Bears scouting report: Barkley the latest QB

Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Chicago Bears quarterback Matt Barkley looks to pass against the Detroit Lions.

GREEN BAY – Matt Barkley will become the latest in the Chicago Bears’ endless list of quarterbacks who have started against the Green Bay Packers during the 25-year era of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Two months after relieving injured Brian Hoyer in a 26-10 loss at Lambeau Field, Barkley will start Sunday at Soldier Field in the 194th Packers-Bears game.

An executive in personnel who picked the Packers, 24-10, based his choice on the Rodgers-Barkley matchup.

“He has limitations but within those limitations he’s done a good job getting the ball out quickly and being fairly accurate and learning the offense,” the personnel man said. “He’s doing what he’s being coached to do.

“Eventually it will catch up to Barkley. Guys like him don’t all of a sudden become the answer. They can play better, kind of like Hoyer. But at the end of the day they are what they are.”

The Bears planned to enter the season with Jay Cutler, Hoyer and possibly Connor Shaw. When Shaw suffered a broken leg Aug. 27, they signed Barkley after he was cut by Arizona.

Barkley, 6 feet 2½ inches and 227 pounds, was selected in the fourth round by Philadelphia in 2013. On Tuesday, a scout reflected on that horrendous quarterback draft and ranked Tampa Bay’s Mike Glennon and Barkley as the best of the lot.

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The Eagles traded Barkley to Arizona in September 2015 for a seventh-round pick. From 2013-’15 he attempted 50 passes but never started a game.

Starting for Cutler, who would go on injured reserve Dec. 5, Hoyer suffered a season-ending arm injury on a hit by Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers in the first meeting. Without benefit of much practice time, Barkley played respectably for two-plus quarters before being intercepted twice in the last five minutes.

Barkley didn’t play again until starting Games 11-13. His passer ratings were 72.8 in a 27-21 loss to Tennessee, 97.5 in a 26-6 victory over San Francisco and 92.2 in a 20-17 loss Sunday at Detroit.

“He’s functional,” said another scout. “I didn’t see a lot of energy (against the Lions). It was kind of like he was managing the game. It’s not like he’s a high-risk type player. He just takes what they give you.”

Barkley, a native of Santa Ana, Calif., was a star at Mater Dei High School and Southern California. The temperatures were 40 and 33 degrees for his first two games at Soldier Field, but it figures to be much colder Sunday with a high in the mid-teens and winds 15-25 mph.

“That’s a whole other ball of wax,” said one of the scouts. “You know how that goes. He’s a Southern California guy. I’m anxious to see how he handles cold weather.”

Barkley is smart (Wonderlic score of 30), a strong leader and has big hands (10 1/8 inches) that should help him in frigid conditions. He isn’t a runner.

On the rise: With six starters out with injuries and another suspended, the Bears are 3-10 and locked into their third straight last-place finish in the NFC North.

Perhaps the most effective area of the team has been a pass rush that ranks fifth. Overall, the Bears’ defense ranks seventh in yards (326.5), 15th in points (22.3) and tied for 30th in takeaways (10).

“I kind of like what I see from their defense,” said one scout. “They get a lot of penalties because they don’t have athletes but I will say this: the Bear defense plays hard.

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“You’ve got high-effort guys with (Willie) Young, (Leonard) Floyd and (Pernell) McPhee. They’re turning to the ball, which means you’ve got to worry about getting hit from behind by these big dudes stripping the ball. That’s what you get when you have guys running around like this.”

According to Sportradar, defensive end Akiem Hicks leads the Bears in pressures with 29 followed by Floyd (23), Young (21) and McPhee 12. On a pressure per snap basis, McPhee leads with one every 16.2.

The Bears’ ability to harass the quarterback with four-man rushes has enabled coordinator Vic Fangio to blitz merely 15.9%. According to Sportradar, it’s the lowest blitz rate in the NFL.

Floyd, a rookie drafted with the ninth pick, had a two-sack game against the Packers.

“At first, Floyd was dropping in coverage and was clueless and looked lost,” one personnel man said. “Now they’ve got him moving straight ahead. Using him on loops and twists. He’s making a ton of plays. He’s an athlete that can run and is long. Looks like a great pick for them.”

McPhee made his season debut against the Packers after a long struggle with a knee injury.

“He still doesn’t look healthy to me,” said one scout. “Just turning the corner. He looks stiff. Now he’s still tough. Love what he brings. Good run player. Strong up top.”

Hicks, a former Saint, is a massive (6-4½, 336) 5-technique in the midst of his finest season.

“Good run player and a solid rusher,” one scout said. “Gets in the throwing lanes.”

The Bears have played better overall, and on defense, in home games. They’re 3-3 at home, allowing 17.2 points and 273.3 yards per game. On the road, they’re 0-7 with yields of 26.7 and 372.4.

Return engagement: Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery should get significant playing time after returning from a four-game suspension. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in March.

“In college (Georgia) he did have some weight issues and being in shape,” said one scout. “It’s kind of a shot in the dark what he’s going to be physically. He’s a big target but doesn’t create a lot of separation. I guess he can be a red-zone threat.”

Added another scout: “He’s playing for a contract. He could want to finish strong, or protect himself. Four weeks isn’t a lot of time to get totally out of shape.

“I would think they have nothing to lose. ‘Let’s use him while we got him.’ I think they’ll go to this guy down the field to kind of open up Jordan Howard.”

Sportradar has the Bears with 32 dropped passes, the fifth-highest total in the league. Howard and Cameron Meredith each have seven followed by Jeffery (five) and Josh Bellamy (four). It was an end-zone drop by Bellamy in the final minute that cost the Bears victory over the Titans.

The Packers will be seeing a new face in tight end Daniel Brown (6-4½, 243), an ex-Ravens free agent from James Madison who took over after Zach Miller went on injured reserve Nov. 23.

Brown ran 4.57 at 227 in March 2015. He has long arms (34 7/8) and big hands (9 7/8). In just 116 snaps he has 11 receptions for 79 yards.

“He’s showed some athleticism,” one scout said. “He made a real nice extended catch. He’s really not much of a blocker but he’s holding up.”

Howard, the rookie running back from Indiana, had his least productive game (7-22) since Game 2 against the Packers. In the last six games he has averaged 20.2 carries and 102.8 yards rushing.

“They’re running more downhill now,” said one scout. “Before they were throwing it a ton. Seems like they’re playing more to their personnel now.

“Howard looks much better. You still see some of the vision issues but he’s getting it downhill and breaking tackles.”

The ground game has been aided by the return of guard Josh Sitton, the former Packer who sat out Games 7, 8 and 11 with ankle problems. This will be his first game against his ex-teammates.

Historic event: If the Packers win, it would be the first time in 83 years they’ve been tied with the Bears in the all-time series. It was 11-11-4 in October 1933 before the Bears gained the upper hand for generations.

Chicago leads, 94-93-6, but Green Bay has scored one more point: 3,305 to 3,304. The two playoff games were included.

“That’s hilarious,” said one scout. “A statistical oddity.”

The Packers have won six in a row at Soldier Field after capturing 11 straight in Illinois from 1994-2004. Green Bay is 19-4 in Illinois since ’94.

Under coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers are 11-2 in the last 13 meetings and 15-7 overall.

The Bears were a nine-point underdog at Lambeau Field a year ago but won behind Cutler, 17-13. In 2013, they were a 10½-point underdog in Green Bay but triumphed behind Josh McCown, 27-20.

Green Bay is favored by 6½.

Not a strength: One scout never hesitated saying the Bears can’t pull an upset. “I don’t think they can cover them,” he said.

When Rodgers threw 56 times for 326 yards and three touchdowns against the Bears in Game 7, Chicago lost cornerback Bryce Callahan (hamstring) after 16 snaps. It forced De’Vante Bausby and Jacoby Glenn to combine for 72 snaps and Davante Adams (13-132) ate them up.

Callahan is back now playing the slot as nickel back while Cre’Von LeBlanc joins Tracy Porter outside.

At safety, rookie Deon Bush, who played only on special teams against Green Bay, is No. 1 followed by Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey.

“Their safeties are liabilities,” one scout said. “Their corners are just average.”

Inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan combined to play 157 of 174 snaps against the Packers. Freeman is completing a four-game suspension while Trevathan suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee.

They’ve been replaced by rookie Nick Kwiatkoski, a fourth-round draft choice, and John Timu, a free agent in his second year.

“Losing Freeman really hurt them,” said one scout. “Kwiatkoski is more of a plugger but he makes some plays. You can have their other linebacker. If there’s two guys you want to take advantage of it’s 53 (Timu) and 29 (Jones-Quartey). They’re playing with nine guys with those guys.”

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