Jeff Berckes is a front page writer over at Windy City Gridiron, and after years of whispered mismanagement by Kev, he's taken over the Five Good Questions segment for them. It was a little weird not having to give Kev a bribe to post my answers to his questions over at WCG this time (allegedly), but hey, the only constant in this crazy blogger world is change, isn't it?
Anyway, let's give Jeff a warm DN welcome to our fine corner of the Internet, and as for Kev, you can probably follow his upcoming racketeering and corruption trial on Court TV or a local community access channel sometime in the near future.
Oh, for those of you that aren't familiar with this format, I submitted some pretty terrible questions to Jeff, and he gave us some really good answers. We hope you enjoy.
1. Jay Cutler returns Monday night after missing several weeks with a thumb injury. When he went out, fans actually seemed glad that the Bears moved to Brian Hoyer, and had Hoyer not gotten hurt I got the feeling he had kind of supplanted Cutler as the starter indefinitely. Is that accurate, or was Cutler always going to come back as soon as he was ready? On the flip side, are the Bears going to move on from Cutler in 2017, or will he still be under center for the Bears next year?
WCG: Jay Cutler is a fascinating case study in what not to do to get the media on your side. Forbes had a ranking a couple years ago of the most disliked athletes. Lance Armstrong, Manti Teo, Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriquez...sure - cheater, liar, adulterer, and all of the above, makes sense...and then Jay Cutler. Why? He does good work in the community, has been by all accounts a good teammate, he was supportive of his backups when pressed into action, and is a decent player (AV of 102, right behind Adrian Peterson). Then you read things on NFL.com, a website I would assume should be unbiased, and they describe Cutler as complacent and sullen. Hold that up to the Golden Boy in GB and it's enough to make you believe in a media bias...
Anyway, he's polarizing to fans but I have always enjoyed watching him play. He's got the golden arm and can put the ball in the end zone, something that Brian Hoyer couldn't do. He'll never be an efficiency monster and he'll throw interceptions, but he's miles more entertaining and that volatility can win you games you're not supposed to win from time to time. John Fox is a head coach that would prefer the steady (boring) Brian Hoyer and shuns a guy like Cutler for his inconsistency, so if Hoyer hadn't gotten hurt, he may indeed have held onto the job. That tells me that the Bears once again have a decision point with Jay in 2017 - if they believe in John Fox, they'll move on from Cutler. My hope is that they keep Cutler around long enough to try and get some value out of him from someone in the league. Remember, this is the guy with the golden arm and someone out there will think they can get quality football out of him. Plus, the Vikings spent a 1st rounder on Sam Bradford - is it so crazy to think Cutler could fit somewhere in a similar situation for, say, a 2nd rounder?
2. Injuries. Everyone has them, but the Bears have been beset with more than their fair share. I counted almost 20 players that are either on IR or are doubtful for the Vikings game because of injuries. The Cutler one was the injury most people talked about, but was there an injury that has hurt the team more than that one? And because of the injuries on both sides of the ball, have the Bears re-tooled their defensive or offensive gameplans a lot, or has it been mostly a 'next guy up' kind of approach with no real change in philosophy?
WCG: If Cutler stays healthy, I believe this team beats Indianapolis and Jacksonville and has a shot in that Green Bay game. That puts this team at 3-4 or even 4-3 with some breaks. So, record wise, it's definitely Cutler. On the other side of the ball, I'd say Kyle Fuller, as his absence has led to a revolving door at CB. Rodgers picked apart the Bears secondary but rarely threw at Tracy Porter who was covering Jordy Nelson most of the night. The Bears defense has been mediocre, and I mean that as a complement from the Marc Trestman years, with a ton of injuries and young players getting a lot of snaps. I think you have to squint really hard to see the image, but you could make an argument that this team is on a path to building a relevant defense again. The switch to a 3-4 base defense takes time and the Bears are still a year or two away from getting all the way there, but there is real progress.
As far as game plans... I'm not sure what their game plan has been. The Hoyer game plan seemed to involve moving the ball between the 20's, missing field goals, and losing leads in the 4th quarter as their defense tired. I assume they think the ideal form of that team is an offense that never turns the ball over and scores just enough points to cover for a lights out defense. An unwillingness to move from that script during the rebuild is likely to deliver a top 5 pick to their doorstep.
3. Lovie Smith was fired for missing the playoffs in 2012, but the Bears went 10-6 that year. Since then, the most wins the Bears have had was Marc Trestman's first season in 2013, when they went 8-8. They've gotten worse each season, fired Trestman, and now have John Fox in year two. Did the Bears make a mistake in firing Lovie, or is Fox the right guy to turn this thing around? How much time will Bears management give him to do so?
WCG: In 2011, the Bears fired GM Jerry Angelo, a move all Bears fans agreed with after years of disastrous drafts. After hitting on Urlacher, Briggs, and Tillman, Angelo let the cupboard go bare and wasted a great defense. The decision to hire Phil Emery was probably where everything started to go wrong. Ownership told Emery he needed to keep Lovie for one season and then could decide from there. Lovie's pink slip was all but determined at that point and missing the playoffs gave Emery the thin justification he needed for the move. (You'll recall the Vikings won a tie-breaker against the Bears to sneak in as the Wild Card that year) I disliked the move at the time but I hated what happened next. Bruce Arians, reigning NFL Coach of the Year, wanted the job because he wanted to work with Cutler. Emery blew it by trying to force Rod Marineli on Arians (who wanted Todd Bowles as his D Coordinator) and instead hired Marc Trestman, who was an unmitigated disaster. So, yeah, there are a lot of mistakes in there.
With new General Manager Ryan Pace, I think the Bears ownership will want to give a couple more years for this rebuild to take shape. I don't know if John Fox is the right guy and he's honestly sounded like a child standing up to the Chicago media this year, throwing around some bush league comments meant to demean the writers. That's not the best move as there are people happy to run you out of town for a lot less. I do like D Coordinator Vic Fangio and I would like for the Bears to continue building a defense in that blueprint before bailing for something else. Otherwise, you're asking for trouble by inviting a vicious cycle of hire, retool, fire.
4. Because of the injuries, other than Cutler and Alshon Jeffrey, I'm fairly unfamiliar with the guys the Bears are rolling out on offense. Tell me some names to look out for, and who might be an under the radar guy on offense you think can have good game.
WCG: I'm glad you're not asking that question about the defense because they've been running guys out there I didn't know existed. It will be interesting to see what the rotation at running back will be with Jordan Howard cooling off, Ka'Deem Carey showing a burst, and Jeremy Langford returning from injury. I personally think Howard is the back of the future as he runs with vision and patience. Carey hits the hole hard and seems like a good change of pace back. Langford is underwhelming between the tackles but can be effective in the passing game. I can see all three getting snaps. Cameron Meredith was Brian Hoyer's BFF but that doesn't mean he'll continue that production with Cutler back at the helm. The passing hierarchy with Cutler is Alshon, Eddie Royal, Alshon, Zach Miller, Alshon, and everyone else. I'm not sure if Zach Miller is under the radar, but I could see him contributing in a positive way to pick up first downs and extend drives.
5. Okay, Soldier Field has been a nightmare for the Vikings, and they have only won twice in Chicago in their last 137 attempts, or something like that. As rough as the Bears defense has looked at times, they're 16th against the pass in yards, 17th against the run, and 20th in points scored...so they're not great, but not terrible. And you've got Jay Cutler coming back, who's historically been really good against the Vikings at home. Do you smell an upset brewing, or no? Give me a game prediction.
WCG: I would love to see the Bears play well in this one and you can write the script for what needs to happen. Cutty throws Alshon open up high and on back shoulder throws downfield, a rotation of backs finds the hot hand and gets something going on the ground, and the defense gets to Bradford and forces him into mistakes. So yes, absolutely, it's possible and strange things can happen in divisional games. My prediction is...it'll be more entertaining with Cutty back in our lives but the Vikings hold on, 27-20.
BONUS: It's Halloween night, so rank order your top five Halloween candy.
WCG: I'm basically into anything chocolate in the fun size or above. Those mini versions aren't worth the hassle of the wrapper. Reese's PB cups are my favorite. I'll flip your question in a top 5 worst candy:
4. Candy Corn
2. Dum Dums
1. Necco Wafers
[ED NOTE: Jeff is obviously a communist that has no taste in Halloween candy, as Twizzlers and candy corn are on this list. Unless he's talking about black licorice, which is the grossest candy of all time. Candy corn is still awesome, though--Ted]