Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010
By John Mullin
The Bears best chances for running their win total to 11 on Sunday will lie partially in breaking some rules. These, however, are not the kind that will get them fined.
Forget about forgetting about Revis Island
Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis has, through performance and media-enhanced self-marketing, achieved stature ranking with Deion Sanders in his prime. You stay away from Revis Island.
No, actually you dont. And it is unlikely that quarterback Jay Cutler and coordinator Mike Martz will either. That as much as anything is the measure of how far the Chicago offense has come since the off week.
Nah, you cant assume avoiding Revis, Cutler said. Weve got good receivers. We trust the guys in our receivers room. Theyre going to play man-to-man. I tell the receivers, Youre going to have to get open. Whatever it takes, were going to have to find a way to complete balls because you cant eliminate one side of the field. Its too hard to do. It gives them too much of an advantage.
It is not bravado; it is common sense, something that Cutler has developed nicely in the past two months.
Cutler threw a succession of stupid passes against the Washington Redskins that resulted in 4 interceptions by DeAngelo Hall. The problem wasnt Hall; it was Cutler. Hall has had 1 interception in the seven games since Cutler handed Hall a cornerbacks lottery ticket
That was Old Cutler. New Cutler has thrown just 6 interceptions since the Washington debacle. Simply put, he has learned how to be an NFL quarterback since then, not just a passer.
The Bears are 4-1 in games this season when Cutler has avoided throwing an interception. They are 4-1 when hes thrown just one, and thats counting the Giants game when he played just a half.
In 2010 then, Cutler has thrown zero or 1 interception in 10 games. He had just nine all last season.
So the point is not for Cutler to either attack or avoid Revis. Its to run the offense exactly as its been run while the Bears have won six of the last seven.
I think you have to be careful on how you approach it, Martz said. It doesnt mean you dont do it. You just have to be careful on how youre going to do it and give your guys the best opportunity to have success, whether its a running game or a corner like him. Revis is very consistent, very, very, very confident in his skill, and does not overreact. Hes really as good as Ive seen in many years.
That doesnt mean you dont create opportunities over there, too. But its a terrific challenge for our guys. Theres no question.
Run, Devin, Run
Devin Hester has done more than rewrite the record book for returners. He also has helped rewrite the rulebook, too.
When Hester entered the NFL in 2006, punt returners in particular simply did not field punts inside their 10-yard lines. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub learned to live with the fact that Hester does not live by normal return rules.
To be honest, if Ive got the shot, Ill still do it today, Hester said. If my opponent is 10 yards from me and Im inside the 5, Im going to take a chance. Thats the type of player I am and I hope coach Dave feels the same. Im pretty sure he does.
Indeed he does, and with sound reasoning.
Punting has seen a style change beyond the general increase in pragmatic cowardice that has teams kicking as far away from Hester as legs will allow. The result is that Toub is more than understanding of Hesters propensity to look for reasons to return, not succumb to caution.
There are rules but whats happening now is guys kicking that rugby style punt, Toub explained. If you let that punt come down, theres no way its going to go into the end zone. Its going to come back. Its not going to roll into the end zone like you think it would so well have him catch it and take our chances.
Plus, theres his ability. The pressure you put on the other team when they dont know if hes going to catch it or not. Its hang time, style of kick, coverage. If you know youre protected, youll take a little more of a chance.
Plus, he said with a smile, were talking about Devin Hester.
Evidence suggests that Hester returns involve more than yardage. They involve emotional swings in games. The Bears are 6-1 in games in which Hester has returned a punt 20 yards or more. They also are 6-1 when he has a kickoff return of 30 yards or longer.
But if his impact on games is as much or more than it was earlier in his career, it is clear that he and his return teams are anything but reckless.
Its hard to go after a ball thats 10 yards out of bounds, he said, laughing. So youve just got to wait for the right moment. Its like a baseball player at bat; youve just got to wait for the right pitch and youre going to get walked a lot. We just wait for the right pitch.
Both the Jets and Bears have something hugely important to play for. The Jets are fighting to hold onto a playoff spot, which is a notch above bye-week for motivation, which is what the Bears can achieve by winning their final two games and earning at least the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
The Jets are a better road team (6-1) than the Bears are a home team (4-3), which is more of an incentive to pick the percentages that say the Bears arent 4-4 bad at home and the Jets arent 7-1 good away from the Meadowlands.
But the real reason is for the pick in this game is Mark Sanchez. The Bears are good enough defensively against the run (No. 3, 89.8 yards per game) to slow the New York running game (No. 6, 141 ypg.) enough to force the offense onto Sanchezs arm, which is ailing already and not that good when its healthy anyway.
I dont like the Bears working on a short week after an emotional up game to clinch the division. As the players say, its often more difficult to come back from a good win than from a bad loss and Minnesota was a good win. Still.
Bears 21 Jets 17
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.