Miller: Reducing sacks on Cutler starts with short-step drops

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Miller: Reducing sacks on Cutler starts with short-step drops

Every die hard Bear fan knows the number 104. Its not the local radio dial number to the SCORE or ESPN, but plenty of Bear fans have heard 104 during many broadcasts. 104 is the number of sacks Bears quarterbacks have registered the last two seasons. Jay Cutler has felt the brunt of most of them, but 104 sacks is an astronomical number which does not even include the number of hits the quarterback position has received.
So whose fault is it? Is it the quarterback himself or the offensive line? How about the receivers not getting to the right spot on time or Mike Martzs play-calling, or maybe Lovie Smiths fault for hiring his buddy Martz?
There is plenty of blame to go around, but the Bears are committed learners, sustaining 104 lessons which they are destined never to repeat. There is a culprit for each and every one of those 104 sacks. When the answer is formulated, you make a change for a more positive result. The Bears have done just that by removing Martz from the equation.
My next few articles will focus on play calling and scheme giving you a clearer picture of Mike Tices game plan to create more positive plays. Positive plays allow an offense to stay on schedule creating more manageable down and distance situations. The probabilities and percentages for success are in the offenses favor when this occurs. Lets start with:
The Quick Passing Game
The quick passing game can be either one or three-step drops. They are quick hitters for modest gains of three to five yards, but if you have talented receivers they can take short routes the distance by making a defender miss a tackle.
One step drop: Normally are wide receiver screens, bubble screens, one-step slant routes or "no-look" passes. Essentially, the quarterback is taking a one-step drop (right handed quarterback's right foot) away from the center, creating separation from the line of scrimmage enabling a throw. The offensive line utilizes fire blocking rules, which is firing off the line of scrimmage at the defender with a good punch block. The punch block is the offensive lineman using both hands to pushpunch the defender square in his chest plate, preventing the defender the ability to get his arms up to knock down the pass.
Example: A run play maybe called in the huddle, but when the quarterback starts his cadence at the line of scrimmage, he may notice off coverage on his receivers, and that a safety has rotated down into the run box making running the football difficult for a positive play. The quarterback instead elects to utilize a no look pass to one of his receivers. The quarterback may then use a code word for fire blocking or say nothing at all because most run plays are fire blocking rules unless the quarterback knows he has an offensive lineman pulling. By using the code word he ensures all are on the same page and thus telling the offensive line, we are changing the play. The quarterback signals the receiver, letting him know, "Im throwing you the ball."The receiver then simply squares up to the quarterback to receive the throw. It is now up to the receiver to take advantage of the positive look situation presented by getting up field for three of four yards after the catch; potentially more if he makes the defender miss.
Three steps: Hitch routes, slant routes, quick out routes, tight end stick routes, and hot routes. More timing is involved, but these are quick-hitting plays that can have huge rewards. For example, if a slant route is hit with timing, a five yard pass can become ten yards hitting the receiver on the run. Fire blocking rules still apply for the offensive line. Tight end stick routes are an assured five yards versus almost every coverage, provided the tight end and quarterback read the coverage correctly. This crucial quick game tight end route was essentially non-existent along with the entire tight end position under Martz tenure. The Y stick route is a great route especially in the red zone.
Three-step routes are also perfect plays for max Protection (eight-man blocking) to ensure the pass gets off without the quarterback getting hit or sacked. They are great early down (1st2nd) calls for positive plays to stay on schedule, leading to more manageable 3rd and short or medium situations. Mike Tice is just playing the percentages where Martz did not. It is much easier to pick up a 3rd and 4 than a 3rd and 10, which Martz found himself in repeatedly due to a sack on second down from calling a seven step drop.
Next up, we will get into the intermediate passing game (five-step drops), deep pass game (seven-step drops), movement plays (200300 series which is roll out game for Jay Cutler), then run and play-action (100 series). They all can be great for the Bears with Tices new approach. It will then be up to the players how great of an offense they want to be.

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

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AP

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

The sports world woke up to some tragic news on Sunday morning.

Former major leaguer Andy Marte and Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura were both killed in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic within an hour of each other, according to multiple reports. A Royals representative confirmed the death of 25-year-old Ventura.

The Cubs and White Sox took to Twitter to give their condolences:

Ventura was a member of the Royals from 2013-16 and won a World Series title in 2015 with Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis, who the Cubs acquired this offseason for Jorge Soler. Ventura also played with White Sox pitcher James Shields in 2013-14.

Marte, 33, played a majority of his seven-year career with the Cleveland Indians. He was teammates with Todd Hollandsworth (Atlanta 2005), Kerry Wood (Cleveland 2009-10), and Miguel Montero (Arizona 2014).