First-and-10: Pace’s grand plan hitting one bump after another
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Maybe some day general manager Ryan Pace will look back on this week and appreciate just how far the Bears have come — like Jed Hoyer reflecting on back-to-back Cubs seasons with 101 and 96 losses. But right now he’s in the middle of a tornado.
While John Fox and Vic Fangio had earned the benefit of the doubt when they arrived in Chicago last year, confidence in Pace — the youngest general manager in the NFL when he was hired at 37 in 2015 — was based on blind faith and the fact that he wasn’t Phil Emery. He’s earnest and resolute and certainly has a big-picture plan. But 18 games into his tenure, he’s hit a low point, where it seems like nothing is working:
- The Bears are 0-2 this season, 6-12 in his two seasons as general manager and 1-8 at Soldier Field.
- His first two No. 1 draft picks — wide receiver Kevin White and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd — are far, far short of the immediate impact you would hope for from players drafted seventh and ninth overall.
- Quarterback Jay Cutler is out indefinitely with torn ligaments in his right (throwing) thumb. If Cutler missing any games, passing three times on Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 draft (to take linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, safety Deon Bush and cornerback Deiondre Hall) could loom larger than ever — especially Sunday when the Bears face Prescott and the Cowboys. Instead of a possible glimpse of the future with Prescott, the Bears would counter with Brian Hoyer.
- Place-kicker Connor Barth, who Pace acquired with an awkward dismissal of Robbie Gould — in part because he was more accurate than Gould from inside of 40 yards — missed a 31-yard field goal when his first field goal attempt as a Bear hit the left upright.
- Despite an overhaul of the training and medical staff and a concerted effort to curtal injuries and improve rehab success, the Bears continue to struggle with injuries in Pace’s regime. Linebacker Danny Trevathan and nose tackle Eddie Goldman were the latest foundation players to go down. Trevathan, a big-ticket addition in free agency this year, will undergo surgery Wednesday to repair a sprained thumb ligament he suffered against the Eagles. He is out indefinitely. Goldman, Pace’s 2015 second-round draft pick, suffered a sprained ankle and was taken off the field on a cart.
That list also includes Pace’s 2015 first-round pick (White, who missed all of last season with a stress fracture), his 2015 splash free agent (linebacker Pernell McPhee, who is out until at least until Week 7 after offseason knee surgery) and his 2015 third-round pick (center Hroniss Grasu, out for the season with a torn ACL).
After getting away unscathed in the opener, the Bears lost seven regulars Monday night — Cutler, Trevathan, Goldman, linebacker Lamarr Houston (knee), nickel back Bryce Callahan (concussion), safety Adrian Amos (concussion) and running back Ka’Deem Carey (hamstring).
- While the big-picture plan remains in place — and might eventually work out — fate seems to be conspiring against Pace in the short term. Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett — three productive discards from Pace’s tenure — had big games Sunday. And we’ve yet to see the evidence that cutting Matt Slauson, drafting Cody Whitehair and signing Ted Larsen is a win for the Bears. Slauson is entrenched at center for the Chargers, who rushed for 150 yards in a 38-14 victory over the Jaguars on Sunday. The Bears rushed for 64 yards (3.6 avg.) against an Eagles team that allowed 120 rushing yards (5.7 avg.) to the Browns last week
There’s still a long way to go, and things can change quickly. Emery’s acquisition of Marshall was a masterstroke in 2012, but became a black mark by the end of the 2013 season. Hiring Marc Trestman looked like a good move when the Bears were 3-0 after throttling the Steelers at Heinz Field in 2013, but soon became Emery’s undoing.
Pace has to hope it can turn the other way just as quickly — because Monday night’s disappointing performance was a reminder of just how far away the Bears are.
2. Even Pace’s intuition on the championship-caliber of players is up for debate after McPhee got into Cutler’s face on the sideline following Cutler’s ill-fated interception in the third quarter. A player who has been injured more often than not in his short Bears tenure showing up a player fighting through an injury — and during a game on national television? Not a good look for the Bears. If Cutler had done the same to McPhee, it would have broken the internet.
That McPhee was voted a team captain despite being on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list seemed like a great compliment to McPhee. After Monday night’s episode, it might seem more like evidence that the Bears are a team that doesn’t quite know what leadership is.
“I have not seen it,” Fox said Tuesday. “We’ve got a short week. I haven’t had all this time to go back and look at TV [replays]. My understanding is you’re going to have conversations. These guys are competitive, they’re going to hold each other accountable. You’re going to have not confrontations, but conversations. That’s always been the case on any football team I’ve ever been around.”
2a. It might get worse before it gets better for Pace. On Sunday, the Bears will face Prescott, who was much improved in his second start Sunday against the Redskins at FedEx Field — 22-of-30 for 292 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions for a 103.8 rating.
For the record, drafting a quarterback who would succeed Cutler was not a high priority for Pace in this year’s draft, because the Bears had so many other holes to fill. But it was noted that Prescott was an intriguing prospect.
3. The Bears’ hoped the transition from offensive coordinator Adam Gase to Dowell Loggains would be seamless, but it has not been. A safety blitz for a sack on the second play from scrimmage wreaks of poor preparation. The aborted screen pass that followed looked like a play the Bears drew up in the huddle on the spot.
When it comes to protecting their quarterback, the Bears seem like they’re flummoxed by anything out of the ordinary — any stunt, game or twist by the defensive line; any blitz by a cornerback or safety. Even with an offensive line still getting to know each other, you expect better than that in the regular season. Loggains might have the most to prove of all in the next several weeks.
“All our signatures are on it,” Fox said when asked if there was a concern about the preparedness of the offense under Loggains. “We all take responsibility. It starts with me. We’ve been our own worst enemy. We just haven’t executed.”
4. Cutler’s injury is just the latest chapter in the story of his star-crossed NFL career. Cutler has started 136-of-151 games (.900) since he became a starter as a rookie with the Broncos in 2006. But he now has suffered an injury that has knocked him out in six of his last seven seasons with the Bears.
Since starting his first 20 games with the Bears — including all 16 games in 2009 — Cutler has never started more than 17 consecutive games without suffering an injury. He has missed at least one game in six previous seasons, including 2014 when he was benched by Trestman in Week 16.
4a. Eight of 15 quarterbacks who have been full-time starters since 2011 have played a higher percentage of games than Cutler: Eli Manning (185-of-185, 1.000), Philip Rivers (162-of-162, 1.000), Russell Wilson (66-of-66, 1.000), Ryan Tannehill (66-of-66, 1.000), Matt Ryan (128-of-130, .985), Cam Newton (80-of-82, .976), Tom Brady (223-of-238, .937) and Aaron Rodgers (121-of-130, .931).
4b. Fox said Cutler is day-to-day in his Tuesday press conference at Halas Hall, but already was contemplating having Cutler and Hoyer split reps in practice Wednesday.
In Cutler’s first seven seasons with the Bears, back-up starters are 5-10 with a .590 completion percentage, 196 yards per game, 19 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and a 67.8 passer rating.
But wait, it gets worse. Back-up starters not named Josh McCown are 1-7 with a .321 completion percentage, 124.5 yards per game, eight touchdowns, 19 interceptions and a 24.1 passer rating.
5. Of the 15 rookie quarterbacks in the last 10 seasons who have started Weeks 1-2, the Eagles’ Carson Wentz is the first one to go 2-0 without throwing an interception. The only other rookie to go 2-0 in Weeks 1-2 in that span is the Ravens’ Joe Flacco, who had passer ratings of 63.7 vs. the Bengals and 47.8 vs. the Browns in 2008 (no touchdowns, two interceptions). Wentz has had ratings of 101.0 and 86.6 vs. the Browns and Bears (three touchdowns, no interceptions).
6. The next-man-up philosophy is always dicey on teams with as little established depth as the Bears. But cornerbacks Jacoby Glenn and rookie Deiondre Hall seem to be making an impact in place of injured starter Kyle Fuller. Glenn and Hall have combined for six pass break-ups in two games this season. Fuller had nine in 16 games last season.
7. The Bears were deservedly burned by Mike Shanahan’s contribution to football ignorance — icing the field goal kicker by calling time out just before the ball is snapped. There is little if any evidence to indicate this ploy makes a difference. And sometimes it can work against you. Sure enough, Caleb Sturgis’ 53-yard attempt that was nullified by the time out went wide right. The re-kick after the “icing” went straight through to give the Eagles a 9-7 lead at halftime.
8. When the Broncos’ T.J. Ward burned the Bears offense with a safety blitz to sack Cutler in the preseason opener, it seemed like an aggressive move for a preseason game that the Bears would be better prepared for in the regular season. But Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins was just as effective Monday night, coming in clean for a sack of Cutler on the second play from scrimmage. It’s the fourth time in the Bears’ last eight regular-season games a defensive back has sacked Cutler.
Fox acknowledged “the first series was less-than-graceful,” but was encouraged by the way the offense responded — until undone by turnovers in the second half.
“I thought we settled down [after the rough start],” Fox said. ‘We had a scoring drive set up by a big play by Alshon [a 49-yard catch by Jeffery]. There were some good performances. Eddie Royal, [four catches for 52 yards, including a 31-yarder] as well as the punt return [for a touchdown]. Alshon has had two pretty good games.
“Part of our o-line has been a little more solid than other parts. Defensively, we did pretty good on third down. I think they were 3-of-15 for 20 percent, which is a good night. Red zone [Eagles were 3-of-6]. So there some bright spots. But not enough, and we need to get that better.”
9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: In a huge week for former Bears, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen had five receptions for 122 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown reception, in a 46-27 victory over the 49ers. Olsen’s other four receptions all were part of scoring drives — two touchdowns and two field goals.
The competition this week was fierce. Matt Forte (30 carries, 100 yards) rushed for three touchdowns in the Jets’ 37-31 victory over the Bills. Brandon Marshall had six catches for 101 yards in that game. Martellus Bennett had five receptions for 114 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown catch from Jimmy Garoppolo in the Patriots’ 31-24 victory over the Dolphins.
Eric Weems had a 73-yard punt return — the longest in the NFL this season — in the Falcons’ 35-28 victory over the Raiders. Devin Hester had a 48-yard kickoff return in the Ravens’ 25-20 victory over the Browns.
10. Bear-ometer: 4-12 — at Cowboys (L); vs. Lions (W); at Colts (L); vs. Jaguars (W); at Packers (L); vs. Vikings (L); at Bucs (L); at Giants (L); vs. Titans (W); vs. 49ers (L); at Lions (L); vs. Packers (L); vs. Redskins (W); at Vikings (L).