At 2-9, the Chicago Bears are a difficult team to watch. Each and every week this team finds a way to lose, even when they out-play their opponents.
Such was the case last week against the Tennessee Titans. Chicago fell behind early but made a furious fourth-quarter comeback, one that should have resulted in the club's third victory of the year. Alas, Bears receivers dropped two touchdowns on the game's final drive, which was just enough for the Titan to eek out a six-point win.
The butter-fingered receivers overshadowed the play of Matt Barkley, who was making his first career start. With nothing to play for this year, evaluating a young passer like Barkley, who plays the most important position in football, is priority No. 1 going forward.
With that in mind, I poured through game film from Week 12 to get a better feel for Barkley and his long-term potential. Here are my notes:
QB Matt Barkley
-The first play of the game was a straight five-step drop and a deep ball to Marquess Wilson down the left sideline. The pass was on target and Wilson elicited a 33-yard pass interference penalty.
This first snap showed us two things. First, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains had no intention of treating Barkley with kid gloves. Loggains wasn't going to let Barkley's lack of experience limit his playbook.
Second, this was an easy 33-yard pass for Barkley, whom many labeled as "noodle-armed" coming into the game. As we'll see going forward, arm strength is not an issue for the USC product.
-On his first 3rd-down pass of the game, a Titans defender came free in the pocket. He barreled in on Barkley, who stood in and made an on-target throw just before getting hit.
This first high-pressure pass told us another thing about Barkley: he's not afraid of contact and is willing to absorb a hit if it offers the offense a chance at success. We saw even more of that as the game progressed.
-The first drop of the day came from RB Jordan Howard. It was a play-action naked bootleg with Howard releasing into the right flat. Barkley executed the ball fake before spinning back in the opposite direction. He immediately had a defender in his face, yet he still dropped in a perfect pass to Howard in stride, which likely would have resulted in a touchdown had the ball been caught.
-The following snap, Barkley found TE Daniel Brown in the end zone. It was the first touchdown pass of his four-year career.
On the play, Brown ran an out route from the right seam toward the right pylon. Just as Brown made his break, Barkley fired the pass to the outside, where only his receiver could make the catch. The Titans had a linebacker in Brown's inside hip, yet the pass was perfect and out the defender's reach, resulting in the score.
-Barkley showed some rust early in the game, which was to be expected. On an early 2nd and 10, he fumbled an easy handoff to Howard, which the Bears were lucky to recover. He also overthrew a first-quarter screen pass to Howard that would have gone for big yards, then bounced a bubble screen off the ground a few series later.
-His worst throws of the game resulted in two red-zone interceptions.
The first came on a five-yard pass between the hashes to TE Ben Braunecker. At the snap, Barkley looked left but his first read was covered. He then looked to the middle of the field and saw Braunecker, who had LB Wesley Woodyard standing right next to him. Barkley tried to fire a pass away from the linebacker, yet Woodyard easily undercut the throw and intercepted the pass.
The second pick came on 3rd-and-5 play from the Tennessee 5-yard line. Barkley's first read was covered again and there was pressure in his face, which forced him to shuffle out of the pocket. He then panicked and lofted a pass into double coverage, which was intercepted by Da'Norris Searcy.
Those two plays took, at the very least, six points off the board. In a six-point loss, those are critical, game-changing mistakes.
-Tennessee's second pass interference call came on a deep pass to WR Deonte Thompson down the right sideline.
Again, the pass was on target, with Barkley releasing the ball at the 29-yard line, and the ball hitting the ground at the opposite 18. It was an easy 53-yard throw.
Give credit to Thompson, who sold the P.I. call to the referee.
-Barkley's accuracy improved as the game progressed and he found his rhythm in the third quarter following his second interception. That carried over into the fourth quarter.
The Titans took a 27-7 lead with 13:45 left in the game. The Bears offense had time for just three drives the remainder of the game, and needed touchdowns on each to secure a victory. Barkley nearly pulled it off.
In those final three drives, Barkley threw 33 passes. He completed 18 of those pass attempts, yet seven of those were dropped by the receivers. If they secure those catches, then Barkley goes 25-for-33 down the stretch.
On the first drive, Tennessee backed off its defense and played more shell, prevent coverage. With very little pressure in the pocket, Barkley executed a 14-play, 75-yard drive during which he took what the defense gave him and moved the offense methodically down the field.
After that score, Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau brought the pressure. The Bears passed the ball 20 more times following the 6:35 mark in the game, and LeBeau brought five or more pass rushers on 13 of those snaps.
Yet Barkley was outstanding under pressure. On those 13 blitz plays, he completed five passes, four of which resulted in a first down and the fifth resulting in a touchdown. In addition, four of those passes were flat-out dropped by the receivers, two of which would have resulted in scores, meaning Barkely should have completed 9 of 13 pass attempts under heavy pressure from the Titans.
That's the stuff of an experienced veteran, being able to stand in and deliver accurate passes with defenders barreling in on you in the game's biggest moments. All that coming in his first career start and having to overcome a rough first half and two costly interceptions. Not too shabby.
-Is Barkley a long-term option for the Bears?
The sample size is too small to say for sure and we'll have a better feel for Barkley after the next five weeks. Yet what I saw on film was very impressive.
He struggled early, which was to be expected, yet both of his interceptions came on drives in which he had moved the offense into the Titans red zone. Supported by a strong rushing attack, he was moving the ball from the first quarter on.
When the game was on the line, Barkley shined, which is exactly what you want to see out of a young, inexperienced QB, who at the very least has earned an invite to Bears training camp next season.