On Sunday the Indianapolis Colts (1-3) will host the Chicago Bears (1-3) for the first time since 2008, and it will be the first matchup between the two teams since 2012 - which also happened to be the first game of Andrew Luck’s NFL career.
To gain a better understanding of the Bears, we asked some questions to Windy City Gridiron’s Jeff Berckes about the Bears, their season so far, and the upcoming game. Our questions are in bold and Jeff’s answers follow, and we’d like to thank Jeff for taking the time to answer these questions!
1. Though the Bears didn't enter the season with the highest of expectations, I think many thought they could be better than 1-3 at the quarter mark. Is that accurate, and what is the feeling about the team's first four games among Bears fans?
I think the typical fan had this team pegged at 8-8 at the beginning of the year, give or take a win or two. I tend to be an optimist and predicted a 10-6 record as I expected the defense to take a step out of the cellar and towards mediocrity and for the offense to continue it's solid play (they finished as a top 10 unit in DVOA last season). Unfortunately, they came out and looked flat awful against the Eagles and Cowboys on national television in consecutive weeks. Before the Lions game, fans were discussing what 0-16 would look like and just who are the top QB prospects in the draft. It looked like the boards were going to be dominated by DeShone vs. Deshaun.
Winning is the ultimate salve and there's at least some renewed confidence in the team after a rather convincing win against the Lions last weekend. No one is making plans for January but maybe fans will leave the paper bags at home for awhile. Best construction is that the offensive line needed time to gel, injuries forced many young players into roles they weren't properly prepared for, and that the Eagles and Cowboys are much better than expected and losing to the Texans isn't anything to get too upset about. The pessimist would say this team got exposed early and often and is the worst team in the league (there were plenty of "#32 - Bears" in the power rankings). The reality is that this team isn't going anywhere but they should be entertaining to watch with young players and a growing sense of identity in year 2 of John Fox.
2. Jay Cutler has missed the past couple of games and Brian Hoyer has done a nice job filling in. I even saw that John Fox indicated that Hoyer has a chance to win the starting job (or something to that extent), but how likely is that? And which quarterback is the right option for the Bears moving forward, whether this year or beyond?
I don't know about the first part. It sounded to me like coach-speak where every player needs to compete, blah, blah, blah, but the media has been trying to write the Jay Cutler obituary for years now. Hoyer was effective against a bad Lions defense and he could certainly follow it up with this weekend against a depleted Colts defense. Is it fair to compare those numbers against Cutler's stats vs. top end defenses like the Texans and the Eagles? I'm not so sure.
If I had to put a dollar on it, I'd say Cutler gets his job back when he's healthy, but there's nothing wrong with letting Hoyer play while Cutler heals up to 100%. Cutler has a much better arm and despite all the negative press he gets, is an average NFL quarterback. Brian Hoyer is on his 6th NFL team and is a competent backup to fringe starter in the league.
Long term, the Bears need to figure out their succession plan. Cutler's contract can be parted with next season at no real penalty or he could play on what will be a somewhat reasonable deal for a league average QB. I would expect the Bears to draft a QB or even make a trade for someone like Jimmy Garoppolo. If you look at the Eagles, Cowboys, Rams, and Broncos, their plan was to let a veteran start with the rookie learning when they drafted their guy in April. I think a lot of Bears fans wish they had a Paxton Lynch or Dak Prescott to swoon over right now.
3. Jerrell Freeman was obviously a very productive four-year starter for the Colts before signing with the Bears this offseason. How has he done in Chicago so far? What are Bears fans' opinions of him so far?
The Bears made a few quality signings in free agency last year. The first was Danny Trevathan from the Broncos to man one of the ILB spots and bring a legit presence in the run game. Then they signed Jerrell Freeman to pair with him and all the sudden the Bears' biggest weakness looked like a strength on paper. As a football nerd, I felt like Trevathan was the signing we needed to have and Freeman was the signing I wanted to see happen. Chicago is all about linebackers and running backs, and Freeman was a guy I liked on the Colts for years.
Both Freeman and Trevathan played well together early (Trevathan was hurt in week 2) and seemed to be cleaning up all over the field. Freeman played particularly well against the Lions last week and showed up in coverage. He currently leads the team in tackles and I'd expect him and Trevathan to make an impressive pairing as the year moves on. I would assume the Colts and Colts fans are missing his steady presence.
4. John Fox is only in his second season with the Bears, but does that mean his job is safe? And should he be safe or should his seat be getting warm?
I suppose that no job outside of Bill Belichick and maybe Pete Carroll is truly safe in this league. But, I think the Bears want to be a steady franchise and they should believe in a guy like John Fox to give him time to work through the rebuild. Fox has made two Super Bowls and at least some of the credit for this dominant Broncos defense has to be given to him. As a Bears fan, you identify with great defense and with Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio, Fox has to be given at least a few years to build their shared vision into a winner. Despite missing defensive 6 starters to injury last week, the defense played a complete game and kept Matthew Stafford's offense out of the end zone. More efforts like that will go a long way to keeping his seat as frigid as Soldier Field in January.
5. Knowing what you do about the Bears, how would you attack them if you were the Colts' offensive and defensive coordinator?
Andrew Luck should take a lot of deep shots in this one. Tracy Porter is the veteran #1 CB, but he's inconsistent [and] can get beat deep. The other corner will either be Jacoby Glenn or Deiondre' Hall. Both are young players with plenty to learn. The safeties are also young and inconsistent. I would expect the Bears to roll coverage over the top of TY Hilton to help out Porter, so Philip Dorsett should have a couple of long ball opportunities. If the Bears are silly enough to expect Porter (or Glenn) to take TY man to man, I'd expect another monster day for Hilton.
On defense, try to force Hoyer to beat you deep. I'd expect the Colts to play up, stack the box against Jordan Howard, and press short routes for receivers. Kevin White was just put on IR and was the supposed deep threat on this roster. Alshon Jeffery can get deep and win the jump ball, but he's been limited by leg injuries and I'd make the Bears prove it early. Hoyer spread the ball around pretty well and showed good rapport with Zach Miller and Eddie Royal underneath, steadily moving the chains. If the Colts work to take that away and force deep throws, I'm not sure the Bears can take advantage with the current personnel.