Bears

Moon: Bears DL rotation healthy, top in the NFL?

326384.jpg

Moon: Bears DL rotation healthy, top in the NFL?

Friday, Dec. 3, 2010
11:49 a.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The players dont particularly like it, and the coaches know that but do it anyway. But it is perhaps the biggest collective reason why the Bears are in the debate over the NFLs top defenses and why no defensive lineman has been on the inactive list because of injury.... there've been 1-2 inactive every week, just not for injury

Since Lovie Smith arrived as head coach the Bears have employed and thrived on a defensive-line philosophy built around a rotation of players, even starters, even the premier players. And it is to some extent now being run by the players themselves, putting players in places some have never been before.

Defensive tackle Marcus Harrison, the Bears biggest defensive lineman at 315 pounds, suddenly appeared at end. Julius Peppers was considering jumping down inside from end to tackle at one point. Defensive tackle Henry Melton has moved out to Peppers spot at end on occasion, with 2 sacks to show for his efforts.

The result has contributed to days like last Sunday when the defensive line sacked Michael Vick four times while simultaneously holding one of the NFLs best rushing offenses to nearly 50 yards below its average.

Defenses have gone to rotating substitutions against Vick this season. But Bears players already were accustomed to coming off the bench with throttles wide open, sometimes an art in itself for a sub who for most of his college career was a star and every down player. Bears defensive linemen are used to being a full power immediately.

Against Philadelphia you really dont have any choice but to play a rotation, said defensive tackle Tommie Harris. Luckily were used to playing a rotation and in a game like that, it comes in handy because you really cant just have the same front four out there all the time chasing him down. When we rotate, we can do it.

The effects of freshness appear to be cumulative. The Bears had 2 sacks, total, through the first three games. They had 11 in the last three.

The Bears do have situational players whose appearances are dictated by downs and distances: a run-stopper here who comes out on obvious passing downs, a speed rusher there who drops in as his replacement.

But beyond those, their order of battle becomes particularly interesting.
Sound reasoning

The Bears have two solid reasons for preferring a rotation. One is that it keeps players fresh in a system where coaches demand that linemen play at maximum on all plays.

The other is because, well, they can.

Im not bragging, Harrison said, but as a defensive front, were so deep and talented that we can afford to do that.

Melton, who has become a key part of the rotation and positioning, is more blunt.

Some teams dont have the pleasure of rotating, Melton said. Theyve got to keep their guys in because their second string isnt that good. But were deep here. Once one of us gets winded, we can get a break and bring in a guy whos good and whos ready.

Rotation for rotations sake is not the program, nor do the Bears practice it or advocate it for all positions. Safety, yes. Linebacker, no. Offensive line, no. Wide receiver, yes. Cornerback no.

Defensive line, absolutely.

Some positions you can do that, Smith said. Defensive line, with the pace that we ask the guys to play. None of them can play the way we want them to without taking a few plays off.

Funky options

Where those players come in, as well as when, is where the Bears rotation becomes particularly intriguing. While some early game substitutions are scripted and assigned by coaches, the players are given increasing latitude and responsibility for managing themselves rather than leaving it all on coaches or coordinator Rod Marinelli to remember a change or notice a player in need of relief.

Thats what Rod tells us, to watch our guy, Harrison said. It doesnt matter how many plays you go; Rod just wants you at your best. When we see one of our guys tired or winded, were already rotating. We dont wait or ask; were just paying attention to our position.

Im the fourth end so Henry will go in before me. But if Henry is gassed or playing the 3 technique, tackle, I know where Im supposed to go. We communicate on and off the field and thats really the key.

A defensive lineman may start onto the field but he is not making the change himself. The player in the game is involved in the communication and decisions are worked out.

When Peppers was considering the jump to tackle, he was talking about that with Melton.

We have a deep rotation and if you feel comfortable somewhere, you can switch with a guy, Melton said. Pep was talking to me about rushing inside.

If they had their druthers

A debate always is whether it is better to be fresher vs. being able to work against your opposing offensive lineman over time, setting him up on first down for a move on third or a series later.

Being on the field consistently is better, in my opinion, said defensive end Israel Idonije, who began this season in a rotation with since-released Mark Anderson, himself a situation pass rusher as a rookie. Being on the field, getting the reps, getting into a rhythm, just getting a feel for the game, I think you get into a better rhythm that way rather than rotating six plays in, six plays off.

Its tough to get in a rhythm that way and get into the flow of the game, setting a guy up. I think being able to get in consistently and get a feel for the game, how I want to rush and attack a guy, getting that helps production and overall play.

The sentiment is understandable, and understood. Lovie Smith was a linebacker and strong safety as a player at Tulsa so he can relate to players wanting to play, period.

But there are other factors at work, including the fact that the Bears have more than just four players at starter level.

You do want to be the guy. Smith acknowledged. You dont want to be in a rotation. Players want to play as much as they can but in the long run its not all bad to be in a rotation over the course of a long season and what they go through. You can be fresher to come in and you may have a guy whos best suited for a certain situation.

Guys would like to play every down. You start with that. But when you have a few players that you would like, guys realize that they deserve to play too.

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Trubisky throw more?

1023_mitch_trubisky.jpg
AP

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Trubisky throw more?

Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky air it out more often?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Haugh, Adam Jahns and Mark Carman join David Kaplan to discuss the Bears' second straight win, a great defensive performance and minimal work by Trubisky.

Listen to the latest episode below:

Bears handling of Mitch Trubisky, run-pass balance fits a pattern as Leonard Floyd heats up

Bears handling of Mitch Trubisky, run-pass balance fits a pattern as Leonard Floyd heats up

Shaking some last crumbs out of the notebook after the Bears reached 3-4 with their 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers…

The thought that offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains somehow needs to loosen the leather restraints he’s put on quarterback Mitch Trubisky may be the head-scratcher of the weekend; more than just this weekend, really.

Set aside the mistaken notion that the only goal of the 2017 season is Trubisky’s development. First of all, that’s an objective, not a goal (winning is a “goal”); and somewhere in all this, the developments of Leonard Floyd, Eddie Jackson and Cody Whitehair might be at least a little important, but that’s digressing...

Realize that Loggains has been the boots-on-the-ground prime mover behind the plan and program that has had Trubisky on a developmental fast track practically since the quarterback was drafted. And Loggains is a self-professed “’I like to throw it’ guy” even if John Fox isn’t, although the 2016 season is worth a look regarding the latter’s feelings about throwing. More on that in a minute.

More to the play-calling specifically: Carolina was No. 2 in the NFL in sacks and a top-10 pass defense. Baltimore is 12th against the pass and tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (10). Loggains and the offense overwhelmingly ran the football against both of those defenses.

Against Minnesota, which is a more workable 17th in passing yardage allowed, the Bears ran 56 plays. Of those, 27 were pass plays, not counting Trubisky running three times.

Fold in this perspective: Loggains was part of the Adam Gase staff in 2015 when the Bears were a 54:46 pass:run ratio offense. Last year, with the quarterback mayhem of Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Jay Cutler-Matt Barkley, Loggains as OC threw the ball 61 percent of the time. Anyone who cared to look really closely at the “why” there would have seen that Loggains didn’t have an in-shape Jordan Howard early, by Howard’s own assessment, or a fully healthy Jeremy Langford late.

Meaning: Loggains has worked with what he had, both last year and now this year, when he doesn’t have Alshon Jeffery and Cameron Meredith, or Markus Wheaton (inactive for four of the seven games) for that matter, for Trubisky (or Mike Glennon) to catch passes. Fox wants an offense that, of its top five priorities, not turning the football is Nos. 1-4, and that’s what Loggains and Trubisky have given him.

The “culture” that’s increasingly evident in and around Halas Hall

Not every fun or revealing locker room quip should be reported. So when Leonard Floyd was bantering not too long ago with Akiem Hicks, the outside linebacker issued a declaration that I thought oughta stay in its corner of the locker room, at least until the young man played up to the bar he was setting for himself.

“I’m hot,” Floyd had informed Hicks, who gave every appearance of dismissing the boast as the overly self-hyping rant of a second-year NFL pup, more intent on finding a missing sock than indulging the youngster. “I…am…hot,” Floyd repeated to ensure that Hicks was on notice.

The good-natured by-play was more than just a little smack.

Floyd and Hicks have a friendly but definitely intense sack competition, Floyd has had four sacks over the last four games, to which Hicks has to up his game with four sacks over the last three. But for Floyd, his year heated up with his first 2017 sack, at Green Bay.

“It was that sack – when I sacked Aaron Rodgers – I felt ‘hot,’” Floyd said on Sunday after the Carolina win, in which Floyd was credited with four tackles, one for loss, and two quarterback hits. Floyd did sack Rodgers last season at Green Bay, forcing a fumble that Floyd recovered in the end zone. But “I didn’t have any sacks going into Green Bay [this year],” Floyd said, “so when I sack Aaron Rodgers, I know I can sack anybody."

Not that Floyd is superstitious or anything, but “I’m still wearing the same cleats I wore in that Green Bay game,” Floyd added, rummaging through his bag and extracting the well-worn, good-luck footwear.

Winning makes everything a little more relaxed, although conversely, actually “playing” football not uncommonly leads to winning as well. Whichever is cause and which is effect, something is noticeably different inside a team that not too long ago too many had been given up for NFL dead.