Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011
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 CSNChicago.com and can be followed on Twitter @15miller.