Cutler must be cautious against Panthers

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Cutler must be cautious against Panthers

By this point, everyone has seen the vicious hit Bears quarterback Jay Cutler sustained last week from Lions defensive tackle Ndamakung Suh. Fortunately, Cutler only suffered bruised ribs from the hit and avoided what could have a significant shoulder injury. He toughed it out and finished the game against the Lions, but the injury left him feeling uncomfortable during the duration of the game.

There hasn't really been any clarification on what Cutlers injury entails other than bruised ribs. Cutler has expressed being sore all week, but has been able to practice. In my experience, bruised ribs can be nagging, linger, and take a long time to heal if damage to rib cartilage is involved. Just about every breath you take is an uncomfortable reminder of the problem, and most defenders will try to hit you in the rib strike zone, which is below the neck and above the waist just due to the rules of the game. 

It will be imperative for Cutler, when facing the Carolina Panthers, not to take any unnecessary hits. Bears fans should look to see if most hits to Cutler are focused to the midsection area. Panthers players know where Cutler is hurting. Put the New Orleans Saints Bounty nonsense aside, but it is only realistic to expect Cutlers ribs will be targeted from a rules standpoint alone  It is the area of the body most quarterbacks take hits within the pocket and is also why bruised ribs take a long time to heal because those hits keep aggravating an already sore injury. Every time I thought I was healed, I would get tagged inflaming the area again and the healing process had to start over.   

Running out of bounds, sliding, and throwing the ball away all need to be utilized by Cutler starting against the Panthers. Cutler, the organization, and Bears fans know all too well what life can be like without their starting quarterback on the field from last season.

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Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

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Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”