Bears

15 on 6: Sitting Cutler his best protection so far

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15 on 6: Sitting Cutler his best protection so far

Friday, Oct. 8, 2010
4:40 PM

By Jim Miller
CSNChicago.com

Jay Cutler has been rocked 17 times already this season! Seventeen is the number of times Jay Cutler has been sacked in 4 games, or should I say 3 12, he did not make it through the fourth. How many times has he sustained a hit but still got the ball out? Jay has logged 102 pass attempts and been sacked almost a quarter of them and has been hit well over 60 percent of the time. Shutting him down this week is a smart move by the Bears if you want him to make it through the rest of the year. You should never take an opponent lightly in the NFL, but facing Carolina is a good opportunity to allow Jay to get his mind right.

How It Works

You have a baseline test in the NFL for concussions. This was the first year all rookies were given the "Impact Test" in Indianapolis at the annual NFL combine. It enables teams to now chart players trough their career. Recently, numerous former players have suffered from dementia at an early age and thus, the NFL had to react and become more proactive dealing with concussions. Jay Cutler just becomes the most recent statistic of teams not wanting to put a player at risk. At this point, risk would be an understatement when evaluating the Bear's pass protection. Although Jay has not missed a start in 5 years, he has a baseline test from Denver and most likely, the Bears followed up when Jay arrived in Chicago administering one of their own. It is a series of tests to check recallmemory. Team doctors and trainers make you recite a list of words starting with the letters A, B, C, etc...they are then able to check volume of words and differences from your initial list provided from earlier testing. Either Jay did not score well on the test or the doctors ruled him out altogether for their own self preservation. I lean towards the latter as Jay participated in practice on Wednesday. The track record on diagnosed injuries has been less than stellar from the Bears organization and should provide GM Jerry Angelo the ammunition to shake up another department this off-season. If the decision was up to Jay, he would be lining up under center against Carolina this weekend.

On To No. 2--Enter Todd Collins

Stiff neck and all, Todd Collins is better prepared to face Carolina on the road than Caleb Hanie. The Bears have the ability to dial up more plays in key situations with Todd, knowing how he will react from previous experiences on tape during his career. Caleb, through no fault of his own, would be a gamble. No one knows how he would react if things go poorly in Carolina and in particular, if things do not go well early. This is not the time to find out with a known quantity available. Todd has been there and done it. He is better equipped to manage this situation and draw from years of experience. Being named the starter late in the week, will not effect Todd's preparation, but it is imperative for Todd to create a list of pass plays he feels most comfortable executing. It becomes Martz's responsibility when to call them.

List

Base Offense 1st and 2nd down--Write down your top four play-action passes on early downs and deliver to your OC. You can call the same play, but Martz will just window dress it with motion or shifts to disguise.

3rd and medium--It is imperative Martz knows what Todd feels comfortable with early to build offensive confidence on third down. The Bears were 0-for-13 last Sunday on third down. Do not let self doubt destroy your football team. Remove it early with a quality conversion. Another four pass plays should suffice.

Todd has always been a cerebral guy, but the game plan will be reduced. Mike Martz can hold court all he wants regarding the whole playbook being in play this weekend, but its focus must change. Todd enables the Bears to run more volume of plays, but Martz is now under the gun from his fellow coaches to offer more balance. A commitment to the run game will serve as the best elixir to protect the quarterback. There are numerous play-action passes offering seven and eight man protections to complement the run game. Martz must not waver if it does not look encouraging early! The offensive line is thirsting for the commitment and enter the game knowing this is their opportunity to shine. Offensive line coach Mike Tice has already singled them out in meetings, in case they do not read the papers, to challenge them this weekend. The Bears must just manage! Manage the QB spot, manage the run game and manage a victory.

Jim Miller, an 11-year former NFL quarterback, is a Comcast SportsNet Bears analyst who can be seen each week on U.S. Cellular Bears Postgame Live. Miller, who spent five seasons with the Bears, analyzes current Chicago QB Jay Cutler in his "15 on 6" blog on CSNChicago.com and can be followed on Twitter @15miller.

The Bears love their defensive depth. Now their playoff chances – and offseason plans – rely on it

The Bears love their defensive depth. Now their playoff chances – and offseason plans – rely on it

As it turns out, the Bears’ inside linebacker situation is a great litmus test for how you feel about the team in general. Roquan Smith is done for the year, and it doesn’t feel like Danny Trevathan is ready to return yet. The Bears will likely have to win out with Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis, and while that was certainly never the plan, it also may not be the disaster that many think. 

“It’s unfortunate with some of the injuries that we’ve had this year,” Matt Nagy said on Monday. “But it’s a part of the game. It’s a physical game. I just like the fact that our coaches are preparing our depth guys to come in. It’s no slight on the other guys — the depth of guys that are coming in and playing, we like that.”

The Bears coaches, particularly on defense, have raved all year about the depth across all three levels. How Kwiatkoski and KPL – both UFA’s after the season – play is quietly one of the more important storylines in a final three weeks that’s already not lacking for narrative substance.

“I think they both can do the jobs,” inside linebackers coach Mark Deleone said. “There’s a perception about Kwit that I think, this year, he’s shown that he has coverage skills, and he’s done really well this year when we’ve put him in those situations. I feel comfortable with both of them – they play different positions, but they do a lot of the same jobs. I don’t feel like we’re changing the way those two guys play, based off who’s in the game.”

The good news is that so far, things look good. Though he’s only appeared in seven games, Nick Kwiatkoski’s overall grade (79.8), per Pro Football Focus, is already the fourth-highest on the defense. 

“I think he’s productive,” Deleone said. “Every single game he’s played serious minutes in, he’s made a lot of plays. And that’s something that, and I really believe this, that good linebackers make tackles. And he’s made a lot when he’s played.”

The only players with higher scores? Sherrick McManis (!), Khalil Mack, and … Kevin Pierre-Louis. After logging the second-most snaps (46) of his 68-game career, KPL was PFF’s highest-graded player on the Bears’ defense. 

“It’s not college anymore, where certain players supposedly have to do everything,” he said on Monday. “We have the right pieces, so I just have to make sure I do my job, and the rest of the team is going to have my back.” 

Deleone said that if Kwiatkoski and KPL are in fact the starters in Green Bay this Sunday, Kwiatkoski will wear the green dot. Even still, facing Aaron Rodgers and a Packers’ run game that ranks fourth in DVOA is a lot to ask, and possibly (probably?) getting Akiem Hicks back will be critical to helping both ILBs. The team’s still working to gauge where Hicks is physically, and for the first time since suffering the injury, he’ll be going against blocks in practice.

“I’ve always thought that Akiem has been an integral part of this defense,” defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. “When he’s on the field, he obviously has more impact than when he’s off the field. But his impact off the field has been great so far.” 

Getting Hicks back in time for the Packers game may be especially good news for Leonard Floyd, who, for whatever reason, has a fun tendency of putting together huge games against Green Bay. Floyd is well on his way to another divisive and all-around confusing season: sack loyalists see a bad player, the analytics see a productive player, and the Bears see a great one.

“I think there are a lot of DBs that would love to have some of his traits,” outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “I think there’s a lot of defensive linemen that would love to have some of those traits, and they just don’t. He’s got that package, and if we can get him to finish those rushes and drive those sack numbers up, I think that we’d all be talking about him differently.”

The ifs are doing a lot of heavy lifting in that quote, and eventually the Bears are going to have to decide if they want to pay top dollar for a player whose best contributions can only be described because they ‘don’t show up on tape.’ For what it’s worth, Monachino also said that he can’t think of too many players that he’s asked more from than Floyd, and that every week the edge rusher is in the conversation for “who does [their] job best on our defense.”

Especially with Kevin Tolliver filling in for Prince Amukamara, the Bears’ defense looks as unfamiliar as it has during the Khalil Mack era, and at the worst time. They’ve always been proud of their depth, and now their playoff odds – not to mention offseason budgetary plans – directly rely on it. With all that in mind, you can understand why Matt Nagy’s still looking for this season’s silver lining.

The Bears' run game hasn't been good. Yet in a weird way, it's also why they win

The Bears' run game hasn't been good. Yet in a weird way, it's also why they win

Is the Bears’ run game working? 

It’s a simple (fine, lazy) question that, however binary, continues to have a complicated answer. It quickly became pretty clear that the David Montgomery-Tarik Cohen combination would be a work in progress, and on the surface, neither have particularly impressive stats thus far. The team ranks 29th in rushing DVOA and only the Dolphins (3-10) and the Jets (5-8) have a lower average yards per carry than the Bears (3.5). 

But check this out: The Bears are 7-2 when they rush the ball 20+ times. They’re winless (0-4) when they run it any less.

“For our offense, I just appreciate the way that our guys have continued to just fight through this year and try to figure out where we're at,” Matt Nagy said on Monday. “I do feel a lot better with where we're at right now as an offense. That part, that's good, and that's a credit to our guys.” 

The obvious talking point when it comes to the Bears’ running woes has been Tarik Cohen’s decline in production. As a rusher, he’s on pace to set career worsts in yards per attempt (3.1), yards per game (12.1), and attempts per game (3.2). The analytics are brutal too: according to Pro Football Focus, his Yards After Contact per Attempt (YCO/A) is under 2.0 for the first time in his career; Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric says he’s 18% less effective, per play, than the average NFL running back. 

Before the Bears’ Week 12 game against the Giants, Nagy talked at the podium about wanting to get Cohen more touches. “Trust me,” he said. “Just like everybody, we want to do everything we can to get 29 going. He’s a playmaker and every time he’s on the field, even if he doesn’t touch the football, the defense has to know where he’s at.”

That Sunday Cohen would have 9 targets and six rushes. Since then? 10 targets and six rushes. 

“Teams are doing a good job game planning for him,” running backs coach Charles London said. “I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but every time he’s out on a route, there’s a lineman trying to hit him. He’s usually double-teamed. They’re usually trying to stay on top of him so he can’t go deep. Teams have done good jobs scheming him, but we’ve just got to continue finding ways to give him the ball.” 

Cohen was never meant to be the feature back, and his struggles to regain that explosive form is felt far more in the pass game than it is on the ground. He’s having a weird year as a pass-catcher: he’s on pace to set a career high in receptions per game (4.6), but his yards per game (25.4) is barely half of what it was last season, as is his yards per reception (5.5). As well as any stat can, this one says it all: Cohen had a 70-yard play in each of his first two seasons. This year his longest play, so far, has gone for 31. 

“It’s just about moving the chains,” London added. “It may be a three or four yard route, but maybe it’s third-and-three and we move it and get another set of downs. I think that’s the biggest thing – obviously we’d like some more explosive plays there, and we’ve got to do a better job as coaches of getting him those touches. But as long as we’re moving the chains, we’re good with it.” 

There’s also no denying that Cohen’s usage coincides with David Montgomery, who’s on pace to get more carries in his first season (roughly 265 by back-of-napkin-math) than the Bears gave Jordan Howard in 2018. Montgomery’s season started slowly, but the rookie had his breakout game (27 rushes, 135 yards and a touchdown) against the Chargers in Week 8, and most recently has strung together back-to-back games averaging over 4.0 yards per rush for the first time in his career. 

“I think it’s just him seeing the holes,” London said. “I think he’s done a good job, especially the last 2-3 weeks, of just seeing how the line is blocking and getting a feel for how the game’s going, getting a feel for how the run’s being blocked. I think he’s done a really good job of it the last few weeks.” 

Running the ball isn't what Nagy was hired to do – or wants to do – but it’s hard to say the ground game isn’t working when the Bears are a far better team when they commit to it. 

“I think that just right now, what the feel is with our offense is that it's not just the running back, it's not just the quarterback, it's not just the O-line,” Nagy added on Monday. “Everybody is just kind of syncing right now.”