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.

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

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I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

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What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.