The Sun-Times’ experts can answer your Bears questions all week on Twitter. Here’s a sampling of Tuesday’s queries sent to @MarkPotash, who responds with more than 140 characters:
Yes it is, for the sake of both parties. It’s time for the Bears to start over at quarterback. No doubt the Bears could do a lot worse than Cutler, but after eight years, it’s clear they can also do a lot better. Cutler has had plenty of tough sledding in Chicago, but he hasn’t been able to max out when he’s had the wind at his back. It’s time for Ryan Pace to spread his GM wings and find his Drew Brees.
As for Cutler, after eight seasons in Chicago he also deserves a fresh start and a chance to find the prime conditions — preferably an established, playoff-contending team with a solid defense — to take full advantage of the maturity he has at 33 that he didn’t have at 26.
For the record, Cutler is signed for the next four seasons. But the money is not guaranteed, which allows the Bears to cut him or trade him, with a manageable “dead money” cap hit of $2 million next season. It’s too early to tell if there’s a college player worthy of a top-5 pick. Many — but not all — mock drafts have a quarterback — DeShone Kizer, DeShaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky — going in the top five. The Bears still need so much help that they are more likely to take the best football player/athlete with a top-5 pick than reach for a quarterback.
It’s difficult to judge what Barkley’s two starts say about what kind of quarterback he can be. He’s faced two sub-standard defenses (the Titans and 49ers), but has been effective in an offense that is missing Alshon Jeffery, Zach Miller, Kevin White, Josh Sitton and Kyle Long. All that does right nowis keep him in contention for a ticket to a training-camp competition in 2017, with Connor Shaw, Brian Hoyer, a draft pick and maybe a free-agent/trade acquisition.
There are still a few holdouts — most notably the Cardinals’ Bruce Arians — but deferring the kick/receive choice until the second half is pretty much standard operating procedure in the NFL today.
Through Week 13, 81.6 percent of teams that have won the coin toss (155-of-190) have deferred this season. That’s actually down from a high of 82.5 percent last season, but a big jump from recent seasons — from 7.8 percent in 2008, the first year the coin-toss rule allowed teams to defer, to 41 percent in 2011 and 68 percent in 2014.
It’s probably no surprise that Patriots coach Bill Belichick was head of the curve on the deferring tack. In 2008, when fewer than one in 10 coaches deferred after winning the opening coin toss, Belichick deferred 7-of-8 times the Patriots won the toss. The only time he received was in Week 1 against the Chiefs, when he still had Tom Brady. After Brady suffered a season-ending injury, Belichick deferred every time and put it on his team’s defense to set the tone. The Patriots went 11-5.
This is a timely week for this question, because the Bears victory over the 49ers is a good example of why teams defer — they like having the opportunity for the last possession of the first half and the first possession of the second half. On Sunday against the 49ers, the Bears were trailing 6-0 late in the first half when they scored a touchdown in the last minute of the half and then another touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter to take a 14-6 lead and control of the game.
Teams with good defenses like having their defense on the field first. Arians, an offensive coach, still likes the old-school m.o. of taking control of a game by scoring early. He has chosen to receive the opening kickoff after winning the coin toss 29-out-of-30 times in the last four seasons, including 6-of-6 this season.
The Bears are committed to building through the draft under Ryan Pace and he’s more likely to stay that course than make a panicky move even after a disappointing second season. If there’s a proven Pro Bowl caliber offensive tackle or safety available, that might be a possible splurge, but the Bears have young players they hope to develop at most key positions. With three draft classes under his belt heading into the 2017 season, growth from within will be a bigger mantra than getting a boost from multiple big free-agent signings.
A makeshift Bears secondary played one of its best games of the season against Stafford and the Lions in a 17-14 victory on Oct. 2 at Soldier Field. Tracy Porter contained Marvin Jones, who came in as the hottest receiver in the NFL (six receptions for 204 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Packers the previous week) but had five receptions for 74 yards against the Bears, nothing longer than 19 yards. Bryce Callahan made plays on tight ends Eric Ebron and Cole Wick and wide receivers Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin.
When Porter missed plays because of an injury, both Jacoby Glenn and Deiondre Hall had interceptions in his place. Cre’Von LeBlanc did a credible job inside. Stafford’s 56.7 rating vs. the Bears is his lowest of the season. Since that game, Stafford has thrown 14 touchdown passes and only one interception.
The challenge will be greater at Ford Field —it usually is. Deon Bush, who replaced Harold Jones-Quartey at safety in Week 11, figures to start Sunday with Adrian Amos or Jones-Quartey if Amos can’t play because of a foot injury. Porter and LeBlanc started at corner against the 49ers, with Callahan in the slot. As good as they were against the Lions at Soldier Field, they’ll have to be that much better Sunday at Ford Field.
If Grasu is completely recovered from the torn right ACL he suffered prior to the first preseason game and makes the improvement that was expected of him this season, he’s very likely one of the Bears’ five best offensive lineman. On paper, playing Grasu at center, Cody Whitehair at guard and Kyle Long at tackle could give the Bears a better offensive line than they have this season. But that’s a lot of transitioning parts, with Long not only coming off ankle surgery but playing a different position for the third consecutive season. As Bears issues go, that’s not a bad one to have to deal with.