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.

The standard for Bears evaluating Matt Barkley? Use what John Fox uses

The standard for Bears evaluating Matt Barkley? Use what John Fox uses

The play of Matt Barkley in the past two games catapulted the previously dismissed young quarterback deep into the Great Bears Quarterback Debate (GBQD), which may not be a particularly exclusive confab, but it does mean that Barkley has gone from castoff to contender for a job somewhere beyond this season. And one particular aspect of his game is the key to what has transpired, as well as what happens going forward.

The law of averages suggests that Barkley will put up a clunker at some point, maybe even more than one. Then again, maybe not. Of the four remaining defenses (Detroit, Green Bay, Washington, Minnesota), only the Vikings rank in the top 10 defensively in either points or yardage allowed through the first 13 weeks of the 2016 season. So Barkley won’t exactly be looking at a Murderer’s Row of the ’85 Bears, ’76 Steelers, ’00 Ravens and ’15 Broncos.

But there’s a bigger Barkley picture that serves as the real framework for evaluating whether or not he’s truly got the right stuff, regardless of whom he faces.

It is not what he’s done – getting his team in position to win in consecutive fourth quarters. It’s what he hasn’t done – turn the football over.

The measure of Barkley, as it was with Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer, will be ball security. In a FoxWorld, that is axiomatic.

The second question to Fox after Sunday’s game was on Barkley’s performance. Fox’s mindset was evident in his answer: “He improved,” Fox began, followed immediately by, “He eliminated any interceptions.”

Barkley’s huge leap forward has indeed come, not with his TD passes (including the should-have-been ones), but with his control of the football.

Barkley may have been undone with drops against Tennessee. But he undercut his team with two appalling red-zone interceptions, one in the end zone.

After the interception on the Bears’ opening second-half possession, which turned into Titans points, Barkley proceeded to throw his next 33 passes without a pick. Then against San Francisco, Barkley stayed INT-free on 19 dropbacks (18 passes, one sack). The result was a season-high for Bears points and a win.

Barkley threw two interceptions in his emergency step-in for Hoyer at Green Bay. Given his situation there, no real surprise, and rightfully not a referendum on his quarterbacking.

But consider:

Before his broken arm against the Packers, Hoyer played his way into the GBQD less with his weekly 300-yard passing production than with his 200 pass attempts without an interception. Cutler, in his truncated season, revealed a regression from his step-forward ’15 and its ball security, sliding back up to an interception percentage in the unacceptable mid-3’s where it’s been for his career. This was the prove-it year for Cutler and he rendered ’15 as the exception, not a career turning point.

Barkley’s accuracy in the Soldier Field conditions last Sunday was exceptional. Not only did he not throw interceptions (which is how to earn a 97.5 passer rating), but also repeatedly put footballs where either his guy or nobody was catching them. Too often certain of his guys didn’t catch them, but that’s not on Barkley, who stayed with Josh Bellamy in a team-building statement.

Only the Vikings (No. 5) among the final four Bears opponents have interception percentages ranked better than 14th. Washington (95.0), Detroit (101.9) and Green Bay (102.1) are allowing egregious opponent-quarterback passer ratings (the Bears are at 94.3). Meaning: Barkley will have opportunities to stay his ball-security course against beatable defenses.

The inability of the Bears defense to generate takeaways is a significant 2016 storyline. But the ability of the Bears offense – specifically their quarterbacks – to hold onto the football is a potential tipping point in the most significant position-decision for the franchise.

Bears' benching of rookie Jonathan Bullard a surprise message from coaching staff

Bears' benching of rookie Jonathan Bullard a surprise message from coaching staff

Whether it will prove to be a wakeup shot for an underachieving rookie or not, the announcement that rookie defensive end Jonathan Bullard was inactive for Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers is noteworthy for multiple reasons.

The deactivation was surprising if only because so many of Ryan Pace’s draft choices have been getting on the field and doing reasonably well. Telling Bullard to take a seat was a statement by coach John Fox, coordinator Vic Fangio and line coach Jay Rodgers, all of whom were involved in evaluations leading to the Bears using a third-round pick on the defensive lineman, that this staff is not going to simply and stubbornly stick with a player because they picked him.

Bullard was the only one of the Bears’ top seven picks in the 2016 draft, other than injured cornerback Deiondre Hall, who did not start against the 49ers.

Bullard, expected to challenge for a starting at one D-line position because of his pass-rush potential, did get one start (against Tampa Bay) but played just 14 snaps against Tennessee and was credited with just one (assisted) tackle. Bullard has one sack and two quarterback pressures in 212 snaps played. The sack came at Indianapolis. In the six games since then ... crickets.

Playing time is the ultimate cudgel coaches have this side of the transaction wire. Not saying that Bullard comes under this umbrella, but he would not be the first NFL player who treated their high draft selection as having achieved something when it actually was the beginning, not the finish.

But while coach John Fox cited “ability” first as the reason for Bullard being deactivated, a lack of motivation appeared to be involved based on Fox’s subsequent explanation.

“I think there's a variety of ways to motivate young people,” Fox said. “He's a player that we do like, that we're trying to bring the best out of like we do all our players. He gets to practice all week just like the other players, then how they perform in practice sometimes is reflective on what kind of opportunities they get in the game, so they have to earn it.”

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This approach has worked. Many drafts ago, the Bears used the No. 5 pick of the 1998 draft on running back Curtis Enis, who held out for most of training camp before signing following one of the more bizarre negotiating processes ever. Enis arrived in camp but had decided that he was a runner and didn’t see himself as a blocker, even though no one less than center Olin Kreutz, who knows something about blocking, would later say that Enis was far and away the greatest blocker at running back that Kreutz had ever seen.

Joe Brodsky, the crusty old running backs coach under Dave Wannstedt, had zero tolerance for Enis’ attitude, which included insulting at least one assistant coach. Brodsky privately got squarely in the face of the rookie and informed him that until he made protecting his quarterback as important as running the football, Enis would not start for the Bears.

Enis watched Edgar Bennett start until Brodsky’s message sank in, which was midseason. Enis finally started — one game, against the Rams — and was having the best game of his season when he unfortunately tore his left ACL and his career was all but finished.

But it took tough love from a coaching staff that needed him for its survival (which subsequently did not happen, losing six of the next seven games and costing Wannstedt and staff their jobs) to get through to Enis.

Bullard is not Enis, but the organization invested a Day 2 draft pick in him to be more than fill for the depth chart. Now the burden falls to Bullard to demonstrate that he got the message.

“It's like anybody, from adversity they respond, and that was one of the things I was impressed with our team (Sunday),” Fox said. “Things didn't go well early in the game, defense got put in a couple tough spots because of some special-teams errors and then how we responded as a team, so I would expect the same from any individual player, whether it's due to injury or maybe coaches' decision.

“We want guys to prove us wrong.”