After weeks of putting their best foot forward amongst attrition of accumulated injuries, the Chicago Bears finally had the weight of their tumultuous season collapse in on them against the Washington Redskins. Of note, the Bears have not defeated the Redskins since 2003.
That, along with the fact that the Redskins were equipped to take care of a hapless Chicago roster’s deficiencies consistently. Washington clearly wasn’t a great matchup for the depleted Bears. But then again, neither were the Packers, Lions, or Titans based off of available talent at each junction.
When the ceiling caves in, it comes crashing down without warning.
Obviously it’s been a trying season on the lakefront, but to the Christmas Eve climax, the team was able to hold it’s own. Eventually, cream - or lack thereof - rises to the top. This is the first time in a month when you can say the Bears were both thoroughly outplayed and out-coached. Hey, it’s supposed to happen against better teams.
One would be remiss not to mention a potential 0-8 road record for the first time ever along with the first 13-loss 16 game season for Chicago, either.
Another long winter of draft debates, ownership fallacies, and preaching patience awaits follows an appearance in St. Paul this weekend.
Truly, a new year is welcome. For Auld Lang Syne.
In the last regular stock report of the year, since we’re discussing the Bears, this is a reverse of definitions on the stock market. Bearish is a positive connotation, and bullish describes those who have less than impressed.
(Note: next week’s stock report will feature more of a year-end round-up)
The Week 16 stock report following the Bears’ 41-21 loss to the Redskins.
Cameron Meredith: Meredith has really come on of late, as he’s 7th in the NFL in receiving yards in the last month. These performances come on the heels of a five-game stretch where he had just 18 total targets and only nine receptions. The dog days of the season for the second year un-drafted free agent set in.
Now, he’s again bloomed in his first regular starting opportunity. With 18 receptions for 239 yards in his last two games - helped out by a healthy dose of yards after the catch - Meredith actually leads the Bears in both receptions (62) and receiving yards (827).
Sure, he was aided by the four game suspension of Alshon Jeffery to vault up, but also consider Jeffery’s presence in his recent resurgence. Meredith was at his best making plays in accordance with his number one receiver partner in the early season. There were some aberrations where he wasn’t as much of a factor for whatever reason (quarterback stability, general technique) even with Jeffery on the field, but for the most part - this was a young, raw player that excelled with others.
When Jeffery was hit with his suspension, Meredith became an objective non-factor as noted, as he was rarely targeted and didn’t get open well. His recent flourish speaks to the attention Jeffery gets on the field as coverages are rolled over, but that’s not to wholly discredit him. He’s just that kind of player: a number two or number three option, at least for now. Certainly a young building block for the future either way.
That impressive touchdown is an example of everything Meredith has shored up.
He’s a precise route runner, possesses innate instinct to make defenders miss in open space, and is intelligent in finding those open zones. The developmental track is particularly a long, bumpy road for receivers and Meredith is proving that it pays dividends for teams with patience.
Jordan Howard: Praise everything about Howard. Even among limited opportunities, he’s proven to be a franchise back. Howard embodies all of the qualities you want out of an elite runner in patience, a downhill nose, and power. He may not have elite speed, but he’s overall a special back and beyond a terrific find for Ryan Pace in the fifth round of last year’s draft.
Howard has six 100-yard games in 12 starts this season. He’s seventh in the NFL in rushing yards (1,178). Save for an exception or two, everyone ahead of him in this category has at minimum, 30 more carries. He’s also tied for fourth in yards per carry (5.1). Two of the three ahead of him here, are guys with less than half the attempts of Howard. While football isn’t played in a vacuum, it’s easy to project that their numbers would drop to a mean as that’s what typically happens with higher volume.
It’s not drastic to say he was the best addition to this team in the 2016 offseason. Howard has been that good. Whatever else this franchise has managed to mismanage in the past few decades, somehow, someway they’ve routinely found a star running back. It’s uncanny and it’s up to them to make sure he doesn’t dominate in obscurity like others.
With just 61 more yards on Sunday against Minnesota, Howard will find himself in sole possession of the Bears rookie rushing record. Well deserved.
Matt Barkley: Let’s put to bed any considerations of Barkley being the answer. I know fans are desperate. I know in 90-plus years there’s never really been a superstar Bears quarterback. And I know the Bears haven’t made the playoffs in six seasons - the 6th longest current drought in the NFL.
I get it, I do.
All of that frustration doesn’t mean anyone should have clung to the possibility (yours truly even believed it for a second) that Barkley was going to be another once-in-a-lifetime Kurt Warner success story. He might not even become Kirk Cousins. There’s a reason that kind of circumstance is so rare. Desperate times call for irrational measures.
I will admit, he’s earned a future on this team at minimum as a veteran caretaker or quality back-up. Barkley has proven enough to be able to manage a downtrodden team and matriculate it’s offense down the field. Any consideration more, well, that should be dead.
It’s not just in that he threw five interceptions against Washington on Saturday, it’s in how he threw them. Wonderful work here details each horrid decision.
Whether he was throwing off of his back foot, lobbing a pass in the middle of the field (above) while in the arms of a defensive lineman, or sailing throws to a shutdown corner in Josh Norman: Barkley was all over the place.
There was pressure, but that’s not an excuse for a quarterback in this league. Pressure will inevitably come and it’s the quality starters that make something positive of nothing.
And this isn’t a one game sample: he’s thrown 12 interceptions in six appearances this year. While he’s become better in working a functioning offense since his first appearance in Green Bay, Barkley hasn’t rid himself of this plague of turnovers.
Who a quarterback is when they’re under pressure rarely changes. It’s just refined in other areas such as footwork and general technique. There are only so many aspects coaching can fix before it becomes a non-essential headache. The Bears see it too.
Tracy Porter: This was a bad match-up for Porter considering the explosiveness available on the Redskins offense. DeSean Jackson ate up Porter any time they were matched up together. With Porter as the Bears’ primary cover cornerback - regrettably or not - this was often. Jackson, ever the big play receiver he is, ate up Chicago’s entire secondary, to the tune of five receptions and 114 yards.
Porter has been hobbled by a knee injury, so he was going to offer no relative assistance in running with Jackson and company. What was interesting is how many noted his poor play as if this was a surprise. Porter is an effective swing veteran, but nothing more. That’s what he’s been in his career in Chicago. Give credit to him for gutting it out through injury as a professional and making himself available as best as possible, though. And while he probably shouldn’t be out there on the field, especially while injured - what other options do the Bears have?
You could say Deiondre’ Hall, but he’s still working his way back from a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for over two months. He has to earn a trust. There is something to be said about playing youth over veterans, especially in a lost season, but that youth actually has to earn it’s playing time on the field. It’s the same situation with defensive end, Jonathan Bullard for the record, as he’s been a non-factor as well. Players learn with game experience but they also have to be prepared for that game experience. A tug-and-pull of development.
Other than that corner-wise, there just isn’t another viable talent on this roster, and it’s why this depth-less secondary is the largest hole Pace must fill.
Leonard Floyd: A second concussion Saturday likely ends the 24-year-old rookie’s inaugural season. The Bears can’t and probably won’t risk Floyd’s future in a meaningless game with another head injury. And while he was dominant in the midseason, flashing potential of a Pro Bowl or even All-Pro player, he also had his ups-and-downs.
Through his first four games played, Floyd had just a half sack and was dealing with injury issues. Then he exploded with 6.5 sacks in his next five games, showcasing his elite athleticism and hand work that every pass rusher needs. But in the last three games, Floyd failed to make an impact on the stat sheet even while accumulating significant pressure at times. His second concussion suffered against Washington slammed the door shut on any obvious threat.
This is a player that can be a franchise building block for the Bears. Quite frankly, Floyd needs to be a dominant force for years to come if this organization is to ever return to the mountaintop. To do that, he’s going to need to gain weight to where he isn’t thrown around by tackles, add more patience and pass rushing moves to his repertoire, and in general have better injury fortune. He’s on the proper development plan for this.
A raw, freakish player with a high ceiling that the Bears can only hope becomes truly special.
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.