Hoge: Bears’ Safer Offensive Approach Still Resulting In Losses

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 09: Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer #2 of the Chicago Bears walk off of the field following the 29-23 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 9, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – OCTOBER 09: Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer #2 of the Chicago Bears walk off of the field following the 29-23 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 9, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — “We should have won today.”

“We should have had 45 (points).”

“We have to finish drives.”

These were the common sentiments prevailing from the Bears’ locker room after their 29-23 loss to the Colts Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

And who could blame them? The Bears’ offense put up 522 total yards Sunday, but only scored 23 points against a defense that was allowing 31.3 points per game.

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“Not really,” Bears head coach John Fox said when asked if he was pleased with the offensive output. “Obviously, we ended up with a little bit less than they did.”

The Colts, by comparison, had 396 total yards, meaning the Bears out-gained Indianapolis by 126 yards, yet lost by a touchdown. So what’s the problem?

“We have to capitalize in the red zone, sh**,” wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said.

What’s crazy is that even though the Bears put up 522 yards of offense, they were actually only in the red zone three times Sunday, settling for field goals twice. The reasons for drives stalling out are widespread, ranging from penalties to poor decision making to odd play-calling. Once again, the Bears’ run-pass ratio was questionable, as rookie Jordan Howard only received 16 carries despite running for 118 yards, an average of 7.4 yards per carry. By comparison, quarterback Brian Hoyer threw the ball 43 times, and only some of those throws can be attributed to playing catch-up late. At one point — long before they were running out of time — the Bears only had 14 rushes to 29 passes, a ratio that simply isn’t acceptable with how good Howard has looked in his first two starts.

And then there’s Brian Hoyer.

For the third straight game, Hoyer topped 300 yards passing, clearing that mark easily with 397 yards Sunday. And for the second straight week, he posted a passer rating of 120. Yet in those three games, the Bears offense has put up only 17 points, 17 points and 23 points — against three defenses (the Cowboys, Lions and Colts) who rank in the bottom half of the league. With the pass protection Hoyer is getting — and the accompanying rushing attack — don’t you think Jay Cutler would have scored more points Sunday against the Colts?

The hypothetical question is somewhat tricky to answer because Cutler may have also turned the ball over one or twice, which could have led to more points for the Colts. But the reality is that the Bears’ offense is awfully horizontal right now. It’s been effective, but it’s lacking verticality without Cutler, as evidenced by Jeffery’s meager six targets Sunday.

Part of the reason why Cutler turns the ball over more than Hoyer is because offensive coordinators attack more with Cutler. Hoyer may “protect the ball” better, but that is partly because offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is calling a safer game. But didn’t 2015 prove that Cutler is also capable of executing a safer game plan? That’s exactly how former coordinator Adam Gase limited Cutler’s turnovers, keeping the occasional deep shot to Jeffery in the holster to keep defenses honest.

A big part of Hoyer’s success has been the improved play of the offensive line, which is not something Cutler benefitted from in the first two games of the season. Remember, he sprained his thumb because he was running for his life. Hoyer didn’t get sacked Sunday despite 43 passing attempts.

To be clear, Hoyer has been very good in 10 of the 12 quarters he’s played in the last three weeks. But the reality is, the Bears have now lost just as many games with these conservative, short-passing game plans as they did when Cutler was under center in Weeks 1 and 2. And at 1-4, is John Fox OK with playing not-to-lose?

Perhaps no play better better exemplifies the current state of the Bears’ offense than the 4th-and-8 that sealed the Bears’ fate Sunday afternoon. Trailing by six, Hoyer did a nice job of leading the offense down the field to give the Bears a shot to win, but he mis-read the Colts defense on play where he could have taken an aggressive shot to the end zone to win the game.

“When you see the picture, they disguised the coverage,” Hoyer said.

“I read ‘two-man’ at first, so I’m pretty sure he thought the same thing,” Jeffery said, defending his quarterback.

Two-man refers a double coverage with the cornerback underneath and the safety over the top.

“To be honest, on that last play I thought there was no way they wouldn’t (double-team Jeffery) and I saw the safety wide,” Hoyer said.

At the line of scrimmage, it looked like the safety might have over-the-top coverage on Jeffery, so Hoyer essentially eliminated his first-read before the snap. In actuality, the Colts left Jeffery single covered and he appeared to be open heading to the end zone. Hoyer never saw him and instead forced a pass in the general direction of Cam Meredith and it fell incomplete.

“It’s obviously a play that you’d like to have back,” Hoyer said.

So there in-lies the Hoyer vs Cutler debate. We’ve certainly seen times when Cutler has mis-read the coverage and forced a pass to Jeffery in double-coverage. Of course, there have been many others when the second he sees Jeffery in single-coverage, he throws it that way and allows Jeffery to make a play — open or not.

Who knows how that play unfolds if Cutler is on the field. But chances are the ball would have gone in Jeffery’s direction.

Fox has dropped many hints in recent weeks that Hoyer will hold onto the starting job even when Cutler gets healthy. And if he does, Hoyer will probably continue to put up decent numbers while protecting the football.

But that doesn’t mean he’ll give the Bears the best chance to win. Sunday’s loss proved as much.

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.