By Brad Biggs, Tribune reporter
5:00 AM CDT, October 21, 2013
Ten thoughts after the Chicago Bears lost 45-41 to the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field.
1. General manager Phil Emery has been consistent about many things in the nearly two years he has been on the job. He has been most firm on refusing to enter into discussions about players’ contracts, citing it as a highly personal issue that he doesn’t intend to shed light on.
Whether Emery participates or not -- and he will have a news conference Monday afternoon at Halas Hall -- the future and a contract for Jay Cutler will be front and center in a public forum, especially if the groin injury suffered by the quarterback in the second quarter sacks him for a good portion of the remaining schedule.
There is evidence after seven games with coach Marc Trestman that Cutler is an improved quarterback. He didn’t play particularly well here and he deserves at least partial blame for the Brian Orakpo interception return for a touchdown. It was a high throw into coverage that went off the hands of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. But Cutler has been solid, clearly better than he was for Ron Turner, Mike Martz or Mike Tice for a team that has needed offensive production to overcome a troubled defense.
Now, we must sort through this latest development and answer whether Cutler has issues remaining on the field. No one is going to question his toughness. Cutler missed the final six games in 2011 with a broken thumb and he’s had two concussions as a member of the Bears, both of which forced him to miss one game. If Cutler misses significant time with this injury, it unquestionably will detract from his value.
Maybe the Bears dodge a bullet and get good news when Cutler has an MRI on Monday to determine the extent and severity of his injury. Maybe he’s out just a short period of time with the Bears entering their week off. But if that’s not the case -- and the team is quietly bracing for bad news -- where do you go then? It was a fluke injury when Cutler broke his thumb in 2011, chasing down a Chargers defender after an interception. There was nothing that looked particularly scary about how Redskins defensive end Chris Baker twisted him down in the second quarter. Another fluke play.
Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Cutler has started 47 of the 55 games. What if it is 47 of 64 at the end of this season? The quarterback position is paramount and Cutler, who turns 31 in the offseason, is in the final year of his contract. He’s played his best football for the Bears under Trestman.
Emery has a busy offseason ahead of him with heavy lifting needed for the defense. Emery and the Bears don’t need to make any decisions about the future this week. There is plenty of time for evaluations and, after that, calculations.
2. When the Bears last saw Jordan Palmer, he was leaving Halas Hall after brief work in the final two preseason games, heading off on a pre-planned European vacation. When they caught up with Palmer again Sunday, he was at The Point, a bar in Dana Point, Calif., where he had gone to watch the day’s NFL action. The Bears are bringing the journeyman in Monday and expected to sign him to a contract as a No. 3 (or backup to Josh McCown).
Palmer was at the same bar watching games last season when Blaine Gabbert was injured and the Jaguars summoned him. No, he’s not a regular, but he goes to The Point on occasion.
“How about that?” Palmer said. “Pretty random.”
Considering Palmer had almost no time to learn the Bears offense, he did well in preseason, completing 12 of 18 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown. He said at the time he expected to have good recall if he was needed in the season, and he’s been hoping to latch on with a team. Palmer was just hired by Athletes Performance to run pre-draft combine training for quarterbacks, a job that doesn’t begin until January, but he’s been working out and hoping the phone would ring. He’s also shadowed some television crews, including Fox’s No. 1 team with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, and NFL Network’s crew of Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock.
“That’s something I would like to get into one day,” Palmer said.
But more than anything else, the 29-year-old has been waiting for a chance and that has arrived.
3. Jon Bostic probably will want to forget his first NFL start as the Redskins scored 45 points and produced four touchdown drives of 80 yards or more. But Bostic got to do a little of everything, including taking over the play calling when Lance Briggs was lost to what looked like a left shoulder injury midway through the third quarter. James Anderson moved to the weak side in place of Briggs and Blake Costanzo became the strong-side linebacker.
Bostic got credit for eight tackles in press box statistics, five solos and three assists. It will be interesting to see what kind of review he gets from the coaches.
“For a run-and-hit guy, he was all over the place,” said one scout who had reviewed parts of the game before the night was out.
“Obviously, it wasn’t good enough,” Bostic said. “We came out with an L. We’ve got to get better. Next time, we’ve got to make sure we didn’t make the same mistakes we made today.”
The Bears simply popped a headset into Bostic’s helmet when Briggs came out. Only one defensive player can have a headset in his helmet, the same rule that applies for the offense.
“He did good,” Anderson said. “They were in hurry-up and we still had an opportunity to communicate and get the call around. There were no issues.”
Since Briggs was drafted in 2003, the Bears have used 18 starting linebackers with Bostic, Anderson and D.J. Williams joining the mix this season. Brian Urlacher, Briggs, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach accounted for 422 of the 480 total starts for the three linebacker positions (the defense started with an alternate personnel package without three linebackers in 21 games, including two this season).
Here is a look at the starting linebackers since 2003:
Brian Urlacher 134 starts
Hunter Hillenmeyer 19 starts
Nick Roach 7 starts
D.J. Williams 4 starts
Jon Bostic 1 start
Lance Briggs 147 starts
Warrick Holdman 13 starts
Joe Odom 3 starts
Brian Iwuh 1 start
Jamar Williams 1 start
Nick Roach 52 starts
Hunter Hillenmeyer 50 starts
Lance Briggs 13 starts
Pisa Tinoisamoa 12 starts
James Anderson 7 starts
Joe Odom 5 starts
Geno Hayes 3 starts
Bryan Knight 2 starts
Marcus Reese 2 starts
Brendan Ayanbadejo 1 start
Blake Costanzo 1 start
Leon Joe 1 start
Jamar Williams 1 start
4. Here is the problem for the Bears’ defense: There is no magic solution. No quick fix. No trade to plug a gaping hole. No stalwart on the street just waiting for a contract. This is quickly approaching, if it isn’t already there, what former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo would call an “acute” problem.
Injuries have racked the defensive line. Cornerback Charles Tillman can barely practice with a right knee injury and can’t finish games. Now, linebacker Lance Briggs has a shoulder injury after D.J. Williams was lost for the season. Defensive end Julius Peppers was a “play when he wants to” guy for Lovie Smith and he might just be too old to turn it on anymore. The pass rush is anemic and the Redskins rolled through the Bears for 209 yards rushing.
Alfred Morris led the way with 95 on 19 carries. Robert Griffin III added 84 on 11 carries and Roy Helu rushed 11 times for 41 yards and three touchdowns. It was the most yards the Bears have surrendered on the ground in four years since the Bengals piled up 215 in a 2009 game at Paul Brown Stadium. It’s evidence that more than just the pass rush is off up front for a beleaguered and beat-up line.
What’s worse? Washington had 499 yards offense and since 1982 the Bears have allowed more than that only five times, most recently in 2011 when the Panthers hit them up for 543 at Soldier Field.
“We’re just going to get back to work,” Trestman said when asked how the team recovers defensively. “When you don’t play as best as you like, you go back to work. We’ll do that as coaches, in terms of evaluating our football team and what we’re doing. Getting healthy over the next couple weeks will be a big part of that. You can’t make excuses but we’re going to be a fresher team certainly when we come out of this break.”
Maybe. But there are no quick solutions coming.
5. Devin Hester looked like a man with a great burden removed from his shoulders when he stood at his locker afterward and scrolled through some congratulations that had come in on his cell phone. Hester has been forced to answer questions about the lack of return scores and he broke through with an 81-yard touchdown against the Redskins’ wretched special teams unit.
Hester tied Deion Sanders' NFL record for career return touchdowns at 19. He has 615 kickoff return yards through seven games and that is just 319 shy of his career best from 2007.
6. An onside kick try in the fourth quarter might have altered the outcome of the game. But Eric Weems was ruled to be offside and it looked like his knee might have crossed the plane before Robbie Gould squibbed the ball that was eventually recovered by Zack Bowman.
“We did everything we needed to do to execute it,” Gould said. “Guys did a great job with their responsibilities and we came up with the ball. They said we were offside.”
Did he think the Bears were offside?
“I don’t know. I couldn’t see,” Gould replied. “Everything felt like it was in rhythm. It was like we did earlier in the season. We’ll have to look at the film and see what happened. They called it offside and there is not much we can do about it now.”
Weems said he tried to slow up just before Gould kicked the ball.
“I’ve got to see it,” Weems said. “I thought I was OK.”
Then, special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis called for a cross-field throwback by Hester to Joe Anderson at the end of the game. It resulted in a 25-yard return to the Redskins’ 38.
“One more block,” Anderson said, “and we were gone.”
7. Safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte are not playing well. The biggest issue for the defense is up front with the lack of a pass rush. That has exposed the safeties far more than they were last season. They’re not making plays on the ball and Conte really should have been called for pass interference on the 45-yard touchdown pass from Robert Griffin III to Aldrick Robinson. Griffin never should have thrown the pass. It was a prayer but it was answered when Conte and Charles Tillman couldn’t make a play on the ball.
“I felt the bump,” Robinson said. “It should have been PI but I guess the refs saw that it did not mess me up or anything so they didn’t call it.”
There have been 34 completions of 20 yards or more against the Bears, nearly five per game. There were 47 all last season and nine games (two against Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers) remain on the schedule).
8. If the NFL is going to threaten suspensions for repeat offenders when it comes to player safety rules, Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather could be in line for some strict punishment. Officials called Meriweather for illegal hits against Bears wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. He was fined $42,000 earlier this season for a head-to-head hit on Packers running back Eddie Lacy and Marshall was pointed on the issue when I asked him about it after the game.
“Maybe he needs to get suspended or taken out of the game completely,” Marshall said.
Meriweather isn’t going to be banned but maybe a suspension will get his attention. He got fined for illegal hits when he was with the Bears and he’s a player officials are watching. We’ll see if the league gets tough with him.
9. Marquess Wilson made the first reception of his career, just a three-yard gain but evidence that he’s figuring into the mix. The Bears like the seventh-round pick and his development is one of the reasons why Emery could be hesitant to make a trade some fans have been clamoring for to get help on the defensive line. Clubs place value on late picks, even seventh-rounders, and that is why they are hesitant to flip them for half-season rentals.
I asked wide receivers coach Mike Groh if more is in store for Wilson this season.
“I have a lot of confidence in Marquess,” Groh said. “He’s locked in every day. He comes to work. For a young guy, he is wide-eyed every single day. He is focused on the attention to details of the job. He works hard. He really does. He’s got a big upside. We’re excited about Marquess.
“It is a work in progress and (playing time) will probably evolve over time. I would think there is a chance he will be involved before the season is over. It is a long season and you never know how it is going to fall. Someone could get nicked up and his role will increase or you never know, we might try to find a little role for him. He has a lot of ability and I am glad we have him.”
10. Josh McCown proved to be more trouble for the Redskins than they expected.
“We didn’t really have a great scouting report on him and we didn’t realize how mobile he was,” outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “That’s why he was able to make some plays early with his feet, moving around. I thought he did a great job. He did a great job as far as coming in and changing the pace of the game and really making some plays and putting Chicago back in the game.”
10 a. Redskins tight end Jordan Reed set a franchise record for a rookie at the position with nine catches for 134 yards. He looks to be a good one. Meanwhile, Martellus Bennett was limited to one catch, a seven-yard touchdown grab. The bye week will help Bennett, who has been hobbled with knee and shoulder injuries.
10 b. The Redskins converted seven of 13 third downs. That continues to be a significant problem for the Bears, who are allowing opponents to convert 44.3 percent of the time.
10 c. That is one reason why the Redskins owned an advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for 33 minutes, 56 seconds. Imagine what that figure would have been had they not gone to a good bit of hurry-up offense. That figure could have been closer to 38 minutes, easily.
10 d. The Bears will heal up this week as the next scheduled practice at Halas Hall is Oct. 28.
10 e. Bears chairman of the board George McCaskey worked his way around the stands a little before the game. He was shaking the hands of Bears fans at FedEx Field.
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