Moon: How much has changed, really?


Moon: How much has changed, really?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Posted: 11:50 p.m.
By John Mullin

The kickoff rules changes will have implications beyond just the kickers and returners. Matt Bowen gives some interesting perspectives on how these will affect coverage units and players like Brendan Ayanbadejo or Corey Graham or Tim Shaw, all Bears coverage standouts and all who consistently delivered high-impact plays on Bears special teams.

But a veteran special teamer I chatted with Wednesday isnt so sure that anything really has been altered.

The biggest reason for his thinking is that the touchbacks still will be brought out only to the 20 rather than the proposed 25. So unless kickers are unequivocally able to pound kickoffs beyond the end line, the reality is that Josh Cribbs, Devin Hester, Danieal Manning, Leon Washington and others among the returner elite will be bringing balls out of end zones.

Why? Because it will be worth the gamble. If the ball were coming out automatically to the 25, thats a better return than most in the NFL average. But to the 20? Might as well take a chance, and Hester, Manning and others will.

And because coverage units are being restricted to a five-yard running start to getting downfield; they may be five yards closer when the ball is kicked but they will not have control over whether someone is bringing it out.

But watch where balls are being kicked by the better marksmen. With good conditions, a kicker will be operating five yards closer to the opposing end zone, and a special-teams expert said that will make it easier to target balls that force a HesterManning to go 10 yards laterally before they make a catch and can start upfield.

All of which points to the rules changes result in something far less than an elimination of the return.


Interesting observation from NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock regarding Cam Newton. Mayock guestd with Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk Live and said he expects the Auburn quarterback to go to a team picking in the top 10.

Meanwhile, Todd McShay with ESPN Scouts Inc. envisioned a scenario where the Bears wind up with a very, very good defensive lineman at a position they regard as a need area.

With Tommie Harris gone after several seasons of diminishing returns anyway, the answer may well lie in the person of an upsized Henry Melton, as noted here previously. That would be a good thing for the Bears, because the three-technique, the defensive tackle the Bears depend on for pass-rush pressure out of the middle, is not easy to find in the draft, and certainly not at No. 29 where the Bears are drafting.

Theres not many perfect fits for that three-technique for Chicago, McShay said, but you could see maybe a Corey Liuget out of Illinois. Ive got him going 14th to the Rams but after the Rams, theres not many teams looking for a true defensive tackle. I personally think hed be a better fit as a nose tackle in a 4-3but if hes there at 29 youd have to think long and hard about passing on a guy like Liuget.

John "Moon" Mullin is'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 running back committee still a work in progress as ground game languishes

Bears running back committee still a work in progress as ground game languishes

The Bears have a fantasy football conundrum. Which of their running backs do they go with?

Jeremy Langford is listed as the starter. Then Ka’Deem Carey. Then Jordan Howard. Joique Bell was waived Monday, a clear statement that Langford is sufficiently back from the sprained ankle he suffered against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Bears have had three different leading rushers through seven games, which might be considered promising, except that none has established any sort of consistent identity with the opportunities.

The problem: in a production-based business, the depth chart is in inverse order of results. Howard is averaging 4.8 yards on his 73 carries and has a receiving and rushing touchdown. Carey is netting 4.7 on his 23, of which 10 came against the Green Bay Packers. Langford is rushing at the 3.7-yard average of his rookie season, but with two rushing touchdowns. Howard’s 14 pass receptions are nearly double the combined by Langford (5) and Carey (3).

And Howard has played 265 snaps, vs. 100 for Langford and 65 for Carey.

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But Howard was muzzled by the Packers and Langford is coming off a month’s worth of inactivity. And after averaging 116 rushing yards per game last season, the offense that was being committed to the run is down to 88 ground yards per game.

So who’s the Bears’ choice, because “committee” hasn’t exactly been the way, either. With the exception against the Jacksonville Jaguars when fullback Paul Lasike got a fourth-down rush for a first down, only once (Philadelphia Eagles) have the Bears had carries by all three running backs.

“When you look around the league, I don’t think many people are running it very effectively in general,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “I think in our division I think it’s maybe a little bit more important than it is league-wide. Again, to me the essence of football is still being able to stop the run and being able to run the ball. So we emphasize it quite a bit.”

If it’s being emphasized, that’s perhaps even more concerning. Better if the failed run game was due to neglect rather than an area of emphasis. And the reality is that it needs to succeed if the Bears are going to.

“We’ve got to keep running the ball well,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “I don’t think we’re running the ball well the last couple of weeks as we wanted to. That three-game span we were doing OK [4.4 ypc. combined vs. Detroit-Indianapolis-Jacksonville].”

No hard feelings between John Fox and Jay Cutler, but no clear future, either

No hard feelings between John Fox and Jay Cutler, but no clear future, either

Jay Cutler returned to practice as he left it before the Week 2 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in which he suffered a thumb injury that sidelined him for the past five games. He was back as the No. 1 quarterback.

But the landscape changed over those five weeks, at least outwardly, with Brian Hoyer filling in with a succession of 300-yard passing games and coach John Fox indicating that as long as Hoyer was performing well, he could hold onto the job.

Now Hoyer is gone to IR with a broken left arm suffered in a Week 7 loss to the Green Bay Packers and Cutler returns to a situation where his head coach’s endorsement and support has appeared conditional.

“He doesn’t have a choice, I guess, at this point,” Cutler said on Tuesday. “Brian is out, so I’ve got to go. I’ve had good conversations with Foxy this week, last week, the week before. There’s never been any strain in our relationship. We’re both very open and honest, and we’re on the same page. We just want to win football games.”

Fox has been ripped in some quarters for what was taken as creating a quarterback controversy. In fact, consistent with a competition mantra that has applied to every position since the end of last season, Fox supported each quarterback when their time was at hand: Hoyer when Hoyer was performing well, and Cutler now that he is back.

Bill Belichick made it clear that, regardless of how well Jimmy Garappolo played for his New England Patriots, Tom Brady would be back as the starter when his four-game suspension was over. Cutler has not established a Brady lock on the position.

Speaking about the running back situation, where one-time starter Jeremy Langford is returning from injury to find Ka’Deem Carey and Jordan Howard in front of him, Fox laid out the NFL reality, which applies to the Cutler-Howard situation.

“Earlier in the season I mentioned that way back in the day, if you were the starter, when you got hurt, it was yours when you came back,” Fox said. “Well, that’s not really the case as much anymore. It can be; you’re going to play the best guy and there’s competition to be involved in that.”

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The broader issue overhanging Cutler is whether the Bears plan to bring him back in 2017. This season has been bluntly described as a prove-it year for Cutler, who has no guaranteed contract money after this year, and Cutler has not proven a great deal in seven quarters of football, with a 75.7 passer rating, one TD pass and two interceptions.

Whether that is regressing from last year to levels closer to his career standards is what the next several weeks will reveal. At this level, the Bears would be unlikely to pay Cutler $15 million in 2017.

“I think those are conversations for the end of the year,” Cutler said. “Right now I’m working with Dowell [Loggains, offensive coordinator] and ‘Rags’ [QB coach Dave Ragone] and we’re just trying to find first downs and get our third-down conversion rate back up, score more points. That’s all we’re really trying to do and that’s all my focus is.

“Whatever happens at the end of the year, it’s supposed to happen, and we’ll go accordingly. But right now it’s not something that I worry about. It’s my 11th year, my eighth year here. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, and it’s how it goes. At the end of the year, we can have those conversations. Whatever happens, happens.”

As far as the best way to handle the inevitable questions about the future, “I think ignoring it is,” Cutler said. “I think it's going to be there; you can't completely ignore it.”