Moon: Bears will have to break rules to reach 11

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Moon: Bears will have to break rules to reach 11

Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010
10:31 a.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

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.
And finally.
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.

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Friday's unit: the offensive line. 

1. Will Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flip spots, and will it be effective?

One of the more intriguing storylines to come out of the Bears’ offseason program was the possibility of a Kyle Long-Josh Sitton guard swap, with Long moving from right to left and Sitton to left to right. The prevailing wisdom is that Long’s athleticism would be better suited for the pulls needed at left guard, while Sitton has made Pro Bowls at both positions. But is it prudent for the Bears to make this switch with Long still recovering from November ankle surgery and some nasty complications that came after it? He’s shown he’s skilled enough to already make one position switch on the offensive line (from right tackle to right guard), so there’s no reason to doubt he couldn’t handle another so long as he’s healthy. We’ll see where he is next week. 

“You want flexibility,” coach John Fox said. “You don’t want as much flexibility as we had to use a year ago because we had to play so many guys due to injury. But we’re messing around with (Sitton) and Kyle both playing opposite sides, whether one’s on the left, one’s on the right. We’ll get those looks in camp, we got plenty of time.”

2. Can Charles Leno Jr. capitalize on a contract year?

Leno has been a pleasant surprise given the low expectations usually set for seventh-round picks. He started every game in 2016, checking off an important box for John Fox — reliability. Whether Leno can be more than a reliable player at left tackle, though, remains to be seen (if the Bears thought he were, wouldn’t they have signed him to an extension by now?). He has one more training camp and 16 games to prove he’s worthy of a deal to be the Bears (or someone else’s) left tackle of the future. Otherwise, the Bears may look to a 2018 draft class rich in tackles led by Texas’ Connor Williams and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. 

“I know if I take care of my business out here, everything else will take care of itself,” Leno said. 

3. Will Hroniss Grasu survive the roster crunch?

A year ago, Grasu was coming off a promising rookie season and was in line to be the Bears’ starting center. But the Oregon product tore his ACL in August, and Cody Whitehair thrived after a last-minute move from guard to center. If the Bears keep eight offensive lineman this year, Grasu could be squeezed out: Leno, Long, Whitehair, Sitton and Bobby Massie are the likely starters, with Eric Kush and Tom Compton filling reserve roles. That leaves one spot, either for fifth-round guard Jordan Morgan or Grasu. The Bears could try to stash Morgan, who played his college ball at Division-II Kutztown, on the practice squad and keep Grasu. But Grasu doesn’t have flexibility to play another position besides center, which could hurt his case. 

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season.