A Hypothetical Playoff Fantasy and Other Bullets

PlayoffsMeme

I had my own recap up yesterday afternoon which covered a lot of my own thoughts on the crucial road win. The one thing I’ll tease you with as far as the Bears playoff hopes? By my admittedly amateurish calculations, if they beat Philadelphia next Sunday night, and then end up making the playoffs, they would be assured of the #3 seed in the NFC. They’d have the tiebreaker over both Philadelphia and Dallas, and as both teams lost yesterday (to the Vikings and Packers, respectively) neither team could finish ahead of Chicago at that point. To get way too far ahead of myself, I’ll note that the #3 seed likely means avoiding a trip to Seattle until at least the NFC Championship in this wonderful hypothetical fantasy land I’ve created for myself. It’s warm and cozy here. Feel free to join me.

  • Before the game started, reports from ESPN and FOX’s Jay Glazer (Glazer’s is video only, you can watch it here if you’d like) stated that some Bears players were not entirely on board with the decision to start the returning Jay Cutler. I don’t have a lot of patience for anonymous leaks, and I doubt the Bears coaching staff and management feel any differently. Furthermore, the idea that these defensive players have any room to criticize the performance of a teammate is the utmost in hypocrisy. Let’s remember when Jay Cutler is ripped for being a bad teammate that there were no offensive players talking to the press about how poorly the defense has played this season.
  • David Haugh of the Tribune checks in with a story on Cutler’s mental toughness in the face of both external and internal pressures. He also notes that after Cutler’s second interception, Jay finished the game 14/18 for 161 yards and 3 touchdowns. Impressive adjustment from the coaches and an impressive righting of the ship for Cutler. I’ve always liked Jay (if you want to know why, just check out the quarterback chart I posted yesterday) but early in his Chicago career it was fair to criticize his ability to overcome poor starts. Of course, when you consider what he had to work with (in the huddle and on the sideline) maybe that criticism really wasn’t so fair.
  • ESPN Chicago’s Jeff Dickerson brings us quotes from Brandon Marshall, who attributed Cutler’s early interceptions to rust. Which makes sense to me. He certainly seemed fine later in the game, and neither throw was a bad decision; the first was an attempt to throw it where only Marshall could get to it (unsuccessful) and the second was a throw that sailed over an open Marshall. Tough conditions, out for four weeks; I tend to give the guy a break on those. It’s the bad decisions that always bother me more. The last thing I worry about with Cutler is his ability to throw the ball.
  • With all the new offensive talent that Phil Emery has brought with him, it can be easy to lose sight of Earl Bennett. As Kevin Fishbain reminds us, that goes for opposing defenses as well. He caught 4 balls for 23 yards against Cleveland, including the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. I’ve always liked Earl; he has great hands, runs solid routes, and is another able blocker. It’s a luxury to have him as the Bears fifth option on offense, and it’s one I’m not sure they can afford to keep going forward, sadly. So let’s enjoy him while we can.
  • ESPN Chicago’s Michael C. Wright writes that the Bears defense finally bailed out the offense. They certainly did play better football, and it was very nice to see a defensive touchdown. We fans were so spoiled by their incredible run of touchdowns last year.
  • CBS Chicago’s Adam Hoge notes that Jeremiah Ratliff turned in a strong performance Sunday, recording a tackle for loss and three quarterback hurries. His presence has seemingly had a stabilizing effect; perhaps the potential return of Lance Briggs can help as well? Hoge also lets us know that the Bears once again avoided a major injury, which is refreshing. 2-INT man Zach Bowman left the game at one point in the second half, but he was able to return.
  • The Tribune’s Brad Biggs wrote a nice piece on Tim Jennings, and how he managed to keep Josh Gordon in check. The NFL’s leading receiver finished with just 3 catches for 67 yards, with most of those on a late touchdown courtesy of a poor play from Chris Conte. (So, just a normal play from Chris Conte then, I guess.) Jennings has been a great find for the Bears. Living in Indiana, I get a ton of Colts games on CBS, and when I watched him play in Indy I was never a big fan. When the Bears signed him I was a bit skeptical, but his development since the start of 2012 has been very impressive. With Tillman out, he’s been drawing #1 assignments, and with the Bears running more pressure schemes due to a lackluster defensive line, he’s played solid coverage without much help. (Just last week, Dez Bryant finished with just 2 catches for 12 yards.) Credit where it’s due: a great find by the previous regime.
  • Finally, Dan Durkin of CBS Chicago has a great breakdown of the Bears usage of the crack toss play. They’ve used it in previous games, but I think Sunday was the first time they’d sent Alshon Jeffery in motion pre-snap, threatening an #AlshonEndAround before running the toss to the opposite side. They ran it twice, including a big first down that set up the Michael Bush 40-yard touchdown late in the game. Durkin notes that Aaron Kromer brought that concept with him from New Orleans, and it really utilizes a lot of the Bears strengths; athletic tackles, tremendous blocking receivers, and a running back who can read and cut as well as anyone in the game. Jeffery himself had only one carry on an end-around, for a loss of three yards; defenses have obviously wised up to the fact that the Bears are going to run it. But by showing that commitment to the play, Trestman and Kromer are able to use it to catch defenses who are too eager to blow it up, leading to the effectiveness of the toss play. A great new wrinkle, and a perfect example of how this offensive coaching staff is able to creatively make adjustments to outsmart opponents. We have smart offensive coaches, everyone! I don’t know what to do with myself.

Jay Rigdon is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation Bears, and can also be found @BearsBN on Twitter.