All of the discussion surrounding the Chicago Bears leading into the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was that of confidence. With newfound health and a favorable schedule, the air surrounding Halas Hall was that of a magical run. Everyone coming together to become hot at the right time - cliches abound.
The Buccaneers were supposed to be a stepping stone towards this journey. And yet, for all of the hot air head coach John Fox and his group were blowing, Chicago put on it’s worst performance of the season, against a team who hadn’t won a home game all year.
Considering the competition, there really shouldn’t be much to be pleased with or build on for the Bears from this game in Florida, but we’ll go through the exercise 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 players that I believe should have their stock fall.
Here’s your Week 10 stock report following the Bears’ 36-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Leonard Floyd: After a slow start, in my mind, one could start to piece together a Defensive Rookie of the Year argument for Floyd. A little confidence goes a long way.
In his last three games, Floyd has 4.5 sacks, and has consistently turned offensive linemen into turnstiles using his athleticism. Until he gains strength in the offseason, there will be questions about his frame, but Floyd’s adjusted well utilizing the tools available.
On Sunday, Floyd had 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss, two quarterback hits, and a pass defended. Objectively, he should have had at least two sacks while coming free on designed stunts. He needs to learn to control his rush and not overrun the play when he has a dead-to-rights shot.
But that’s mostly nitpicking considering how the Bears are using Floyd. He’s become the man counted on to finish those designed line games as he’s earned Fangio’s trust. More quality and consistency will come with dominance.
Teams have started to double team Floyd, which mostly neutralizes him given his size, but it opens up other match-ups for guys along the defensive front. Who the offensive line focuses on tells you who they believe can wreck their game plan the most. The fact that Floyd is being paid this respect as such a young player speaks volumes, and is heartening for his future.
Tracy Porter: For all of the health the Bears enjoyed coming back to their defensive front with the return of defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, the secondary hasn’t had the same luck.
Bryce Callahan and Deiondre’ Hall - two pieces who helped stabilize Chicago in the early season - haven’t been available, and that’s placed a bare-bones back end into the spotlight.
It’s all the more admirable when Porter steps in to fill that void and mostly slow one of the NFL’s very best receivers in Mike Evans. Porter mirrored Evans - a player that should have success against any defensive back - all day long in single coverage.
Aside from a 39-yard catch on an extended miraculous scramble drill between Winston and Evans, he was held to just three receptions for 25 yards, and no scores. For perspective, consider that Evans was top five in the league in receiving coming in and is tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns. Porter has always done well an underdog.
While his future in Chicago is murky after this season due to the potentially organization wanting to get younger at the position, credit the veteran Porter for stepping up his level of play when called upon.
Pernell McPhee: Since his full deployment while off of the physically unable to perform list against the Green Bay Packers, McPhee has slowly become the force he was in the 2015 season pre-knee injury.
He’s regained his explosiveness, has a sudden jump off the ball again, and is physically blowing back offensive tackles even when they get their hands on him. Buccaneers right tackle Demar Dotson had a nightmare assignment on Sunday and McPhee made him pay.
There are no doubts about McPhee’s ability when healthy. The Bears just need to see this player more consistently while monitoring his recovery and snap count. It’ll be a slow crossed-fingers process that they can’t afford to lose out on. This defensive front seven looks dramatically improved not only because of Floyd’s rise, but because of what McPhee has brought back to the table as a legitimate threat.
Jay Cutler: I’ve long been an advocate of Cutler and have recognized how the Bears have failed his career arc in Chicago. But I cannot under good conscience defend his performance in Tampa Bay.
That was one of the two or three worst games I have ever seen Cutler play. The only other match-ups that come to mind are his road games against the Packers and San Francisco 49ers in 2009 where he threw four and five interceptions respectively, in two winnable games.
This might have been worse.
Tampa Bay had a bottom three defense coming into the game and still is objectively mediocre. A 40-point outburst allowed against the Atlanta Falcons only a week previous is but one example of their awful defense.
Even average game-management from Cutler probably wins this game, but no. Two early interceptions on poor decisions and mechanics - including a pick-six to Chris Conte of all people - immediately placed the Bears in a precarious position. He sailed throws regularly, was generally inaccurate, and consistently miscommunicated with his receivers.
What was most egregious was his fumble early in the second quarter with the Bears in the red zone. He held the ball with one hand while scrambling to the left, leaving it dangling for a defender to punch out and stifle a scoring drive. This is something he’s lazily never fixed in 11 years of his career.
Cutler is a player that’s stuck around in Chicago for so long because he makes the difficult plays routine and screws up simple fundamentals at a moment’s notice. You notice these laser throws and think “hey, maybe there’s something here!”, but then the next game he takes you for a ride.
Perhaps his most fatal flaw is how he reacts when things aren’t going well. Too often, as was seen in Tampa Bay, when Cutler makes a mistake, his entire game sinks. Essentially, he’s one of the streakiest quarterbacks in the league. When he’s on, he’s on. When he’s off, he turns in these performances that open him up to criticism.
Sure, it’s convenient that there were reports from two anonymous sources that Cutler has lost the locker room, only after an awful game. When he wins against the Vikings, the Bears supposedly rallied around him, which would contradict those sentiments. It’s just piling on to pile on, but at some point when do you not buy into it?
Most of this roster has only been with the Bears for two years as constructed by general manager Ryan Pace. Maybe it’s flawed character to not say these feelings to Cutler privately, but also, maybe it’s just frustration. Maybe there’s no reason to be invested in or believe in Cutler if all they see is these consistent highs-and-lows. His future is very much in question, after all.
I have no doubt that Cutler hasn’t actually lost the locker room, but you’re mistaken if you don’t think this team’s morale takes a hit as soon as they see him folding. The number of supporters Cutler has will dwindle down the stretch if he doesn’t give them reason to believe.
Dowell Loggains: So much for all of the goodwill Loggains built against the Minnesota Vikings. Even that performance seems less than impressive now considering the Vikings’ ongoing four-game losing streak.
Still, that masterfully called game of balance by the coordinator for the Bears that Monday night was nowhere to be seen against the Buccaneers. What stood out most is Jordan Howard receiving only 15 carries while consistently gashing Tampa Bay’s defensive front to the tune of 100 yards. There’s no excuse to work away from that success.
The tone was set when on the Bears’ second possession of the game, Loggains had the offense go empty backfield on third and two. Cutler makes a poor decision throwing towards Jeffery leading to an interception that should have never happened as the ball shouldn’t have been in his hands.
Then, after a fumble by Howard halfway through the second quarter while he was still averaging six yards a carry, he barely saw any attempts the rest of the way. What plagues too many coaches in this league is sending a message to their young players or over thinking what should be a simple game.
All offensive positivity the Bears were enjoying was on the back of Howard. He is their offense and what allows them to keep pressure off of the quarterback. There’s no reason to stop feeding him the ball because of one mistake or your flawed game plan going in. Why Loggains and by extension, Fox, didn’t make an adjustment is beyond me. Never take the ball out of your best player’s hands.
Quick note: Chicago has scored only 13 touchdowns all year and has the 31st ranked scoring offense for a reason. New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount only has one less by himself. Someone has to be responsible.
The knocks against this staff keep coming.
John Fox: Are we at the point where we can ask if Fox has lost the team? It reeks eerily of Marc Trestman. The team is “confident” all week just like Trestman’s Bears always had “good” practices, and then comes out and lays an egg.
Injuries were the scapegoat for a 2-6 start, but the Bears were mostly healthy now before again losing Kyle Long. You can only use the loss of players so much before it’s evident your team looks lost. By the second half in Tampa Bay, the defense was clearly gassed and the team as a whole, demoralized. Otherwise playing very much like they don’t believe in the man in charge.
At minimum, we can say his message is wearing thin. Fox was hired to oversee the rebuild of a young team, and while a lot of talent has been brought in, the results haven’t changed. The Bears have never been above .500 with Fox and it took him 24 games to win eight. It took Trestman 14 games to win eight. Yes the rosters were inherently different on the latter statistic, but it’s alarming how far the Bears haven’t come.
Besides Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, there might not be a hotter coaching seat in the NFL. Fox needs to have the Bears really come together in these last seven games if he’s to keep his job. Something makes me doubt that will happen.
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.