By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Behind closed doors inside Halas Hall, the Bears hashed out the play they want back.
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains acknowledged that the Bears’ final play on in Sunday’s loss to the Colts — a fourth-and-8 in which Brian Hoyer missed an open Alshon Jeffery and misfired to Cameron Meredith — was just one of 69 in the game. But it reflects upon a larger issue.
There’s a flustered receiver involved who’s not getting the ball and a quarterback whose efficiency can’t overcome his greatest flaw. n his first year in charge of the Bears offense, Loggains wanted to get out in front of it.
“We addressed it as a group,” Loggains said Thursday. “We’re not going to sweep anything under the rug.”
But don’t expect this issue to simply go away any time soon.
Hoyer didn’t see Jeffery yards ahead of Colts cornerback Vontae Davis because he assumed two-man coverage and a double on the Bears’ top receiver. The defense showed it before the play. When the ball was snapped, Hoyer figured a safety would follow Jeffery over the top, as the Colts had shown most of the game. Instead, two safeties converged on Meredith in the middle.
Of course, Hoyer’s assumption occurred because it’s what Loggains’ offense preaches. His first progression should be Jeffery, but Hoyer will likely look to what’s next pretty quickly upon seeing a covered Jeffery. Kevin White, who played three-and-a-half games before getting injured, has more targets than Jeffery does in five games.
Should the Bears decide to move forward with Jay Cutler (thumb) on the bench — and it’s Hoyer’s job to lose — they are conceding Cutler’s big-play ability for Hoyer’s conservative style.
“The coverage will dictate where the ball goes,” Loggains said. “Brian’s done a real good job of trusting his progressions, going through his progressions, not trying to force balls and doing the right thing.
“We’re not going to force the ball to Alshon. If they’re going to try to double Al and do those other things, then we’ll throw it to other people.”
Added Hoyer: “Alshon’s a big target, so people are trying to take him away and that’s why other people get the ball. If they don’t take him away, we hit some big plays to him.”
Hoyer is the first quarterback in Bears history to throw for 300-plus yards and zero interceptions in three straight games. The Bears are 1-2 in that span, with just 19 points per game to show for it.
Entering Week 6, the Bears rank ninth in offensive yardage at 372.4 per game and 30th in total scoring at just 17 points. By comparison, the Chargers are nearly one yard ahead per game and have tallied 30.4 points per game, good for second in the league. Hoyer has averaged 338.7 passing yards in his three starts, but the Bears can’t finish drives.
Self-inflicted wounds are part of the problem, make no mistake. The Bears had seven offensive penalties for 65 yards Sunday. Looking to respond after the Colts’ go-ahead score in the fourth, Meredith fumbled the football away. The Bears must find the big offensive play that can change the game, especially as their defense still struggles to force turnovers.
Don’t expect Hoyer to get away from his present passing approach, which is aimed to take care of the football. He’s not going to take chances — perhaps due to a lack of trust in his own ability to throw the deep ball. So, where does this leave the Bears in their search for the end zone?
Rookie running back Jordan Howard could be the key to putting points on the board. He’s quickly earned the trust of coach John Fox, in part because the Bears had no other choice. Howard has surpassed the century mark in rushing yards in each of his first two starts.
“I like the way Jordan’s gone about it,” Fox said. “He got an opportunity, and he’s made the most of that opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Meredith is one of the beneficiaries to Jeffery’s coverage. Entering this season, the Bears had hoped that White would thrive lining up opposite Jeffery. On Tuesday, White had surgery on his injured fibula and is likely to miss the rest of the season. Meredith has assumed White’s role, with increased production.
The Bears’ passing attack is built around Meredith, Eddie Royal and Zach Miller getting open as Jeffery gets doubled. Until opposing defenses respect Chicago’s other targets enough, Jeffery will be guarded closely.
“You go out there with the mindset you’re going to dominate every game,” Meredith said. “Now that I’ve done it, there’s no reason I can’t do it again.”
Still, Howard and Meredith have been keys in the Bears’ last two games. It hasn’t made enough of a difference.
When Loggains first gathered his offense during the preseason, he certainly couldn’t have expected the turnover to come. The Bears are starting their backup quarterback and a rookie running back, their top target is a non-factor, their 2015 first-round pick is on injured reserve and has been replaced by a former practice squad standout. Meanwhile, the line has been shuffled and reshuffled plenty.
Somehow, the Bears have sustained an offense. Hoyer has worked admirably in place of Cutler, Howard has run Jeremy Langford out of his job, Meredith has been what White was supposed to be and Josh Sitton stabilized the offensive line. Who saw this coming?
Loggains has often referred to the evolution of his offense, which still shows some of Adam Gase’s fingerprints. That’s for further down the road. This flawed offense is his to fix.
Like far too many of the Bears’ drives, the offense remains an incomplete product.