Here are 10 things you need to know as the Bears look to get their first win of the season Sunday against the Detroit Lions:
1. Jay Cutler returned to practice Wednesday. The quarterback appeared to be extremely limited in the short portion of practice open to the media, throwing passes with minimal zip. The good news is that he didn’t have a brace or any tape on his injured right thumb. Since we don’t know how much work Cutler did during the rest of practice (including team sessions) it’s hard to know what his prognosis is for playing Sunday against the Lions. For now, backup Brian Hoyer is preparing as if he’s the starter.
“Whatever his status is, until someone tells me different, I’m just preparing like I’m going to play,” Hoyer said.
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2. Head coach John Fox was out Wednesday with a stomach bug. In his absence, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio addressed the players during the morning team meeting and after practice.
“Other than that, everything was business as usual,” Fangio said.
That includes being evasive about injuries. When asked if he had an update on the quarterback, Fangio replied:
3. Kyle Fuller’s placement on injured reserve is peculiar, especially because a source said he didn’t suffer any kind of setback. Fuller had the scope performed Aug. 16 and the original hope was that he would be back for the regular season. It’s possible the Bears’ long list of injuries forced the move because they needed the roster spot, but you would think there were other expendable players who could have been waived or released instead of shelving a former first round pick for eight more weeks.
“There was hope (he’d be back Week 1, but as always with those procedures, you never know quite how they’re going to turn out,” Fangio said. “Hopefully this eight weeks minimum will get him healthy and fully able to play.”
Fuller won’t be eligible to return until Week 12 if the Bears opt to bring him back this year. Teams are only allowed to bring back one player from injured reserve after they sit out a minimum of eight weeks.
When asked if Fuller would get his starting job back if he returns this season, Fangio said: “Oh, I don’t know. We’re game-to-game here right now.”
4. Fangio’s explanation for why the run defense struggled against the Cowboys was pretty simple.
“We were getting blocked and not getting off blocks well enough, but basically getting blocked most of the time. A guy or two every time was just getting blocked,” he said.
One of those guys getting blocked was rookie inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who started in place of Danny Trevathan but only played 18 plays.
“He did OK,” Fangio said. “He was part of those guys that got blocked some. Had some good plays, some not so good. The first play of the game that popped out of there for 21 yards, he was at the point of attack on that one. It was OK, hope for better, expect better moving forward.”
Fangio said the reason why Kwiatkoski only played 18 snaps was because they schemed to use Christian Jones in nickel sub-packages, but also because they decided to use Jonathan Anderson more in base packages in the second half.
In other words, Kwiatkoski was kind of benched. Meanwhile, his replacement — Anderson — was waived Tuesday.
Clearly, the Bears are struggling with their inside linebacker depth. They originally decided to keep Anderson over John Timu on the 53-man roster, but now are going with Timu over Anderson. Now we’ll see where Timu stands. Remember, Timu, Anderson and Jones all received plenty of playing time in 2015 and general manager Ryan Pace evaluated their play and opted to sign Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, while also trading up in the fourth round to grab Kwiatkoski.
5. It will be interesting to see how quickly new defensive lineman C.J. Wilson can contribute. The former Packers seventh round draft pick was brought in to help the depth on the defensive line with nose tackle Eddie Goldman out with a high ankle sprain.
“In the nickel, Wilson would be a tackle and in the 3-4 right now we think he will have flexibility for nose or end,” Fangio said.
6. It’s hard to win games when you can’t keep the ball. Through three weeks the Bears are dead last in time of possession and have only run 168 plays while their opponents have run 205.
What’s interesting is that while the Bears rank 27th in yards per game, they are actually 16th in yards per play (5.5) and are doing better in that category than their opponents (5.2). (The Cowboys did much better with 6.9 yards per play last week, but this is an indication that, when healthy, the Bears defense can hold up its end of the bargain.)
The problem with the offense is that they just can’t sustain drives to make their yards/play average matter. They’re 27th in third down percentage. This is in part because they’ve struggled to run the football (30th in rushing yards per game) and tend to be behind the chains. They’ve been in 3rd-and-5 or longer 22 times and in 3rd-and-4 or shorter just 11 times. And it appears the lack of success in the run game has impacted the play calling because offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has opted to throw the ball eight times on 3rd-and 4 or shorter. The result? -10 yards and just one first down. The three runs all came on 3rd-and-1 and all three resulted in first downs.
No matter how you break it down, the Bears are 30th in points. And that’s really what matters.
7. A couple of other numbers worth noting:
8. The Bears will wear their 1940s throwback uniforms this Sunday against the Lions.
9. Referee Tony Corrente has been assigned to the game. The FOX crew of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Laura Okmin will handle the broadcasting duties.
10. Finally, why is defensive end Willie Young optimistic the Bears can turn their season around?
“We the Chicago Bears. We will forever be the Chicago Bears,” he said.