If you thought Matt Barkley was going to win a primetime game at Lambeau Field after Brian Hoyer broke his arm, you were sadly and naively mistaken. Barkley just isn’t a quality quarterback, and when you consider he was the third stringer behind Hoyer and Jay Cutler, that pictures becomes all the more clear.
That being said, for having almost no offense, the Chicago Bears defense somehow kept the team alive for most of the game against the Green Bay Packers, even while the Bears eventually lost 26-10. Chicago didn’t come out on top, but there’s always the moral victory and youth to keep an eye on that valiantly flashes when you least expect it to.
Since the Minnesota Vikings are next on the docket, Chicago stands at the precipice of 1-7 before their bye week. But now, Cutler returns, the defense has ample rest time with 11 days between games, and a bye week immediately follows after the battle against Minnesota. Whether there’s still something to salvage this season or if it’s even worth salvaging, remains to be seen.
The fact of the matter is, the Bears are getting healthy at an ample time to put up all of the cliche fight you’d expect. A long nine-game road awaits.
With that notion, 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 7 stock report following the Bears’ 26-10 loss to the Packers on Thursday night.
Leonard Floyd: It’s way too early to say either way, but calling a player a bust after six games is some of the most nonsensical thinking possible from pundits and fans alike. When your first round pick in Floyd flashes as he did against Green Bay, you hold back any criticism and wait for more consistency.
As broken down frame by frame here, Floyd was a force to be reckoned with against the Packers, who possess one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
He had disappeared and not been active recently due to a calf strain, and because of it, played on just 35 of the available 79 defensive snaps on Thursday night. Even with that limited time, one could argue he made as much impact as any other player on the field, regardless. Floyd had three tackles, three quarterback pressures, two sacks, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, and a touchdown. In showcasing his elite athleticism and speed, Floyd stuffed the staff sheet as a pass rusher, offering a wider glimpse of his potential.
Beyond the sacks, to me, there was an even better illustration of the type of player Floyd is. On an early down in the second quarter, Floyd crashed hard and fell into a scrum of players on a play action while Aaron Rodgers rolled out. Somehow, within a manner of seconds, Floyd recovered to almost chase down Rodgers as he let the ball fly downfield. That’s just not something an average player can do. The Packers had no answer for Floyd harrassing Rodgers all over the field.
Now, the challenge will be to stack performances like this together. Any player can have a flash in the pan game. Those who separate themselves are those who do it regularly. Since Pernell McPhee is back, Chicago has a quality pass rushing trio to rotate around between McPhee, Willie Young, and Floyd. As long as the young man continues to use his hands, stay aggressive, and play with confidence, there’ll be plenty to look forward to as he grows up.
Jerrell Freeman: Freeman doesn’t do anything particularly flashy. He’s not a superstar like Carolina Panthers linebacker, Luke Kuechly. But he’s rarely out of position and you can still find him roaming all over the field.
The free agent signee was expected to play second fiddle to his partner Danny Trevathan. But with Trevathan relatively limited due to a thumb injury and cast, Freeman has been the Chicago inside linebacker to rave about.
Freeman is fifth in the NFL with 65 tackles in seven games as the primary defensive signal caller. Three games have seen Freeman post double digit tackles- including 13 tackles on Thursday- in cleaning up most messes. You find him blowing up ball carriers on a regular basis, rarely mistiming a blitz when he’s actually rushing the quarterback, and even blanketing tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. He’s even been known to have me jumping out of my seat with a big hit every now and then.
Pro Football Focus graded Freeman as the second best run defending linebacker in the NFL last year as well one of the most tackling proficient, second only to Kuechly. He’s hardly lived down to those standards and has been a welcome beacon for hope for an injured Bears defense.
Cre’Von LeBlanc: The NFL’s finest wine (I know, lame joke) and un-drafted free agent out of Florida Atlantic was pressed into action against the Packers with injuries to (mid-game) Bryce Callahan, Tracy Porter, and Deiondre’ Hall. While there are still a few rough edges to fine-tune if he is to become a contributor at this level, the 22-year-old performed quite well.
On two separate occasions, LeBlanc displayed heady awareness in breaking up two touchdown from Rodgers to Randall Cobb. The overall story and score of this game is much different if LeBlanc doesn’t show off ball skills to knock the ball out of Cobb’s hands as well as push him out of bounds before he maintains position in the end zone.
The man with perhaps the toughest assignment of any Bear in Lambeau, performed at his best. Yes, Cobb would finish with 11 receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown, but a vast majority of the Packers’ passing attack success came in the second half after the entire defense was already gassed.
I’ve mentioned this before, but this defense’s most significant question mark going into the season was the secondary. With guys like LeBlanc, Callahan, Hall, etc. all growing, there’s potential for a real lockdown unit here. All they have to do now is stay healthy. Easier said than done for this entire group.
Jordan Howard: Any number of factors could be contributing to Howard’s lack of involvement and success in the past couple of weeks.
The Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars defenses have much more stout fronts than that of the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions. Chicago has had injuries along the offensive line in Josh Sitton and now Kyle Long, so the same holes aren’t there. Howard also doesn’t have the same speed to make something of nothing once everything is blown up in the backfield.
All of this has translated to just 56 yards on 22 carries in the last two games. But it’s not all Howard’s fault.
Back-up Ka’Deem Carey has performed admirably in the past two weeks with around 100 yards rushing on limited carries, but the Bears have gone away from Howard way too soon. Offensive line continuity and defensive quality plays a factor sure, but this is still the best running back on your roster. This offense is at it’s best with balance. Howard’s best quality is churning his legs and making proper cuts in the Bears’ zone blocking scheme.
Carey helps form an excellent one-two punch, but he’s still an inferior back based off of his three-year sample size. Howard’s performance isn’t only down because he’s not playing well, but because the Bears are going away from him. They’d be wise to feed their young potential star in the backfield once more.
Brian Hoyer: Well, I think it’s safe to say the Hoyer-era in Chicago is over. A broken arm suffered against the Packers that has Hoyer entrenched on injured reserve, has Cutler take back his role as this team’s starting quarterback. Don’t expect the Bears to activate Hoyer off of injured reserve in eight weeks either with Kyle Fuller or Kevin White also set to possibly return this season. He’s not as important to this team’s future.
Also, how Cutler is magically back so quickly in the fold after just four days since Hoyer’s injury is welcome to be speculated by you, of course.
Nonetheless, Hoyer was on a one-year deal here, and the Bears will either stick with Cutler for one more year or move on to a young quarterback in next year’s draft should they have the opportunity. 1,445 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions is welcome play from your back-up. While many criticized- including yours truly- his overly safe play in games, truthfully, it did enough for the Bears to win more than one game in his stead. It instills the fact that Hoyer is one of the most reliable back-ups in the NFL when healthy. He’s probably with another team in no time.
But, given the direction of this budding organization, his time isn’t likely to continue here after January.
Cameron Meredith: Meredith is only on the list here because I’m not quite sure how often Cutler will target him in his return. Meredith was the favorite man downfield for Hoyer, while Alshon Jeffery is that guy for Cutler. That’s a better plan of success for the Bears as Jeffery is a better receiver.
Ideally, you’d like the ball to be spread around to both talents but we’ll have to see how things play out down the stretch of the season. With Hoyer’s injury, Meredith had just one catch for 12 yards and was far from the 200-plus yard threat he was earlier in October. That’s the product you get with Barkley as your quarterback in a complete lack of quality NFL passing.
One would think Cutler and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains make a concerted effort to have everyone involved in the offense. The offensive line is (ideally) healthier in time. You have two capable tailbacks. And, Meredith has shown too much to be ignored, after all.
This is a second year player that can continue to blossom, provided the Bears, and Cutler, don’t forget his existence. The starting quarterback should allow for more diversity, not less. Now is not the time to stunt the progress you’ve made.
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.