15 on 6: The good, the bad and then there's Collins

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15 on 6: The good, the bad and then there's Collins

Monday, Oct. 11, 2010
10:03 a.m.

By Jim Miller
CSNChicago.com
O-Line gets off the schneid!
It was nice to see the grunts up front respond after suffering through tremendous scrutiny the last four weeks. Rushing for 218 total yards is no small feat in the NFL versus any opponent. All five offensive linemen responded with no one performing so egregiously that they would be benched this week against Seattle at home. Offensive tackle Chris Williams may have to wait another week to return to the lineup because all five have earned another opportunity to start and are eager to follow up their Carolina performance. A shake-up at the quarterback position will be the one coaches have to address.

The good, the bad and then there's Collins

The team played exceptionally in response to Jay Cutler's absence. Informed of Carolina's issues, everyone raised their level of play a notch to log another victory. The defense offered up another masterpiece creating turnovers and physically beating up QB Jimmy Clausen who eventually had to be replaced. Special teams were outstanding providing great field position and Robbie booted a 53-yard field goal to put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter. There inlies the only problem: the game should have been blown wide open in the second quarter if the Bears received any heady play at all from veteran QB Todd Collins.
Know your role, know your situation in the game
I always love listening to the voice of the Bears, Jeff Joniak, and former Chicago Bears offensive lineman, Tom Thayer, on my drive into the city to cover the game. They do a great job and Jeff offered some good questions when he interviewed Collins earlier in the week. Todd played exactly how he sounded in his responses on air -- nervous! Todd has been in the league far too long to not understand the situations he was presented in Carolina. When you are ill-prepared in situational play explains the panic witnessed on the field by Collins.

Bears are up 17-3 in the second quarter and the offense gets another opportunity to score after the unbelievable interception by defensive end Julius Peppers. It is third-and-one at the 1-yard line and Todd elects to panic by forcing a throw to Devin Hester. If Carolina defensive tackle Ed Johnson did not intercept it, a Panthers linebacker and defensive back were waiting, almost lining up, for the swipe. The situation is just throw the ball away and take the field goal. It puts the game at three scores and would have put more pressure on Carolina to go away from their power run game much earlier. This relates to a blog last year about not assuming what a player knows from previous stops in the NFL. Todd has been in the NFL a long time, but really has not played a lot. Martz has to preface the play in the headset to Todd with something like this: "Be smart with the ball, throw it away if it's not there, we will take the field goal and go up three scores." Just a subtle reminder is all Todd should need, but he panicked not knowing the situation, and then threw the ball late when the timing was already off, which is another no-no, especially in the red zone. How about the deep interception over the middle versus a straight Tampa 2 defense. The middle linebacker's assignment is to carry any middle-read receiver, essentially it becomes a cover 3. If the linebacker's too deep, I guarantee a receiver is open replacing him underneath. Todd predetermined his throw not prepared to react from his post-snap read. That is bad football and poor QB play! I could cover the other two interceptions, but let's move on, like the Bears, with Jay or Caleb.

Hanie

It was the right coaching decision to start Collins and it was also the right coaching decision to insert Caleb Hanie. I have been in Caleb's situation before. If you watch the replay of the game, Caleb is listening to every play call to get a feel for the game. You try to put yourself on the field and mentally play the game. He's looking at the sideline photos with Jay and Todd to reaffirm his own mental decisions and is seeing and gaining confidence. He was dying to play when called upon and knew he could make a difference. He had a nice third-and-six conversion in the fourth quarter showing his poise and confidence through his preparation. He knew his situation, the team's situation and led two drives of four that ended in field goals to finish the game. If Jay is not cleared to play this week, Caleb would be the call to start at QB. Caleb is intoxicated from stepping on the field and making a difference helping his team win. Welcome to the NFL!

Jim Miller, an 11-year former NFL quarterback, is a Comcast SportsNet Bears analyst who can be seen each week on U.S. Cellular Bears Postgame Live. Miller, who spent five seasons with the Bears, analyzes current Chicago QB Jay Cutler in his "15 on 6" blog on CSNChicago.com and can be followed on Twitter @15miller.

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Pro Football Focus has more than its share of both supporters and detractors of how it goes about grading NFL players. They break down every snap for every player, and while there are general agreements on what's seen by naked, untrained eyes who don't put the time and investment into its system that PFF does, there are other evaluations that seem to come out of the blue. While there's occasional guesswork on a player's particular assignment on a given play within its scheme, those of us who've watched and studied nuances of the game, or those who've played it, can usually identify how many jobs were done correctly.

Tuesday, PFF released its rankings of all 32 NFL rosters but in essence focused on the quality of each team's starting lineup, listing the Bears — are you sitting down? — 18th in the league. That's ahead of the likes of the Ravens, Saints, Texans, Dolphins, a Jaguars franchise that's had tons of high draft picks in recent years, as well as the Broncos and Lions (whom they rank 28th). The top five are the Falcons, Patriots, Titans, Packers and Steelers (the Bears play three of those teams in September alone). Among other Bears opponents, they rank the Panthers 10th, Vikings 12th, Buccaneers 13th and Eagles 15th.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Their evaluation is based on each player's final score from last season, "elite" and "good" being the top two levels, followed by "average" and "below average" to "poor." The only Bear earning elite status was inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Another nine Bears finished with good grades: Jordan Howard, Zach Miller, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Adrian Amos and Quintin Demps (who earned his grade in Houston).

Those earning average grades were Cam Meredith, Kendall Wright, Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Jr., Pernell McPhee and Prince Amukamara. Below average: Mike Glennon (in mop-up duty in Tampa Bay), Kevin White, Bobby Massie, Leonard Floyd and Jaye Howard. The only Bear earning a poor grade among projected starters was tight end Dion Sims (with Miami). The other potential flaw is that PFF lists Kyle Fuller (no grade) and Bryce Callahan (average) as starters when Marcus Cooper and Cre'Von LeBlanc likely have the inside track to start at cornerback and nickel back, respectively.

How did the Bears get to 18th, above three playoff teams and another that won the Super Bowl two years ago? Well, all of those other teams have more elite players at certain positions, but it's offset by a number of spots occupied by more players with poor or below average grades. The Broncos (25th) for instance, had four elite players, just another four falling under the good grade, but five players listed as poor.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."