NFL Nation: 2013 Four Downs
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Five years later, the Broncos are the winner of the Jay Cutler trade.
Johnny Knox) and quarterback Kyle Orton to obtain him. In that same five-year span, the Broncos have gone to the playoffs three times (Tim Tebow has been to the postseason as many times as Cutler) and are poised to win their first Super Bowl championship since the late 1990s on Sunday. I won't even bore you with the details that Denver eventually parlayed some of those picks from the Bears into wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. You know why? Because I don't need to. Success in the NFL is measured in playoff appearances and Super Bowl championships. Cutler supporters will view this as a shot at the quarterback. It's really not. I deal in reality. When a team surrenders two first-round draft picks, a third-rounder and its starting quarterback (Orton) to acquire a supposed franchise quarterback and then reaches the postseason just one time in the five years after the deal from a team that ends up reaching the playoffs three times and playing in a Super Bowl over the exact same time period, the winner is obvious: the second team. Spin it any way you want, the Broncos crushed the Bears on that trade five years ago.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bears traded picks for a franchise quarterback, and that is what they have in Cutler. It hasn't been easy, but after a few stops and starts, it looks like Cutler is finally poised to live up to the expectations brought about with that trade. If he had been traded to a team with big receivers and an offensive-minded coaching staff, this wouldn't even be a question. It's a testament to the Broncos that they wisely used the picks to get Super Bowl contributors in Robert Ayers and (through trades) Thomas and Decker. When you trade a star to get draft picks, that's how it should work, a win-win for both sides. But the real key, of course, is Peyton Manning being available. Otherwise, this isn't even a debate.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should pursue Martellus Bennett's brother Michael in free agency.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. But the problem is money. Can the Bears afford both Bennetts? Though Chicago will almost certainly have to reconfigure contracts to make more salary room, it's easy to believe that Michael Bennett will command more than the Bears can offer. And he just might want to stay in Seattle, which is in, you know, the Super Bowl. As Martellus told reporters this week in New York, his brother's best friend is going to be Benjamin Franklin, because he wants to get paid. Still, the Bears have to pursue him.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should use all of their draft picks on defensive players.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. It's never a smart idea to enter a draft fixated on a single player or side of the ball, except of course if a team holds a top-five pick in the first round. Fixing the defense is clearly the Bears' No. 1 priority in the offseason, but general manager Phil Emery should not hesitate to devote a mid-round or later-round selection to improving the offense, if that player is hands down the best available talent on the board at that stage of the draft, and the Bears believe he can help them in 2014. Don't forget, the Bears still need another tight end to complement Martellus Bennett, and they could also be in the market for a starting center if veteran Roberto Garza finds a better offer on the open market and departs via free agency. Wide receivers and young backup quarterbacks are always considered commodities in the NFL. Eventually, the Bears will need a young quarterback on the depth chart to replace Josh McCown, or even Cutler in the future. Brandon Marshall is in the final year of his contract, and while the Bears could re-sign him or turn to 2013 seventh-rounder Marquess Wilson in the immediate future at the position, if a dynamic pass-catcher is available in the later rounds, take him. Good organizations usually share a common theme: They are flexible on draft weekend. While the Bears are likely to use some of their early picks on defense, it's best to keep an open mind when the draft reaches its later stages.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. You can't solve an immediate problem like the Bears' defense with a bunch of rookies. The Bears should look to address depth on the defensive line (cheaper than a premier free agent) and add a young safety in the first two rounds, and after that it's all about best player available and creating depth across the team. A good general manager, and Emery is one, uses the draft to help balance salaries across every position. I could see the Bears drafting another young offensive lineman, a young tight end and, yes, maybe a quarterback. It's all about finding value. But to fix the defense, the Bears are going to have to sign free agents. So the draft is not a cure-all for their ailments.
Fact or Fiction: Marquess Wilson will emerge as the Bears' No. 3 receiver in 2014.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bears would be wise to rework Earl Bennett's deal and keep him around another year. Last season, they restructured the deal to save cap money, and I assume that would happen again to keep him on the roster making more than $2 million. I don't know enough about Wilson to hand him the third receiver spot a month after the season ended, and I doubt the Bears do, either. Maybe they'll see something in OTAs that will convince them he's ready to step up into a prime-time role. But the Bears should want to keep Earl around for another season, at least, as the offense continues to improve.
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Adrian Peterson and the Vikings will run for at least 275 yards against the Bears on Sunday.
Jeff Dickerson:Fiction. If the Bears fail to stack the box with a minimum of eight defenders on every snap with the exception of third-and-long, then fire the entire coaching staff immediately after the game. The Vikings and Peterson are the NFL's 11th-best rushing offense (122.5) and the 25th overall passing offense (207.0). Make them throw to win. Last I checked, the Bears still do a decent job in the secondary defending the pass (No. 13), but are No. 32 out of 32 teams when it comes to run defense (145.2). If Minnesota tops 275 yards on the ground Sunday, there needs to be a formal investigation.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Peterson won't get a yard over 255. Seriously, the Bears, who have given up 123-plus rushing yards in six straight games (258 last week), will need to do some serious scheming to keep Peterson from winning this game. They've had some success in the past, but they just don't have the players. When your defensive line is Julius Peppers, projects and waiver-wire guys and your linebackers are two-thirds rookies, it's tough enough. But then you have breakdowns in gap discipline and, well, it's going to be a long day. Still, under 275.
Fact or Fiction: Chris Conte will be a Bear in 2014.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. I understand the frustration over the safety position, but what Conte needs is competition, not to be flat-out released at the end of the season. Major Wright is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason so if he finds a team willing to pay more on the open market, let him go. But Conte's salary-cap number for 2014 is only $788,400. That's a reasonable figure for a player who will be 25 next year with roughly 40 career starts. Conte has made his share of mistakes this season, but his struggles have been magnified by the awful performance of the front seven. Were fans screaming about Conte last season when Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach and Lance Briggs were the three starting linebackers? That doesn't excuse the errors or poor angles, but Conte can be an effective free safety. However, I would strongly advocate the Bears have Conte compete for his job next summer. As we've written before, competition brings out the best in everybody.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bears should have two new safeties. Look at how Phil Emery handled the offensive line this year. No more chances, no more "developing" the tackles of the "future." Just get rid of them and move on. The Bears' brain trust will say the right things now to boost up Conte and Wright, but I'm guessing we'll see a very different defense.
Fact or Fiction: Jon Bostic has shown enough to warrant a starting job in 2014.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I put Bostic in the same boat as Conte. Bostic is clearly part of the Bears' future, being a 2013 second-round draft choice, but to simply hand him a starting job next season seems a tad premature. To put it nicely, Bostic has not played particularly well the past couple of weeks. Maybe if he closes the season out on a strong note, the Bears will feel better about handing him the job next year. But I'd make him earn it. However, this is the NFL, and the trend in the league is hand high-draft picks starting jobs, even if they don't deserve them. So it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the Bears go that route with Bostic.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Though you wonder if he'll be in the middle. The Bears need wholesale changes on defense, but Bostic will be one of the few holdovers. He's been thrust into a difficult position, especially with the defensive line turnover, but he has the spark and he has the IQ to be a starter.
Fact or Fiction: Julius Peppers is playing his final season as a Bear.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Peppers seems like a goner unless he agrees to take a drastic reduction in pay in 2014. The Bears can't afford to carry a player on the 53-man roster with a projected cap hit of $18,183,333 unless that player is a franchise quarterback. Peppers has shown the ability to still have good games from time to time, but he is no longer one of the NFL's premiere pass-rushers. If you can no longer get to the quarterback, then you can no longer cash the really big checks. For a couple million dollars, I'd bring Peppers back for another season. But not for the $14 million he's scheduled to earn in 2014 under his current deal.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. His cap number is more than $18 million next season. Peppers has already had his contract restructured twice, but I wouldn't count on a third time. Peppers was a good signing, and he still his moments but the Bears need depth. It's best to use that money elsewhere. But hey, if he wants to play for a lot less money, I'm sure the Bears would be up to re-sign him. I just don't see it happening.
Will Chris Long get the best of his younger brother? Is Zac Stacy the next running back in line for a big day against the Bears' run defense? Our panel weighs in on those questions and more:
Fact or Fiction: Chris Long will beat Kyle at least once and get a sack.
Jeff Dickerson:Fiction. If Chris Long beats a Bears offensive lineman for a sack on Sunday, it will be either left tackle Jermon Bushrod or right tackle Jordan Mills. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said on Wednesday that he does not anticipate Long bumping inside and lining up at defensive tackle, which is where he would have to play in order to go head-to-head with right guard Kyle Long. Maybe the two brothers exchange words and get tangled up after the whistle, or perhaps the younger Long is asked to help out Mills to block Chris Long, but don't expect the sibling rivalry to take place head-up in the trenches.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Chris Long has a better shot of beating tackle Jordan Mills, whom he'll mostly be matched up against in a one-on-one situation. Either way, I think the odds are decent the Bears hold the elder Long brother sack-less, if only because that's what they're good at. The Bears have given up the third-fewest sacks in the NFL and you can bet Mills, as well as Kyle Long, will be ready for him.
Fact or Fiction: Josh McCown will make the debate about a starting QB even hotter with another strong game.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Eventually McCown is going to have a mediocre game, but if the Bears can give the veteran time to throw on Sunday, he should be successful against a Rams defense that ranks No. 19 overall. Now, that's easier said than done given the presence of Chris Long (6.5 sacks) and Robert Quinn (12.0 sacks) on the St. Louis defensive line and the always productive James Laurinaitis at middle linebacker. But imagine if McCown improves to 3-0 and the Bears sit at 7-4 next Monday. Are the Bears really going to rush Jay Cutler back from this high-ankle sprain? If McCown plays well on Sunday and the Bears are victorious, the best thing for the team is to start McCown Dec. 1 at Minnesota. Why ruin a good thing?
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. McCown should have a good game, but it doesn't change the fact that Cutler is the starter. This isn't a Colin Kaepernick-Alex Smith situation. The Bears might not sign Cutler to a long-term deal this offseason, but he's not getting benched for McCown, now or later. It's not even a question, especially considering Cutler has played pretty well this season, thanks in part to the upgrades on the offensive line and the coaching staff.
Fact or Fiction: Zac Stacy will be the next running back to gash the Bears defense.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears proved again last Sunday they can't stop the run. The Ravens entered the game averaging 73 yards per game on the ground. They left Soldier Field with 174 yards. Stacy is the second-leading rookie rusher in the NFL with 537 yards and posted back-to-back 100-yard rushing games in Weeks 8 and 9. With the game being played in the controlled climate of the Edward Jones Dome on artificial turf, I expect Stacy to be next in a long line of running backs to exploit the Bears' run defense.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Well, he's next, right?
Fact or Fiction: Alshon Jeffery will get more receiving yards than Tavon Austin.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Austin is a dangerous home-run hitter. But Jeffery is turning into a legitimate No. 1 NFL wide receiver with 54 receptions for 818 yards and three touchdowns. He is a focal point of the Bears' offense. Jeffery has four 100-yard receiving games this season and has topped 80 yards in three of the past four weeks. Brandon Marshall is likely due for a bounce-back game after a mediocre performance against the Ravens, but even when Marshall is on a roll, Jeffery finds a way to get his touches. Expect that same exact scenario to play out Sunday in St. Louis.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Austin is coming off the best game of his young career -- 138 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yarder. That's the kind of explosive effort the Rams expect, and the Bears do like to give up yardage. But that's the only game he's had more than 47 yards. The Bears' secondary might be bad, but I'd put my money on another reliable effort from Jeffery. With McCown in at quarterback, Jeffery has caught 18 passes for 273 yards in 10 quarters and one series. He's a star in the making, just as Brandon Marshall has predicted. And we know Marshall is never wrong.
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.
This week our panel weighs in on the importance of a Bears win over the Lions, the Cutler decision and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears will go on to win the NFC North if they beat the Lions on Sunday.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. With Cutler back and a bunch of mediocre to lousy teams left on the schedule, I think the Bears finish strong, despite a porous defense. They hope the signing of defensive tackle Jeremiah (formerly Jay) Ratliff shores up the defensive line, which finally brought consistent pressure at Green Bay last week. That win over Green Bay is important for the Bears for tiebreaking rules. Detroit will play host to Green Bay on Thanksgiving, presumably without Rodgers, while the Bears likely will have to face him at home in the season finale. For a team that looked hopeless after the Washington loss, the Bears' future is bright again.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should protect Cutler and start Josh McCown on Sunday.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I argued the opposite in a recent Hot Button, but Cutler believes he can go so you have to let him start. This is reality in the NFL. No team would dare bench a starter for more rest to play a journeyman backup, even one as solid as McCown. This isn't a Colin Kaepernick-Alex Smith situation. In the NBA or any league with a long, drawn-out schedule, you rest your stars. But in the NFL, if a doctor clears you, you play.
Fact or Fiction: Ratliff will make an impact for the Bears' defensive line this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. It's impossible to sign off on the idea of Ratliff making an impact until we actually see him on the field. Ratliff told ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy Show" that he is still a couple of weeks away from returning to the field, so it sounds as if he might not make his Bears debut until Nov. 24 at St. Louis at the earliest. When healthy, Ratliff was one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. But he hasn't played in a game since November 2012. That is a concern.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. He will play at some point soon. If he doesn't suit up, that's a pretty big blunder for a team stretching the salary cap as it is. At 32, Ratliff certainly isn't in the prime of his career, but I'll take a big body and veteran savvy any day. The Bears need help, any help, on that depleted defensive line, and I think the former Pro Bowler can provide it, even if it's in spurts.
Fact or Fiction: Calvin Johnson will have more than 200 yards receiving against the Bears.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Johnson will be his usual dangerous stuff, but he's not going over 200 receiving yards on the Bears. Now, is it possible that Reggie Bush rushes for more than 125 yards? You bet it is. And that's a major issue, because the Bears had all kinds of problems stopping Green Bay running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks on Monday. Charles Tillman's knee isn't 100 percent, so that will be working in Johnson's favor Sunday, but I can't see him replicating the kind of game he had against Dallas two weeks ago with 14 catches for 329 yards. I predict the Bears hold Johnson to 150 yards receiving and one touchdown. Consider that a moral victory.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Sure, he's coming off a 329-yard game and sure, the Bears' defense is a train wreck. But while Johnson is a decent bet to break his single-game mark against the Bears -- 133 yards -- I don't think he'll crack 200 for the second straight week and fourth time in his career. The key, of course, is the Bears defensive line. If they can pressure Matthew Stafford like they did to Rodgers and Wallace, Johnson will be lucky to get past the century mark.
He returned five kickoffs for a Bears-record 249 yards against the Vikings in Week 2 -- including a 76-yarder and an 80-yarder -- and brought back his only kickoff return 31 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1.
If Hester, who will be a free agent after the season, continues to be a difference-maker for the Bears in the return game, will his career in Chicago extend beyond this season?
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Devin Hester will play his way into a new Bears contract after this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. A confident and healthy Hester is a great weapon for the Bears to have under contract moving forward. If Hester has a Pro Bowl caliber year returning kickoffs and punts, why wouldn't the Bears make an attempt to re-sign him in the offseason? The question, of course, is compensation. Hester is making a total of $2.1 million in 2013 to be strictly a specialist. Are the Bears comfortable paying him the same amount in a new contract? Will Hester want more? These are difficult topics to discuss because we really don't know how it's all going to shake out. But put it this way: After two weeks Hester has done nothing to hurt his chances of landing a new deal from the Bears in free agency, or maybe even before that.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Like Marc Trestman, I'm an admitted Hester fan. Watching him return kicks is like watching Derrick Rose drive the lane, pure athletic joy. But I don't know that the Bears will be able to afford a full-time kick returner. I think Hester will have a very good season, and I think he's worth a good deal just as a return man, but I bet the Bears let him get that money on the open market and invest in other positions. It'll be a sad day when Hester is no longer a Bear, so enjoy him now.
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