NFL Nation: Josh McCown
Campbell said he’s “been very impressed with what [McCown] has been doing,” in relief of Cutler, and acknowledged that Chicago coach Marc Trestman deserves the credit for the way the team’s quarterbacks have performed this season. During his time as a quarterback consultant, Trestman worked with Campbell prior to the 2005 NFL draft, and the quarterback was taken 25th overall by the Washington Redskins.
Campbell spent 2012 with the Chicago Bears as the primary backup to Cutler after signing that offseason to a one-year deal that included a $2 million signing bonus and a base salary of $1.4 million. Heading into the 2013 offseason, Campbell was simply too expensive for the Bears to bring back.
Campbell signed a two-year deal in March with Cleveland and has started five games this season after taking over for Brandon Weeden.
After spending last season with the Bears, Campbell isn’t surprised by the success McCown has experienced. McCown was named NFC offensive player of the week on Wednesday after throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys.
“Just being around Josh all of last season, he’s kind of like a coach on the field,” Campbell said. “Just watching him Monday night, he’s playing in a way where he just knows exactly where to go with the ball. He knows exactly what the coaches are doing on the board, where they’re trying to attack and the things they’re trying to do. And he’s just doing his part because that’s pretty much what he is. He’s like having an extra coach on the field.”
That’s not an easy feat for a backup, Campbell explained, which makes McCown’s accomplishments even more impressive.
“The thing is, when you’re a backup, it’s harder because you don’t get a lot of reps,” Campbell said. “When you’re a starter, you get a chance to practice a lot. You get a chance to get a lot of reps, and you get a chance to get into a rhythm and a groove.”
That’s what Campbell seems to have done in Cleveland, and Trestman believes the quarterback might have finally found a place where he can stick. As a first-round pick of the Redskins, Campbell played for multiple offensive coordinators. More instability followed during a two-year stint in Oakland in 2010 and 2011 that eventually led to Campbell signing with Chicago.
In Campbell’s lone start last season for Chicago under former offensive coordinator Mike Tice, the quarterback suffered six sacks during a 32-7 slaughter at San Francisco. But that’s not the quarterback Trestman sees.
“I know Jason pretty well. I know he’s a very smart guy. I think he’s a very good passer. He’s got mobility. You’ve seen him here play. He’s a quiet leader. He’s not an outwardly emotional guy,” Trestman said. “I’ve gotten to know him personally. He’s a very passionate, very smart player and right now he’s got good coaching around him. He’s got an environment that certainly on his journey this might be the place for him. Being with [Browns offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] and being with [Browns coach Rob] Chud[zinski] and those guys who really know how to work with a big, strong quarterback like Jason. So that calmness, that veteran experience, it gives them a chance each and every week. I’m sure they feel that way.”
Preseason: 13 | Last Week: 15 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002
The Chicago Bears moved up two spots in the ESPN.com Power Rankings from No. 15 to No. 13 after Monday night’s 45-28 destruction of the Dallas Cowboys.
The meager climb seems to be about right for the Bears, considering they faced a Cowboys defense that was actually worse than their own struggling unit. With the win, the Bears moved to within a half-game of first place in the NFC North, behind the Detroit Lions. So Chicago still needs some help to advance to the postseason, and the club likely will get it if it can just maintain the momentum down the stretch.
For a good portion of the season, the Lions have helped along the Bears by slipping in what appeared to be winnable games. Detroit, which remained at No. 12 in this week’s rankings, lost at Philadelphia on Sunday to bring the Bears right back into the NFC North race. The Lions face Baltimore and the New York Giants over the next two weeks before playing the finale at Minnesota on Dec. 29. So there’s a good chance the Bears can make up some ground on the Lions, but they must keep winning.
They’ll also need to figure out what to do at quarterback once Jay Cutler is medically cleared to play. Cutler returned to the practice field last week and took part in two workouts but was declared out for Monday’s game. In relief, backup Josh McCown produced his third 300-yard passing day in throwing for four touchdowns, in addition to rushing for a fifth.
Bears coach Marc Trestman reiterated that Cutler is the starter once he’s medically cleared, but it’s difficult to argue with McCown’s hot hand at this point. The club could also be getting back linebacker Lance Briggs, who hasn’t played since Oct. 20.
Elsewhere in the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Atlanta Falcons to win their first game without quarterback Aaron Rodgers to move up a spot from No. 19 to No. 18, but signs point to the quarterback returning soon.
Minnesota, meanwhile, despite running back Adrian Peterson suffering a foot injury, moved up a spot from No. 28 to No. 27.
The Bears received one 12-place vote, two for 13, two for 15 and one for No. 16.
Chicago plays the first of back-to-back road games on Sunday at Cleveland before a matchup at Philadelphia. The Bears close the regular season hosting the Packers on Dec. 29.
On his radio show on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas Tuesday morning, Jones said, "First of all, he knows what's happening to us better than anyone. And if there are adjustments to be made, he's the right man for the job right now."
He saw Josh McCown throw for four touchdowns against Kiffin's defense. He saw Kiffin's defense give up 33 first downs and 490 yards. He saw Kiffin's defense allow the Bears to convert on eight of 11 third-down opportunities. If you're scoring at home, that's the sixth time teams have converted on at least half of their third downs in a game against Kiffin's defense.
Brandon Marshall had 100 receiving yards against Kiffin's defense. Matt Forte had 102 rushing yards against Kiffin's defense.
How does Jones have confidence in what Kiffin is doing?
"Well, I think that you realize you don't have a choice," Jones said immediately after the game. "We can do some things different out there. It's not as safe, but it could be more effective. Maybe get us a turnover when it could have made a difference and change the tide out there. But I'll assure you that we'll be doing some different things up against Green Bay. There'll be a little different cast of players out there up against Green Bay. But they used their assets very effectively, those big receivers, and to the quarterback's credit, he put it on them and we just couldn't defend it."
I'm not a certified decipherer of Jones-ese, but it sounds lile he wants Kiffin to gamble more, to be unsound if necessary. It sounds like he wants Kiffin to be (gulp) more like Rob Ryan. Jones lived in fear of all the exotic packages Ryan rolled out in 2011 and had the coordinator scale it back in 2012. He thought the players had to think too much and thus reacted slowly. Ryan was fired after last season.
Jones is like Goldilocks looking for the defense that's "just right." That's the problem. His convictions change too conveniently. If Ryan is too blitz happy, he wants to change. If Kiffin is too conservative, he wants to change.
The owner and general manager cannot be that fickle.
Kiffin's scheme has never been built on tricking people. It was built on great players making plays. He had great players playing for him in Tampa Bay. There's a chance three more of them could one day join Warren Sapp in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The defense is built on getting pressure with four players. It is built mostly on zone concepts. The Cowboys can't get pressure with four players right now and their corners play best in man-to-man, although Monday it did not matter what coverage they played.
The owner has paid a lot of money for pieces that do not fit or have not performed, and the general manager does not have enough pieces for Kiffin's scheme -- or Ryan's scheme -- to work well enough to just be presentable.
“Is that Luke McCown or Cade McCown?” Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick asked after Monday night's 45-28 blowout loss to the Chicago Bears.
Um, actually it was Josh McCown, who is Luke's brother and not related to former Bears first-round bust Cade McNown.
Scandrick meant no disrespect -- “He's been playing great this year,” he added -- but his slip of the mind makes the point. The Dallas defense got dominated by a 34-year-old journeyman backup.
McCown has consistently performed well while filling in for an injured Jay Cutler, but this was a career night for a guy who couldn't keep a starting job at SMU. He completed 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and a career-high four touchdowns, plus he ran for another score.
To be brutally honest, the numbers would have been much more impressive if the Bears weren't in clock-killing mode for most of the fourth quarter. Chicago never punted or committed a turnover.
All due respect to McCown, but he's not a guy who should account for five touchdowns against an NFL defense.
“If you were back there at quarterback and we played the way we played, you'd probably have five touchdowns,” defensive end DeMarcus Ware said in response to a question from a 40-something television reporter. “I mean, that's the way I feel. If you don't play a fundamentally sound game, a guy that can just get out there and play, he'll hurt you and that's what he did.”
In doing so, McCown added his name to a long list featuring a bunch of big-name quarterbacks.
CHICAGO - A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday.
What it means for the Cowboys: With this embarrassment, the Cowboys now find themselves chasing the Philadelphia Eagles, and they need to win intervening games versus Green Bay and at Washington to make sure the Week 17 meeting at AT&T Stadium is for the NFC East title.
If they can, they will be in their third straight de facto NFC East title game to close the season. If they can't, owner and general manager Jerry Jones will have to reassess his statement that Jason Garrett will be the coach in 2014.
It's December, so the Cowboys struggle because that's what they do. Tony Romo has taken the brunt of the criticism for that record, but Monday's loss falls squarely on the defense. Josh McCown threw for four touchdowns and ran for another score. Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall did whatever they wanted against whomever they wanted. Matt Forte ran for more than 100 yards.
If there was ever a sign that Monte Kiffin should be out as coordinator after this season, it was this game. It's one thing to get lit up by Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. It's quite another to have it happen against a backup quarterback, even if McCown had been playing well in Jay Cutler's absence.
Stock watch: DeMarcus Ware, falling. Last week, Ware said the strength had finally returned to the quadriceps that kept him out for three games. But he was invisible versus the Bears before he was gifted a sack in the fourth quarter. Ware has two sacks since his return but is likely to see his streak of having at least 10 sacks in a season end at seven.
There's no defense in Dallas: Blame the injuries all you want, but Rob Ryan at least had an injury-riddled defense competitive last year. Kiffin has had to deal with injuries, but he had zero answers for the Bears.
The Cowboys allowed 24 points in Monday's first half. Only New Orleans and Denver had more against the Cowboys in an opening half (28 each). The Cowboys allowed 32 first downs. Only New Orleans (an NFL-record 40) and Denver (34) had more. The Cowboys allowed 498 yards. Only San Diego (506), Denver (517), Detroit (623) and New Orleans (625) had more. It's the fourth time a quarterback has had four touchdown passes against the Cowboys.
In the first half, the Bears had 12 plays of at least 10 yards. They scored quickly (a 37-second drive) and they ate up clock (90 yards, 8:10).
They did whatever they wanted to do.
Hurt again: Sean Lee made his return to the lineup after a two-game absence because of a hamstring injury but he could not finish the game after suffering a neck injury with 12:33 left in the third quarter.
Lee returned briefly for five plays before he went to the locker room for the rest of the game. Lee has yet to play a full season in his career because of injuries. He is the best playmaker on the defense, but even with him the defense has not been close to adequate. Imagine how bad things would be if Lee missed even more playing time?
The Cowboys might be about to find out.
Hey, a running game: Let's get about the only positive the Cowboys had from Monday's game: They ran the ball well. DeMarco Murray ran for 145 yards on 18 carries. He now has 842 on the year and has a shot at reaching 1,000 for the season.
But why be positive on a night like this?
What's next: The Cowboys return to AT&T Stadium on Sunday to face the Green Bay Packers. The biggest question is whether Aaron Rodgers will make his return from a collarbone injury. If he does, the task is much more difficult. The Cowboys are 5-1 at AT&T Stadium this season, but the Packers have some good memories there as well, having won Super Bowl XLV there.
CHICAGO -- A few quick thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 45-28 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night at Soldier Field.
What it means: Game on for the Detroit Lions in the NFC North title race. The Lions slipped up by losing at Philadelphia on Sunday and opened the door for Chicago to get back into the race. The Bears kicked it open by destroying the Cowboys. The Lions close the season with Baltimore and the New York Giants at home, before playing the finale at Minnesota on Dec. 29. One Lions mistake could lead to the Bears sneaking away with the division if they can maintain momentum.
Take advantage of the smallest mishaps: That's what the home team did in the first half. After Chicago took a 17-14 advantage on Robbie Gould's 27-yard field goal with 1:38 left in the first half, the Dallas Cowboys had three incompletions on the ensuing drive, which allowed the Bears to take possession again with 47 ticks remaining.
Instead of sitting on the three-point lead, the Bears mashed on the gas with Josh McCown hitting Alshon Jeffery -- who was being draped by two defenders -- for a 25-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left to go up 24-14. With the quick score, the Bears went into the locker room at the half with momentum.
What was better for the Bears is they got the ball back to start the second half, and scored on that drive as well to go up 27-14 on a Gould 34-yard field goal.
Potent WRs: Jeffery and Brandon Marshall became the first set of Chicago receivers to gain 1,000 yards apiece since 1995 (Curtis Conway and Jeff Graham). Jeffery entered the game with 70 catches for 1,109 yards, but Marshall needed 10 yards against the Cowboys to reach 1,000.
With Marshall leading the way with 100 yards on six receptions, the duo combined for 184 yards and a TD.
McCown pinpoint accurate: McCown started Monday night's game by connecting on 8 of 10 passes for 145 yards on throws traveling more than 10 yards in the first half. The quarterback's eight deep completions in the first half tied the most McCown had completed in one game.
McCown's play allowed the Bears to reel off 24 points in the first half, which is quite a difference considering the Bears hadn't scored more than 23 points in any of their previous four outings leading into Monday night.
McCown finished with a passer rating of 141.9, completing 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions to go with a rushing TD. He's passed for 1,055 yards over the past three games with eight TDs and only one INT.
What's next: The Chicago Bears take the day off Tuesday before returning to the facilities to begin preparations Wednesday for Sunday's game at Cleveland. The Bears face a short turnaround in the first of back-to-back road games before the Dec. 29 season finale against the Green Bay Packers.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears' decision to sit quarterback Jay Cutler for Monday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys appears to be the smart play, and the perhaps the best way to avoid a repeat of the situation that put him where he is in the first place.
If you remember, Cutler rushed back from tearing a muscle in his groin during an Oct. 20 game against the Washington Redskins when the team faced the Detroit Lions on Nov. 10, only to bang up the ankle on a seemingly random hit in the second quarter. Now, it’s easy to say one injury had nothing to do with the other because that’s absolutely true.
But if you watched Cutler’s movement early on in his return for the Lions game, it was quite apparent the quarterback’s mobility was compromised. That likely didn’t cause Cutler’s ankle injury in the second quarter. But the end result is the end result.
Cutler returned to practice inside the Walter Payton Center on Thursday, but it would be unfair to ask the quarterback to try to overcome nearly a month of inactivity in just four days of prep time in advance of Monday’s game. That’s setting him up for failure.
"We want to be very, very careful," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "I was encouraged today just by the work that he got in considering the injury wasn’t that long ago. So we’ll see where he is next week. It was a good first day for him to come and get some work. I thought he threw the ball very, very well."
Trestman said that when Cutler is medically cleared, he’ll "absolutely" play. That clearance could come sometime next week or the week after, and at that time Cutler will receive ample opportunity to prove whether he's worth the long-term deal in Chicago he seeks. But really there’s no reason to rush Cutler back into the lineup, even if the team were in the thick of race for the NFC North crown because backup quarterback Josh McCown has played well enough for this team to win.
McCown is 1-2 in his last three starts, throwing for 1,038 yards and five touchdowns to go with only one interception. In five starts on the season, McCown is 3-2 with an overall passer rating of 103.6.
"I think they both do a great job, different personalities definitely inside the huddle," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "Jay has a stronger arm and can do different things with just his arm strength, rely on his arm strength, and Josh relies on timing and being where we need to be. So Jay could make some throws that Josh may not be able to make in some different situations. But they both do a great job for us, and it shows. Every single week we’ve still been putting up numbers no matter who’s [in] there."
Ware missed three games earlier this season because of a quadriceps strain, but he has played in each of the last three games. In his first game back, against the New Orleans Saints, he was limited to 51 of 83 snaps after he aggravated his quadriceps on a sack of Drew Brees. He played on 96 of the last 123 defensive snaps in the Cowboys' wins against the New York Giants and the Raiders. It is the highest percentage of plays Ware has played since the first two games of the season.
Now he knows he has to get his sack totals up. He has only five this season, his fewest this late in a season since his rookie year. And he knows it will be Josh McCown he must track down, now that the Bears have ruled out Jay Cutler.
McCown has been sacked 10 times in his six games (four starts). Cutler was sacked 11 times in his eight starts.
“I’ve got to get back on track,” Ware said.
Just last week, Cutler said “the goal” was to return by Dec. 9. But Bears coach Marc Trestman maintained that Cutler is still “week to week,” adding that “we’ll just see where he is.”
Cutler missed three consecutive games due to a severe high ankle sprain sustained in the second quarter of a Nov. 10 loss to the Detroit Lions. Veteran Josh McCown filled in for the last three games and produced a 2-1 record, throwing for 1,038 yards and five touchdowns with only one interception.
In those three starts, McCown produced a passer rating of 103.8. On the season, McCown is 3-2 as a starter with an overall passer rating of 103.6, which currently ranks as the second best in Bears single-season history.
McCown passed for 355 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings.
Cutler said he ran on a treadmill Monday, and “felt good about that,” adding that he hopes “there’s no ill effects tomorrow.”
With the team’s postseason prospects on shaky ground, Cutler said that even if the Bears fall out of contention for a playoff berth in the coming weeks, he’d still like to return to the lineup.
“I want to play as soon as I can play. I’ve been out long enough,” Cutler said. “Just want to be able to help the guys be able to win football games, no matter what the situation is.”
Similar to his recovery from a torn muscle in his groin back in November, Cutler underwent a vigorous regimen to return to full health from the latest setback.
The rehabilitation process included Cutler spending copious amounts of time improving mobility in the injured ankle, in addition to doing exercises to strengthen the area. Cutler also used an ARP machine to speed up the recovery process.
Cutler has missed portions of two games already this season, in addition to the three other contests. The quarterback has completed 63 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a passer rating of 88.4.
“I’m not sure where we are right now [with Cutler’s progress],” Trestman said. “He visited the doctor today, and we’ll know more Thursday or Friday. But [his return to the field will] start with some limited work, see how he moves around and we’ll take it from there. It’s still week to week. I’ll know a little bit more in the next 24 hours. I really can’t answer that question right now. I’m not trying to hide anything from you. That’s where we’re at.”
Cutler missed half of the club’s Oct. 20 loss to Washington due to a groin strain, and all of the team’s Nov. 4 upset win over the Green Bay Packers. Cutler returned from the groin injury in a Nov. 10 to the Lions and sprained the ankle.
With his contract set to expire after the season, Cutler admitted last week that his injury history could affect the team’s evaluation of him. Cutler missed time last season due to a concussion and six games in 2011 because of a broken thumb.
Cutler also missed a game in 2010 due to a concussion.
The last time the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings met, the Bears' touchdown with 16 seconds left gave them a 31-30 victory that put Chicago at the top of the NFC North and sent Minnesota home, just two weeks into the season, with grave concerns about its ability to put a team away.
Eleven weeks later, the two teams are still more or less in the same spot. The Bears are tied for the NFC North lead with the Detroit Lions, and could take the outright lead this week if they beat the Vikings and the Green Bay Packers knock off the Lions on Thanksgiving Day. The Vikings, meanwhile, blew their fourth last-minute lead of the season on Sunday, when the Packers forced overtime in a game that eventually ended in a tie.
With the Bears playing for first place -- and the Vikings trying to recover some dignity -- on Sunday at Mall of America Field, ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and Bears reporter Michael C. Wright got together to preview the game:
Ben Goessling: The Vikings might have some bad memories from Week 2, but they also have bad memories of Josh McCown. Ten years ago, as a member of the Arizona Cardinals, McCown threw a last-second touchdown pass that kept the Vikings out of the playoffs on the final play of the 2003 season. What’s he doing so well in his latest stint as a starting quarterback?
Michael C. Wright: McCown says it’s a combination of factors such as where he is in life right now (he’s 34), the lessons he has learned from being in the league so long playing behind guys such as Jon Kitna and Kurt Warner, and the fact he has been with the Bears since they implemented this new offense. When McCown first signed with the Bears in 2011 and was forced to play, he came in basically cold. Now, McCown has just as good of a handle on the offense as starter Jay Cutler because he had some input with Bears coach Marc Trestman when the system was being installed. McCown obviously doesn’t possess the cannon of an arm that Cutler has, but he makes up for that with a quick release and strong anticipation skills. McCown really has excelled at not getting outside of himself, and allowing his weapons -- Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett -- to do the majority of the work. But McCown is also being careful with the ball and not taking chances by throwing into coverage as Cutler might.
After watching film from Chicago’s loss to the Rams when they gave up 109 yards to Benny Cunningham and allowed an average of 8.9 yards per carry, do you think Adrian Peterson is more or less licking his chops thinking about what he might be able to do?
Goessling: He certainly should be. Peterson had a season-high 146 yards on 32 carries (also a season-high) on Sunday in Green Bay, and though he's dealing with a groin injury, he looked like he was running harder against the Packers than he was able to the week before against Seattle. The other guy the Bears might need to keep an eye on is Toby Gerhart, who ran eight times for 91 yards against the Packers and provided a nice change of pace when the Vikings gave Peterson a break. They could look to use Gerhart a little more this week; he's a good downhill runner who's obviously not as shifty as Peterson, but who can do some damage to a tired defense. The Vikings ran the ball more effectively last week than they had all season, and Peterson has had plenty of big days against the Bears before.
As the season has played out, it looks like the Bears have had a similar problem to the Vikings' on their defensive line, which isn’t getting the same kind of pressure it used to. Why have the Bears had so much trouble getting to the quarterback?
Wright: The No. 1 reason is simply injuries. The Bears have used nine different combination of starters in the front four alone having lost defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins for the season, in addition to playing without defensive tackle Stephen Paea and defensive end Shea McClellin for stretches. With so many newcomers such as David Bass and Landon Cohen, the Bears lack experience up front and, most importantly, they haven’t played with a set lineup long enough to develop any level of chemistry. Julius Peppers is the only member of Chicago’s defensive line to start in the same spot for every game, and he has been largely ineffective, although he came alive in the team’s win over the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 17 and notched multiple sacks (2) for the first time since December of last season.
How’s Leslie Frazier’s job security looking, and will it have an effect on how this team plays down the stretch?
Goessling: The Vikings are still playing hard for Frazier, and players say they believe he's the right man to lead them. You need look no further than how they battled the Packers last Sunday to see that. But will it save his job? I'm not so sure. The Vikings picked up Frazier's 2014 option, but didn't give him a contract extension after he took the Vikings to the playoffs last season, so if he were to come back they'd either have to let him coach into the last year of his deal or give him a new contract after a disappointing season. Either one of those moves would be a gamble on the Vikings' part, so if Frazier stays, it will be because he has proved to ownership that he's still the man to lead the Vikings forward. And if he does stay, I have a hard time seeing his offensive and defensive coordinators -- Bill Musgrave and Alan Williams -- joining him for another season in Minnesota. Somebody's going to have to pay for this season, I'm guessing.
Cordarrelle Patterson first made his mark for the Vikings in Week 2 against the Bears, and now he’s seeing a bigger role in their offense. As much trouble as the Bears had with Tavon Austin last week, could Patterson be in line for a big day on Sunday?
Wright: Patterson and Austin are much different players, and from this vantage point, Patterson doesn’t appear to be as elusive out in space as Austin. Austin ripped the Bears for a 65-yard touchdown run early on last Sunday. But for the most part, the Bears held him in check, limiting him to two catches and one 24-yard kickoff return. Patterson’s best chance to hurt the Bears would probably be on special teams where he already stung them in Week 2 for a 105-yard kickoff return for a TD. But on offense, Patterson probably won’t be as impactful because Chicago’s cornerbacks -- even backup Zack Bowman -- should be able to hold their own against him fairly well. Remember, Tim Jennings is a Pro Bowl player and Bowman is experienced and matches up well with Patterson in terms of size.
What’s going on with Minnesota’s red zone offense? The Vikings’ numbers in that area haven’t looked very good over the past two games.
Goessling: They certainly haven't been very good there, and they could have won last Sunday if they'd scored more than two TDs in five red-zone trips. This is where I think not having tight end Kyle Rudolph hurts the most; he'd become a reliable red zone threat for Christian Ponder last year and this year before fracturing his foot. The other problem is, with less space to work, Ponder has to be more decisive and do a better job of getting the ball out quickly. Those aren't his strong suits, though I should note he made a sharp throw to the back of the end zone in overtime on Sunday that could've won the game if Patterson had been able to hang onto it after Davon House got just a piece of it. When the Vikings are inside the 10, they've always got Adrian Peterson to rely on, but when they need to throw the ball, they're definitely missing Rudolph.
Run D still porous: Zac Stacy's 11-yard run on St. Louis' first play from scrimmage set the tone for what wound up being a rough day for Chicago's run defense. Two plays later, Tavon Austin took a pitch left, reversed field right and juked Bears safety Chris Conte to pick up a block to go down the home team's sideline for a 65-yard touchdown. St. Louis ripped the Bears for 82 yards rushing on its first three plays and set a Rams franchise record by finishing the first quarter with 123 yards rushing (100 coming on Austin's running and a 35-yard gain by Stacy).
The Bears talk every week about needing to improve in this area. It's time now to actually do it.
Resilience: The Bears took a 14-0 punch in the face from the Rams, who scored their first two touchdowns 54 seconds apart, but stayed in the game because of their resilience. After Stacy scored on a 1-yard run to put the Rams up 14-0, Chicago marched 80 yards in 11 plays on the ensuing drive, capped by a Josh McCown 7-yard scoring strike to Martellus Bennett.
When the Rams took a 21-7 advantage at the end of the first quarter, Chicago responded with 5:19 left before intermission with McCown hitting Brandon Marshall for a TD pass to pull the Bears within a touchdown, 24-14 at the half. The wheels didn't start to fall off until the final 3:05.
Penalties still an issue: By halftime last week, the Bears had already topped their season high with six penalties for 61 yards. Chicago nearly topped that in the first half Sunday, as it was flagged five times for 47 yards in the first half. In all, the Bears were flagged 10 times for 84 yards with two calls taking away touchdowns.
The Bears played relatively clean football over the first eight games, but that's obviously changed some over the past two contests. With the Bears still fighting for a postseason spot, one penalty can make the difference in winning or losing. So the club needs to clean up some things.
Josh McCown: With Jay Cutler sidelined, if the Bears are forced to play the backup quarterback another week, McCown certainly inspires confidence. Although McCown threw an interception late in the game, he stood with poise in the face of tremendous pressure all game and delivered the ball accurately despite taking some vicious shots. McCown finished with a passer rating of 102.4 with a pair of touchdowns.
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.
“Uh, I’m trying to process Ben Stiller and Jesus,” McCown said, laughing. “I just want to be there to listen to them two talk, because I think that would be cool.”
McCown took some ribbing for his accent at Halas Hall this week, with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer joking the quarterback’s drawl “slowed [offensive calls] down just a little bit.” But nobody inside the locker room or the organization is complaining about the results produced by McCown, who is 2-0 in relief of starting quarterback Jay Cutler.
Coming into the season, McCown, 34, owned a record of 13-20 as a starter, which makes his recent success seem somewhat improbable.
“Someone once said a long time ago, the difference between a very good player and an average player is reps,” St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “And that’s clearly what we see on tape with Josh. He’s a fine football player. He’s playing very well. His numbers reflect that.”
McCown attributes his success to a combination of factors, ranging from a more mature approach to the game to the bevy of weapons surrounding him, not to mention a strong belief in the scheme brought to Chicago by Bears coach Marc Trestman. McCown hasn’t started more than two games in a season since 2007, when he struggled to a 2-7 record with the Oakland Raiders.
Even after that bout of adversity, a year out of the game in 2010, and mostly fruitless stops with two more teams (including Chicago), McCown doesn’t “know if I allowed myself” to consider whether he’d ever again receive an opportunity to start in the NFL.
“I wasn’t hoping it would happen. I wasn’t going, ‘I can’t wait until Jay gets hurt so I get a chance,’” McCown said. “It was just more of every day trying to get better so that if I have to play, I’ll be ready to play and be productive. Nothing more than that, and nothing more than just so I can be productive for this team right now. On whatever day that is, can I go out and play good football and give us a chance to win the ballgame?”
McCown obviously has answered that question in the affirmative in his last two outings. Asked about the quarterback’s winding career path, Trestman said, “You just learn that every quarterback’s on their own journey.”
“You look at the history of the game and where quarterbacks come from. Some are drafted in the first round and do well, others don’t. Others are drafted the 199th pick in the draft, and they wind up winning three Super Bowls and are Hall of Famers. Other guys are working in a grocery store one year and the next year they’re MVPs in Super Bowls,” Trestman said. “Another guy I coached didn’t start playing until he was 29 years old, and he’s in the Hall of Fame today. So they all have their own way of reaching this moment.
“Josh in an unselfish guy who works very hard, who just has been working hard his whole career, doing whatever’s asked of him to do, and he’s in a position to help this football team, and I don’t think he’s carrying it on his shoulders. Everybody is on their own journey in their own place emotionally, physically, and you know Josh is in that place right now.”
In the huddle, however, McCown seems right at home, despite Bennett’s colorful description.
Asked how McCown sounds in the huddle, Bennett said, “Ben Stiller, maybe, but Ben Stiller in ‘Heavyweights.’ Yeah, it’s a little country, but it’s a combination of Jesus and Ben Stiller.”
“We’ve all heard Jesus,” the tight end added. “But some of us aren’t listening.”
The two could even face off in a winner-take-all season finale at Dallas on Dec. 29.
Two other quarterbacks, however, could have almost as much impact on the NFC East race: the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler and the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers.
The Eagles (6-5) already banked a win at Lambeau Field thanks in large measure to the absence of Rodgers, who broke his collarbone six days earlier during a Monday night game. The Cowboys (5-5) host the Packers on Dec. 15.
The availability and effectiveness of Rodgers, who has thrown on the side without a helmet or pads, will have a huge impact on that game, obviously. The Packers are 0-3 without him, including the game in which Rodgers was injured. They were 5-2 with him.
As for Cutler, he had the hard cast removed on the sprained ankle that has kept him out since Nov. 10. He is listed as week to week and, while Josh McCown has played well in his absence, Cutler is a difference-maker when healthy.
The Cowboys play the Bears at Soldier Field on Dec. 8. The Eagles host Chicago two weeks later. Cutler's status could have a huge impact on both games.
So Cutler and Rodgers could profoundly influence three of the 11 remaining games that will determine the NFC East champion. Here's how the path to Dec. 29 looks (if you want to use ESPN's Playoff Machine to work your own scenarios, it's here):
Sunday: The Eagles, in their bye week, can watch Dallas play the New York Giants at the Meadowlands. That's a tough game for the Cowboys, who are coming off their own bye and, before that, a brutal beating at the hands of the New Orleans Saints.
A win would tie the Giants with the Cowboys at 5-6, so technically New York would also be in the race. We're omitting them for now because the possibility of a team that started 0-6 going to the playoffs is too depressing to consider.
Projection: Eagles 6-5, Cowboys 5-6.
Week 13: The Eagles host the Arizona Cardinals, who could be 7-4 pending the outcome of this weekend's home game against the Indianapolis Colts. With rookie head coach Bruce Arians and veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, the Cards' profile is similar to the one the Eagles encountered against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. The Eagles defense is miles better than it was then and, while this is a tough game to pick, the Eagles are likely to be favored.
By kickoff of that game, the Eagles will know exactly where the Cowboys stand. After the Giants game, Dallas has four days to prepare for a Thanksgiving Day home game against the Oakland Raiders. The Cowboys have to be favorites in that one.
Projection: Eagles 7-5, Cowboys 6-6.
Week 14: The Eagles host the Detroit Lions while the Bears play the Cowboys on an afternoon with profound consequences on the NFC East and North. With Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson on one side of the ball and Ndamukong Suh on the other, the Lions are probably the toughest of the Eagles' remaining opponents. Put another way, a win here would put the Eagles in a commanding position.
If Cutler is Cutler, the Bears are likely to be favored at home, especially as weather becomes a factor in Chicago.
Projection: Eagles 7-6, Cowboys 6-7.
Week 15: The Eagles travel to the Minnesota Vikings for what should be a comfortable win. Unless Josh Freeman is playing quarterback at an unexpectedly high level by then, the Eagles defense can focus on bottling up Adrian Peterson.
Dallas, meanwhile, hosts the Packers. Here's where Rodgers could really swing the NFC East race. If he plays at his usual level, it's hard to imagine Green Bay losing. If not, the game belongs to the Cowboys.
Projection: Eagles 8-6, Cowboys 7-7.
Week 16: Cutler comes back into the picture here. If he plays against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, it's a very different game than if he doesn't. The guess here is that, with the Bears in playoff contention, he will.
Dallas goes to Washington.
Projection: Eagles 8-7, Cowboys 8-7.
Week 17: Eagles at Cowboys. Factoring in the Cutler and Rodgers variables, either team could be 9-6 or 7-8 just as easily. But what fun would that be? If they're both 8-7, this essentially becomes a playoff game.
Ah, but what if both teams are 7-8? That might be worse for the Eagles, since it would mean they went 1-3 between now and then. That could indicate injuries or instability at quarterback.
If the Eagles are 9-6 and Dallas is 8-7, the Eagles still might have to win the game to take the division. The first tie-breaker is head-to-head competition, so the Cowboys would edge them out if they both finish 9-7 that way. The second tie-breaker is record within the division. The Eagles are 3-2. Dallas is 3-0 with games against all three division opponents on their schedule. Winning any of those three would give the Cowboys the second tie-breaker.
Projection: A big game in Arlington, Texas, on Dec. 29.
At the time, Young said the players should meet after the season to discuss the issue. When Young was asked this week about the Ahmad Brooks' hit on Drew Brees, which led to the NFL Nation Says question of whether quarterbacks are being too protected by the league, Young was still passionate in his defense of the defense.
Brooks’ hit, which he was fined for, was unintentional and happened during a regular play. For instance, on Young’s play where he was fined, he said he was going for the ball as McCown released it.
“Every defensive player feels the same way when they see another defensive player get fined on something like that, in that case or scenario,” Young said. “Every defensive lineman feels the same way, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ You know what I’m saying, you’ve got to be for real.”
Young, who was fined for the hit on McCown, is still hoping the players are able to meet in the offseason to discuss the rules and what can change, but he said that it has changed a lot in the game.
And it isn’t just with quarterbacks. Young said with the way Detroit’s front four aggressively goes after the quarterback, it makes the rules somewhat difficult, and that when you hit a quarterback when you're trying to make a correct tackle, if a guy moves, it could become an issue.
“It’s all the kind of ways you can and can’t approach guys now,” Young said. “It just makes it so awkward.”
He isn’t the only Lions player who has noticed this.
Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who was also fined against the Bears, said the Detroit defensive linemen were discussing these topics recently. His opinion? The rules are making them play smarter.
“We were just like, 'they just making us play fundamental football,'” Fairley said. “We can’t just be out there all wild and everywhere. They are really making you just play fundamental football.”
The problem comes in games, when everything is going fast and the main goal is to reach the quarterback or running back and disrupt the play. Then, he said, is when problems occur.
“That’s when the fines come out,” Fairley said. “Sometimes you’ll be in the heat of the game, heat of the moment and you go out and make a boneheaded play, but that’s the part of being a professional.
“You’ve got to exit those plays out of the game.”
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