Ah, what playing the Lions can do to re-inspire even the tiniest semblance of positivity.
Yes, Detroit is historically a franchise mired in depressing mediocrity. However, prior to Sunday they had beaten the Bears on six straight occasions. This was the NFL’s fourth ranked offense coming in. This was by no means an easy “gimme” victory. And if the Bears had lost this game, they would have surpassed a year without a home win.
For Chicago, this was every bit an incremental step towards not only building back goodwill with fans, but with themselves. With the Colts and Jaguars on the horizon, there’s an opportunity now to get back to .500. We’ll see how it develops though, as obviously, there needs to be more consistency and flash from every unit to go on any kind win streak.
Anyway, 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 gentlemen that I believe should have their stock fall.
Here’s your Week 4 stock watch following the Bears 17-14 win over the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field:
Jordan Howard: Is it fair to get excited about young players again? Is it too early? Is that allowed? While I don’t want to break out the anointing oils just yet, I’m already feeling shades of positivity from what Howard is and could become. It seems like beyond any of the other criticisms people will have of this organization, somehow some way, they always find a running back. It’s uncanny.
With 23 carries for 111 yards in his first career start-just about 4.8 yards per carry-Howard brought back more than happy memories. If you had forgotten, the man everyone wondered how the Bears would replace in Matt Forte, enjoyed a 123-yard day in his first career start against the Colts back in 2008.
Now I’m not saying Howard is on the same career track of Forte because of one game. But typically, if a running back is going to be worth anything in the NFL, they’ll show it sooner rather than later. This isn’t a position that necessarily takes time to develop. Some of the responsibilities such as pass protection take time, but if you can carry the rock, you need to be able to display that early. Boy, did Howard do so.
Through one game where he received the lion’s share of carries, Howard displayed an instinctive vision to work around blocks in Chicago’s zone blocking scheme. A lot of these runs were slow developing where Howard would have to quickly make a decision and cut. Once he did, there was nothing but daylight once the train was rolling. He even created plays out of nothing. There seemed to be plenty of hop in his step. He ran hard and downhill with power.
Now sometimes, he was caught in atypical scrums for runs of minimal gain that won’t happen once he gains more experience, but for the most part, this was a glowing debut start for a young player with a bright future. It doesn’t matter the caliber of defense. Seriously, there was not much to complain in this performance. He seized the number one role from Jeremy Langford by storm provided he continues to play like this.
John Fox compared Howard to his once powerful back Stephen Davis in Carolina and that’s more than appropriate. Both are and were powerful runners with great size, but Howard seems to be more electric i.e. speed and he has more versatility out of the backfield-a plus in the modern NFL. There’s a lot of potential here and I’m very excited to see that progress and move along.
Dowell Loggains: When everything isn’t crumbling around you and you maintain perspective, you understand that patience is key.
Through two games, there wasn’t much of that luxury for Loggains. He seemed in over his head in exposing his still gelling offensive line to ferocious pass rushes and coordinating an overall unbalanced game plan. The Bears offense was in shambles and looking for answers.
Not much of the game against the Cowboys-where most of the Bears production was done in garbage time-would do anything to quell those concerns. Who knew if Loggains had prescribed a balanced rushing attack, but once the Bears fell behind 24-3 then, all of that notion went right out the window. So we still couldn’t properly make an assessment of his coaching capabilities even while becoming more and more frustrated.
Against Detroit, Loggains finally started to play to his team’s strengths, not necessarily what the other team’s inherent weaknesses are. The Bears are a team built around their defense and ideally, a strong running game. Compliment a defense that only allows six points with a ground game and on most occasions, you have the Bears’ recipe for success.
The best offensive coordinators play to what their team is capable of, not of what they should attack. Make your players comfortable first and foremost. Against Houston and Philadelphia, Loggains didn’t adhere to this principle. I guess it all takes is time. Well, as well as better offensive line play.
Even while the Bears haven’t played the most ferocious pass rushing teams in the past couple of weeks, Chicago has only allowed two sacks in same time frame. The line is starting to gel and allowing Loggains to be comfortable with his methods.
The only steps to take now are to have the same balanced principles no matter who the quarterback is on the field and to build consistency.
Brian Hoyer: What’s happened recently is exactly what you expect from a quality back up like Hoyer.
Work within the confines of the offense. Allow receivers to make plays. Turn around and hand off the ball with a competent rushing attack. Occasionally, step out of your boundaries outside the pocket and make something out of nothing, like the early touchdown throw to Eddie Royal in the first quarter.
This is what the Bears paid for with a one-year deal $1.5 million dollar deal for Hoyer in the offseason. In the off chance your starter Jay Cutler gets hurt, you have someone that can still work the offense into gear, even if to a slightly limited degree.
I’m sure you’ve seen this by now, but in two starts, Hoyer has thrown for at least 300 yards with no interceptions. In 99 career starts, Cutler has done the same just twice. While 300 yards certainly aren’t the end-all be-all benchmark for success-the Bears are just 6-10 in games where Cutler does so-these are the kinds of aspects that create controversy.
Hoyer hasn’t played the best defenses in Dallas and Detroit compared to what Cutler had to deal with in Houston and Philadelphia, but he’s made the most of his opportunities. And it’s not like the Bears necessarily won against the Lions because of Hoyer either. The defense allowed just six points. All he had to do was keep the ship from sinking in only scoring 17 against a bad team. But, as Cutler didn’t light everyone on fire to start 2016, the conversation of who will start once he’s healthy begins.
John Fox said of Bears QB Brian Hoyer: "Anybody's that performing well, I don't think we're going to be likely to change."— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) October 3, 2016
Even Fox isn’t shying away from the notion, whether it’s gamesmanship or genuine stirring the pot. We’ll see the answer on that front soon.
While both are not inherently the answer, the best thing Brian Hoyer has done in Cutler’s absence is create controversy. That means at least something’s going well.
Jeff Rodgers: It’s hard to blame special teams coordinator Rodgers’ coaching for a block in the back that should have brought back Andre Roberts late punt return touchdown to make the game interesting in the end, but overall, his unit hasn’t been inspiring by any means either.
I’m not sure if it’s due to the trickle down effect of loss of depth guys that normally play on special teams moving up to starting positions on other units, but we have a troubling situation growing.
Let’s run down the list.
While Chicago is 7th overall in yards per punt return, the Bears are just 20th in average yards-per kickoff return at 20.3. Sure, there are teams below them, it’s kind of pathetic to note considering the new touchback puts you at the 25-yard line. Let’s not forget the struggles Deonte Thompson was having from taking balls from deep out of the end zone earlier in the year. Chicago shouldn’t be giving up five free yards of field position every time they give up a score. Honestly, that goes for everyone on that list.
On the flip side, Chicago is allowing the 10th most yardage in the league per-kickoff return. Allowing teams to basically start at the 25-yard line on their own kickoffs isn’t that bad when you consider the touchback rule. Yet, when 22 other teams have found a way to make the league’s new mandate a gimmick with shorter kicks and better kick coverage, you have to be disappointed.
After Roberts’ return on the late punt, the Bears also now own the second worst punt return allowed average at 22.0. A kickoff is one thing, but to allow that much movement on a punt return is astonishing. Where is the directional kicking? Where’s the coverage team’s discipline? Essentially every time the Bears step on the field, they are losing the field position battle, a hidden statistic that actually goes a long way towards determining wins. Opposing offenses routinely start in better position while the Bears own is increasingly backed up. That’s not ideal.
Let’s also not forget an almost botched onside kick recovery against Detroit. John Fox had called a timeout prior to Detroit making the play in turn tipping their hand, and the Bears special team guys still almost lost the ball even while knowing what was coming.
If the Bears are to continually progress, their third phase better get it together and that all comes under Rodgers.
Connor Barth: This is largely the kicker everyone should have expected. He’s inherently what Robbie Gould was the last two seasons but much cheaper. Inconsistent, a relatively weak leg-one due to age-and you have the same player. Two for four on field goals-including one on Sunday-with both misses being chip shots, should not be shocking even if that was supposedly in Barth’s “range.”
The Bears doubled down on releasing Gould, which was actually fine to me. My only fault was that was in not having a proper replacement plan in camp. While a lot of Gould’s preseason play probably played a factor into the final decision, the Bears should have had more foresight. Release the underperforming and overpaid Gould while having a better player in mind than Barth. They only moved on Barth once he became available around the same time as Gould’s release, speaking to spur of the moment type roster play.
While cutting Gould saved you cap space, it would have been nice to have a kicker in with a little more upside and trust that didn’t make you want to cringe every time he kicked. Chicago was shrewd and as they should be, but it settled on a player that isn’t likely to win over the Soldier Field faithful anytime soon if he continues to miss kicks. They hamstrung themselves. The chorus of boos will only grow louder the more Barth struggles.
For Barth’s sake, you hope he picks it up and you hope the Bears stop featuring Gould on ticket stubs that undermine him.
Jeremy Langford: Langford has officially gone the way of Wally Pipp.
It’s tough to continually pick on a guy with no control of the situation given his current ankle injury, but Howard’s performance on Sunday is the kind that doesn’t give the job back to someone who was struggling before.
Howard is by far the best running back on the Bears roster and is the best suited for a featured role in an offense. The tape doesn’t lie.
But this doesn’t mean Langford’s career is over. His stock is only down because again, he’s likely to lose the starting role, if not already. As mentioned in previous reports, I’ve felt Langford can be an excellent change of pace guy with 10-15 touches a game. He still has tremendous speed and if you let him get a seam, he can break a play wide open. He has more explosiveness than anyone will give him credit for and you can use him as a receiver.
While Howard is the Bears’ Stephen Davis, I’ll say it now, Langford is the Bears’ Deshaun Foster of the same Carolina team. Always capable of a long run. Plays well when platooned out. Effective in any situation to spell your number one power guy. If all it took was an injury that Langford will recover from for the Bears to sort out their running backs of the future, then this will be quite the fun backfield for years to come.
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.