Cubs

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.

Brian Duensing reportedly returning to Cubs' bullpen

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USA TODAY

Brian Duensing reportedly returning to Cubs' bullpen

It looks like the Cubs aren't done constructing their 2018 bullpen.

According to multiple Wednesday morning reports, the Cubs have agreed to a deal that will bring Brian Duensing back to the North Side relief corps.

The veteran left-hander had himself a very strong 2017 campaign, his first year with the Cubs, turning in a 2.74 ERA in 62.1 innings of work over 68 appearances. He struck out 61 batters and walked just 18.

Duensing made five appearances during the postseason, surrendering one run in 5.1 innings against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. That one run came in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.

Duensing's return helps to strengthen a bullpen with some new faces and some question marks heading into spring training. Wade Davis departed via free agency and signed a record deal with the Colorado Rockies to be their new closer, meaning closing duties will likely fall to free-agent acquisition Brandon Morrow, who pitched in plenty of late-inning and high-leverage situations with the Dodgers last season. The Cubs also added former Miami Marlins and Seattle Mariners closer Steve Cishek in free agency. Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop return from last year's team and figure to play important roles, as well.

And apparently, Duensing took less money in order to come back to the Cubs.

Javy Baez, the Cubs' versatile King of Swag

Javy Baez, the Cubs' versatile King of Swag

Even his teammates are having a hard time wrapping their minds around Javier Baez, the farmer.

Anthony Rizzo asked the flashy infielder before one of the panels this weekend at Cubs Convention, “What is it you do exactly? Feed chickens?”

The exchange garnered a good laugh from the crowd, but let’s be honest: only Baez could make feeding chickens look as cool as feeding a double play ball at Wrigley. Having asked at least 10 different Cubs players this weekend which teammate has the most swag, it was always Baez. And there was never any hesitation. 

Like the bling that hangs around his MLB logo-tatted neck, Baez dazzles on the field as well. His tags are a thing of beauty. You can just imagine young ballplayers around Chicago imitating the swipe, much like a Michael Jordan fadeaway jumper. Whether manning second or short, the 25 year-old All-Star has become a must-see defensive player.

Last season Baez took over at shortstop as Addison Russell dealt with a strained right foot/plantar fasciitis problem. In 30 games Baez thrived at his natural position, so much so he left some wondering if the Cubs would consider flipping Russell back to second base.

Baez has the more traditional, powerful shortstop arm, but Theo Epstein will tell you when you look at Russell’s defensive rankings compared to other shortstops, he’s a special player in his own right as well.

One thing’s for sure: the Cubs are fortunate to have that kind of depth up the middle. Joe Maddon made it clear last September that without the play of Baez, it’s doubtful the team would have been in position to clinch the division.

“We have two legitimate shortstops," Maddon said. "It’s very unusual to have that.”

Sure, a great problem to have. But how does it play out for the Cubs when all is said and done?

Does Baez take over at short with Russell moving to second, or is it Maddon having a tough conversation with Ben Zobrist and plugging No. 9 in as his everyday second baseman? There's Ian Happ, too. Is he the Cubs' second baseman of the future with Russell/Baez being the trade chip that lands a frontline starter?

All viable options, but just for fun in the video above we put Baez on the spot at Cubs Convention and asked him: Are you a shortstop playing second, or a second baseman playing short?”

He flashed a big grin and said a second baseman playing short. In other words, he gets it.

His bling doesn’t blind him from being a team player. "El Mago," the magician, knows his time is coming. A process that will begin in a few weeks when the Cubs report to Mesa.