By Bryan Dietzler
The Bears are sitting at 1-6 right now and it appears as if there is no end in sight to their slide. The pre-season was promising as the Bears got some great performances out of a few of their top guys. Jordan Howard had a nice training camp and Jay Cutler appeared poised to continue playing well after having a pretty nice 2015 campaign. The defense had been retooled and there was plenty of talent there. This had to be a better year for the Bears.
Year two of the John Fox era has come and it hasn’t been what anyone expected. The fans expected improvement but instead it appears this team is going in reverse. There have been several factors that have limited the Bear’s success this season. Injuries to key personnel could be the biggest issue the Bears have run into. Poor execution, poor play calling and missed opportunities have also caused serious problems for the Bears this year.
In this article, we will examine what has happened to the Bear’s offense. We will look at what role the offense has played in helping the Bears to a 1-6 record. What factors have played into the ineffective play this group has put forth so far this season?
The most important position on the team, quarterback, has been a tumultuous and injury filled problem causer this season. Their starter, Jay Cutler, went out of the lineup with a thumb injury in the team’s second game of the season. Enter Brian Hoyer. Hoyer was a very good game manager, in the games that he played in but he wasn’t good enough to win games (he helped the team win just one against the Lions). He got hurt this past Thursday night and will be out for eight weeks.
The quarterback instability has hurt the team but the position should be stabilized again as Cutler plans to be back in the lineup for the Bears next game (against Minnesota). This might give the Bears the boost they need to win some games and at least get out of the cellar. Jay will be rusty but he’s the best option the Bears have now that Hoyer is on the bench for a few weeks.
It will be interesting to see what direction this team heads in now that their primary signal caller is back. Will the arrow be pointing up for the offense or will they continue their downward slide? Jay is sure to give them a spark but will it be enough?
The coaching staff hopes that they will get better play and more production out of the quarterback position now. If Cutler can play well and stay healthy, the Bears have a great chance of winning at least a few more games this season. If Cutler gets injured though, they will have to roll with third stringer Matt Barkley. If that’s the case, it’s going to continue to be a rough road for the offense.
The best group on offense this year so far has been the running backs. Granted, there have been some games where they haven’t put up a lot of yards but if you look at the other units on the offense, this is the best of them. All the players available, Jeremy Langford, Jordan Howard, and Ka’Deem Carey are all pretty solid guys who can carry the ball effectively.
Langford, the starter at the beginning of the season, was hurt early on. That gave way to Howard who has had a pretty nice go of it so far except for the last couple of games (the rushing offense as a whole has been “off” recently). Howard looks like the back of the future for the Bears. Langford should return and needs to earn his starting job back but may not with the way that Howard is playing. Carey has been steady and strong when given the opportunity.
The biggest concern with the running backs has been the lack of production at times this season. There are a few factors that have contributed to this. One is that they have faced some tough rushing defenses. That will stop a rushing attack cold. Still another issue this team has had running the football is that they tend to move away from it and go with the pass. Even though they may be in the lead or close to their opponent, they drop the running game and go with the passing game.
You aren’t going to win games by not running the football. The Bears need to get in the habit of doing that.
The wide receiver position has much maligned over the course of the season. It started out promising with Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery as its two primary players. The change in quarterbacks didn’t help matters any and neither did the injury to White. Things got even weirder after that.
When Hoyer was in at quarterback, he didn’t utilize the Bears primary receivers that often. Jeffery, the Bears number one guy, didn’t see that many passes thrown his way over the course of the last few games. Jeffery was always there ready to catch passes but they just weren’t coming his way. White had some up and down moments and was starting to find his way in the offense. Then was injured and out for good.
Instead, a new number one target emerged (at least for Hoyer). It was Cameron Meredith.
The Bears got a lot good production out of Meredith and he has emerged as a go to target. This may all change, however, as Cutler will be the starter at quarterback from Week 8 forward and may prefer another receiver over Meredith. Cutler has always liked throwing the ball to Jeffery so maybe he will find comfort with him.
The Bears leading receiver so far this season is neither Meredith nor Jeffery. It is tight end Zach Miller. Miller has managed to stay healthy and has been a very reliable target for Bears quarterbacks. We will see how he does when Cutler returns but hopefully he continues to target Miller and involve Jeffery more.
The offensive line had been making some progress in each game this season but, towards the end of the Jacksonville game a couple weeks ago, they lost one of their top starters, Josh Sitton. Sitton will be out for a few games so Chicago will lose the consistency of having him in the lineup.
Another much more critical injury happened in the Bears game against the Packers last Thursday night. Kyle Long, the Bears Pro Bowl lineman, suffered an arm injury and at the time of this writing it is not known how long he will be out. If he is out for any extended period of time, this unit will suffer greatly. They were doing well and getting better but these last two punches to the gut are going to be hard for them to overcome. Can the Bears survive without the loss of Sitton and Long? We will soon find out.
Chicago does have some talent on the line that is doing well so far this season. Rookie Cody Whitehair has been getting progressively better as the year has gone on and with Sitton and Long out, he becomes the line’s best player. That’s tough to think about, a rookie being your best offensive lineman. But this season has been a season of weirdness for the Bears so why not have something else odd happen?
There is one player on the line that seems to struggle game in and game out (he is also this writer’s favorite game to game punching bag). That guy is Bobby Massie. Massie has had a myriad of issues throughout this season so far but did appear to play a little better against the Packers. Maybe he is finally getting used to the Bears offense? Will he progress or regress?
The Bears have a lot of issues on offense. Each position is not immune from criticism or blame as to how the Bears have played so far this season. The quarterback position has been a carousel so far. The running backs have been pretty steady but the running game has suffered, especially in the last couple of games.
The receivers are sure to have a better go of it with Cutler in the lineup. The biggest factor will be how well Cutler is able to handle the issues he is sure to face with the beat up offensive line. If the team can’t overcome problems there, it’s going to remain a long season. Their first big test is coming up against the Vikings. Will Cutler survive?
Next time, we will take a look at the defense and its part in the Bear’s downfall so far this season.