On Monday night, the Chicago Bears were at risk of becoming the first ever team to lose four nationally televised games before their bye in NFL history. A season plagued by injuries and controversies didn’t look like it would have a reprieve against the Minnesota Vikings.
Well, it turns out that having your starting quarterback in the fold as well as having an overall solid game plan does wonders.
The Bears dominated the Vikings 20-10 in a game where the result doesn’t tell the whole story. Never lacking hyperbole, that might have been the most complete game the Bears have played since the Lovie Smith era.
Everyone fired on all cylinders as the Bears offered a glimpse of what this season could have been early on, and perhaps what’s in store for the future. There’s a lot of guys to unpack here, so the stocks, at least for now, are booming. And who knows what happens in the second half of the season. Chicago figures to have every piece healthy and on the field.
Grab them while they’re still cheap.
On a positive note through the bye week, 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 8 stock report following the Bears’ 20-10 win over the Vikings on Monday night.
Jordan Howard: It’s fascinating how no matter what else this organization struggles with, it seemingly just churns out star running backs regardless of circumstance. Many had questions as to how well the Bears would replace former all-around stud, Matt Forte. Now, it’s safe to say that Howard has safely stepped into that void.
With over 200 yards from scrimmage, the rookie Howard continued to impress and impose his will. After all, when your second carry of the game goes for 69 yards, that’s a quality omen.
By the end of the night, the Vikings were loading up the defensive box with nine players on every play and Howard was still churning his legs through, consistently running through arm tackle after arm tackle. Minnesota knew what was coming as the Bears chewed clock and they still couldn’t accomplish anything. Let’s remember that this was the NFL’s second ranked rushing defense coming in. The vision and innate instinct Howard displays to press holes and run downhill is a throwback, and is a perfect fit for the Bears’ zone blocking scheme.
He’s even a viable check down option in the passing game as exemplified on his 34-yard catch and run from Jay Cutler in the third quarter.
On the season, Howard is averaging five yards a carry and is 15th in the NFL with 505 yards rushing. A solid majority of everyone ahead of him though, has approximately 60 more attempts. That’s taking into account the first three games of 2016 where Howard wasn’t getting many opportunities. The Bears would do well to make sure their budding star receives at least 20 touches a game moving forward while making sure not to overwork him with a back-by-committee approach. He’s more than earned the trust.
Jay Cutler: The irony in Cutler’s return on Monday night cannot go unnoticed.
After all of the reports of head coach John Fox being “done” with Cutler and his entire future in Chicago coming into question (again), expectations were low. It was hard to see the veteran put together the best quarterback performance of the season up to this point against a defense like Minnesota’s.
And yet, in his return, Cutler was in complete control. A 100.5 passer rating- the highest the Vikings have allowed this year- to go with 252 yards, a touchdown, and no turnovers, showed that everything was executed to perfection. While Brian Hoyer helped the offense produced a lot of yardage in Cutler’s absence, there was an element missing. A true vertical way to test the defense. An entire open playbook.
Cutler’s return allowed Dowell Loggains to throw up a complete blueprint of roll-outs, deep comebacks, play action, etc. And Cutler- even with rust- played it all off to a tee. This is why sometimes, statistics like passing yards can be misleading, especially if your offense isn’t producing points like the Bears failed to with Hoyer.
Of course, it’s all the more shocking that Cutler was only sacked once since Chicago’s two best offensive linemen, Josh Sitton and Kyle Long, didn’t play. It speaks to a measured, cool, and collected approach. I try to stay away from cliches as often as possible, but maybe Cutler’s teammates were galvanized by his return, maybe he was just that much of an upgrade, or even both. It doesn’t matter.
Considering the former storm surrounding him, all of these factors played into one of Cutler’s best individual victories in a Bears jersey.
Dowell Loggains: Let’s not anoint the poaching of Loggains to be a head coach next year, or at all, but, Monday showed he’s starting to click as a coordinator.
It’s one outing, and yet, Loggains called a masterful game. From almost symmetrical balance in 29 rushing attempts to 31 passes, overall well-timed play fakes, to properly designed alignments to put Minnesota on it’s heels, the Bears looked as prepared on offense as they’ve been in a long time.
Minnesota, a vaunted Super Bowl caliber defense brimming with youth, allowed it’s first 100-yard rusher, first quarterback with a passer rating over 100, and allowed a season high in yardage by far with 403. The Bears averaged 7.7 yards per pass, and even more astoundingly, 6.6 yards per play. Basically every play put them on schedule to continually churn out long possessions and first down. And against the best possible competition too.
I don’t know if Loggains felt comfortable to open up the playbook with Cutler or in general felt more confident, but he played very well to his unit that was less than 100 percent, particularly on the offensive line. Chicago was well schooled and prepared for every fail safe against Minnesota. The best thing a coordinator can do on either side of the ball is play to their player’s strengths and that’s exactly what Loggains did.
Now that the Bears are on the bye, every player should theoretically be available and good to go for Loggains to have this offense take off in the second half of the season, barring something unexpected. Experience and comfort does wonders. Who knew?
Tracy Porter, De’Vante Bausby: Chicago’s strength on defense was always going to be it’s front seven in 2016, barring health. Leonard Floyd blossoming recently along with the return of Pernell McPhee has helped that fact. The weakness was supposed to be a questionable secondary that began to shine early, but injuries have had this unit take steps back in recent weeks.
Yes, 228 yards and a touchdown for Sam Bradford seems very underwhelming, but the brunt of his lack of success came because of that vaunted front seven coming after him.
Bausby and Porter were abused against both Green Bay and Minnesota. In Bausby’s case, this is a former un-drafted free agent that’s a developmental prospect. He’s on the low end of the Bears depth chart. So when he’s getting burned by one of the NFL’s best receivers in Stefon Diggs on a fourth down for a touchdown late, you shrug your shoulders.
Porter is a regular, so it’s not heartening to see him blow coverages like he did on what would have been a 50-yard score for Diggs early in the game. What Porter has in all of your fight and relative discipline, he loses in ability and results. He’s an inherently aging and average corner that should be a reserve, not someone primarily in your rotation.
That evaluation is the same for Bausby now, even while career is still in it’s beginning stages. It’s a good thing the Bears offense was able to stay on the field and that the pass rush was alive and well with consistent pressure to go with five sacks, otherwise these two would have been exposed more. Only the “fine wine”, Cre’Von LeBlanc, has stepped up relatively past his expectations with guys out, and he hasn’t been wholly spectacular either.
The bye week is again timed very well for guys like Bryce Callahan and Deiondre’ Hall to return, because otherwise, Chicago is running on empty at corner right now.
Mitch Unrein: It’s taken a little while, but as mentioned, Chicago’s front seven is coming together. Floyd, McPhee, Akiem Hicks, and even Cornelius Washington as well as Will Sutton are consistently making impact plays. This isn’t even taking into account potential growth from rookie Jonathan Bullard. The Bears most important piece in the middle, Eddie Goldman, also should be set to return to play in Tampa Bay next week, and then we can really see fireworks fly.
Given the emergence of everyone as well as this health, it’s fair to wonder whose workload drops in the coming weeks. Unrein is probably going to be the person to lose snaps, even while we’ve wondered why he’s played so much in the first half. He shouldn’t be more than a depth guy as he isn’t someone who has the same athleticism as his teammates.
Like his friends in the secondary, Unrein should primarily be a reserve, not someone involved in the rotation if you have better options. You better believe the Bears have an assortment of talent to turn to as you’ll likely and should see Unrein less and less.
Logan Paulsen: There’s not a doubt in my mind that the Bears need to a draft a quality number two tight end who will eventually take over in the spring. Zach Miller is a nice starter, but he’s 32-years-old and after him, the Bears have a lot of unproven talent. Ben Braunecker, another developing prospect, gets a pass, but we haven’t seen enough of him to say he can make an impact.
On the other hand, Logan Paulsen- someone brought in as a supposed quality blocking tight end- whiffs on air and misses assignments aplenty. He’s not a danger in the passing game save for short needless check downs. So if he can’t make his blocks, he has no value to this team.
The Bears signed Paulsen on a whim one-year-contract leading into 2016 so at least they can cut him loose should they choose to do so. I see no scenario where Chicago isn’t searching for an upgrade of a two-headed tight end monster for next year.
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.