Inside the Huddle: Time to recognize Brian Hoyer’s excellent play
Adam L. Jahns’ “Inside the Huddle” column appears in game-day editions of the Chicago Sun-Times.
If it’s not Jay Cutler, his injured right thumb or his precarious future in Chicago overshadowing Brian Hoyer’s run as the Bears’ starting quarterback, it’s receiver Alshon Jeffery and his lack of targets and production.
Here’s what many seem to be missing: Hoyer, a journeyman, is playing the best football of his eight-year career. The best.
He hasn’t been a mere fill-in for Cutler, but arguably the Bears’ best performer over the last three weeks. Whether or not you believe Hoyer’s success warrants the quarterback controversy that Bears coach John Fox started with his own choice of words, that success is the reason Fox has allowed the debate to rage on.
No one understands more than offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains why things have clicked so well for Hoyer. Loggains expected smart, efficient play — not from watching film of Hoyer last year with the Houston Texans but from watching Hoyer personally as his position coach with the Cleveland Browns in 2014.
“He does a really good job throughout the week with his preparation and understanding where the ball is supposed to go and what the vision for the play is,” Loggains said. “And he goes out and executes.”
Loggains said it starts with discipline. It’s the No. 1 reason Hoyer is No. 1 in completion percentage among current starters. Hoyer’s 71.4 completion percentage has been the driving force behind the offense’s improved production, even if it’s primarily yardage for now.
To keep Hoyer’s success in context, start by not overvaluing what he did while playing catch-up against the Dallas Cowboys in his first start in Week 3. Against the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts the following two weeks, he completed 77 percent of his passes for 699 yards and two touchdowns, with passer ratings of 120.1 and 120.0, respectively.
“He’s an accurate guy,” Loggains said. “The pass protection is good. The guys are getting to the right spots. And he’s disciplined going through his reads and executing plans.”
For the most part, the offense hasn’t changed from Cutler to Hoyer. The system is not predicated on checks by the quarterback, though there are some. Loggains instead relies on “alerts” built into his game plans that signal what to do, whether it’s pass to pass, run to run or pass to run.
“But he’s not changing plays along the line of the scrimmage,” Loggains said.
The biggest difference is what’s happening around Hoyer.
“The offense has changed itself because the offensive line is playing better,” Loggains said. “Jay had to battle through two weeks of sacks. I think at one point we were leading the league in sacks. You can’t make that comparison. When you look at Brian, Brian has been clean. He hasn’t been hit a lot.”
The success of rookie running back Jordan Howard also has helped. But Loggains will tell you everything still starts with Hoyer.
“It’s a combination of him playing well and having the discipline to execute the plan and go through his progressions and not trying to start forcing balls,” Loggains said. “[It’s] doing those things, but trusting the timing, trusting his feet, trusting where guys are going to be, and the other 10 guys doing their job.”
With every quarterback, intangibles are important. And Loggains points to Hoyer’s three years under Patriots star Tom Brady because Hoyer still talks about them.
“[Hoyer’s] got moxie,” Loggains said. “He’s got lot of intangibles that way that you look for. He’s done a really good job in his career of preparing himself for this moment.”
That moment has come at Cutler’s expense. But again, that’s overlooking what Hoyer is doing himself.
“Brian is playing really, really good football,” Loggains said. “But in this league, as quarterbacks and coaches, you’re based on wins and losses. And that’s where we need to help him more. He’s playing well enough to win.”
The Bears made an interesting decision to rotate safeties Harold Jones-Quartey and Chris Prosinski last week against the Colts.
Prosinski replaced Jones-Quartey in the nickel defense and ended up playing 84 percent of the defensive snaps.
Coordinator Vic Fangio admitted the Bears expected the Colts to use two tight ends more than three receivers, but that wasn’t the case.
‘‘The split didn’t work out the way we were anticipating,’’ he said.
So what will happen Sunday against the Jaguars?
Coach John Fox said Jones-Quartey had a chance to win back the full-time starting job at strong safety during practice. Of course, whether Jones-Quartey did that won’t be known until the Bears take the field.
The Bears value Jones-Quartey’s speed and hard-hitting approach, but he started to struggle with the mental aspects of the position.
‘‘I just have to get better with my eyes,’’ Jones-Quartey said. ‘‘It starts with practice.’’
It’s understanding and recognizing his assignments, the route tendencies of the opponents and more.
‘‘[It’s] experience, discipline, knowing your job, looking at the right things,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘[It’s] doing your job the right way all the time.’’
Receiver Cameron Meredith has played in three games and has fumbled three times, losing two of them.
Part of Meredith’s issues is rooted in his physical makeup. He’s a long-strider when he runs, and he has long arms. But it’s still no excuse.
Meredith, a quarterback in high school at St. Joseph, understands the importance of ball security. He knows he has a problem to fix.
‘‘That’s definitely been a point of emphasis for the week,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve been working on extra stuff after practice and making sure I’m getting that ball tight.’’
More on Meredith
The Bears haven’t changed their offensive plans with Meredith replacing injured Kevin White. In fact, Meredith is getting some of the same calls White would get. The screen plays are an example.
One difference between the two is that Meredith, who is 6-3 and 207 pounds, has a better understanding of how to use his size and length to create space.
‘‘It’s all about body position,’’ he said.
Meredith’s size helped last week against the Colts, whose top three cornerbacks are shorter than 6 feet. That will change against Jaguars corners Jalen Ramsey (6-1), Aaron Colvin (6-0) and Davon House (6-0).
‘‘I know the Jacksonville guys are pretty tall,’’ Meredith said. ‘‘We’ll have a good matchup this weekend.’’
THE NUMBERS GAME
17.9 — Receiver Alshon Jeffery’s average yards per reception, which ranks ninth in the NFL. He’s the only Bears player in the top 40.
5.8 — Rookie running back Jordan Howard’s average yards per carry, which is tied for the highest in the league among qualified backs.
46 — Percent of the time that teams have converted third downs against the Jaguars this season. That’s the fourth-highest rate in the league.