15 on 6: Sitting Cutler his best protection so far

241881.jpg

15 on 6: Sitting Cutler his best protection so far

Friday, Oct. 8, 2010
4:40 PM

By Jim Miller
CSNChicago.com

Jay Cutler has been rocked 17 times already this season! Seventeen is the number of times Jay Cutler has been sacked in 4 games, or should I say 3 12, he did not make it through the fourth. How many times has he sustained a hit but still got the ball out? Jay has logged 102 pass attempts and been sacked almost a quarter of them and has been hit well over 60 percent of the time. Shutting him down this week is a smart move by the Bears if you want him to make it through the rest of the year. You should never take an opponent lightly in the NFL, but facing Carolina is a good opportunity to allow Jay to get his mind right.

How It Works

You have a baseline test in the NFL for concussions. This was the first year all rookies were given the "Impact Test" in Indianapolis at the annual NFL combine. It enables teams to now chart players trough their career. Recently, numerous former players have suffered from dementia at an early age and thus, the NFL had to react and become more proactive dealing with concussions. Jay Cutler just becomes the most recent statistic of teams not wanting to put a player at risk. At this point, risk would be an understatement when evaluating the Bear's pass protection. Although Jay has not missed a start in 5 years, he has a baseline test from Denver and most likely, the Bears followed up when Jay arrived in Chicago administering one of their own. It is a series of tests to check recallmemory. Team doctors and trainers make you recite a list of words starting with the letters A, B, C, etc...they are then able to check volume of words and differences from your initial list provided from earlier testing. Either Jay did not score well on the test or the doctors ruled him out altogether for their own self preservation. I lean towards the latter as Jay participated in practice on Wednesday. The track record on diagnosed injuries has been less than stellar from the Bears organization and should provide GM Jerry Angelo the ammunition to shake up another department this off-season. If the decision was up to Jay, he would be lining up under center against Carolina this weekend.

On To No. 2--Enter Todd Collins

Stiff neck and all, Todd Collins is better prepared to face Carolina on the road than Caleb Hanie. The Bears have the ability to dial up more plays in key situations with Todd, knowing how he will react from previous experiences on tape during his career. Caleb, through no fault of his own, would be a gamble. No one knows how he would react if things go poorly in Carolina and in particular, if things do not go well early. This is not the time to find out with a known quantity available. Todd has been there and done it. He is better equipped to manage this situation and draw from years of experience. Being named the starter late in the week, will not effect Todd's preparation, but it is imperative for Todd to create a list of pass plays he feels most comfortable executing. It becomes Martz's responsibility when to call them.

List

Base Offense 1st and 2nd down--Write down your top four play-action passes on early downs and deliver to your OC. You can call the same play, but Martz will just window dress it with motion or shifts to disguise.

3rd and medium--It is imperative Martz knows what Todd feels comfortable with early to build offensive confidence on third down. The Bears were 0-for-13 last Sunday on third down. Do not let self doubt destroy your football team. Remove it early with a quality conversion. Another four pass plays should suffice.

Todd has always been a cerebral guy, but the game plan will be reduced. Mike Martz can hold court all he wants regarding the whole playbook being in play this weekend, but its focus must change. Todd enables the Bears to run more volume of plays, but Martz is now under the gun from his fellow coaches to offer more balance. A commitment to the run game will serve as the best elixir to protect the quarterback. There are numerous play-action passes offering seven and eight man protections to complement the run game. Martz must not waver if it does not look encouraging early! The offensive line is thirsting for the commitment and enter the game knowing this is their opportunity to shine. Offensive line coach Mike Tice has already singled them out in meetings, in case they do not read the papers, to challenge them this weekend. The Bears must just manage! Manage the QB spot, manage the run game and manage a victory.

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."