Chicago Fire

Miller: Reducing sacks on Cutler starts with short-step drops

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Miller: Reducing sacks on Cutler starts with short-step drops

Every die hard Bear fan knows the number 104. Its not the local radio dial number to the SCORE or ESPN, but plenty of Bear fans have heard 104 during many broadcasts. 104 is the number of sacks Bears quarterbacks have registered the last two seasons. Jay Cutler has felt the brunt of most of them, but 104 sacks is an astronomical number which does not even include the number of hits the quarterback position has received.
So whose fault is it? Is it the quarterback himself or the offensive line? How about the receivers not getting to the right spot on time or Mike Martzs play-calling, or maybe Lovie Smiths fault for hiring his buddy Martz?
There is plenty of blame to go around, but the Bears are committed learners, sustaining 104 lessons which they are destined never to repeat. There is a culprit for each and every one of those 104 sacks. When the answer is formulated, you make a change for a more positive result. The Bears have done just that by removing Martz from the equation.
My next few articles will focus on play calling and scheme giving you a clearer picture of Mike Tices game plan to create more positive plays. Positive plays allow an offense to stay on schedule creating more manageable down and distance situations. The probabilities and percentages for success are in the offenses favor when this occurs. Lets start with:
The Quick Passing Game
The quick passing game can be either one or three-step drops. They are quick hitters for modest gains of three to five yards, but if you have talented receivers they can take short routes the distance by making a defender miss a tackle.
One step drop: Normally are wide receiver screens, bubble screens, one-step slant routes or "no-look" passes. Essentially, the quarterback is taking a one-step drop (right handed quarterback's right foot) away from the center, creating separation from the line of scrimmage enabling a throw. The offensive line utilizes fire blocking rules, which is firing off the line of scrimmage at the defender with a good punch block. The punch block is the offensive lineman using both hands to pushpunch the defender square in his chest plate, preventing the defender the ability to get his arms up to knock down the pass.
Example: A run play maybe called in the huddle, but when the quarterback starts his cadence at the line of scrimmage, he may notice off coverage on his receivers, and that a safety has rotated down into the run box making running the football difficult for a positive play. The quarterback instead elects to utilize a no look pass to one of his receivers. The quarterback may then use a code word for fire blocking or say nothing at all because most run plays are fire blocking rules unless the quarterback knows he has an offensive lineman pulling. By using the code word he ensures all are on the same page and thus telling the offensive line, we are changing the play. The quarterback signals the receiver, letting him know, "Im throwing you the ball."The receiver then simply squares up to the quarterback to receive the throw. It is now up to the receiver to take advantage of the positive look situation presented by getting up field for three of four yards after the catch; potentially more if he makes the defender miss.
Three steps: Hitch routes, slant routes, quick out routes, tight end stick routes, and hot routes. More timing is involved, but these are quick-hitting plays that can have huge rewards. For example, if a slant route is hit with timing, a five yard pass can become ten yards hitting the receiver on the run. Fire blocking rules still apply for the offensive line. Tight end stick routes are an assured five yards versus almost every coverage, provided the tight end and quarterback read the coverage correctly. This crucial quick game tight end route was essentially non-existent along with the entire tight end position under Martz tenure. The Y stick route is a great route especially in the red zone.
Three-step routes are also perfect plays for max Protection (eight-man blocking) to ensure the pass gets off without the quarterback getting hit or sacked. They are great early down (1st2nd) calls for positive plays to stay on schedule, leading to more manageable 3rd and short or medium situations. Mike Tice is just playing the percentages where Martz did not. It is much easier to pick up a 3rd and 4 than a 3rd and 10, which Martz found himself in repeatedly due to a sack on second down from calling a seven step drop.
Next up, we will get into the intermediate passing game (five-step drops), deep pass game (seven-step drops), movement plays (200300 series which is roll out game for Jay Cutler), then run and play-action (100 series). They all can be great for the Bears with Tices new approach. It will then be up to the players how great of an offense they want to be.

Injuries racking up and causing chaos for the Fire

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USA TODAY

Injuries racking up and causing chaos for the Fire

It wasn’t that long ago that it seemed everything was breaking the Chicago Fire’s way.

The Fire’s 11-match unbeaten run from April into early July featured of plenty of impressive performances from the Fire, but also a few lucky breaks. Dallas rested most of its starting lineup when it came to Toyota Park, Atlanta brought its two best players off the bench when it played in Bridgeview, New England couldn’t get a result against the Fire despite pouring on 24 shots.

It seems that luck is evening out a bit. The Fire dropped a fourth straight game on the road on Wednesday in Montreal and, while sloppy play was evident for the second game in a row, a rash of injuries to the back line played a role in the loss.

Left back Brandon Vincent has been out since picking up a quad injury in the warmups before a July 5 game in Portland. Right back Matt Polster suffered a left knee injury this week in training and did not travel to Montreal. On top of that, Joao Meira, who was listed as questionable for the game with a calf injury, left five minutes in with an injury. That’s not a recipe for success.

Christian Dean, acquired by the Fire seven days ago, had to make his debut as an injury replacement five minutes into a game. His center back partner, Jonathan Campbell, was making his first start since April 8. Johan Kappelhof had slid over to right back to fill in for Polster.

The resulting chaos shouldn’t come as a surprise. Dean’s first touch as a Fire player was a clearance that he didn’t cleanly hit. Ignacio Piatti blocked it with his chest and was suddenly open in the box for an early goal.

A Matteo Mancosu penalty and an incredible curling shot from outside the box by Piatti within a minute of each other put the game away before the first half was over. It finished 3-0.

Injuries aren’t things that have good timing, but this definitely qualifies as poor timing as far as the Fire are concerned. Being shorthanded against a Montreal team that may be playing as well as it has all season wasn’t good. On top of that, the Fire host league-leading Toronto.

That game against Toronto had been circled by MLS fans as a meeting of two of the top teams in the league, but the Fire’s recent slide (four losses in the last five matches) has taken some of the luster off it. Toronto is six points ahead of the third-place Fire.

In one final note, Wednesday’s game was the first MLS start for 18-year-old Djordje Mihailovic. He played 82 minutes before being subbed out.

The last time the Cubs faced Homer Bailey, Anthony Rizzo became the face of the franchise

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AP

The last time the Cubs faced Homer Bailey, Anthony Rizzo became the face of the franchise

How's this for a #WayBackWednesday?

Homer Bailey — the Cincinnati Reds' starting pitcher Wednesday night — has dealt with arm injuries the last few years, meaning the last time he faced the Cubs was July 10, 2014.

The only holdover from that lineup three years ago is Anthony Rizzo:

The full lineup:

1. Chris Coghlan - LF
2. Arismendy Alcantara - 2B
3. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
4. Starlin Castro - SS
5. Luis Valbuena - 3B
6. Ryan Sweeney - CF
7. Nate Schierholtz - RF
8. John Baker - C
9. Kyle Hendricks - P

Yep, that was Mr. Hendricks' MLB debut. He gave up four runs in six innings before a bullpen combination of James Russell, Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon and Blake Parker shut down the Reds to give the Cubs a 6-4 victory in 12 innings.

But that's not all. 

That was the same day Anthony Rizzo tried to take on the entire Reds roster after Aroldis Chapman struck out Schierholtz with a 103 mph pitch close to his head:

Rizzo emerged as a leader that day, willing to take on an entire team to back his own roster and stick up for his guys. That was the year before the Cubs made the playoffs and to that point, Rizzo had only been a part of losing teams. But he put the Cubs on his back starting that fateful day in Cincinnati, the last time Bailey faced the Cubs.

Alcantara — who is now in the Reds system and was just outrighted to Double-A this week — had four hits and drove in three runs in that game while Valbuena drove in the winning runs with a two-out triple in the top of the 12th. The Cubs finished 73-89 in 2014 under Ricky Renteria, who got a World Series ring from the Cubs last month for all the work he did in 2014.

Since that day, the Cubs have ended their championship drought (obviously) thanks in part to Chapman and Rizzo has become the unquestioned face of the franchise and one of the top players in baseball.