Adam L. Jahns’ “Inside the Huddle” column appears in game-day editions of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Bears fans got to quarterback Mike Glennon before they even had a chance to cheer — or jeer — him at Soldier Field.
“Right when I got here, any interaction I had with any fan, the first thing they would say is, ‘Beat the Packers,’ ” Glennon said this week.
“So that immediately kind of opened my eyes to the rivalry and how important it is to this city.”
Oh, Mike, you have no idea.
Glennon must realize how important the game Thursday night against the Packers is to his employers, as well.
It was the Packers’ 55-14 drubbing of the Bears in November 2014 that told the team’s brass that bold changes were needed. In a complete housecleaning, general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman were fired less than two months later.
What does that mean for -Glennon?
Coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains are saying what they have to. They won’t publicly disparage Glennon. His coaches are going to talk him up, try to maintain his confidence and defend him, if needed. It’s what coaches do.
But don’t be fooled.
Consider Thursday night Glennon’s last stand with the Bears. There is a growing discontent with his play. He might improve in time, but the first few weeks have provided scant signs of that. His three-turnover outing against the Buccaneers, his former team, was particularly maddening. His body of work also includes mistakes and interceptions in the preseason and camp.
The Bears still staunchly believe in being patient with rookie Mitch Trubisky. They don’t want to rush his development. No player is more important to the franchise in the long term. Stunting his mental growth and hurting his confidence are real concerns to consider.
But it also has become apparent that the Bears have the makings of a good team this season. The McCaskey family understands that the team is rebuilding. It was required after firing Emery and Trestman. But this season — the third for general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox — is different. It won’t be sacrificed.
In the NFL, the best players must play, and if Trubisky is the quarterback who makes the Bears better, then he must take the field sooner rather than later. The Bears already boast a capable defense and a potent running game with Jordan Howard and rookie Tarik Cohen.
The Bears’ Week 5 matchup against the Vikings has been viewed as a possible starting point for Trubisky for some time. It’s a Monday night game after a Thursday game, which would provide Trubisky with extra time to prepare. He also would have nearly four weeks of game-week preparation and scout-team experience to draw on.
What does this mean for Glennon against the Packers?
Calling it a must-win situation for Glennon would be inaccurate, but he can’t be the primary reason the Bears lose. Anything close to what happened in Tampa could turn “his year” into a mere four starts.
The Bears also beat the Steelers despite Glennon. He threw an interception in the fourth quarter and nearly had a second in the waning minutes when he had a chance to win in regulation. It didn’t happen. And his cadence issues with the linemen led to false starts.
As Loggains explained, one emerging trend from the first three weeks is that teams are dropping six, seven or even eight defenders into coverage against Glennon. In general, he hasn’t faced a lot of man coverage.
“At the end, I don’t know that teams respect us enough right now to say, ‘Hey, they can put a 12-play drive together and go score on us. We’ll bleed them out and see if they’ll make a
mistake,’ ” Loggains said.
It’s a direct challenge to Glennon. It forces him to be patient.
“I think all quarterbacks in those situations where you have to be smart [and] take care of the football, there’s kind of a fine line between the two,” Glennon said. “[It’s] being smart and taking chances when necessary.”
The Bears’ primary goal with Glennon is to reach the fourth quarter with an opportunity to win. But they’re still waiting for him to be the reason they win.
The Packers, meanwhile, are beatable. Their weaknesses on defense play into the Bears’ strengths. The Packers have the 21st-ranked rushing defense, having allowed a league-high five runs of 20 yards or more.
The matchup also carries some historical significance. The Packers have won 12 of the last 14 meetings to even the all-time series at 94-94-6, which includes two playoff games.
It’s a big game for Glennon, but it’s also an important one for the organization. He needs to understand that. His immediate future depends on it.
“At the end of the day, it’s one game, and they all count the same to our record,” Glennon said. “We know the importance of the game, our first division game. Division games are even more magnified, and then with the rivalry, as well.”
@edwardnoweddie: Tight end seems [like] a real position of strength for the Bears. Any reason why it has not been used more often in the first [three] games?
A: Good observation. The Bears touted their tight ends as their strongest position during camp. The team kept four of them — Zach Miller, Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen and Daniel Brown — on the active roster to keep it that way. Ben Braunecker was re-signed to the practice squad after being one of the final cuts. Miller has produced over the first three weeks, but there hasn’t been much from Sims (two catches, 31 yards) or Shaheen (one catch, two-yard touchdown). It’s still early, though. The offense is run-first with Mike Glennon at quarterback. Sims is a strong blocker, and Shaheen has gradually improved in that area, which showed up against the Steelers. But their pass-catching production will increase with better quarterback play. As a group, the tight ends certainly can do more. The talent is there. Shaheen’s touchdown catch off play-action is just the start. Expect to see him lined up wide in the red zone at some point this season.
@Sweeney16: How did Kyle Long grade out on tape vs. Steelers? Week to week, Bucs to [Steelers was] night and day. How much [was] attributable to his presence?
A: Long was good, but so was the entire offensive line. Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and left guard-turned-center Cody Whitehair deserve special mention. With Long, his intangibles can matter as much as his strong play on the field. His fire and passion certainly resonate with his teammates, and it’s apparent they were happy to have him back. One early play stands out against the Steelers, too. Jordan Howard was tackled for a loss, and linebacker Vince Williams loomed over him. Long shoved him immediately. That resolve matters in the locker room. Everyone sees that on film.
Running back Tarik Cohen’s muffed punt in Week 2 against the Buccaneers won’t be forgotten, but the rookie already is proving he can move on from his mistakes from week to week and make “mature” plays.
In the third quarter against the Steelers, Cohen was inside the Bears’ 10-yard line fielding a punt from Jordan Berry. He tracked the ball to his left, and Steelers gunner Darrius Heyward-Bey followed him.
But it was a trick.
The punt’s trajectory actually went to Cohen’s right. The ball bounced inside the Bears’ 5 and then through the end zone for a touchback.
It was a savvy play made by a rookie but also one that often goes unrecognized. Such plays are crucial in terms of field position, especially in close games.
“We ask the returners to put themselves in that situation, and we work on decoy stuff,” specials-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “We work on catch stuff. We work on decision-making back there.
“That was a very mature play by him. [Cohen] drew their gunner away, and because it wasn’t like a line-drive punt, fortunately for us, they didn’t have a gunner in position to make that play.”
Coaches and scouts often point to certain players on offense or defense as having instincts. But core special-teamers such as Sherrick McManis possess them as well, Rodgers said.
McManis, of course, is coming off an outstanding game against the Steelers. He blocked a field goal and recovered a muffed punt as the gunner.
“He’s played [special teams] for a while,” Rodgers said. “He’s been in that role for a while. He’s been in a lot of situations, and the better players kind of learn quicker what works for them, what works against the opponent, and just trying to come up with a game plan in order to win more often than not.”
Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns.