15 on 6: Player safety a concern at TCF Bank Stadium

15 on 6: Player safety a concern at TCF Bank Stadium

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
9:14 AM

By Jim MillerCSNChicago.com

Jay Cutler and a few Bears have been critical of the league allowing Monday night's game to be played outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota. The players have a point because the stadium was not built to host games after November. More importantly, it's all politics playing into the ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. Hypocrisy is again being displayed by the NFL where the players feel obligated to make a good point to the public through the media. The league has been cracking down on helmet to helmet hits more than ever this year. Commissioner Roger Goodell says "it's all about player safety", which is baloney with his latest decision to play at TCF. It's all about increasing revenues by going to an 18-game schedule along with CYA. There simply will not be enough players to accomplish the goal of 18 games. Injuries are at a record number in 2010. Players placed on Injured Reserve is even worse, up by more than 50 players compared to last year. Even with these record numbers, the owner's standpoint is the desire to play two more games with no increase in pay. You cannot be serious or even remotely make this up! Thus, the league for public image concerns, wanted to take a stronger stance on safety because concussions are all the rage lately in the media. Show sympathy to the public and indicate they are addressing the issue. Can any rational person, business, or industry concerned about safety really subject its workers to head injuries by playing on a block of ice? Almost laughable when you think about it!

Bigger Picture

Increase the rosters to 68, allow teams to placeactivate players from IR at any point of season, and add two more weeks pay. A simple solution, but owners do not want costs of two more weeks pay or any increased player costs with increased roster size. Amazing how we all want things for free, even though numbers prove teams will not be able to field a team for 18 games with the current injury situation and how Injured reserve is utilized. The current roster is 57, but 68 is just a number in my head that I feel is sufficient. It is a buffer number. A team can probably get away with 6465 but a lot of guys practice who should not be due to injuries. Extra bodies should be agreeable with owners because:

1. Owners would be protecting their biggest investments (marquee playershigh priced contracts who need to rest rather than practice). It enables the best product to get on the field which fans are paying to see.

2. Owners could be developing a future NFL star player for practice squad compensation. (RB Arian Foster of the Texans is leading the league in rushing right now, that is called return on investment. He may be the Texans only bright spot of the season.)

3. The Key is: scoutingpersonnel department need to be earning their keep with correct analysis of players added to the roster, allows teams to develop players into their system, teams will be more capable dealing with injuries that currently derail a season. Teams ultimately, would be more competitive which giving them a better opportunity to contend for postseason play where owners make a lot of money. (The last point I will get into in a future blog as the Bears will be in postseason play).

As a former player, I could not care less and current players could not care less where they are playing tonight's game. It's just political posturing because players who love the game know this is how all games should be played. Which is outdoors in the elements! How you adjust and prepare for playing in the elements, the playing surface, and playing gear, all factor into the outcome of the game. The team most prepared to execute their game plan along with the aforementioned will win.

Jay's elements

Tom Brady made it look like it was 80 degrees and sunny when dismantling the Bears. I thought it was odd Cutler did not scrub down the game balls prior to every game. Almost all starters in the NFL do it including Brady. For those not in the know, there is an allotment of footballs used in every game provided by both teams. They are inspected by officials for scuffs, air pressure, etc. to ensure they are legal and regulation. When regulation footballs come out of the box brand new, they have a layer of film on them which becomes slick in cold or wet weather. Did this slickness contribute to Johnny Knox fumbling the ball that was returned for a touchdown against the Patriots? Point is, the QB is not the only one handling the football and you need to give your team the best chance to win. I used to pay the equipment managers to scrub down every ball weekly. Then I inspected each to ensure they were perfect. In 2001 we led the league with the least amount of turnovers. Turnovers are the biggest factor in deciding the outcome of a game. Turnovers are too big a statistic to ignore. I would suggest Jay start having it done.

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 Grades: Offense ignites to end 1st half, puts up season-high points vs. Niners

Bears Grades: Offense ignites to end 1st half, puts up season-high points vs. Niners

With less than 2 minutes to play in the first half the Bears had gained a total of 45 yards, and had zero pass completions (2 attempts) and zero points . By the end of the half they had 115 yards, Matt Barkley had completed 4 of his last 6 passes and the Bears adjourned for halftime with a 7-6 lead.

For the second straight week Barkley engineered a comeback, this time for a win, and running a two-minute offense that, curiously perhaps for an inexperienced quarterback, seems to suit Barkley even more than the offense run a normal speed. More than one player said that 70-yard drive to finish the first half was a tipping point, on all sides of the football.

The turning point “was that two-minute right before the half,” said right tackle Bobby Massie. “Everybody just executed, did what we needed to do and drove right down the field. Then we come out after the half and drove right down again. It was good.”

More than just good for the offense. “I think that really spurred both sides of the ball to be motivated to finish the game strong,” said Barkley, who got the Bears into the end zone twice in last Sunday’s Tennessee game, and nearly a third, within the final 10 minutes, running 35 plays over the span of those minutes.”

This time the result was the highest point total (26) this season and scores on four out of five possessions beginning with that hurry-up score to end the half.

Quarterback: A-

Once again Barkley was beset by dropped passes, although nowhere near the avalanche of them that defeated him against the Tennessee Titans. Barkley shook off the conditions and poor start to complete 4 of 6 passes on the final drive of the half, for 64 yards – the entire passing production for the half.

Barkley followed a shaky first half with a solid second, completing 7 of 10 passes for 128 yards and zero interceptions, a significant key with the 49ers unable to do much of anything against the Bears defense. Barkley effectively convinced coaches that he could operate in the adverse conditions with passing and not simply handing off to Jordan Howard.

“I thought [the way] he handled the two-minute drive before the half, we had to open it up some and throw the ball,” said coach John Fox. “I thought he executed outstanding.”

Barkley finished with 11-of-18 passing for 192 yards, no touchdowns but no interceptions and a passer rating of 97.5.

Running back: A+

In a game that demanded effective rushing, Jordan Howard delivered a statement game, his fifth in the last eight with 100 rushing yards and 115 total yards of offense.

Howard rushed for 3 touchdowns, giving him five on the year, and carried 32 times, an average of 3.7 that belies the overall, which involved the chemistry of the run game, now averaging 4.4 yards on the season . “He’s fun, man,” said guard Eric Kush. “We block our butts off to try to give him something. Even if it’s not the prettiest block, we try to finish our blocks and give him a chance.”

Howard displayed power inside as well as burst on the Bears’ outside-zone runs that exploited the San Francisco edges. He carried 10 times in the first half, then 22 in the second.

“I’m definitely ready to be that workhorse,” said Howard, who now has 883 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns despite not starting until game four. “Even though they might know the run is coming, they still have to stop it.”

Receivers: B+

Josh Bellamy, replaced in the starting lineup by Deonte Thompson after his drop-laced game against Tennessee, had perhaps one the streakiest game of the Bears year. Bellamy again suffered with drops that included lost TD catches, but Bellamy rebounded to match his career-best 4 catches against Tennessee but with 93 yards and a long of 31 and others of 24, 22 and 16 yards. Bellamy also was handed the ball on an end-around for 12 yards.

All of this despite two egregious drops, one of a potential TD ball with Bellamy two steps behind his defender. “He came up to me and said, ‘Keep feeding me,’” Barkley said. “I’m not going to stop giving those guys the ball… .I’m going to keep coming back to them for the rest of the year.”

Cam Meredith remained in the starting lineup and caught 3 of the 4 passes thrown to him, with Thompson and tight end Daniel Brown catching 2 each.

Offensive line: A

With the adverse weather conditions expected, coaches made a specific challenge to the offensive line to take over this game against a struggling San Francisco front. Guard Josh Sitton was active but still limited with an ankle injury, so coaches stayed with Eric Kush at left guard and were rewarded with some consistent blocking in the run game. Kush executed combination blocks and worked to the second level. Kush and Charles Leno repeatedly dominated the San Francisco left side as the Bears pounded with the run and never let up in the snowy conditions.

“With the conditions, you had to run the ball,” Leno said. “The O-line just tried to come together, not worry about the record and win one week at a time.”

The result was another 100-yard rushing day for Jordan Howard, with 3 touchdowns, and 142 rushing yards, high for the season. “Today the offensive line got great push like they always do,” Howard said.

Barkley was sacked once, in the fourth quarter, on a breakdown in one-on-one blocking by tight end Daniel Brown.

Cody Whitehair going down in the fourth quarter with a leg injury was a blow, but Whitehair was able to return later in the period. The Bears had Sitton dressed and part of field-goal unit, and Sitton came in at right guard and Ted Larsen moved over to center.

Coaching: A

The obvious overall effort and preparation of a 2-9 team for a game of virtually no import to the season was noteworthy, as the Bears again played with intensity and efficiency throughout, including recovering from first-half gaffes on special teams that put the Bears down 6-0.

The defense schemed for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick by staying almost exclusively in a 3-4 front, utilizing three down-linemen and two outside linebackers to pressure Kaepernick and with the speed to thwart his runs. The result was the worst game of Kaepernick’s career, with 20 rushing yards and 4 passing, vs. 25 yards lost to sacks.

The offense held to a run-based mindset and plan, even when the 49ers turned two special-teams mistakes into field goals for the first two scores. The 49ers also relied primarily on man-to-man coverage, committing an extra defender to run defense, but the Bears were willing and able to challenge downfield knowing that the San Francisco pass rush was hampered by the field conditions.

“Props to Dowell[Loggains, offensive coordinator] and the whold coaching staff for getting us ready and making adjustments like that during the game,” Barkley said.

Special teams was again mistake-prone with mental breakdowns compounded by physical mistakes.

Morning Update: Bears beat 49ers; Blackhawks' offense struggles in loss to Jets

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bears beat 49ers; Blackhawks' offense struggles in loss to Jets

Here are some of the top stories from Sunday in Chicago sports:

Five Things to Watch: Bulls back in action against Trail Blazers

Tune in tonight for Chicago Bulls Charities Night

Blackhawks score late but can't get past Jets

Bears offense finds groove in win over 49ers

Winter meetings preview: Why teams will find trying to copy a ‘Cubs Way’ rebuild is easier said than done

White Sox revamp would mean fewer 'stopgaps' and 'half-measures'

Significance of Bears win over 49ers lies beyond records and score

Five Things from Blackhawks-Jets: Offense still anemic

Bears' Matt Barkley 'showing the world' he can be a starting QB in the NFL

Lars Johansson excited for Blackhawks call-up