Gould: Rule change may not reduce returns


Gould: Rule change may not reduce returns

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Posted: 8:56 a.m. Updated: 10:33 a.m.

By John Mullin

Robbie Gould likes some of the proposed rules changes affecting the kickoff element of the game as theyre being discussed at the current NFL owners meetings. Cutting down on wedges of any kind, for instance, should reduce helmet-to-helmet collisions and the concussions that come along with those.

But the Bears kicker had an amusing angle, a couple actually, to the prospect of moving kickoffs from the 30-yard line out to the 35. That may not necessarily reduce the number of returns at all for some teams.

WORD ON THE STREET: Bears against kickoff rule changes

For one thing, itll help more older kickers keep their jobs longer, Robbie observed. The kick that was going to the goal line is now going five yards deep. And I think the wedge rules are great ideas as far as keeping guys healthier.

Aaah, but theres a catch. Because kicks are coming from the 35 now, the norm will be blasting away and drilling the ball out of the back of the end zone. Hang time? Whats that?

Hammering balls deeper means lower kicks that will be getting to the likes of Devin Hester, Ted Ginn and Percy Harvin faster than ever, so guys will be getting the ball faster before the coverage teams can get there, Robbie envisioned. More teams may take the chance and bring the ball out of the end zone.

Its a great point. Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub has given Hester license to return punts from just about anywhere if the ball has gotten there well ahead of the opposing coverage team. Does anyone think Hester (or Danieal Manning) isnt going to be looking at every line-drive kickoff as a return opp, particularly with a receiving unit absolutely dedicated to making history every time a team is misguided enough to put the ball in Hesters hands?

Not surprisingly, the rules changes have a touch of the bittersweet for Robbie, the player rep who is now a player advocate since the players decertified as a union and are now a trade association.

Theyre really focusing on one play that affects player safety, he notes. And if one play makes all that much difference, how it it that the NFL in previous negotiations wanted an extra two games without offering extra pay and health benefits?

Tough sell

Also not surprisingly, there is some pushback from coaches in particular on the proposed rules changes for kickoffs. Colleague Tom Curran of CSNNE.com caught up with Bill Belichick and Coach Hoodie represents a powerful voice on any NFL issue.

Sports Illustrateds Don Banks on SI.com notes that coaches (and others) cite kickoff returns for touchdowns as being among the games most exciting plays. No argument there. But Rich McKay on the Competition Committee isnt buying that as a reason to leave the high-risk play untouched when there are ways to increase player safety. And Don is spot on when he notes that player safety is a hot button right now, making it difficult to go against it, at least publicly.

Matters will be coming to a vote sooner rather than later, and dont rule out a rule out or two.

Miller not in favor of changes

Comcast SportsNet colleague and former Bears quarterback Jim Miller took his share of NFL hits during a solid career that included getting the Bears to the 2001 playoffs. But he is not in favor of the changes in kickoff rules on any basis of injury reduction.

Who wants to see a touchback? Jim tweeted on @15miller today. May as well eliminate the KO completely if youre kicking from the 35 yard line.

Jim notes that Bears President Ted Phillips is on record stating hell vote against the changes, and Jim cites a possible-simple unstated reason: because Hester is dynamic and makes the organization a lot of money. Ouch. But Jims general take is that owners will most likely vote for it because now it is one less player they will have to pay.

And not to over-simplify here, but Jim gets it. As Deep Throat once told Bob Woodward: Follow the money. Justfollow the money.

Clarification needed

Gould wants some clarity with respect to who is dealing with the NFL at this point. Its not the players association as a union; it is a trade association and the Bears kicker is rankled at figures on the owners side of the table continuing to refer to the players as a union.

On his Twitter account @RobbieGould09 on Tuesday, Robbie is emphatic: Can I have everyone retweet the words TRADE ASSOCIATION so maybe the owners and Jeff Pash can stop lying during every interview.

Not to take a side here but this shouldnt be trivialized. If the players respond to comments addressing them as a union, that may contribute to the impression that the move to de-certify is merely a procedural ploy, which is neither the case nor what players would like courts to be thinking as judges deliberate on injunctions and other matters in the situation.

Check it out

CSNNE.com Insider Tom Curran will visit with Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk Live. Mike's show starts at 11 a.m. Always good chats with the newsmakers.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

For Bears QB Jay Cutler, an unwanted second chance – audition? – presents itself

For Bears QB Jay Cutler, an unwanted second chance – audition? – presents itself

Some decisions have ways of simply making themselves. Decisions like, say, who will be the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears.

Regrettably, one aspect of that decision was made for the Bears when Brian Hoyer went down with a broken left arm in the second quarter of Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. At that moment the Hoyer-or-Cutler question was rendered moot. As FOX’s Jay Glazer had reported, the No. 1 job was Hoyer’s to lose, and the injury unfortunately took care of that. Coaches never had to make that decision.

This is clearly not the way Cutler would like to have been returned to his job. No player is pleased to have an opportunity made possible by a catastrophic injury to a teammate.

Bigger picture: The 2016 season was always a prove-it year for Jay Cutler, more so than even last year because of guaranteed money, which is now gone. The rest of the 2016 now becomes a condensed prove-it crucible, where Cutler is playing for his job in Chicago or his next team. His price for 2017 ($15 million) is modest by starter standards, but so is his resume.

Without a strong final nine games, assuming his injured thumb is sufficiently recovered after nearly six weeks off, Cutler may find himself as next offseason’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, sort-of wanted by a team but for money nowhere close to the value he and his agent had in mind.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The play of rookies Dak Presott in Dallas and Carson Wentz in Philadelphia will reinforce the message that you can start and win with a rookie right away, which projects to depress any Cutler market. Why pay a marginal veteran, which Cutler has been and certainly is at this point and age (34 next April), when a rookie can be had at a fraction of the cost?

Without a massive contract renegotiation, a scenario of Cutler staying on as a bridge to a young successor is beyond a longshot. Hoyer, far more likely to fit that role, and his price will not approach Cutler’s.

Cutler now has his second chance. Whether he likes it or not, it’s an audition.

Bears Grades: Defense wears down under assault from Aaron Rodgers and Packers

Bears Grades: Defense wears down under assault from Aaron Rodgers and Packers

GREEN BAY, Wisc. — It was a bright spot, a small one on an otherwise dismal night of losing to the Green Bay Packers. But it was at least something.

After struggling for months to stay healthy and gain NFL weight, Leonard Floyd finally played like the ninth-overall pick of an NFL draft.

The rookie outside linebacker collected a sack in the first half, then exploded past Green Bay right tackle Brian Bulaga as part of stunt with fellow linebacker Willie Young on the third play of the second quarter for a second sack of Aaron Rodgers, one that came with a strip of the football and recovery in the end zone.

"We had a great play called,” Floyd said. “Willie came down and picked the guard for me and I looped around and the play was done and I made it. It felt great [to get a touchdown], but at the end of the day I wanted a win."

That was one of the very few bright spots as the Packers piled up 311 yards through three quarters, at times using wide receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery as running backs because of injuries. The drumbeat continued with touchdowns on three straight Green Bay possessions in the late third and early fourth quarters.

The defense has allowed 23 or more points in five of seven games this season, with the Packers rolling off consecutive touchdown drives of 85, 84 and 57 in the second half as the Bears were limited to 2:49 time of possession in the fourth quarter.

“It helps when you’re playing [defense], to actually have a little bit of a break,” head coach John Fox said. “Unfortunately in the second half, I think that probably caught up with us a little bit.”

The defense had its fullest complement of personnel yet this season, with outside linebackers Floyd and Pernell McPhee both active (McPhee for the first time this year following offseason knee surgery), in addition to starting cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Tracy Porter, both of whom were injured during the Jacksonville game. It was not enough.

[BEARS GRADES: Quarterback woes take offense to new low in loss to Packers]

Defensive line: F

The interior of the line was quiet for most of the game, with wide receivers lining up as running backs averaged more than five yards per carry. Cornelius Washington had the only hit by a defensive lineman on Rodgers as the line rarely collapsed the pocket with center-push or even kept him in the pocket.

Linebacker: B-

Floyd started after two games inactive and a zero stat sheet vs. Detroit. He struggled too often getting disengaged from Green Bay left tackle David Bakhtiari at the outset before breaking through with second effort for his first career solo sack. That was topped by the strip-sack and recovery for a touchdown in the third quarter. Floyd had a third hit on Rodgers and a tackle for loss.

"It is very tough,” Floyd said. “He gets the ball out pretty quickly. You just have to keep rushing every snap. He is at his best when he is scrambling around playing backyard football."

McPhee was a welcome addition to a slumping defense, even in his limited capacity (19 snaps). McPhee was not credited with any tackles but was surprisingly fast off the ball initially, and got penetration to alter running lanes and some pressure on Rodgers, although he appeared to slow somewhat, not unexpected considering how limited he has been throughout the year because of the surgery.

Sam Acho provided some edge pressure with two hits on Rodgers and a pass deflected. Jerrell Freeman had a quarterback hit and delivered a game-high 13 tackles.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Secondary: D

The secondary was forced to cover long into plays because of absent pressure on Rodgers but the coverage had its own problems with an offense that threw 56 times but was never intercepted. Three Green Bay receivers totaled double-digit receptions: Davante Adams (13), Cobb (11) and Montgomery (10).

Cre’Von LeBlanc started at corner as the Bears opened with six defensive backs, and delivered a goal-line stop in the first quarter, stuffing Montgomery, who was used as a running back because of injuries to the Green Bay backfield. LeBlanc finished with seven tackles and a hit blitzing Rodgers.

Porter matched up with Jordy Nelson and allowed the Green Bay wideout just one catch on four targets through three quarters. But breakdowns were deadly, allowing the Packers to stage their two longest scoring drives of the season in the second half. The second came when Porter and safety Harold Jones-Quartey both covered the same man in the end zone early in the fourth quarter, leaving Adams alone for his second TD catch of the game.

Adrian Amos interfered with Nelson to give the Packers a 44-yard penalty pickup in the first quarter. De’Vante Bausby had a number of solid plays despite a lack of meaningful pressure from the front. But Bausby had two holding penalties on the Packers’ second fourth-quarter scoring drive.

"There were a lot of penalties out there.,” Bausby said. “We had a good scheme and plan, but we just didn't finish in the second half as a group. Facing Rodgers is a challenge, but I felt like our play calling was excellent. We just didn't finish."

Special teams: B

Connor Barth converted from 39 yards to tie the game in the second quarter. It was Barth’s seventh in his last eight attempts. Pat O’Donnell turned in another strong night punting, averaging 43.8 net on five punts. Coverage helped keep three of those inside the 20.