Well, it isn’t easy to be high on any aspects of the Chicago Bears right now. If you had a full investment, you might consider it time to cut your losses. Yet, we’re only only two weeks in. Let’s see where it develops from here. This is still a rebuild after all.
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 2 stock watch following the Bears’ 29-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night:
Eddie Royal: After signing a three-year $15 million dollar deal with $10 million guaranteed in 2015, Royal had a disappointing season considering the production the Bears expected. Health and availability are the biggest precursors to production with the exception of talent and experience.
The latter two in regards to the 30-year-old have never been in doubt. Royal has been a solid number three or four option throughout most of his eight seasons. But last year in missing seven games, the Bears were not getting the value they expected as they relied on Marc Mariani in the slot instead.
It’s funny how things change once health allows it.
While only two games into 2016, Royal has been the been Bears’ best offensive weapon. That might be an indictment on the offense as a whole-which we’ll get to-but it’s nice to see Royal step up into a void that Chicago desperately needs. There were plenty predicting Royal as a surprise release during camp this season as he struggled with his health again.
Could you imagine how much worse the Bears offense would be if they had actually followed through with the cut? All they would have to strike fear into opposing defenses is Alshon Jeffery jump-balls.
It’s fair to say that the patience paid off given his early reliability.
Royal has taken over the Mariani role as Jay Cutler’s number one check down option with eight receptions for 109 yards. That’s basically the production of a number three option at this juncture. He’s excelled in finding openings in the respective Texans and Eagles defenses. Chicago has been able to design plays around his speed and elusiveness, such as a 31-yard screen and run on Monday night. In fact, they did that on multiple instances, allowing Royal to excel at his best with timing and space, making defenders miss.
His 65-yard punt return touchdown late in the fourth quarter of Monday’s loss didn’t change matters results-wise, but it solidified his versatility as the Bears’ best player in a listless effort.
As long as Royal can stay healthy, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to continue to produce, especially if the rest of the Bears offense begins to gel and diversify more. This is the player they paid for last spring.
Bears young Cornerbacks: In a pleasant surprise, Chicago’s secondary has actually played relatively well this year. Most had the back-end as the weakness that would hold this defense back from greatness, but the guys on an island have held their own.
That fact is especially impressive considering that the highlight players to note haven’t been the veteran Tracy Porter or yet-to-appear Kyle Fuller, but rather Deiondre’ Hall and Jacoby Glenn. Injuries have pressed the inexperienced players into action and they’ve only progressed with more playing time.
The Bears haven’t had much of a consistent pass rush to assist, but Glenn and Hall have displayed excellent technique, discipline, and ball skills. Both have shown fantastic make-up-speed, a trait every successful cornerback needs. It’s the ability to recover after a receiver wins and make a concentrated play on the ball, either in the air or after the receiver has the ball in his hands. In football, even if you’re an elite shutdown corner, you’re going to get burned eventually regardless of your ability. The guy across from you is too talented to not eventually embarrass you. Most offenses also have very creative ways to get their playmakers the ball.
In that respect, the ability to recover with composure is crucial. Both Hall and Glenn have done that well and you saw it exemplified on Monday night. On the instances they lost, both did not allow their assignment to comfortably make receptions, breaking up more than a few plays. It’s refreshing to see tenacity along with athleticism at work. Speed and composure are the first trait you notice in cornerbacks; that meaning whether they possess both traits and if they do, when they lose them with age.
Given Hall’s status as a fourth round draft pick this year and Glenn excelling as an undrafted free agent from last season, there are potential leaps and bounds to be made here. What was once a liability this season and in the future for this defense, now looks like a position with the greatest upside and depth, provided the young men continue to develop like this.
I don’t know about you, but I could live with a future group featuring Hall, Glenn, Fuller, and Bryce Callahan in whatever order. The Bears could have the makings of an eventual elite secondary in their hands.
Cody Whitehair: Boy what a week of repetitions can do for a guy.
The young center still has a lot of work to do if he’s going to be the lynchpin of this offensive line for years to come. No one is confusing Whitehair for Olin Kreutz yet, but the jump he made from the Texans game to Philadelphia is heartening.
Chicago’s offensive line is mostly in shambles, particularly at tackle, but there’s genuine chemistry in earnest happening on the interior. Whitehair was much more comfortable executing line calls and organizing protections on Monday night. He even had an individual match-up against Fletcher Cox, one of the league’s best defensive linemen.
Tell me, how many times did you hear Cox’s name exuberantly pointed out by the commentators? Save for two pedestrian tackles on the stat sheet, Cox-a player who routinely makes impact plays-did almost nothing when matched up against Whitehair. The rookie was thinking less and being more instinctive and that allowed him to take control of premier player.
If everything crumbles around him due to individual efforts of others, it’s not always his fault. His job is to organize each of his teammates on the line as best as he can and then take care of his individual assignment, and he did just that against the Eagles.
Tentatively, the Bears should be happy they’ve found their center of the future if he progresses and learns from mistakes at this pace.
Dowell Loggains: I’m not pressing the panic button yet with the Bears first-year offensive coordinator, but I think there’s reason for concern. While the philosophies and circumstances are inherently different for the two, does the transition of coordinators and relative current struggles remind anyone of Mike Tice?
Well, it should.
Loggains’ highest previous position was as the coordinator for the Titans’ offense in the 2012 season. That attack didn’t exactly set the league on fire on their way to a blistering 26th and 23rd overall ranking in yardage and scoring respectively. So in his highest esteem, he was at the helm of a below-average offense.
If you can recall-I know it’s painful- Tice had never coordinated an offense before 2012 in Chicago either. Every other stop of his was as an overrated and glorified offensive line coach (even overwhelmed head coach at a point). Now he was supposed to design each week’s playbook and play to his player’s strengths given his extreme inexperience? Good luck.
We all know how inconsistent that Bears offense was. There was never an effective identity. Tice didn’t play to Jay Cutler’s or his offensive line’s strengths (ironic) in any form. And what it largely became was forcing the ball to Brandon Marshall along with hand-offs to Matt Forte.
Except those Bears were better off, given the caliber of running back in the backfield.
Loggains, while he has a year under his belt, is starting to continue along the same pattern.
Repeated five-to-seven step drops with an offensive line still gelling together. Not much help afforded to a stop gap tackle in Bobby Massie who is being run over roughshod in pass protection. Not many quick timing routes to get players the ball in space and comfortable while letting the line as a whole settle in. Abandoning the ground game that could help alleviate the pressure and carnage going on when Cutler passes. There’s no balance, creativity, nuance, or playing to your player’s strengths, whatsoever. I could go on and on, but it would be too exhausting.
These are all things Mike Martz mostly did for Cutler in 2011 (save for the drop-backs) and Gase in 2015, even despite the criticism you no doubt have of some of their moves.
If there’s any faith to be inspired from Loggains, I think we need to see a marked improvement against Dallas on Sunday regardless of whose at quarterback. The Cowboys have a mediocre defense with not many studs. While the Bears should probably not be favored in the game at the moment, I’ll be incredibly disappointed if they can’t establish an offensive rhythm and move the ball.
As I said in the preface, we’re two weeks in, so it’s too early to make a judgment on anyone we don’t know about previously. Loggains deserves the benefit of the doubt but only for now. There needs to be an evolution. Give us a sign.
Jeremy Langford: To be fair, the situation hasn’t been easy on the Bears second-year tailback. 36 carries combined between all of the Bears backs is nowhere near enough for any player to get rolling.
However, it’s not like Langford has made the most of his limited opportunities. He is currently 37th in the NFL in yards per-carry, averaging three yards, and tied for 28th overall in total with 85. But the former is much more concerning, especially given how the Bears are using him. It’s becoming clearer that Langford seems like more of a change of pace back. While the Bears offensive line and scheme is mostly zone now to accommodate a one-cut back like him, he’s been getting stoned straight away more often than not. Effective yards a carry are important evaluators of what a running back is doing with his opportunities. Really, anything less than four yards, can be construed as a waste of a play long term in a game. It’s quite average or in Langford’s case, even below.
Debate the merits of analytics like Pro Football Focus all you want, but Langford truly has been one of the worst players at his position in the NFL, his performance against the Eagles only adding to that conclusion. There’s validity to how they evaluate players and it’s easy to see.
Unless Langford starts to churn soon, don’t be surprised to see more of a workload for Jordan Howard, or see Howard even taking over the featured role. In a rebuild, the Bears have to see what they have from everyone. So far, after an inconsistent 2015 season, they haven’t seen much from Langford to warrant more confidence.
Jay Cutler: This isn’t to devolve the conversation of blame, so bear with me. Cutler has struggled, as has the offense. It’s purely an observation of where the Bears stand. Cutler has an injured thumb on his right throwing hand, as we know. The Bears have to survive two to three weeks without him as reported. It’s fair to ascertain that “sprained” according to the veiled John Fox, still means the injury can linger, but Cutler will probably play through it.
Cutler’s absence will work in conjunction with the Bears’ offensive effectiveness. He masks and has for a long time, many of their problems, while obviously sometimes turning the ball over. Brian Hoyer won’t do the former, but he’ll likely do much of the latter in the offense’s current status. With Cutler’s absence until mid-October, none of the concerns above will matter as much in comparison.
Any time Cutler misses games at this point, it’s fair to question his long term future. After all, he has no more guaranteed money after this season. There’s no more commitment or dead cap if he is released. And he’s always more susceptible to injury again, of course unless everyone else composes together. If say, the Bears hit the dumpster in his absence, falling to 0-5, they could look to move on in the draft. I’m not saying I would agree with that decision, given how much of Cutler’s problems are aligned with how Chicago has failed him, but the opportunity may be there. Choosing another quarterback and throwing him into this rebuilding fire would only start the same cycle, but it’s considered.
Cutler’s stock is down because not only will we not see him for likely almost a month, but because these kinds of absences may lead to the end of his career in Chicago, through no fault of his own. Business as usual.
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.