Jay Cutler was guilty of locking on to Brandon Marshall too much and now Brian Hoyer has been charged with not getting Alshon Jeffery the ball enough.
Somewhere in between maybe there is a happy medium for Bears quarterbacks. Good luck finding that elusive ratio. When have you known an elite wide receiver to admit he’s covered on a semi-regular basis?
Jeffery, the former South Carolina star who is the Bears’ franchise-tag player earning $14.599 million, hasn’t publicly lobbied for the ball. He didn’t need to after Sunday’s 29-23 loss to the Colts.
On the Bears’ final possession, Hoyer missed his most productive wide receiver open behind cornerback Vontae Davis and streaking to the end zone on fourth-and-8 from the Colts’ 28-yard line.
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Jeffery’s hands went to the sides of his helmet as a throw to Cameron Meredith fell incomplete. Then, his hands went to the air. When he reached the sidelined, he spiked his helmet to the turf.
“It is more disappointing that we didn’t get the win,” Jeffery said. “I saw the read (Hoyer) had. If we executed and made the play, we wouldn’t be talking about it.”
Jeffery is right. Had he caught a 28-yard touchdown in the final minute, his targets wouldn’t be a storyline coming off a victory. Hoyer has thrown the ball his way 18 times in the last three games while targeting Kevin White (who missed the Colts game) 23 times and Meredith 20 times. Jeffery is averaging 6.2 targets per game this season. He was at 9.5 in 41 games over the previous three years.
Film review showed Hoyer did look Jeffery’s way. On his third throw of the game, Hoyer turned to Jeffery, who was covered, before going back to running back Jordan Howard on a play that was wiped out by penalty. Before Hoyer hooked up with Jeffery on a 38-yard strike deep down the sideline, he looked for a similar play. Hoyer faked a handoff and had Jeffery running a go route down the left sideline with Meredith running a deep corner route on the opposite side. He looked to Jeffery, but Davis and safety Mike Adams had him bracketed. The other safety, Clayton Geathers, was even leaning to Jeffery’s side before Hoyer came back to Meredith for an 18-yard completion.
“I had to deal with this last year with DeAndre Hopkins,” Hoyer said. “It’s just the way it goes. You can either be stubborn and try to force the ball to guys when it really shouldn’t be and that is when you can get yourself into trouble or even worse is getting Al hurt. You throw it up and he’s got a corner and a safety. And that’s the thing. Similar to Hopkins, he has the ability to go up and get the ball, and when you do that you start getting shots to the ribs, tipped balls, interceptions.
“So, for me it’s go through the progression and if they want to take him away, then we’ve got to make them pay in other ways.”
The Colts were determined not to let Jeffery beat them and adjusted their coverage accordingly, shadowing him with Davis after halftime. Play-calling goes into it too. The Colts went with a seven-man pressure on third-and-5 from the 6-yard line at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Jeffery was tightly covered on a fade route to the right and Hoyer made a low-percentage throw to Eddie Royal on a corner route that went incomplete, leading to a field goal. Had Jeffery been running a slant or an in-breaking route, Davis would not have had any help. If Jeffery wins the first few steps of the route, it’s an easy touchdown.
The Bears have been piling up yardage, ranking ninth in the league. But they haven’t been scoring enough and Jeffery has gone without a touchdown for five games, the longest drought of his career. Jeffery is tied with Royal, among others, for 49th in the NFL with 31 targets and that’s not enough. He is averaging 17.9 yards per catch, ninth among receivers with at least 10 receptions.
Jeffery wants a long-term deal similar to the riches received by Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Dez Bryant last season and he’s going to have a hard time making a case for it if he doesn’t get the ball more. Still, he’s on pace for 70 catches for 1,261 yards. Nice numbers but not the kind that are rewarded with $40 million guaranteed. Probably not the kind of numbers you want from a player earning more than $14 million.
“I think they have connected,” coach John Fox said of Jeffery and Hoyer. “If you look at his yards per catch, they’re up there. The one thing Brian has done is spread the ball around quite a bit. To say that Alshon hasn’t been that involved, I don’t know I agree with that. He’s made some big plays and he’s got that kind of ability and Brian realizes that.”
Hoyer locked on to Hopkins plenty last season, targeting him 10.8 times in nine starts for the Texans.
As a quarterback, you don’t want to get into the game of forcing things. I think that is where turnovers and bad plays come from,” Hoyer said. “I’m going to go through the reads the way I am coached and I don’t discriminate. I don’t care if it’s (tight end) Logan (Paulsen) or the back. That’s just the way it goes. It’s been working. We just have to get some more touchdowns.”
Hoyer isn’t comfortable forcing the ball into tight spots, but Jeffery is so good winning one-on-one balls downfield that it’s something the Bears need to do more. He doesn’t have to be streaking wide open to pick up chunks of yardage.
It takes some daring to maximize the talents of a player like Jeffery. It’s time to look his way more.