The Chicago Bears have now blown three fourth quarter leads this season following their loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. This loss in fact could be considered the most egregious, given the 13-0 lead Chicago held prior to folding.
At this point, it shouldn’t be surprising. Bad teams find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, not the other way around.
Nevertheless, the Bears are now in their own impressive tailspin and stand at the precipice of a 1-7 start with the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings on the docket on national television over the next two weeks. How fun. And regardless, there are still some bright spots and team trends to build on, and other facets Chicago no doubt needs to work on now and in the future.
On that note, as always, since we’re discussing the Bears, I am reversing typical definitions from the stock market. Bearish here, instead of characterizing falling stocks, will be a positive of players with a rising investment. Guys that I’ll be bullish on, are the players that I believe should have their stock fall.
Here’s your Week 6 stock report following the Bears’ 17-16 loss to the Jaguars on Sunday.
Cameron Meredith: Chicago appears to have unearthed quite the young player here. As detailed earlier, the previously un-drafted Meredith is proving to be one of the hopes developing out of a lost season. With Kevin White injured, the fellow sophomore has stepped in to catch 20 passes and 243 yards over the past two games.
In the same two game span, he leads the NFL in targets and receptions. While in a very small sample size, it’s hard to consider a player as a non-factor once they start consistently putting together quality performances. For a receiver, that’s enjoying back-to-back- 100 yard games like Meredith’s.
There don’t seem to be any flaws in his game sans lack of experience either.
He has an innate ability to create separation at the stems of his routes, can beat press coverage, and breaks tackles and finds seams to make plays after the catch. He also sits down in zones presenting himself to his quarterback. These are all traits that come with intelligence, timing, and natural talent. Meredith is lucky to possess all three.
Use whatever adjective you want to describe this guy’s pleasant surprise. Blossoming, flourishing, excelling, etc. It’s all applicable.
While you’re undoubtedly not happy about the Bears’ results as a team this season, continue to keep an eye out on guys like Meredith. These are the players that will have the Bears in good position once or if they all grow up.
Ka’Deem Carey: Coach John Fox didn’t offer much as to explain why Carey had more success and received more carries at certain points than Jordan Howard did against the Jaguars. “It was just how it went”, doesn’t exactly shine a light on why your best tailback wasn’t getting the ball. Even without context, it was nice to see the third-year Carey not waste the trust with increased work from his coach.
Based off of the previous standards they set against the putrid Colts and Lions defense’s, the Bears running game struggled against the Jaguars on Sunday. Many runs were for minimal gain or stopped at the line of scrimmage altogether with Chicago losing the battle in the trenches.
Yet, even despite Chicago being largely pushed around, Carey averaged approximately five yards a carry and accrued 50 yards on nine attempts. He showed his always excellent downhill running style and burst through when finding alleys created by the Bears offensive line.
These kinds of performances are important for guys like Carey considering he’s likely to be on the roster bubble in the offseason. Whenever Jeremy Langford returns from an ankle injury, that’s a heated competition for the number two role behind Howard.
With Langford on the sidelines for the time being, now’s the time for Carey to remind his coaches that he in fact, can play, and does exist. And even if he doesn’t outright win the back-up role, Carey could play himself into forcing the Bears to go back into a back-by-committee approach.
Making that decision harder on Fox and company isn’t the worst idea.
Bobby Massie: Quietly, as Steven mentioned in his notes, Massie actually had a relatively decent game. In fact, as the offensive line has gelled in the past month or so, you’ve heard his name less and less.
That can go a variety of ways.
If we’re not noticing anything egregious in play, Massie is holding his own as the average or slightly below average tackle he is. If he’s executing at a high level, we’re highlighting his dominance and athleticism. If he’s outright playing awfully, then we’re talking about his missed blocks and Ryan Pace’s misguided signings as always.
For Massie, the former is correct in describing his performance against Jacksonville and otherwise. With the Bears line coming together and Brian Hoyer releasing the ball quickly on pass plays, Chicago has been able to scheme around Massie’s deficiencies. The competition and quality of pass rushers hasn’t necessarily been high caliber, but you have to give credit where credit is due.
He’s still a stop gap tackle and should no where near be considered the long term solution following this season, but progress for him is to not be considered a downright liability.
Make more than the occasional quality block in the running game and otherwise we don’t really notice you. That’s the best sentiment you can ask for from a guy like Massie.
Brian Hoyer: The most amount of points the Bears have scored during Hoyer’s time in filling in for the injured Jay Cutler is 23. 23 points against the league’s 28th overall and 29th scoring defense in the Indianapolis Colts.
Otherwise, Chicago has seemed to plateau around a 16-17 point average as the league’s 31st scoring attack, which is decidedly abhorrent in every way possible.
But in the same time frame, the Bears have a top five offense and Hoyer has thrown for 300 yards in four straight games. The math just doesn’t seem to add up here.
Look closer, and you see that Chicago is just 25th overall in red zone offense and converts just 33 percent of their third downs- good for 30th in the NFL. They don’t succeed in high leverage situations. The Hoyer-led Bears dink and dunk their way down the field on the first reads on progressions and then lose all coherence in the red areas. A recipe for misleading “success”.
This isn’t all a knock on Hoyer’s performance. If we’re being frank, you can’t expect anymore quality from a backup quarterback. Hoyer is playing well within himself, but it’s not enough. He can’t stretch the defense vertically to keep the unit honest and settles well short of the sticks on third downs routinely, because he doesn’t have the arm or confidence to fit the ball in tight windows. It’s why he averaged just over six yards an attempt on 49 passes on Sunday.
He takes what the defense gives him almost to a fault.
In turn, the defense begins to allow everything underneath and sit on routes in a pseudo prevent defense, knowing Hoyer will almost always take the check down if given to him. Say what you want about Cutler and his crushing mistakes, but if the play breaks down, he’s still looking downfield to make a play. Hoyer won’t make the backbreaking mistake, but he’ll check down to his first read regardless of the chaos around him because he doesn’t have the ability to do more.
Until Cutler returns, don’t expect Chicago’s red zone scoring to improve much if at all. It doesn’t mean they can’t win with Hoyer in the meantime but what you’re seeing now is what will stay the same. The fact that this was ever considered a quarterback controversy is laughable.
Pat O’Donnell: In your weekly knock on Chicago special teams, it’s time to take a look at the decidedly underwhelming O’Donnell. With Connor Barth perfect on three field goals and an extra point, let’s notice his struggling partner in crime.
The third-year punter is second to last in the NFL in net yardage per punt at 35.6. His average punt of 42.8 is good for 29th in the league. He’s pinned opponents inside their 20 just eight times. The latter statistic could be seen as a product of the offense sometimes not moving the ball with O’Donnell having to kick often from his own end in most cases. But since Chicago has been executing well other than the red zone, O’Donnell has put together a disturbing trend.
You have to nitpick at one of the hidden statistics that decides the result of every game.
The field position battle puts offense’s and defense’s in precarious or advantageous situations on a regular basis. It’s no coincidence that two of the league’s best punters at pinning opponents in Jeff Locke and Ryan Allen, play for the Patriots and Vikings respectively- otherwise known as the two best teams in the league.
As a punter you either have a big or accurate leg. Right now, and really in his short career, O’Donnell has neither. I’m not sure how much of a priority it’ll be to move on from a punter Phil Emery once used a sixth round draft pick on, but you’d be mistaken to think Chicago won’t look at all competition options in the offseason.
John Fox: As the Bears continue to go down this whirlpool of failure, there’s no one to blame except Fox for not rallying his troops. It’d be one thing if Fox wasn’t so defiant publicly over his team’s mistakes, but he seems to be committed to going down with the ship.
From taking a shot at reporters and their “hot dogs” in defending Hoyer not seeing an open Alshon Jeffery on the final play of the game against the Colts, to noting a kicker actually going perfect on kicks as a lone positive- there’s no rhyme or reason to understanding this man.
John Fox: "It's tuesday."— Steven (@SJS_illini) October 18, 2016
Me: (consults three star charts, four calendars, the Farmer's Almanac, the village wise man, and a newspaper) https://t.co/gJZMUZ6GYL
While the Bears have been decimated by injuries, particularly to three of their most important positions: quarterback, nose tackle, and outside linebacker, they’ve still been in each of the last three games with a chance to win. Save for the Lions game, for one reason or another, discipline seems to escape them in the form of a crucial penalty, blown coverage etc. at the most inopportune times. That’s the mark of a poorly coached team and a leader with no answers.
A shining light here is that it doesn’t seem like Fox’s players have given up on him. They’re still playing hard and not going through the motions as the Bears used to do with Marc Trestman. It’s just impressive how they creatively find new ways to blow late leads and lose football games. When cornerback Tracy Porter fell down in coverage on the 57-yard touchdown to Jaguars receiver, Arrelious Benn- a player who hadn’t scored since 2012- it was just a new standard for futility.
The coincidental second year improvement and rise to playoff contention by Fox teams, was just that, a coincident. How his team responds to the spotlight against divisional rivals in the next two weeks will likely decide his ultimate fate.
And if the Bears continue to swirl around the drain and make the same mistakes over and over, don’t expect him to have an opportunity at attempting for a third year playoff berth.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.