15 on 612: Cutler's poor throws, raw Hanie hurt

15 on 612: Cutler's poor throws, raw Hanie hurt

Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011
11:19 p.m.

By Jim Miller

Hard to accept a loss in the NFC Championship game to the Packers when your signal caller goes down to injury. I think everyone should take a breath before you start questioning Jay Cutler's toughness and criticizing his heart.

He has displayed his toughness numerous times over the last two seasons, especially this season while absorbing the most sacks in the league. He sustained a concussion against the Giants earlier in the season and continued to play a whole quarter before the coaches new something was wrong and had to pull him. He labored to make a handoff to Matt Forte on the first series of the third quarter and most likely knew at that point it wasn't going to work.

Early reports indicate an injury to the MCL of Jay's knee. Really, the only thing Bears fans should criticize is why the organization did not sign a more capable backup quarterback in the offseason or just elect to roll with Caleb Hanie over Todd Collins.

While Jay was in the game, he had an opportunity to hit four key throws that I thought could of made a difference in the game - two of those strikes would have been found paint. The first miss was on a 7 (post corner) route to Devin Hester. Jay needed to follow through with his motion on a pretty routine play. It was 3rd-and-7 and would have continued the drive into Green Bay territory.

The second was a shallow crossing route versus man Coverage, where if he hits Hester, he may still be running. Jay shuffled up in the pocket and just needed to reset his feet.

The third miss cost the Bears a touchdown. It was Slot formation where the Bears were trying to work a double post concept off of playaction. It was versus a man-free coverage and instead of leading Hester vertically, Jay should have forced Hester with his throw to come more flat towards the sideline. It is a much easier throw and there is no backside corner to worry about as it was a slot formation.

The last missed opportunity also could have been a paydirt situation for the Bears. It was on the interception by Sam Shields, a 3-by-1 'bunch' set by the Bears where they wanted to hit single WR Johnny Knox on a "Go" route. Receivers are taught to give themselves two yards of real estate to the sideline on fly patterns because it allows them to lean on the defensive back providing a little bit of separation if the ball is thrown outside. Jay just needed to place the ball more to the outside so Johnny had an opportunity to make the catch or, at a minimum, give Johnny an opportunity to break up the play.

I think Lovie's decision to pull Todd Collins for Caleb Hanie speaks for itself. It really was just Caleb's inexperience that cost the Bears on two occasions. The interception by B.J. Raji is the most evident. It was a blitz zone again by the Packers where they drop a pass rusher (Raji) and replace him with another (Tramon Williams) who was the blitzing corner. Caleb just has to see it!

When you're are coming out from under center at the snap of the ball you should be able to see it. Raji is a 338-pound nose tackle who is in your passing lane. Caleb needed to move on in his read or tuck the ball and run at the gap the big nose tackle just voided.

This was also Caleb's first experience to execute a two-minute drive - another area where he will grow. Two minute drives are always very chaotic. The coaches are screaming into the headset, players are screaming for the play so they know where to line up and lock in their assignment - and oh yea - the clock never stops ticking.

For such a young QB to be getting his first live action in the NFC Championship game working such a drill is impressive. Trust me, Caleb will come away from this experience more prepared to work this critical area of the Bears offense in the future. He learned a tremendous amount in the pressure cooker of a situation he found himself in on Sunday.

Overall, Bears fans should feel pretty good about the 2010 season. I know it hurts to get so far and sustain such a loss to the dreaded Packers. However, the Bears improved by leaps and bounds - especially on offense. If growth continues this offseason, the 2011 campaign could be truly special.

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 and can be followed on Twitter @15miller.

How can the Bears make Khalil Mack even better in 2019?

USA Today

How can the Bears make Khalil Mack even better in 2019?

In the midst of Khalil Mack’s All-Pro debut season with the Bears, then-outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley offered a thought of how his star pupil could be even better in 2019. With the benefit of a full offseason of OTAs and training camp, the Bears would be able to move Mack around more within their defense, which would present tougher challenges for opposing coaching staffs trying to gameplan for him. 

Staley left for the Denver Broncos along with Vic Fangio back in January. But a new coaching staff has the same thought: There’s more to what Mack can do than we saw in 2018. And 2018 was pretty impressive. 

“There will be opportunities for him to do a variety of things from a variety of different alignments,” senior defensive assistant/outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “Freedom, he has a little bit. But variety he has plenty. There’s plenty of things that we’re going to try to use him for and to do with him that allow him to showcase the things he does well.”

The No. 1 thing Mack does well, to boil it down, is wreck a game. Every head coach and offensive coordinator around the league has to develop a plan for limiting those game-wrecking abilities. It meant quick throws, the kind that leave the quarterback’s hand before Mack can even set up a pass-rushing move, for some teams. For others, it meant offering extra pass protection support through committing a tight end, running back or both to slowing him down. Mack still found a way to total 12 1/2 sacks and 73 total pressures, all while an ankle injury effectively wiped out four games in the middle of the season. 

“You’ve got a phenomenal, phenomenal athlete, all that stuff” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “He’s a great football player, but he’s a better teammate. And he’s a better person. He doesn’t say much, but actions speak louder than words. Again, he’s a great worker. He’s a smart guy. He picks things up. Not gonna say much, but out here on the football field he’s going to lead by example.” 

As the 2018 season progressed, the Bears felt more comfortable with having Mack play on the left and right during games, not one spot exclusively (in the season’s first four weeks, 166 of Mack’s snaps came on the left and 25 came on the right, per Pro Football Focus). By the playoffs, the Bears were able to strategically use Mack on either side of their defense to try to counter-act the scheming done by Eagles coach Doug Pederson (Mack played 26 snaps on the left and 26 on the right in that game, per Pro Football Focus). 

But both the previous and current coaching staffs envision Mack being able to do more than just line up on either side of the formation. And Monachino has experience in figuring out the best way to create that variety he talked about, too: He was Terrell Suggs’ position coach in 2011 when the Baltimore Ravens edge rusher won defensive player of the year honors (also: That was the lone year in which Pagano was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator). 

Suggs primarily rushed from various defensive line positions (end/outside linebacker, as designated by Pro Football Focus), but lined up off the ball on a little under 20 percent of his snaps in 2011. An article described him as playing a “hybrid-linebacker” position, which sounds about right. 

Suggs finished 2011 with 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions. 

It’s only May, which means it’s far too early to predict how the Bears will use Mack. Coaches don’t even know the specifics yet. But it’s fair to expect a few different wrinkles for how Mack’s game-wrecking ability is deployed in the Bears’ defense with a full complement of offseason practices — and, too, the coaching minds of Monachino and Pagano. 

“With a player like this, you don’t even have to sit in the offense’s meeting rooms on the other side to know that they have to tend to him on every snap,” Monachino said, referencing Suggs. “They have to know where (former Pittsburgh Steelers safety) Troy Polamalu is on every snap. You gotta know where (Houston Texans edge rusher) JJ Watt is on every snap. This is a guy that you have to do that with. So with Khalil, being able to predict that they’re going to talk about, how do we tend to Khalil Mack on every snap, and then being able to move him into different spots and then to show him in different ways and to do different things with him, it’s going to be really valuable for the defense.”

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

USA Today

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

When the Bears’ defense takes the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night, they’ll be returning 9 of the 11 starters that were part of a 2018 squad that was one of the best in Bears’ history. 

One of the few new faces that figure to be among the starting 11 is cornerback Buster Skrine. Gone is Bryce Callahan, who left for Vic Fangio’s Denver team after spending the first four years of his career in Chicago. Though Bears’ scouts have had their eye on Skrine for a few seasons now, it was his more palatable three-year, $16.5 million contract -- compared to Callahan’s three-year, $21 million contract -- that finally got him in house. 

“Me and Buster came out the exact same year, and I’ve watched him,” Prince Amukamara said after OTAs on Wednesday afternoon. “He actually played with my best friend and he would always talk about how fast Buster is -- especially when Buster played gunner. 

“I’ve always watched him, and I feel like he’s very similar to Bryce [Callahan] by being quick and being active. I’m definitely happy with the pick up.” 

Once considered a spot to place the third-best, less-athletic cornerback, no position has seen it's value increase so dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are changing dramatically; no team saw more three receiver sets in 2018 than the Bears’ defense. Per Sharp Stats, opposing offenses lined up in 11 personnel against Chicago 78% of the time. The next closest was the Chiefs at 71%, and the NFL average is 65%. 

“I think nickel is a different ball game,” Amukamara added. “I would say it can be one of the hardest positions on the field, just because you’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics, so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, and so we put a lot on our nickel.” 

Despite not being considered part of a what teams have traditionally considered base defense, the pass-happy nature of this era in the NFL has all but mandated that nickel corners are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. It’s no coincidence that before breaking his foot against the Rams in Week 12, Callahan was on pace to set a career-high in snap percentage. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot more sub packages,” Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “You’re probably playing 70% in sub during a game now… Otherwise, it hasn’t really changed - he just plays more. That’s the thing - he is technically a starter. He’s probably going to run on the field first in a lot of games, and by rule that’s a starter.

“One thing about the nickel position is that you’ve got to do a little bit of both. You can’t just go out on 3rd down and cover and run the option routes. Now they’re going to hand off the ball and find out where you’re at and you’re going to have to make a tackle. That’s the difference in the position now - it’s a first and second down type of guy that has to be able to do it all.”

While Skrine isn’t considered as good a cover corner as Callahan, Skrine’s pass rush and run defense looks pretty similar. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine’s run defense graded out significantly higher (80.7) than Callahan’s (57.8). 

“With Buster, it’s about his playing experience,” Townsend added. “He’s a guy who will mix it up in the run. He can blitz, and he’s reliable. He’s tough.”