the game plan to suit Hanie. He needs to stop trying to be so cute in these key moments.
Mike Martz
Mike Martz's goal line call just before halftime against the Raiders was questionable.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Actually, this is partly fact and partly fiction. See, Hanie is capable of doing everything Martz’s offense calls for. But the offensive coordinator should be mindful of not putting Hanie into bad situations, such as calling a throwback screen -- which the team has shown a tendency on film to run near the goal line before halftime, according to Oakland linebacker Aaron Curry -- on second and 1 from the 7. I think it’s important for Martz to gradually ramp up Hanie’s game by calling for shorter passes early on that would allow the quarterback to get into a rhythm, before rattling off all the big-boy plays. At the same time, you can’t deny that Hanie’s mobility should make it enticing for Martz to cater the game plan to take advantage by utilizing the quarterback more on bootlegs to give him somewhat of a run-pass option.

Melissa Isaacson: Fact. This isn’t really about the run vs. pass debate that feels age-old when it comes to Martz. It’s more about common sense when dealing with a quarterback making his first NFL regular season start. Did Martz really need to call pass plays on 20 of 33 plays in the first half? Did he need to call a pass play on a second-and-1 from the Oakland 7 with 35 seconds left in the second half? Hanie showed his run ability Sunday with 50 yards on five attempts and though not every one demonstrated the best judgment, you’d like to see Martz utilize his live legs and cut down the odds for key interceptions.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Martz now has a better idea of how Hanie fares against NFL talent. I think he knows what plays to throw away now, and what plays suit Hanie’s strengths. The problem is that Martz is dedicated to his system and that familiarity often takes precedence over reality.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Johnny Knox can be a No. 1 receiver for the Bears.


Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. From a talent standpoint, Knox can absolutely be a top wide receiver. But a No. 1? I'm not so sure. When I think of smaller No. 1 wideouts, the first guy who comes to mind is Steve Smith. But he's crazy and tough as nails. Knox isn't that sort of player. He relies on speed and quickness. The good news is Knox possesses a ton of talent. He simply needs to become more consistent. When/if that happens, we can discuss whether or not Knox can be the Bears best receiver. Right now, it's too premature.
Knox
Johnny Knox has all the tools to be an elite receiver but has been too inconsistent.

Michael C. Wright: Fact. But that can’t and won’t be accomplished during Hanie’s stint as the man under center. Knox flashes those elite-receiver skills, but I don’t see it consistently enough to put him in that No. 1 category just yet. And I don’t see him all of a sudden turning it on over the next five weeks of the season. Knox has shown the desire to improve his game, based on the way he bulked up his upper body last offseason to improve his ability to beat the jam at the line (he also needed to improve lower-body strength, but didn’t). Knox would definitely benefit from spending an offseason working out with someone like Cris Carter to take his game to the next level, and I could see the receiver doing that. I just don’t see it happening this season.

Melissa Isaacson: Fact. Knox still needs to cut down on drops -- he missed three he should have caught on Sunday -- but ironically, he may have a better chance of shining with Hanie than he did with Cutler. While Cutler’s preferred target was Earl Bennett, Hanie favors Knox, with whom he worked a lot in training camp while both were on the second team, and with whom he showed some nice chemistry against the Raiders.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. There isn’t a No. 1 receiver on this roster, so let’s not force the issue. Knox has gained 242 yards and two touchdowns -- his only ones of the season amazingly -- in the last two games, but he could just as easily disappear next week. Bennett had 251 yards in his previous three games and then caught one ball for 5 yards last week. Now that Devin Hester is seemingly being phased out of the passing game, Knox should see more looks, but he’s still not a No. 1 type.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: Marion Barber deserves to cut into Matt Forte's carries.


Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Keep Barber at 10-12 carrier per game. That's the perfect workload for a veteran who's dealt with a variety of injuries the past few years. Forte, on the other hand, needs 20-25 rushing attempts every week. He's still the same guy who carried the offense for the first eight games of the season. Why cut into his carries? I want more Forte, not less, regardless of how Barber is running the football.
Marion Barber
Marion Barber rushed for a season-high 63 yards against the Raiders on Sunday.

Michael C. Wright: Fact. Not only does he deserve to, but the current situation demands that Barber shoulder some of the burden. Forte has already racked up tons of touches, and the Bears run the risk of wearing the guy out by the end of the regular season if they continue to dish out the current workload. It’s commendable that Forte has played at such a high level for so long, and still appears to have fresh legs so late in the season. But why waste away another fresh-legged running back on the bench that adds a different style that might make it difficult for defenses to adjust to? As Bears coach Lovie Smith admitted on Monday, Barber was “feeling it” against the Raiders and is “a weapon that we need to use.” So when the head coach says something like that, I expect the words to be put into action.

Melissa Isaacson: Fiction. While it does not have to be a knock on Forte to give more opportunities in the right situations to Barber, who runs hard and provides the always appreciated change-of-pace that can keep a defense off-balance, it should be just that -- situational. Against Oakland, the duo teamed for 122 yards on 22 carries, an average of better than 5 yards per carry, but the Raiders were a good matchup for Forte, who got only 12 carries (along with six catches for 25 yards) and wasn’t thrilled about it. Forte also doesn’t appreciate when he is taken out on the goal line, but that’s why Barber was brought in and has five touchdowns from 3, 3, 12, 2 and 1 yard to show for it. Sunday’s game against the Chiefs appears to be the perfect opportunity for Forte to have a breakout game. Here’s hoping he gets the chance.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Forte should be getting 15-20 chances a game, be they runs or receptions, but it’s obvious that Barber can still truck down the field. Let’s be real, the Bears aren’t going to run 35 times a game under Martz, even with Hanie under center, so Forte’s going to get a few less carries. As a competitor he must hate this, but it’s probably a good thing to take fewer hits, especially when he’s still getting paid like a rookie.