The Chicago Bears can fire the head coach, the defensive coordinator, and the GM. But none of those moves would answer the most crucial question facing a franchise in shambles: Is their quarterback the leader he needs to be?
You know what’s easy? Firing Marc Trestman. But whacking your head coach after 25 games solves nothing, other than giving the hungry talk-show wolves a Steinbrennerian move that screams panic.
You know what else is easy? Firing Phil Emery. He has left the defensive cupboard pretty bare, yes. But firing the general manager in the midst of his third season is absolutely not the Bear way. He deserves another draft to see if he can rebuild the franchise.
Plus, neither of those things would help the Bears beat Minnesota on Sunday, and to show something, anything, that would point the franchise in the right direction entering 2015. There's not just one thing wrong with the team, so there’s not just one decision that will fix it. The defense is God-awful. Chicago has allowed more points in the first half of games (179) than the Cleveland Browns have allowed all season (172). The corners can’t cover, and the pass-rushers can’t pass-rush. That's the biggest problem I see, but short of firing defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, I can't envision many ways to shake up the defense to play better.
Now for the sulking elephant in the room: quarterback Jay Cutler.
I don’t ask Cutler to throw a helmet or knock over the Gatorade table. I just ask him to care. Or to at least look like he cares.
He isn’t necessarily sulking. He just looks that way. Cutler leads the league in bad body language, which would be easy to overlook if he were playing better—and it is often overlooked when he does play well. But the Bears are 3-6. Cutler has turned the ball over 15 times in nine games. While the Patriots and Packers were putting up 80 points in the last two first halves, this is how Cutler responded: 14 possessions, one touchdown.
Part of his response was to go to the bench, be alone mostly, and do very little of what we see so many other good quarterbacks do. Cutler certainly has communication with teammates and with his coaches, but it’s Fixit Lite. There’s not much of it, and it’s hardly intense. Elsewhere, it is. There’s Tom Brady with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, going over everything, then talking to Julian Edelman about not rounding off his routes. There’s Peyton Manning, micromanaging the next series with offensive coordinator Adam Gase, studying every last Polaroid of the last series. There’s Russell Wilson, flanked by backup Tarvaris Jackson and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, discussing what they see on the new Surface tablet allowed on the sidelines this year, then talking ideas. Invariably, between offensive series, we see quarterbacks making adjustments, changing, coaching, caring. Did I say caring? There’s Drew Brees, with what looks like an over-the-top pre-game shout-speech to fire up the guys. Hey, whatever works.
I don’t ask Cutler to throw a helmet or knock over the Gatorade table or be the team cheerleader. I just ask him to care. Or to at least look like he cares.
Cutler is an easy target, because of his laissez-faire look. Those who really like the guy say that’s just his way. There are other quarterbacks who give off a similar look. Carson Palmer, for instance. But ask Palmer’s teammates how they felt when he went down for the season on Sunday. “A sick feeling, for everybody,” said backup Drew Stanton. “That's our leader.”
Cutler, whether he likes it or not (and I am sure he does not), needs to take on a different role with his team, starting Sunday against the Vikings. He needs to realize his franchise is going down the toilet, and he needs to realize he's the highest-paid player on the team, and the player at the position of highest expectation for leadership. He needs to walk into the Wednesday team meeting that kicks off preparation for Sunday, and say something like We're not going down like this. He needs to speak from the gut. He needs to fake it if he has to. But this is Jay Cutler’s time, no one else’s. The quarterback is the leader of a football team. It’s time for Cutler to act like one.
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