Get ready to fall back into love with Jay Cutler again.
Maybe you hate him for his moody stares. Maybe you’re not a fan of his demeanor. Maybe you think he’s just not that good of a quarterback. Whatever the reason, put all of it on hold, because Cutler is set to ball out against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.
One thing about Cutler is undeniable: Since he joined the Chicago Bears , he’s money on Monday nights. According to CSN Chicago, Cutler has completed 61.6 of his passes, averaged 7.29 yards per attempt, thrown for 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and posted a 95.5 passer rating in Monday night games with the Bears.
The Bears have gone 8-2 in those games.
In his lone appearance last season, Cutler overcame a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit by leading the Bears to 15 points down the stretch.
He finished off the San Diego Chargers with this game-winning rocket.
Jay Cutler balls out on Monday nights. That might be tough for some of his detractors to accept — isn’t he supposed to be a choker? — but Cutler thrives in big-time games.
He also has a history of beating up on Jim Schwartz, the ex-Lions coach who formerly faced Cutler on a semi-annual basis. Schwartz, now the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, will need to figure out a way to slow down Cutler.
Cutler has thrown 17 touchdowns against seven interceptions in his Bears’ career against Schwartz, which includes 10 games against Schwartz’s Detroit Lions and another against the Buffalo Bills in 2014. The Bears have gone 7-4 in those games.
The bad news for Schwartz? He’ll be operating without cornerback Leodis McKelvin , who’s dealing with a hamstring issue. And that leaves Schwartz with three healthy cornerbacks: Nolan Carroll , Jalen Mills , and Ron Brooks . Those three cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics, allowed five catches for 143 yards against the Cleveland Browns . McKelvin was responsible for only two receptions and 11 yards. Given McKelvin’s injury, expect the Bears to target a weak secondary by allowing Cutler to let it fly in the direction of a completely healthy Alshon Jeffery .
Let’s get to the rest of the stats to know for Week 2 of “Monday Night Football” between the Eagles and Bears at Soldier Field, starting with the Bears’ top-two receivers.
2. Hot and cold for the Bears’ top-two receivers
Kevin White was the third-lowest graded Bears offensive player in Week 1. White, who finally made his NFL debut more than a year after getting drafted in the first round, looked like, well, a rookie. Though he caught a third-down pass for a near first-down in the early going, he made a critical mistake in the third quarter when he ran the wrong route.
Take a look below. At the top of his route, White begins to break toward the right sideline. As soon as White takes those steps, Cutler releases the football.
It’s a timing route, except White breaks it off mid-route.
And that resulted in the easiest interception in the world. Cutler responded by gesturing toward the sideline, where White should’ve ran.
Yeah, that’s not a good sign. In all, White caught three passes for 34 yards. After that crucial mistake, Cutler didn’t target him again until garbage time.
It’s only one game, so there’s no reason to panic over White’s debut. But if you are panicking, direct some of the blame toward the coaching staff, because they didn’t put White in easy situations. They didn’t call a single screen for White, a burner with tremendous speed and YAC potential. With White facing a tough defense in his first-ever game, the Bears would’ve been wise to simplify his assignments — you know, like what the Texans did with their speedy rookie, Will Fuller .
The good news for the Bears is that Cutler’s favorite target, Alshon Jeffery, is still very good at doing the thing he’s always been very good at: He’s damn good at coming down with the home-run balls.
Example No. 1, which features an incredible throw by Cutler:
Example No. 2, which features Jeffery running really far and then snagging the jump ball with ease:
Keep in mind, with 24 seconds remaining in the first half, the Bears faced a first-and-20 at their own 27-yard line and the conservative John Fox still decided to go for some points. Thanks to Jeffery, the Bears scored a touchdown a few plays later.
Jeffery winded up catching four passes for 105 yards against the Houston Texans . With the Eagles lacking McKelvin, look for Jeffery to tear apart the Eagles’ secondary.
3. Is Wentz’s success a product of the Browns?
In the lead up to the 2016 NFL Draft, Jared Goff — not Carson Wentz — was deemed the NFL-ready quarterback. Wentz, on the other hand, was supposedly in need of some time on the bench to learn the nuances of the NFL and adjust to the speed of the game.
So, it made sense then when Wentz landed with the Eagles, a team with a surplus of bridge quarterbacks in Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel . Even before Wentz suffered a hairline fracture in his first preseason game, there was talk about Wentz potentially redshirting his rookie season and starting the year on the inactive list.
That thought process changed, though, when Teddy Bridgewater destroyed his knee and the Minnesota Vikings gifted them a first-round pick in exchange for Bradford’s services. Suddenly and shockingly, Wentz leapt above Daniel as the Eagles’ starting quarterback. And Goff ended up being the rookie quarterback stuck on the sidelines.
Based on Wentz’s first-ever start, that move worked out well for the Eagles, because he lit up the Browns for 278 yards, two touchdowns, and a 101.0 passer rating. According to Pro Football Focus, on passes that traveled behind the line of scrimmage or within 9 yards of it, Wentz went of 13 of 21 for 106 yards. He attempted 11 passes that traveled more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, completing nine of those passes for 172 yards. So, when the Eagles did ask Wentz to throw deep, they made sure he was set up to succeed.
He came away with a top-five grade.
Top passing grades in Week 1:
1. Andrew Luck, 92.6
2. Drew Brees, 88.5
3. Carson Wentz, 86.6
4. Jameis Winston, 86.4
5. Derek Carr, 85.7
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 14, 2016
Of course, the key part of that paragraph above is the part about how Wentz lit up the Browns, a team so devoid of talent that it was considered a blow when RG3 headed to injured reserve. So, the question remains: How much of Wentz’s first-game success was due to the Browns’ putrid defense and how much of it was due to Wentz being a legit quarterback?
According to Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Wentz is legit.
“He’s pretty damn impressive,” Fangio said Thursday, per ESPN. “It looks now that Philadelphia is going to be very well-rewarded for the risk they took on draft day giving up a lot of stuff to get this guy because he looks like he’s going to be a long-term helluva quarterback. And then they got Christmas given to them when the Vikings had their misfortune [when Teddy Bridgewater got hurt] and they were able to unload their overload at quarterback for a couple picks.”
“So they took a chance, they did a helluva job with it, and I think they’re going to be rewarded with it. I think the guy is very impressive. He has a big arm, can move, he’s athletic and mobile. He’s very poised, doesn’t get flustered. He’s very comfortable in running their offense even though he only played a little bit in the preseason. Obviously the work they’ve done with him, their coaching staff, through the OTAs and the training camp was time very well spent. He’s been a quick study and learns well.”
In case you’re not already aware, Vic Fangio is a straight up defensive wizard. So that’s high praise.
But on Monday, Fangio’s defense will be coming for Wentz.
The key to stopping Wentz — like most other quarterbacks — is it to apply pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, Wentz recorded a 118.7 passer rating when he sat back in comfortable pockets. But when he was pressured, Wentz’s passer rating dropped to 52.9. In all, the Browns applied pressure on 13 of Wentz’s dropbacks.
I’m guessing the Bears, with a pass rush composed of Willie Young , Lamarr Houston , and Leonard Floyd , will fare better than that. They applied pressure on Texans’ quarterback Brock Osweiler on 16 of 38 dropbacks. So, clearly, there’s still room for the Bears to improve in that regard. I’m betting they will.
Fangio, the architect of all of those dominant 49ers defenses in their heyday, is too experienced of a coach and, frankly, too damn good to not take advantage of a rookie in his second career start. As Pete Prisco wrote in his column breaking down Wentz’s Week-1 performance, the Eagles’ coaching staff did one heck-of-a-job simplifying the game for their rookie quarterback.
“Wentz wasn’t asked to make a lot of complex reads or throws,” Prisco wrote.
The wizard should make life a bit more difficult for Wentz.
4. Zach Ertz ‘s absence
Tight ends often serve as a quarterback’s safety valve, which is exactly how Zach Ertz helped Wentz on Sunday, catching all six of his targets for 58 yard, per Pro Football Focus. Four of those receptions occurred within 0-9 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Unfortunately for Wentz, he’ll be without Ertz, who suffered a horrible-sounding injury.
So, someone else will need to help out Wentz. Whoever that is — perhaps Brent Celek — should be wary of the Bears’ inside linebackers. Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan combined for 28 tackles in the Bears’ loss to the Texans.
5. Matthews will present problems, drops aside
Either way, Jordan Matthews , who survived a rookie season filled with drops, will continue to function as Wentz’s top target. Last Sunday, Matthews hauled in seven passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. And let’s not forget that the clear weakness of the Bears’ defense — its top corner is Tracy Porter — is the secondary.
With that being said, it might be time for Matthews to stop dropping passes. He dropped two last week, according to Pro Football Focus.
6. The Bears interior? Good. Their exterior? Bad.
The Texans sacked Jay Cutler five times and hit him 12 times. Most of that pressure came around the edges, because Chicago’s combo of Kyle Long and Josh Sitton shut down the Texans’ front.
Left tackle Charles Leno , right tackle Bobby Massie , and rookie center Cody Whitehair (who botched a snap on fourth-and-inches) didn’t do so well. Leno and Massie were Pro Football Focus’ lowest-graded Bears on the offensive side of the ball.
Look for the Eagles to attack the edges. And if they generate enough pressure, they might just steal a win. Last week, Cutler posted a 47.9 rating when under duress while compiling a 102.6 rating when properly protected. They also might want to send the house after Cutler, whose passer rating dipped to 42.6 when he was blitzed. He pieced together a 96.8 passer rating when he wasn’t blitzed. For what it’s worth, the Eagles only blitzed the Browns on four passing plays.
All of those numbers are according to Pro Football Focus.
7. It’s been a while for the Bears
So, the Bears have been bad for a while now. They’ve actually failed to be a .500 team since midway through the 2014 season.
#Bears trying to reach .500 mark Monday night for first time since they were 3-3 following win over Falcons in 2014.
— Larry Mayer (@LarryMayer) September 15, 2016
At that point in time, Marc Trestman still coached the Bears and he had yet to make the silly decision of benching Cutler for Jimmy Clausen .
Now, it’s John Fox’s show in Chicago. Except, he can’t buy a win at Soldier Field.
#Bears coach John Fox considered changing the team hotel in order to reverse last year’s 1-7 home record. He elected to stay put for 2016.
— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) September 17, 2016
Fox thinking about changing hotels so that his team might win more games is a thing that actually happened.
8. The Eagles and turnovers
Against the Browns, the Eagles won the turnover battle, forcing one takeaway and not giving the ball away at all. According to STATS, that was the Eagles’ third turnover-free game in its last 37 games. STATS added that the Eagles turned the ball over 67 times from 2014-2015, which led the NFL in that span.
With a rookie quarterback under center, don’t be shocked if it starts raining turnovers in Chicago on Monday night.
Source: CBS Sports / Cutler’s ‘MNF’ success, Wentz’s strong debut: 8 stats to know for Eagles-Bears