Biggs; 10 Thoughts on the Game..................
Biggs: 10 thoughts after Bears' win over Lions
By Brad Biggs Tribune Reporter 10:01 a.m. CDT, October 23, 2012
Ten thoughts after the Chicago Bears' 13-7 victory over the Detroit Lions on Monday night at Soldier Field that keeps them in sole possession of first place atop the NFC North at 5-1.
1. Jason Campbell watched Jay Cutler go down hard Monday night and was just hoping the Bears' starting quarterback didn't suffer the same injury that ended Campbell's 2011 season.
Campbell, the Bears' backup quarterback signed as a $3.5 million insurance policy at the outset of free agency, can recall the play like it happened yesterday.
It was Week 6 and Campbell’s Oakland Raiders were hosting the Cleveland Browns. Late in the second quarter -- the same time of the game Cutler was injured -- Campbell dropped back to pass and a big opening appeared in the middle of the line. He shot upfield and after about a 10-yard gain, Browns linebacker Chris Gocong tripped him up from behind. As Campbell was going down, linebacker Scott Fujita slammed Campbell’s right shoulder into the ground.
“It cracked right there,” Campbell said. “That was it.”
Campbell suffered a broken collarbone and was lost for the season. For a moment, with a little more than five minutes remaining in the second quarter Monday night, Campbell feared the same thing had happened to Cutler after Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh slammed him to the turf on his right shoulder.
“You never want to see a teammate get hurt in this profession,” Campbell said. “I’ve been there a year ago. That was me right there a year ago, similar. I thought he had landed on his shoulder and then I talked to him on the sideline and he was like, 'No.' That was a positive thing because you don’t want anything to affect your throwing shoulder.”
Campbell said it’s difficult for quarterbacks to protect themselves from big blows when they’re also taking care of their top priority: protecting the football.
“It’s tough,” he said. “You are in the heat of the moment. When I broke my shoulder, I just saw a gap and I took off. The guy tripped me up from behind and I wasn’t thinking there would be someone to come drive me to the ground and break my collarbone. There is no way Jay can stop that when the guy picked him up off the ground and slammed him into the ground. You are defenseless. When I saw it, I was, 'Oh gosh.' You never want to see that happen.”
There was no penalty called on the Suh hit. Bears coach Lovie Smith didn’t indicate that he thought Suh was out of bounds. Of course, Suh has a history with Cutler from his rookie season when he struck Cutler in the back during a running play.
“We’ve got to go back and see it on film and see what it was,” Campbell said. “Did it take all of that or not?”
You know this much, if a Bears lineman has a chance to hit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, they want it to be a hard hit.
“There is hitting a guy hard and there is being a pro,” Campbell said. “We’ll see it on film and see what kind of hit it was.”
2. Through six games, players added by general manager Phil Emery have made 14 starts out of a possible 132, or a fraction more than 10 percent. Six of those starts belong to wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Left guard Chilo Racahel, inserted to the lineup in Week 3, has four. Rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery made two before suffering a broken hand and running back Michael Bush and rookie fullback Evan Rodriguez have one each. No players brought to the club by Emery or drafted by him have started on defense.
The point is, like the Tribune's David Haugh wrote last week, the Bears are winning, in part, because of much of the groundwork laid by former general manager Jerry Angelo. Angelo made the trade to acquire quarterback Jay Cutler and he broke out the checkbook to sign defensive end Julius Peppers. One move that looks better all the time is the addition of cornerback Tim Jennings, originally signed in 2010. Some Angelo draft picks are stepping up, including defensive tackle Henry Melton, defensive end Corey Wootton, and safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright.
Emery didn’t inherit a dire situation, that much is certain, and no one should have considered it as such when a 7-3 season spun out of control a year ago after Cutler went down with a hand injury. What Emery did that Angelo never seemed to get too worked up about was identify a glaring need for a playmaker on offense. He traded for Marshall in a move that was a calculated risk. Try to imagine where the Bears offense would be without Marshall. If Emery would have prioritized the offensive line over a playmaker, the Bears would have the same cast of rarely dynamic weapons for Cutler. Opponents wouldn’t be concerned about a top lineman in preparation for the Bears. Marshall causes everyone fits, as he did at times Monday for the Lions.
Haugh argued that Angelo was done in by the lousy performance of backup quarterback Caleb Hanie, who was 0-4 in Cutler’s absence before he was relieved by Josh McCown. He submits that someone had to pay for the failures of Hanie when the Bears stumbled to an 8-8 finish and Angelo was chosen to be that guy over Lovie Smith. It's a compelling argument.
I believe Angelo’s demise was draft-related. Team president Ted Phillips said, when he announced the move, that there was a talent deficiency on the roster and the gap needed to be closed with division rivals Green Bay and Detroit. There are not a lot of NFL teams that are going to stay afloat when their starting quarterback goes out. Remember, two weeks later running back Matt Forte was lost to a knee sprain. It’s not like the defense was playing at a championship level down the stretch, either. Three of the final six opponents scored 25 points or more. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz played a role in Hanie bombing too.
Angelo couldn’t pin his draft failures on anyone else, though, even though the core of the scouting staff that Emery currently has in place and Smith and his coaching staff all share in the blame. The numbers jump out at you. Following the release of offensive lineman Chris Williams last Tuesday, right tackle Gabe Carimi is the only first rounder from Angelo’s tenure still on the roster. Angelo oversaw 10 drafts and there are four second-round picks (DT Stephen Paea, RB Matt Forte, WR Devin Hester, CB Charles Tillman) still in place and four third-round picks (S Chris Conte, S Major Wright, WR Earl Bennett, LB Lance Briggs). Hester is the only player from 30 picks Angelo had in the four drafts from 2004 to 2007 that is still on the roster. It’s about drafting and developing and the Bears didn’t do that. Angelo couldn’t turn that around after he fired pro personnel director Bobby DePaul and college scouting director Greg Gabriel and brought in his buddy Tim Ruskell to help.
That being said, Angelo’s fingerprints are all over this roster and many of the moves he made are still helping the team and will for seasons to come. The Bears are not suddenly competing because Emery directed a massive overhaul and purging. Marshall was the only big move made. Emery didn’t stop there when seeking playmakers, trading up to select wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the second round. He’s made an impact. Entering their third season together, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider had made more than 500 roster moves. That’s not a typo. On your block, that would be known as a teardown. The Bears didn’t need that but they did require some fresh ideas and a new approach to the draft. So far, it’s working quite well.
3. The kind of effort Charles Tillman had shadowing Calvin Johnson is the type of prime-time performance that gets players recognized by their peers and coaches around the league when it comes time for Pro Bowl balloting. Tillman made his debut in the all-star game last year and could well be headed back if he can replicate this kind of outing a few more times.
Johnson was limited to three receptions for 34 yards (both season lows) despite being targeted a game-high 11 times by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Johnson had 12 catches for 211 yards and one touchdown in two meetings vs. the Bears last season but after dropping a perfect throw over the middle that would have gained at least 20 yards early in the first quarter, he was stymied throughout.
The Bears did what they’ve done in recent seasons for big, productive playmakers by having Tillman follow him from side to side. Other than that, it was the same defense. A good bit of Cover-2 with some Cover-3 mixed in. Tillman had nearly constant safety help.
“(Tillman) is good,” Johnson said. “We play them twice a year. They see a lot of our stuff that we do, whether it be concepts or anything like that. You have to try to mix it up on guys like that because they’re veterans and it’s a tough defense. They are as wide as the widest and as deep as the deepest and they’re going to make you earn everything.”
Lions coach Jim Schwartz said it was a combination of things that created the frustration for the Lions. He noted that the pass rush on Stafford played a big part in stifling Johnson. The Lions were not able to take shots deep down the field with him.
“He is arguably one of the best receivers in the league and you have to know his whereabouts on the field,” strong safety Major Wright said. “We knew that at all times and put Peanut on him. Kind of played him like that and got after them. That is what you always want to do. He is a big, physical receiver and that is what you always want to do -- initiate the contact, initiate the physicalness. Start it with him and let him know it’s going to be all night.”
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher almost seemed a little in awe of what Tillman accomplished.
“I don’t know how he does it,” Urlacher said. “I mean, Calvin Johnson is a big, big-time receiver. Peanut is a big-time corner. I don’t know how he does it, but I’m glad he does. Glad he plays for us.”
4. The Bears mixed it up with punt returners after Devin Hester failed to field a punt near the Lions sideline and it hit and rolled, ending up as a 58-yarder for Nick Harris. Special teams coordinator called on Earl Bennett to take a turn and also gave Eric Weems a shot before returning to Hester. Of Harris’ eight punts, the Bears returned two for a total of seven yards.
Catching shorter punts was a major emphasis for Hester during the offseason and it’s likely Toub wanted to make a point with the move.
“Some mistakes I made,” Hester said when asked about the in-game move. “Some errors that I have made. Those kinds of ones I’ve got to come up and fair catch, you know. That was pretty much what happened. I didn’t come up and fair catch it. I let the ball hit.
“I’m not used to not having big returns. I just feel like I am due for one any minute and it ain’t hitting it like I want to.”
You can sense Hester is a little frustrated but you have to give him credit for fielding questions about it. It’s impossible to imagine another returner in the NFL who would be asked why he doesn’t have a return touchdown after six games. The expectations for the guy are ridiculous.
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice talked about expanding some plays for Hester on offense and he had a real nice gain on a quick pass with the Bears backed up deep in their own end. Hester gained 23 yards and was close to going all the way. That is what they mean when they talk about getting him the ball in space.
“Just getting it to me quick and see what I can do,” Hester said. “It was a great opportunity for me, I had a guy that was playing off coverage. They got it to me quick and all I had to do was make one guy miss and then, you know, you get good yards out of it.”
5. It will be interesting to find out how offensive coordinator Mike Tice scores things for right tackle Gabe Carimi. He was called for holding in the first quarter on a three-yard Michael Bush run, although the call looked a little iffy. In the second quarter, another holding call turned into an offsetting penalty that erased a 15-yard scramble by quarterback Jay Cutler. Later in the game, Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh had a free rush at Cutler and it looked like he was turned loose on Carimi’s side but it was impossible to establish who should have blocked Suh.
Much of the focus has been on left tackle J’Marcus Webb, but Carimi hasn’t gotten back to the level he was at before his knee injury last season.
“He’s coming along,” offensive line coach Tim Holt said. “I am happy with his progress. Every day he is getting better and better. It is tough to come back from an injury like that. You’ve just got to keep grinding away at it but from the first day of training camp to where he is now -- he is way ahead of where he was. Sometimes it doesn’t always look pretty.
“The best thing that Gabe does too, he tries to do it right every time and he competes his butt off. So, it might look like he is getting edgy but he is still on his guy.”
The hope is Carimi will gain more confidence as the season progresses.
6. D.J. Moore split time at nickel back with Kelvin Hayden and that was because the Bears wanted to avoid a situation where the Lions might match Calvin Johnson up in the slot one-one-one vs. Moore. So, they opted for the bigger Hayden. But Moore was still in the mix and made an interception of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford at the 3-yard line late in the fourth quarter, the third red zone takeaway of the game.
“You don’t have to at that point but you want to catch it,” Moore said. “It helps in the great scheme of things.”
Moore said he understood the strategy in having him share the nickel role.
“Last time I played man on him, he choke slammed me in the end zone so we didn’t want that to happen again,” Moore said. “That was like two years ago but they still remember.”
He was just happy the line and secondary combined to make life for Stafford very uneasy.
“I feel like once you get him out of the rhythm in the beginning than during the game he is not going to be the same quarterback,” Moore said. “If he is in the rhythm in the beginning, it is going to be tough the whole game.”
7. The off week gave the coaching staff a chance to explore a lot of game film from around the league -- not that they are not doing that on a regular basis anyway -- so I asked special teams coordinator Dave Toub if the Tim Tebow effect with the New York Jets could start a trend. No, I’m not talking about Tebowing here. Tebow, the personal protector on the Jets punt team, executed three successful fakes in five weeks before not attempting one in Sunday’s overtime loss to the New England Patriots. Could his presence revolutionize special teams?
It’s an easy play with a variety of options as Tebow can field a direct snap and then run the ball as he did in successful fakes against the Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans and throw it as he did two weeks ago against the Indianapolis Colts. Tebow completed a 23-yard pass to linebacker Nick Bellore on a fourth-and-11 against the Colts, executing a jump pass. When the Jets first began experimenting with Tebow as a personal protector, they were mocked.
“Tim gives you that kind of talent at that spot and that’s a huge advantage for us,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said, via the New York Post. “I know we were criticized initially for it, but I think people are seeing now why we do it.”
My question for Toub was simple: Could the personal protector position begin to evolve if Tebow and the Jets continue to run successful fakes?
The Jets have not been stopped yet. It seems like a tremendous threat to have someone experienced throwing the ball in the position. But could it catch on with a lot of coaches very conservative, especially when it comes to special teams?
I also posed the question to punter Adam Podlesh and long snapper Pat Mannelly, who at least on film has seen just about every fake special teams play known to man. Mannelly pointed out some of these plays have been run successfully before and by the Jets with Brad Smith (now with the Buffalo Bills), a former quarterback at Missouri.
“I don’t think you have to have Tim Tebow,” Mannelly said. “Maybe they have more confidence in Tebow because he’s had the ball in his hands more often but I think the biggest thing it comes down to is are you willing to take that gamble? Because if you do lose it, you’re screwing yourself on field position. Obviously, they have a lot of confidence in Tim Tebow as a personal protector and the punt team executing the fake. It could take off more. If you are seeing them and their percentage is pretty high, you might see more teams take more chances.
“A lot of teams have a run threat in that personal protector but you are not sure if he is a pass threat.”
The Bears use third running back Armando Allen in the role currently. He’s obviously a run threat but he’s not going to push a defender for an extra yard like Tebow, who at 6-3, 236 pounds has seven inches and 46 pounds on Allen.
“What you are going to have to do, when you play against them you are going to have to put some bigger guys in the front to try to prevent the run,” Toub said of the Jets. “You’ve got to stop the run and then be sure that you are covering the eligible receiver. They had a guy go out on a pass that was uncovered. You have to be alert. I am not sure you would be able to create a whole offense that way. You are taking advantage of the fact that you have punt return guys out on the field, smaller guys up front that if they get double teamed they are going to be blown out of there. If you need one to four yards, a guy like Tebow is going to be able to get it.”
But can Allen throw the ball?
“I don’t know if he can or not,” Toub said, laughing.
Podlesh said there are a number of Bears players who would be great in the role, listing Julius Peppers and Brandon Marshall as two. The bet here is weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs would be ideal. Of course, this might as well be fantasy football. They’re not going to be exposed to the role on special teams.
“I don’t know if I have enough foresight to look into the future on it but I can’t say no to it (possibility a trend develops),” Podlesh said. “First and foremost, you want a guy there that can block and cover because that is what you are normally going to be doing. It depends on the special teams coach and the head coach and their philosophy. It’s always a plus, I feel, to have a guy there that can have a niche of doing fakes like what Tebow can do because it keeps the punt return team on edge the whole time. But it’s just really tough to find a guy that has all of those skills.”
Who could do it for the Bears?
“Julius Peppers,” Podlesh replied. “I think he can probably do anything. He’d be the best personal protector in the NFL. Brandon Marshall is a great athlete. He can definitely run and throw it and I am sure he can cover. Obviously, he doesn’t tackle very often but I can bet he can do that and he is a very good blocker. But he’s used a little more efficiently elsewhere.”
Marshall has covered before. He made six tackles on special teams as a rookie in 2006 for the Denver Broncos.
“Sure, you’re looking for a guy that can throw the ball in there,” Toub said. “You’re looking for punters that can throw, too.”
We’ll have to wait and see what tricks Toub has in mind.
8. There was an interesting story from Sam Farmer in the Los Angeles Times over the weekend, but one that Robbie Gould doesn’t find the least bit interesting. Farmer noted that through the first six weeks of the season, NFL kickers had made 325 of 371 field goas (87.6 percent). That’s significantly ahead of the league accuracy record of 84.5 percent from 2008. Farmer introduced the idea of the goalposts -- currently 18 feet, 6 inches apart -- being moved closer together. Nothing drastic but enough to make it more challenging for kickers who are challenging records.
“Imagine how interesting it would be if 35-yarders were no longer ‘gimmes,’” Farmer wrote. “Let no points be automatic.”
The NFL made things more challenging for kickers and punters with the introduction of “K” balls 13 years ago to regulate the balls being used on special teams. Kickers are becoming more specialized and much better at their craft and a prep player in Washington nailed a 67-yarder last week that even caught the attention of Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub.
Don’t try to sell the idea of narrower goalposts to Gould, who entered the game as the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history (86.4 percent).
“I think it would be a dumb, dumb idea,” Gould said. “Guys are getting a lot better because they want to keep their jobs. There are only 32 positions in the NFL. It’s not like six wide receivers on a team. It’s a good thing kickers are getting better. That means special teams coaches have to have better schemes and guys have to push harder on offensive linemen, then you’ll get more blocked kicks.
“It doesn’t make any sense. It’s perfect the way it is. I just think it is stupid.”
Gould had a 47-yard attempt blocked in the second quarter by Lions defensive lineman Lawrence Jackson. It was the first block the Bears have allowed in two years.
9. The Bears have rushed for 385 yards in the last two games after piling up 171 on 32 carries against the Lions. They rank ninth in the NFL averaging 131.5 yards per game and 10th at 4.3 yards per carry. Matt Forte just missed consecutive 100-yard games as he finished with 96 yards on 22 carries. Quarterback Jay Cutler has helped out with five rushes for 56 yards in the two games.
Backup running back Michael Bush has had only 10 carries in the two games but he’s making the most of opportunities. He’s showed some hurdling skills but says he didn’t run track in high school.
“Whatever it takes,” Bush said. “I try to be an all-around back. I’m not always going to try to run someone over. We did a good job today. Matt almost had 100 yards. We can’t ask for anything else.”
10. The Bears had four takeaways to give them an NFL-high 21 through six games. But D.J. Moore’s interception was the only pick. Still, the Bears have 14 interceptions, most in the NFL and two more than the New York Giants. Many have credited the defensive line with consistent pressure that has led quarterbacks to release the ball early and give those in the secondary chances to break on the ball.
Defensive line coach Mike Phair looks at it from a different perspective.
“I think about the back seven,” Phair said. “To me, that is what is helping us up front, the back seven. They are breaking on the ball. They are doing an unbelievable job and that helps us up front.”
10 a. Nice return to the Bears by cornerback Zack Bowman. He was credited with a team-high two tackles on special teams and was there to recover the muffed punt by the Lions’ Stefan Logan. Bowman took the place of Sherrick McManis, who was sidelined with a minor hip injury.
10 b. The Punky QB is next for Jay Cutler on the franchise’s all-time yardage list. Cutler passed Erik Kramer to become fourth in club history with 10,618 yards. He is 736 yards behind Jim McMahon (11,203) for third and that should fall in three games. Yes, the Bears’ passing records are pathetic.
10 c. Thirty-two forced fumbles and counting for Bears cornerback Charles Tillman in his career. He had two against the Lions, although neither resulted in a takeaway. Tillman appeared to be shaken up when he stripped Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew in the second quarter.
10 d. The Lions will be without wide receiver Nate Burleson for the remainder of the season. He suffered a broken leg, according to Lions coach Jim Schwartz.
10 e. Former Bears center Olin Kreutz, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, was at the game. He was visiting with Bears center Roberto Garza and Lions center Dom Raiola afterward. Kreutz and Raiola grew up in the same Honolulu neighborhood. Kreutz is in remarkable shape after ending his playing career last season.
10 f. The Fox crew of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa will broadcast the Bears-Panthers game Sunday.
10 g. Referee Ed Hochuli and his crew will work the Bears-Panthers game.
10 h. Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall has 577 yards receiving through the first six games, the most by a Bears receiver in that span since at least 1960. That puts him on pace for 1,539.