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.

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

The adage “play the man, not the board” seems somehow appropriate for what the Bears are doing to prepare for the Detroit Lions behind quarterback Matt Barkley.

“The man” is Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Bears have been scouting him as well as his defenses, beyond just Bears games, beyond this season and last, taking in his 2014 Detroit season when Austin prepared defenses for Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen.

How did Austin scheme for rookie Carson Wentz when the Lions played (and beat) the Philadelphia Eagles? How did he structure is defense to stop a rookie Teddy Bridgewater when Detroit played Minnesota? (Not very well, apparently, since the Vikings won both games and scored 54 points combined in the two games).

While the John Fox Bears staff went against Austin’s Lions defense twice last year, Cutler was the Bears quarterback. When the Bears beat Austin and the Lions two months ago, it was with Brian Hoyer.

Now the Bears quarterback is Matt Barkley, who has fewer NFL games played (seven) than Cutler has NFL seasons (11), Hoyer (eight), too, for that matter.

“Different defensive coordinators attack young quarterbacks differently,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “Some guys blitz, some guys play a bunch of zone. This group on defense there, they have a really good defensive coordinator, they're really smart, they do a bunch of stuff. On the back end, they run all the coverages.

“As a game, we'll have to make adjustments as the game goes and see what their plan to come out is early.”

Coaches and players may talk about how they prepare for a scheme irrespective of which opposing quarterback, running back, linebacker or whatever they will be facing. But in fact, preparations start with who is orchestrating the opponent’s offense or defense – play the man, not the board.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

A risk can be out-thinking yourself trying to anticipate what a coordinator will do. The first point, Loggains said, is to start with your own strengths.

“We definitely look at that,” Loggains said. “As you go in the league long and longer, you face these guys, you see them in crossover games. We always know how a guy attacks a rookie quarterback or attacks a young quarterback, a veteran, or, in Matt's case, a guy who hasn't played as much.”

Evaluations of Barkley’s performance will broaden, particularly now that he is on tape for defensive coordinators to scheme for and scout. And while they are watching Barkley, the Bears are watching them.