Kirby Lee/US PresswireAfter a rough first half against the Raiders, Caleb Hanie passed for 175 yards in the fourth quarter. Caleb Hanie's performance against the Raiders on Sunday was what you would expect from a quarterback making his first NFL start: There was plenty of bad (three interceptions) but some good, too (two touchdown passes).
So what can Bears fans expect out of Hanie in starth No. 2? Our Four Downs panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: We've seen the worst of Caleb Hanie already.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. There is no excuse for turning the ball over three times in a half of football, but it's important to remember Hanie was making his first career NFL start in a very difficult road venue. He'll learn from the experience and be a much better quarterback when the Bears face Kansas City Sunday at Soldier field. He can play. Now it's a matter of being a better decision maker, which generally comes with increased playing time. We've seen the worst of Hanie, hopefully we can see the best of Hanie before Jay Cutler returns from thumb surgery. [+] EnlargeMark J. Rebilas/US PresswireBears quarterback Caleb Hanie figures to be much better against the Chiefs at Soldier Field on Sunday.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. For the teamís sake, that better had been the worst. I think itís fair to cut Hanie a little slack for his shaky debut as a starter. When Jay Cutler first suffered his injury and it was announced heíd miss time, everyone started looking at the next several games on the schedule to see how Hanie would fare. I think everyone considered Sundayís outing at Oakland to be potentially the most dangerous for Hanie, and despite the rocky start, he played fairly well once he settled in. For me, there are positives to draw from that loss for Hanie. Letís not forget that the Raiders are a 7-4 team with a young, attacking defense and stout front that is playing good football, and Hanie took their best shot on the road in a hostile environment. If anything, Hanieís ability to bounce back from early adversity in that game should give him confidence over the long haul. Hanie will be fine, and Cutler will play an integral role in making sure he is by relaying his experiences to the new signal caller.
Melissa Isaacson Fact. Itís pretty likely Hanie will throw another interception before his shot as the Bears starting quarterback is over. But all you have to do is look at the fourth quarter of Hanieís regular season debut as starter last Sunday in Oakland to see the potential for improvement. After throwing all three of his picks in the first half -- two that were awful and one that should at least in part be attributed to the heady play of two Raiders linebackers -- Hanie did not throw another in the second half and completed 10 of 18 passes for 175 yards in the final quarter alone for a 107.4 quarterback rating as the Bears scored 13 points to keep them in the game. Granted, the Raiders were trying to protect their lead and playing a softer zone defense in the fourth quarter, but Hanie settled down and there is every reason to believe he will reduce mistakes with more experience and practice with the first team.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Hanieís first half was abysmal. He improved in the second half, but still didnít look sharp. Yes, he hit on a home run pass to Johnny Knox, but the deep ball is down my list of quarterback qualities. Hanie showed promise in other areas, too. He just needs to put it all together. I still have faith heíll get better, but more game tape might equal more struggles.
Fact or Fiction: Mike Martz has to alter his game plan to suit Hanie.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Martz called a decent game in Oakland. There wasn't a play he called that Hanie is incapable of executing. The problem with Martz is every week, without fail, he loses his mind at some point and calls a terrible play given the situation. A tight end screen on second-and-1 from the Raiders' 7-yard line with :35 seconds left in the first half? Come on, just run the football and settle for a field goal if necessary. Don't get me wrong, Hanie needed to put more zip on the pass that was deflected by Aaron Curry and intercepted by Kamerion Wimbley, but the call was silly. Martz doesn't need to alter the game plan to suit Hanie. He needs to stop trying to be so cute in these key moments. [+] EnlargeRobin Alam/Icon SMIMike Martz's goal line call just before halftime against the Raiders was questionable.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Actually, this is partly fact and partly fiction. See, Hanie is capable of doing everything Martzís offense calls for. But the offensive coordinator should be mindful of not putting Hanie into bad situations, such as calling a throwback screen -- which the team has shown a tendency on film to run near the goal line before halftime, according to Oakland linebacker Aaron Curry -- on second and 1 from the 7. I think itís important for Martz to gradually ramp up Hanieís game by calling for shorter passes early on that would allow the quarterback to get into a rhythm, before rattling off all the big-boy plays. At the same time, you canít deny that Hanieís mobility should make it enticing for Martz to cater the game plan to take advantage by utilizing the quarterback more on bootlegs to give him somewhat of a run-pass option.
Melissa Isaacson: Fact. This isnít really about the run vs. pass debate that feels age-old when it comes to Martz. Itís more about common sense when dealing with a quarterback making his first NFL regular season start. Did Martz really need to call pass plays on 20 of 33 plays in the first half? Did he need to call a pass play on a second-and-1 from the Oakland 7 with 35 seconds left in the second half? Hanie showed his run ability Sunday with 50 yards on five attempts and though not every one demonstrated the best judgment, youíd like to see Martz utilize his live legs and cut down the odds for key interceptions.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Martz now has a better idea of how Hanie fares against NFL talent. I think he knows what plays to throw away now, and what plays suit Hanieís strengths. The problem is that Martz is dedicated to his system and that familiarity often takes precedence over reality.
Fact or Fiction: Johnny Knox can be a No. 1 receiver for the Bears.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. From a talent standpoint, Knox can absolutely be a top wide receiver. But a No. 1? I'm not so sure. When I think of smaller No. 1 wideouts, the first guy who comes to mind is Steve Smith. But he's crazy and tough as nails. Knox isn't that sort of player. He relies on speed and quickness. The good news is Knox possesses a ton of talent. He simply needs to become more consistent. When/if that happens, we can discuss whether or not Knox can be the Bears best receiver. Right now, it's too premature. [+] EnlargeJim O'Connor/US PresswireJohnny Knox has all the tools to be an elite receiver but has been too inconsistent.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. But that canít and wonít be accomplished during Hanieís stint as the man under center. Knox flashes those elite-receiver skills, but I donít see it consistently enough to put him in that No. 1 category just yet. And I donít see him all of a sudden turning it on over the next five weeks of the season. Knox has shown the desire to improve his game, based on the way he bulked up his upper body last offseason to improve his ability to beat the jam at the line (he also needed to improve lower-body strength, but didnít). Knox would definitely benefit from spending an offseason working out with someone like Cris Carter to take his game to the next level, and I could see the receiver doing that. I just donít see it happening this season.
Melissa Isaacson:Fact. Knox still needs to cut down on drops -- he missed three he should have caught on Sunday -- but ironically, he may have a better chance of shining with Hanie than he did with Cutler. While Cutlerís preferred target was Earl Bennett, Hanie favors Knox, with whom he worked a lot in training camp while both were on the second team, and with whom he showed some nice chemistry against the Raiders.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. There isnít a No. 1 receiver on this roster, so letís not force the issue. Knox has gained 242 yards and two touchdowns -- his only ones of the season amazingly -- in the last two games, but he could just as easily disappear next week. Bennett had 251 yards in his previous three games and then caught one ball for 5 yards last week. Now that Devin Hester is seemingly being phased out of the passing game, Knox should see more looks, but heís still not a No. 1 type.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Keep Barber at 10-12 carrier per game. That's the perfect workload for a veteran who's dealt with a variety of injuries the past few years. Forte, on the other hand, needs 20-25 rushing attempts every week. He's still the same guy who carried the offense for the first eight games of the season. Why cut into his carries? I want more Forte, not less, regardless of how Barber is running the football. [+] EnlargeAP Photo/Julio CortezMarion Barber rushed for a season-high 63 yards against the Raiders on Sunday.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. Not only does he deserve to, but the current situation demands that Barber shoulder some of the burden. Forte has already racked up tons of touches, and the Bears run the risk of wearing the guy out by the end of the regular season if they continue to dish out the current workload. Itís commendable that Forte has played at such a high level for so long, and still appears to have fresh legs so late in the season. But why waste away another fresh-legged running back on the bench that adds a different style that might make it difficult for defenses to adjust to? As Bears coach Lovie Smith admitted on Monday, Barber was ďfeeling itĒ against the Raiders and is ďa weapon that we need to use.Ē So when the head coach says something like that, I expect the words to be put into action.
Melissa Isaacson: Fiction. While it does not have to be a knock on Forte to give more opportunities in the right situations to Barber, who runs hard and provides the always appreciated change-of-pace that can keep a defense off-balance, it should be just that -- situational. Against Oakland, the duo teamed for 122 yards on 22 carries, an average of better than 5 yards per carry, but the Raiders were a good matchup for Forte, who got only 12 carries (along with six catches for 25 yards) and wasnít thrilled about it. Forte also doesnít appreciate when he is taken out on the goal line, but thatís why Barber was brought in and has five touchdowns from 3, 3, 12, 2 and 1 yard to show for it.Sundayís game against the Chiefs appears to be the perfect opportunity for Forte to have a breakout game. Hereís hoping he gets the chance.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Forte should be getting 15-20 chances a game, be they runs or receptions,but itís obvious that Barber can still truck down the field. Letís be real, the Bears arenít going to run 35 times a game under Martz, even with Hanie under center, so Forteís going to get a few less carries. As a competitor he must hate this, but itís probably a good thing to take fewer hits, especially when heís still getting paid like a rookie.
I'm getting to that age where a lifetime warranty just doesn't mean as much to me anymore as an afternoon nap.
Honey Badger Don't Care. Honey Badger Don't Give a Shit.
I tend to agree that we should see Hanie improve each game from here on. Maybe the most impressive thing about him is what makes him different from Grossman. He doesn't let his dilemnas or the other team get into his head. He doesn't go into a shell and he recovers from adversity pretty quickly. In both of his pro games after throwing game altering picks he still brought the team back and has us in the game right up to the final gun sounded still moving the ball and challenging for another score.
A couple of things I see that need to change are these. No matter how much he may like Knox he needs to find Earl Bennett far more often than he did on Sunday and he needs to make decisions faster and better. He needs to spot the throws he can't make quickly then go to his alternative and if that's not open check down or run like hell. He can make plays with his feet better than he can with his arm when he's flushed and he needs to take advantage of that and if Martz doesn't like it he can give him that same message Cutler did. He quick, he nimble and he's tough enough to make yardage on scrambles he just needs to pull the ball down an do it. The one other thing he needs to concentrate on is not trying to win Martz's approval by trying to make impossible plays out of Martz's lala land calls. Martz will never be completely sold on him no matter what he does so think team, not Martz. Those guys will support him.
Martz on the other hand needs to stop making it difficult for him. I swear to God he seems to take a delight in things failing when it doesn't go his way. I'm beginning to think the guy is a little bit of a lunatic at times. The criticism of that call for the TE screen when he called it isn't just coming from us and the sportswriters. People on the inside and former players like Matt Bowen questioned it too. It's more than just being too cute and outsmarting himself. It borders on a certain kind of insanity when you keep doing those same things over and over and they don't work yet you ignore the plays that do work, like throwing to the TE in the f'n endzone, until it's too late. I keep saying this week after week. We throw to our TE's and good things usually happen. The percentage of passes we've thrown to TE's that have gone for first downs or TD must be at a near record level yet he continues to ignore it on first and goal more often than not. It's like he waits until the game is lost before he uses it because half the time those TE scores have come in a losing effort.
Knox is not a #1 WR and doubtful he ever will be, end of story. He needs to stop dropping easy catches and they need to stop expecting him to run slant routes that he executes poorly. Make another Willie Gault out of the guy and send him out deep to draw coverage from the other receivers and force teams to take that Safety out of the box. He has special skills just like Hester so use those skills and stop trying to find things for him to do that he doesn't do well.
Spend time with Cris Carter, hmmmmm? Maybe we should hire Cris as our WR coach. I agree with all of you who say Darryl Drake has yet to ever develop a true #1 WR from the talent he's been given. After all these years the law of averages says that at least one guy should have become a standout but we get zip. You can't even give him much credit for Bennett since the connection with Cutler predates their becoming teamates again. He couldn't do it with Hester, Moose declined after he got here, and Knox is still making rookie mistakes. If the kid ever does become a complete receiver he could be a terror and someone teams would fear but Drake just doesn't seem to know how to elevate guys to that level the same way that Tice does with his lineman. The trouble is that Drake is another one of Lovies Texas buddies and it's unlikely he ever gets let go unless Lovie does. Maybe if Martz goes to ASU we can get him to take Drake with him??????
I do agree that Barber should be getting 10-12 carries per game but I don't see the need for Forte to rush 20-25 times. 25 total touches maybe but no more than 20 rushes unless he's just tearing it up. Teams are taking away the outside and closing of his cutback lanes and it force him to alter his running style. Once he slows behind the line looking for daylight they contain him and he gets stopped quickly. His game is getting to the opponents second level where he can make some people miss. He's not a power runner even though he's shown more power this year than before. Barber is the guy who can get you four yards through a sliver of daylight just by hitting the hole and carrying guys for 2 yards. Against the defenses we've been facing lately and are likely to keep facing he'll be more effective at times and he has the goods to break some longer runs as well if he gets to the second level untouched.
Barber needs to be out there for more series and it's tough luck if Forte doesn't like it. If we make the playoffs, and we should, we still needs him fresh and able to do his thing and that won't happen if he's carrying the ball 25 times a game and catching another 5 passes. He's a weapon, not a tank, and he needs to be used that way. Barber is the tank. He loves it and he's good at it. If these two can combine for a 5 ypc average every game and Martz actually takes better advantage of that than he did Sunday we win games by controlling the ball and keep the defense fresh.
Right now it's better coaching and playing smarter that's gonna get us through the Caleb Hanie era and starting this week we need both. Even though Lovie had Martz's back in his interview more then once the camera caught him looking up at the booth with an expression on his face that indicated he wasn't happy with how the game was being called. If he let's Martz slide in private for that stupid call that resulted in the pick then he not the HC I think he is. I think the proper play calling sequence in first and goal needs work and Lovie needs to make that very clear this week. He says there's no longer any margin for error and if he means that he needs to get his OC on the same page. All we absolutely needed from that drive was a FG. We may have wanted a TD but all we needed was a FG and Martz seemed oblivious to that fact like he seems to do so often.
I trust Caleb Hanie to improve and I trust Lovie to keep the team focused on their goal and the defense strong, but I do no trust Mike Martz to stop doing stupid uncalled for things in the name of pursuing his agenda which never quite seems to be the same as Lovies. Lovie needs to step on him again if that's what it takes. We can't afford to lose more games like that one when we could have and should have won it.
I'm getting to that age where a lifetime warranty just doesn't mean as much to me anymore as an afternoon nap.
Honey Badger Don't Care. Honey Badger Don't Give a Shit.