Chicago Bears: Charles Tillman
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.
“If I go line up at quarterback and take a couple of snaps, you are all going to say we are running the option or running the Wildcat,” Hester said. “That’s your job.”
“I did it to have fun,” Hester said. “Being a special-teamer now, I really don’t get as many reps as the normal guys do in practice since I’m a specialist now with the returns. That’s pretty much all I do now. To keep myself busy, I jump in every now and again to play around.
“We all hang out off the field, so whenever I come over there and play around with those guys, it gives them a little more energy and a little more excitement to go out there and work hard. When they see me in their group, it sparks them up a little bit. You have to make practice fun. You just can’t go through the same routine every day. When you joke around and have some fun, it goes by quick.”
While Hester seemed to enjoy the attention, he got serious for a moment when asked if he could cover Tavon Austin, the Rams' speedy rookie wide receiver, if the situation called for it.
“I can cover anybody,” Hester said before cracking a smile. “Just put a safety over the top, and I can shut anybody down. I need a safety over the top; I’m a Cover 2 man.”
Hester is likely an emergency option for the Bears if they suffer more injuries in the secondary Sunday. Cornerback Charles Tillman (triceps) has already been ruled out, while safety Craig Steltz is questionable with a concussion and starting nickelback Isaiah Frey is dealing with a fractured right hand that will require him to wear a cast during the game. The Bears also have reserve cornerbacks Sherrick McManis and Derrick Martin on the depth chart, and could theoretically elevate another defensive back from the practice squad before Sunday since the active roster stands at 52 (the max is 53).
Preseason: 13 | Last Week: 11 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002
Despite attrition continuing to take a toll on the roster, the Chicago Bears put on a gritty showing in adverse weather conditions Sunday to best the Baltimore Ravens in overtime, which helped the club move up a spot in the ESPN.com Power Rankings from No. 11 to No. 10.
More importantly, the Bears seized a share of the division lead by virtue of Detroit’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Chicago still needs another slip-up from the Lions against Tampa Bay on Sunday coupled with a win over St. Louis to take control of the NFC North.
With six games remaining, it’s there for the taking.
What bodes well for the future is the Bears have learned to play with the entire roster due to all the injuries in so many key spots. They’ve demonstrated they can get the job done without Jay Cutler, Charles Tillman or Lance Briggs in the lineup through a combination of strong coaching and several young players stepping up to fill the void. The Bears expect a few of the key contributors to return soon. So that, coupled with the strength of the depth gaining experience now, should be beneficial down the stretch.
Elsewhere in the division, the division-leading Lions dropped two spots to 11th in this week’s rankings, while the Green Bay Packers fell another two spots to 15th after a 27-13 loss to the No. 22-ranked Giants. The Packers have fallen two slots in each of the last two weeks, and the free fall could continue until the club gains stability at quarterback with Aaron Rodgers out. Green Bay is currently on a three-game skid.
Minnesota, meanwhile, dropped another spot from 30th to 31st after a 41-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Just two of the six panelists gave the Bears a top-10 vote, while two put in votes for No. 11 and two put the club at No. 12.
Chicago’s struggling defense continues to improve, which might be attributed to defensive coordinator Mel Tucker opting to orchestrate from the sideline instead of the coaches’ booth. Offensively, the Bears improved the rushing attack against the Ravens, and quarterback Josh McCown continues to perform efficiently. Even with Cutler out for another week, and all the injuries on defense, the Bears appear to be ascending.
Before the 23-20 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens, the Bears had committed just 40 penalties this season, with the previous game high of six occurring in the club’s Week 5 loss to New Orleans.
“After the play [Smith] popped up and told me that I had his jersey [and that it wasn’t a horse collar],” Bowman said. “But hey, it is what it is. You just have to move on to the next play and keep going. It’s a close call and you just can’t worry if they make the call or don’t make the call. You just have to move on to the next play.
“Look, Tim Jennings told me to keep playing aggressive. He told me that he’d rather see me play aggressive then not play aggressive. I just kept playing. I wasn’t [going to] worry about the officials; I wasn’t worrying about the calls. If they throw the flag, they throw it; if they don’t, they don’t. I can’t worry about what the officials do; I can just focus on what I need to do.”
Bears coach Marc Trestman expressed his unhappiness with the club’s lack of discipline at the very beginning of his postgame news conference.
"We had too many penalties," Trestman said. "Too many pre-snap penalties today that really inhibited our ability to function as well as we’d like to."
The Bears’ players made no excuses for the overwhelming number of miscues, but it is likely the weather conditions Sunday played a role in the amount of infractions committed by both teams. Baltimore was flagged five times for 46 yards.
The penalties are “obviously something we need to work on,” Bears right guard Kyle Long explained. “When the wind is howling in and out of your helmet you can’t hear anything. Also, your vision is all messed up [with the moisture], so you have to take that all into consideration. But at the end of the day we just need to move forward.”
Defensive end Corey Wootton added: “It was tough. We can’t make any excuses, but sometimes different people get fooled by the center movement and all the head-bobs. But really, we just have to stay poised. And the most important thing is that we need to stay onside.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- If the playoffs started today, the Chicago Bears and the Baltimore Ravens would be out. There are still seven games left in the season, but none of them can be squandered, so this matchup Sunday will see both teams fighting to get into contention in their respective conferences.
The Bears enter the contest without quarterback Jay Cutler and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman, while the Ravens are coming off their first victory in more than a month. ESPN.com Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley break down the matchup.
Michael C. Wright: Last weekend, Baltimore snapped a three-game losing streak. Does the win restore any faith in the defending Super Bowl champions' ability to return to the playoffs?
Jamison Hensley: The Ravens believe Sunday’s overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals was a good start to getting back to the postseason for a sixth straight year. Even though the Ravens knocked off the AFC North leaders, no one is boasting that this is a playoff team because it was far from a statement game. The Ravens' offense can’t run the ball, and the defense can’t get opponents off the field late in the fourth quarter. The defending Super Bowl champions definitely have some serious flaws this season.
Baltimore’s attitude would change if they can win in Chicago. The schedule suggests that this is a pivotal game. If the Ravens can change their fortunes on the road and beat the Bears, they will be at .500 entering a stretch of three straight home games against the Jets, Steelers and Vikings. The Ravens have had great success under head coach John Harbaugh in November and December, and things are set up for them to do it again this year. That is, if the Ravens can get the franchise’s first victory in Chicago.
Speaking of attitude, how are the Bears dealing with losing Cutler again?
Wright: Well, after all the second-guessing about when head coach Marc Trestman should’ve pulled Cutler or about whether the quarterback should have played in the first place, I’d say there’s a fair amount of confidence in backup Josh McCown. Before being thrust into action on Oct. 20 at Washington when Cutler tore a muscle in his groin, McCown was already one of the favorites in the locker room. General manager Phil Emery has called McCown a “glue guy,” and other players consider the 34-year-old quarterback a father figure.
In three games filling in for Cutler, McCown has completed 42 of 70 passes for 538 yards and four touchdowns, with no turnovers and a passer rating of 103.1. Obviously, in his first full start, McCown played a major role as the Bears upset the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. He has demonstrated mastery of Trestman’s offense, and the quarterback attributes that to the fact he learned the scheme from the ground up, and actually had some input in the implementation of it.
Joe Flacco received the huge contract, but clearly hasn’t been playing like a $120.6 million quarterback. What has been his biggest issue, and do you see him turning things around this season?
Hensley: Flacco takes a lot of heat because he hasn’t put up the expected numbers after signing one of the richest contracts in NFL history. But he is in a tough situation. He lost his two favorite targets when Anquan Boldin was traded and Dennis Pitta went down with a dislocated hip. Flacco has been sacked 30 times (only Ryan Tannehill and Ben Roethlisberger have been sacked more). Harbaugh applauded Flacco for making plays while scrambling. But Flacco is really running for his life.
While Flacco hasn’t had the strongest supporting cast, he also hasn’t been the same quarterback he was during the Ravens’ championship run. The biggest change is his inability to connect deep. On Sunday, Flacco was 0-for-7 with an interception on throws at least 15 yards downfield, which qualifies as the most deep attempts without a completion he has had in his career. With all of the problems on offense, the Ravens desperately need more big plays out of Flacco.
What’s the biggest concern for the Bears’ pass defense?
Wright: Where would you like to start? There are several. But the most significant right now is how the Bears will perform without one of their best players in Tillman, who on Monday was placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list. Tillman, with three interceptions and three forced fumbles, was one of the main reasons the Bears are tied for fifth in the league with 20 takeaways. Since coming into the league in 2003, Tillman ranks in the NFL’s top 10 in interceptions (36), interception-return yards (675), defensive touchdowns (nine), forced fumbles (42) and passes defended (133). That level of production is difficult to replace. But the Bears are confident in backup Zack Bowman’s ability to get the job done. Bowman started 12 games in 2009 and led the team with six interceptions. When Bowman has played this season, he has been adequate (one INT). He has size (6-foot-1, 196 pounds) similar to Tillman, which allows him to match up well with bigger receivers.
The Bears have struggled against the run, and you’d think they could be in for a long game against someone such as Ray Rice. But from what I’ve seen so far, he hasn’t been the Rice I remember from last season. What’s the deal with him?
Hensley: Rice injured his hip in Week 2 and hasn’t been the same since. He insists he’s at full strength, but the numbers say otherwise. Rice’s average of 2.5 yards per carry is worst among qualified running backs. But you can’t put all of the blame for the NFL’s 30th-ranked rushing attack on Rice. The Ravens’ offensive line has struggled to open holes, and because Flacco can’t throw the ball deep, defenses are stacking the box with eight players.
Getting some semblance of a running game is key to turning around the season, which is why the Ravens need to commit to the ground game against Chicago. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 45-12 when they gain more than 100 yards rushing. That’s the fifth-best mark in the NFL, which shows how important a running game is to the Ravens.
Baltimore has been up and down in terms of run defense. In their five losses, the Ravens have given up an average of 124.4 yards rushing. The Bears’ Matt Forte had good back-to-back games before he was shut down against the Lions. What’s the key to him rebounding against the Ravens?
Wright: The No. 1 key would be better blocking from the offensive line. For the first time all season, the Bears on Sunday probably lost the battle at the line of scrimmage on offense. At best, Trestman said he would call it a draw. The Bears know it’s unacceptable for Forte to average 1.9 yards per carry on 17 attempts, and Trestman said one of the major contributors to the performance against the Lions was that several players missed assignments on key plays. Going into that game, the Bears knew they wouldn’t put together a strong rushing game, but thought they’d have a chance to pop three or four explosive runs against Detroit’s dominant front. Obviously that didn’t happen. But if the Bears clean up some of the execution issues up front, Forte should be able to rebound. Going into Sunday’s game, he was averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He’ll have to get back on track if Chicago expects the offense to run smoothly because it is by establishing Forte that the Bears set up their play-action passing game.
A year later, the Bears are poised to have two 1,000-yard receivers in Marshall and second-year wideout Alshon Jeffery. Are they the best receiver duo in the NFL this season? Marshall said Wednesday that's not even a question. Is he right? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Marshall and Jeffery are the best receiver duo in the NFL.
Jeff Dickerson:Fact. But let me throw a caveat out there: When healthy, Atlanta's Roddy White and Julio Jones are the best receiver duo in the NFL. But with White (active in Week 10) and Jones sidetracked this year due to injuries, Marshall and Jeffery top the list, combining to catch 107 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns through nine games. The Denver Broncos are also in the conversation with their trio of productive wideouts, but what separates Marshall and Jeffery is their ability to single-handedly dominate a game with their size and length. Between them, Marshall and Jeffery have eight 100-yard receiving games, with Jeffery, the Bears' No. 2 wideout, setting the team's single-game receiving yards record with 218. Marshall and Jeffery have the potential to wreak havoc inside the NFC North for years to come, if Marshall receives a contract extension from the Bears in the offseason.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Their 1,521 receiving yards as a tandem leads the NFL. At the very least, they're in the team photo. What's most important is that Marshall and Jeffery believe they're the best and prepare like they're fringe guys. Both receivers have height and size, and both are solid route runners with strong hands. While Jeffery got some contrarian blame for dropping two touchdown passes in the Bears' 21-19 loss to Detroit, both difficult catches, he has shown incredible hands throughout this season. Marshall has been arguably the most productive receiver in the NFL since coming over to Chicago. His 178 catches are the most in the NFL and he has 11 100-yard games, second only to Calvin Johnson. Any NFL team would kill for this duo. It's crazy that it's the Bears -- where receivers go to die, said Muhsin Muhammad -- that have them.
Fact or Fiction: Charles Tillman has played his last game as a Bear.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. I think Tillman has several good years of football left in him, but I just don't know how much money the Bears are prepare to offer him after the season. Including a workout bonus, Tillman will earn $8,001,575 from the Bears in 2013. What will the next contract look like? Will Tillman accept a pay cut? Will another team with a need at cornerback offer Tillman a better deal? Personally, I'd love to see Tillman finish his career in Chicago. He's the greatest defensive back in the history of the franchise. However, the Bears allowed one of the greatest linebackers in the history of the franchise to leave last offseason over money. This is a tough business, especially for veterans late in their careers. History could very well repeat itself this offseason with Tillman. At the end of the day this likely comes down to money. Are the Bears willing to pay enough to keep Tillman around for another couple of seasons?
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I think the Bears make him an offer to come back for next season. It would have to be at a reduced salary, but he's basically in a "play with the Bears or retire" situation. Unless, Lovie Smith gets a head job and imports Tillman as a veteran/mentor. While he can't punch out Father Time, Tillman can still cover and he can still create takeaways. Tillman turns 33 in February and he could still have two more strong seasons left. General manager Phil Emery, who isn't nostalgiac toward veterans he's inherited, has to rebuild this defense through the draft, and it would make sense to keep Tillman to bridge the gap.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears' precipitous slide on defense has been the biggest surprise of their season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The demise of the Bears' defense has been terribly disappointing, but nine games into the regular season, I believe the biggest surprise has been the growth of the offense in such a short period of time. The turnaround on the offensive line has been nothing short of remarkable, even though the line struggled at times against Detroit. Marshall and Jeffery are lethal at wide receiver, while Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett are dependable weapons, capable of having big games. The mere fact that Josh McCown can step in off the bench and thrive in relief of Jay Cutler speaks volumes about Marc Trestman's offensive system. Not to take anything away from McCown, who deserves his share of credit for playing so well, but Trestman is light years ahead of what the Bears had last season with Mike Tice and Jeremy Bates.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. I expected the Bears offense to improve under Trestman. I expected Cutler to have a good, but not yet great, season. I suppose the viability of the rookie right side of the line, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, is pretty surprising. But the death of the defense is definitely jarring. While the Bears' defense lulled a bit during the Bob Babich/Lovie Smith coordinator years, it looked like a turnkey operation for a coach like Mel Tucker. This group, led by tested veterans, figured to be stable, if not as spectacular as last season when it scored nine touchdowns. But injuries have crippled the pass rush and linebacking corps, not to mention poor play from the healthy safeties. Every bad thing that was bound to happen to such a fortunate group happened. It's time to reinvest in this unit in the draft.
Fact or Fiction: Marc Trestman should continue to be aggressive on fourth down.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. For years, Bears fans complained about Lovie Smith's conservative style of coaching. Now all of a sudden, the same people want Trestman to take his foot off the gas pedal? The Bears have converted 67 percent (6-of-9) of their fourth-down conversion chances. Trestman knows what he's doing. I didn't have a problem with the Bears going for it on fourth-and-1 against the Lions, but I did take issue with the play call. But that's an entirely different argument. Trestman is a confident head coach. I'd hate to see him loose that edge by second-guessing himself.
Jon Greenberg: Fact, fact, fact. Going for it on fourth down is in vogue as more and more teams pay attention to statistical evidence that it's often the smart move over "playing it safe." Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been doing it for years. Even when the numbers don't overwhelmingly support it, like that call in the fourth quarter in Green Bay, I love that Trestman doesn't waver from this aggressiveness. I love it. As we've addressed, the defense isn't the reliable Bears defense anymore and the offense has weapons and proper coaching. I don't doubt Trestman at all in this regard. Sorry, Adam Podlesh.
That is not the dilemma at cornerback, where Charles Tillman's regular season-ending torn triceps muscle forced the team to move Zack Bowman into the starting lineup Sunday versus the Baltimore Ravens.
Bowman, 28, has started 17 games for the Bears since 2008, including the team’s Week 6 victory over the New York Giants, finishing with four tackles and one interception in place of Tillman who was resting a sore knee.
“(We are) very confident in Zack,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said Wednesday. “He’s a veteran player. He’s played in some games and done a good job when he’s gone in. We have a tremendous amount of confidence in Zack to get the job done. Obviously when you lose a good player, a great player like Charles, you never want to see that. But unfortunately, injuries are a part of this game that we play and we coach, so it’s next man up.
“He came out here and worked well today. We expect him to go out there and do his job to the best of his ability — no more, no less.”
A strong effort from the 6-foot-1, 196 pound Bowman over the final seven games might influence the direction the Bears head in the offseason in regards to cornerback. If the Bears are unable or unwilling to re-sign Tillman and/or Tim Jennings, Bowman could be an attractive option to fill one of the secondary voids in 2014. All three veteran defenders are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after the year.
Bowman started a career-high 12 games for the Bears in 2009 and recorded 75 tackles and a team-high six interceptions. Since falling behind Jennings on the cornerback depth chart in 2010, Bowman has been a valuable contributor on special teams with 21 combined tackles in 2011-12.
“Peanut is down so it’s time for the next man up, and that is me,” Bowman said. “I’ve got big shoes to fill. My job is to go out there and do as I’m told. Do whatever they ask me to do on defense. I just need to do my job. That’s all I can do for my defense.”
Bears cornerback Charles Tillman checked in at No. 6 , one spot behind Tampa Bay’s Darrelle Revis, and one slot ahead of Miami’s Brent Grimes.
Edwards wrote this about Tillman: “This is another player who I don't think gets enough credit. He's simply a complete corner. He gets pegged as Tampa 2 CB, but they don't play nearly as much Tampa 2 in Chicago now. He's physical, we know what he can do in terms of stripping the ball (three forced fumbles this season and 10 last year) and he's probably the best tackler on this list. He had been a little nicked up with a knee issue, but still had three picks this season before going on injured reserve this week with a triceps injury.”
It’s concerning to think Tillman may have already played his last game as a Chicago Bear, but if the organization lets the cornerback hit the market, there should be some suitors out there.
-- ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson puts together this week’s Stock Watch. Stock in Josh McCown, Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall is rising.
-- In case you missed it, here’s an incredible in-depth piece on former Bears receiver Sam Hurd, written by Michael McKnight of the MMQB. It details the entire Hurd drug case, and even delves into how the receiver became dependent on marijuana. The piece really falls in line with what I've thought about Hurd and the case all along, based on my interactions with the receiver when he was with Chicago, and some of the court documents I've obtained since the news first broke. It seems that Hurd, in his naiveté, talked a much bigger game in terms of the drug trade than he actually knew, and he could wind up paying for that with a life term in prison. He’ll be sentenced on Wednesday.
“Whatever was considered the loudest weed in California—I wanted a notch above that,” Hurd says in the story. “I had educated myself on different strains and potencies and growing techniques. I was very selective. It was like wine.”
There’s tons of interesting nuggets in this story. I encourage you to take the time to read this long piece.
-- CSNChicago.com’s John Mullin considers the Bears' postseason prospects to be difficult at best because of its 3-4 conference record. Can’t say that I disagree here.
Placed on the injured reserve with the designation to return, Tillman can resume practicing in six weeks, but can’t play for eight weeks, meaning the only way he’ll be back in a Bears uniform this season is if the team advances to the playoffs. In the last year of a contract paying a base salary of $7.95 million in 2013, Tillman knows he might not be back next season.
“Potentally, possibly, yeah,” Tillman said. “I guess I haven’t really thought about it until you just said it. So thanks for spoiling the mood.”
Tillman definitely won’t struggle to find work once his deal expires, and it’s likely the Bears will look to bring him back for the 2014 season. But the club will want to strike a cap-friendly deal, which means Tillman won’t be in line for a pay day in the range of what he’s earned in recent years. Tillman carried cap charges of $6.46 million in 2011, $7.97 million in 2012 and $8 million in 2013.
Even though Tillman still possesses the ability to perform consistently at a high level, the fact is he’ll be 33 years old in February, which means the Bears won’t be inclined to sign him to a big-money deal or one that lasts more than one or two years. It will be a different situation than the team faced with future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher last offseason because Tillman is still one of the league’s better corners, while the linebacker’s play had clearly declined when the Bears made the decision to go a different direction.
So if Tillman wants to stay beyond this season, it will likely come down to what he’s willing to accept. Surely, the cornerback knows how veterans -- even players performing at a reasonably high level -- have been treated recently in the free-agent market under conditions of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Tillman was also asked about the possibility of making the position switch to safety, which some corners do in their later years to extend their careers. But Tillman didn’t sound like that was a move he wanted to make at this stage.
An 11-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler with 150 career starts, Tillman ranks third in franchise history with 36 interceptions, and is the Bears' career leader in interception return yards (675), interception return touchdowns (eight) and defensive return touchdowns (nine).
Tillman also leads the NFL with 42 forced fumbles since 2003, and is the only player in that span to force 40 fumbles and pick off 30 passes.
“No,” Tillman said when asked about the possibility of moving to safety. “I think my athleticism is still there to play corner in this league, whether it be for the Bears or somebody else. I think I still have some corner left in me.”
There’s a good chance other teams will agree if the Bears let Tillman reach the free-agent market. But age will limit his earning power.
1. Josh McCown needs to start against the Baltimore Ravens: For the record, Jay Cutler did not bomb on Sunday (21-for-40 for 250 yards, one touchdown and one interception), and he would've finished with better numbers if Alshon Jeffery had snared two potential touchdown catches that fell incomplete. But Cutler, three weeks removed from a torn groin muscle, had a difficult time moving around inside and outside of the pocket, especially after he injured his left ankle in the first half. To me, the decision is obvious this week: rest Cutler and start red-hot McCown versus the Ravens. McCown had only one series to work, and he still almost led the Bears to victory. McCown’s quarterback rating this season: 103.2. He has earned the complete trust of the players in the locker room and deserves to be the Bears’ starting quarterback until Cutler is fully recovered from his injuries. It’s time for Marc Trestman to play the hot hand.
2. Authenticity of Cutler’s ankle injury called into question: Unfortunately for the NFL, fans and media have become highly skeptical when it comes to injury updates because teams often bend the truth. Twitter and talk radio were flooded after the game with people wondering if the Bears were making up the Cutler ankle problem to cover for the fact the quarterback reinjured his groin or to shift the attention away from the torn groin muscle. To the best of my knowledge, Cutler did indeed suffer an ankle injury in the first half, right around the time he had a pass tipped and intercepted in the end zone. This new injury, coupled with the normal fatigue associated with returning from a torn muscle in just three weeks, was the likely reason the quarterback’s play dipped in the second half. The Bears aren’t just going to make up an injury. They might not give you all the details, but if the team announces to the world that Cutler twisted his ankle, then some damage was done to that ankle. This I can assure you. The question really isn’t if Cutler hurt the ankle; it’s why Trestman allowed him to play for so long in the second half. That’s my perspective on the debate.
3. Bears' defense improved: Reggie Bush ran for 105 yards and Matthew Stafford passed for three touchdowns, but the Bears were better on defense in Week 10. Stafford wasn’t sacked on Sunday, but the Bears had success crowding Stafford’s passing lanes as Corey Wootton, Stephen Paea and Chris Conte all deflected passes at the line of scrimmage. Conte contributed an important interception, and the Bears barely missed out on another pick when Major Wright dropped a pass after it had been knocked up into the air by Charles Tillman. Detroit scored 40 points when the two teams met in Detroit earlier in the season. Not only did the Bears limit the Lions to 21 points, they also won the time-of-possession battle, due in part to the defense’s ability to get off the field. This wasn’t a perfect performance from the defense by any means, but, considering what has already transpired this season, Sunday was a step in the right direction.
4. Curious call on final Detroit touchdown: Here is another example of the Bears losing the benefit of the doubt because they don’t allow their assistant coaches to talk to the media following games. It sure looked to me that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker called for Cover 1 with Detroit facing third-and-10 from the Bears’ 14-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Why on earth would the Bears force Tillman to cover Calvin Johnson one-on-one in that situation? It was an obvious passing situation and Detroit had a finite amount of space to work with. If Tillman had safety help over the top, I bet Stafford wouldn't have completed that ball to Johnson in the back corner of the end zone that proved to be the game winner. Instead, Johnson caught the 14-yard touchdown over Tillman, and the rest is history. That call made zero sense. Maybe, if given the chance, Tucker would explain why he chose to single cover the greatest receiver in the NFL in the most critical passing situation of the game. But I guess we’ll have to wait until later in the week to find out.
5. Still can’t trust the Lions: Sorry, I know Detroit (6-3) is currently in sole possession of first place in the NFC North and swept the season series from the Bears, but, honestly, how can that team be trusted? The Lions did their best to give that game to the Bears. How many dumb personal-foul penalties are the Lions going to commit under head coach Jim Schwartz? It’s unbelievable. Detroit’s lack of discipline is legendary in the NFL, and, watch, it will cost the Lions when the games really matter when/if they qualify for the postseason. A personal foul on a two-point conversion with less than a minute left on the clock? Ridiculous. The Lions were lucky to escape Soldier Field with a win.
Cutler is expected to test out his injured groin muscle on the practice field on Thursday to give the Bears an idea of where he is at physically in regards to potentially starting at quarterback Sunday versus the Detroit Lions.
In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (groin) and long snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) would not have participated on Wednesday.
Mannelly is considered week-to-week and is not expected to be active this weekend, while Ratliff told ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” on Monday that he is still “a couple of weeks” away from returning from his injury.
Linebacker Blake Costanzo (back), tight end Dante Rosario (ankle) and cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) were also listed as being limited.
Interestingly, it took years for the Chicago Bears to finally put together what appears to be a prolific offense, only to have the team’s perennially strong defense start to show signs of decline, in part because of injuries and a lack of depth.
So, while the offense finally checks in with high grades because of better protection, a bevy of weapons and a reinvented quarterback in Jay Cutler, Chicago’s loss of two starters for the season on the defensive line and one at linebacker, as well as nagging injuries that have forced other starters to miss time, have sucked the life out of what has traditionally been one of the league’s better defenses. What is concerning is the Bears haven’t shown any indication that things will improve on defense.
In fact, it appears the Bears will have to wait until free agency and the draft to address a suddenly porous defense.
“That’s cool, everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Tillman said Saturday. “So it’s fine. I’m OK with it. We obviously must have given them a reason to think that. Until we start to make some plays and win games, then maybe we turn some heads. I don’t know. But I’m OK with what they say. I try not to get caught up in the media. You guys do a really good job of hyping up the games … Monday night, this … Monday night, that … Bears vs. Packers. It’s just a game. I treat them all the same.”
This is unchartered territory for Tillman, arguably the greatest defensive back in franchise history. For the majority of his decorated 11-year NFL career, Tillman has experienced great success on defense, both individually and collectively. But while the cornerback is having another quality season with 37 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles in six games, the overall defensive effort has been sub-par. The Bears enter Monday ranked No. 27 in total defense (391.0) and No. 29 in points allowed (29.4) – a sharp decline for a group that just last year finished with the No. 5 overall defense in the NFL.
“It’s definitely frustrating because this is something I’ve never been a part of: giving up this many points,” Tillman said. “It’s foreign to me. It’s new to me. I definitely don’t like it. It leaves a sour taste in your mouth. But I think the bye week came at a perfect time because it gave our coaches and our defense enough time to focus and sit back and evaluate us. It’s not about the opponent, it’s about us.
"Coaches can only take so much blame. At some point and time, that blame has to go [toward] the players. I take full responsibility for my group not playing well. I’m sure [Julius] Peppers takes it for his [group struggling] and I’m sure Lance [Briggs] takes the responsibility for his group of linebackers. We just haven’t been playing well. We are not making the plays we are supposed to make. We are not taking advantage of the opportunities that have been given to us.”
“I was happy to see Charles out there. He worked the entire practice, got reps,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “I know you'd be interested in that. He would have to tell you how he felt. I haven't had a chance to talk with him, but he did work through the entire practice and got a number of reps and went at full speed, and that was certainly good to see.”
According to the official injury report, Tillman participated in a limited capacity while receiver Joe Anderson (abdomen), Costanzo and safety Major Wright (knee) took part in the entire practice.
The Green Bay Packers declared tight end Jermichael Finley (neck) and linebacker Clay Matthews (thumb) out for Monday night’s game earlier in the week.
The Packers held out linebacker Nick Perry (foot) for the second consecutive day, while receiver James Jones (knee) and tight end Ryan Taylor (knee) worked in a limited capacity. Linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring) participated fully during Green Bay’s practice on Friday.