Use of the Zone Read Adds a Nice New Wrinkle to the Bears Offense

Bears-Jay-Cutler1One positive from Sunday’s game is highlighted by Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points to offensive coordinator Adam Gase‘s use of the zone read with quarterback Jay Cutler as a positive from Sunday’s game:

“‘We did it the last two years with Peyton [Manning],’ Gase said. ‘Peyton didn’t keep any. But that’s been going on for a long time. That was different stuff (that what we ran with Tim Tebow in Denver). A lot of this stuff we do, everybody is doing it in the league right now. It’s just kind of the decision making. If you watch Philly, even when (Mark) Sanchez was playing, he’d pull it and get 4 and slide. Jay just decided like he felt like dropping the shoulder. He does a good job and does a good job of making the right decisions.'”

I like this for a number of reasons. First it gives the defense another runner to worry about. Despite putting it on tape against the Green Bay Packers the week before, the Cardinals were clearly surprised when Cutler kept the ball and scrambled for a couple of good gains of 10 and 8 yards. Second it takes advantage of Cutler’s underrated mobility and physical toughness. At a time when the offense lacks talent at wide receiver with Alshon Jeffery hurting, Gase is using every weapon in his arsenal to compensate. Cutler’s willingness to run and take a hit when necessary (though they’d rather he slides) could be a big part of that.

Quick Comments: Late Sunday Afternoon Games

Baltimore – Oakland

  • Oakland surprised me this game by taking Baltimore head on at the line of scrimmage and they competed very well.
  • Quarterback Derek Carr once again had a good game this week (30/46 for 351 yes). Significantly, he got good protection.
  • In contrast, Joe Flacco (32/45, 384 yds) did not have a good game. He saw a lot of pressure and missed a lot of throws he ordinarily makes.

Dallas – Philadelphia

  • The story of this game was how ugly it was for the Eagle offense. Demarco Murray had a terrible game as the Cowboys keyed on him every time he entered the game. The Eagle offensive line was awful, allowing the Cowboys defensive line to penetrate at will. Eventually the Eagles had some success attacking the edges and getting away from the interior defensive penetration.
  • I saw some pretty poor tackling from the Eagles in this game. Tough to stop the run that way.
  • Surprisingly, I also was less than impressed with some of the blocking from the vaunted Cowboys offensive line. The Eagles were getting plenty of penetration against them at times. The Cowboys did better after wearing the Eagles down late in the game, a bi-product of an Eagle offense that gets the defense back on the field quickly when things aren’t clicking.
  • Tony Romo went down hard on a sack and a fumble. Before any report was made you could tell that it had broken collar bone written all over it. Its Brandon Weeden time. For a while.
  • Tweet of the day:

Miami – Jacksonville

  • Jacksonville took advantage of some poor defensive backfield play from Miami. Brice McCain looked particularly bad. This is something that the Dolphins are going to want to take a close look at in the coming week.
  • Blake Bortles’ (18/33 273 yds) accuracy and ball placement leaves a lot to be desired. For a highly touted up and coming quarterback, I was unimpressed this game. Sometimes he flashes some of that potential but its time for him to fish or cut bait this year with some consistency.
  • Right now Ndamukong Suh looks very over paid. He’s not making the plays we saw him make in the NFC North despite often being double teamed.
  • On the other hand, Jacksonville got all kinds of pressure on Ryan Tannehill (30/44 359 yds). This was the first sign of problems for the season on a much – maligned Miami offensive line. Brandon Albert left the game in the first half and ws replaced by Jason Fox, which obviously didn’t help.
  • Olivier Vernon should be ashamed of himself for a late personal foul call that badly damaged Miami’s chances of getting the ball back with time to score.

How to Replace the Irreplaceable?

Reid Hanson at Sports Dallas-Fort Worth explains how to replace the irreplaceable. Guess what he’s going to say. You can’t:

“It’s hard to understate the loss of Dez Bryant, yet that very thing seems to be happening everywhere. Numerous columns are calling the [Randy] Gregory loss bigger than the Bryant loss. This couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“With no Dez, teams can pack the box to stop the run. Opposing defenses have been daring the other Cowboys receivers to beat them for years, and yet they’ve still struggled to get open. Terrance Williams is facing a big challenge these next few weeks as defenses shift more attention to him.

“Can we rely on Williams to be a legitimate big-play threat now that defenses are more focused on him? Jason Witten will get his plays, but when was the last time you’ve seen him pick up consistent yardage after the catch (YAC)? Nope, Witten gets open and catches the ball. He also gets tackled immediately. It’s a valuable asset, but nothing remotely close to what Dez Bryant provides.”

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) is tended to on the sideline after injuring his foot during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
AP Photo/Brandon Wade

That’s a pretty bleak (and pretty realistic) assessment of the situation. Dallas has a wonderful offensive line that I thought performed very well against a lousy New York Giants defensive front last week. So I was shocked to find out that the Cowboys had a terrible game on the ground.

And that was with Bryant for much of the game.

That offensive front is going to have more pressure than ever to provide huge holes to the mediocre running backs that the Cowboys have collected on their roster. Whether they can do that or not will be a major story in week two of the NFL season against the Eagles and beyond.

Quick Comments on the Monday Night Games

Eagles  – Falcons:

  • Sam Bradford didn’t look sharp early. Too many missed passes and miscommunications. This was exacerbated by the job the Falcons did stopping the run. Eagles head coach Chip Kelley gave up on it and decided to lean on Bradford’s arm. It wasn’t a good decision. The Eagles had 8 yards rushing, 117 yards passing and an INT while only scoring three points at half time. Despite running the ball better, the Eagles stuck with the pass in the second half. They had more success in the second half but still lost this game in large part because they the refused to run the ball more.
  • The Eagles had a lot of trouble getting pressure on Matt Ryan and that exposed their biggest apparent weakness. That secondary’s not good.
  • Speaking of Ryan, he was very lucky that he didn’t give this game away.  Two interceptions that really should have been five.  He’ll want to clean that up.  He won’t get away with it often.
  • The Falcons were running the ball surprisingly well and they did a good job of setting up the play action pass.
  • I heard all off season about how the Falcons were quietly building that defense up.  I didn’t get it, myself, until tonight.  They’re far better than I thought.  They’re much faster and much better at the line of scrimmage.  I was damned impressed.

Vikings – 49ers

I was doing a podcast and could only occasionally glance at this game.  I went to bed not long after that.  But I do have some thoughts on what I saw.

The biggest knock on the Vikings going into the season was their offensive line. They did nothing that I saw during this game to ease anyone’s mind. The 49ers harassed QB Teddy Bridgewater and limited running back Adrian Peterson to 14 yards on 4 carries in the first half. The Vikings have been touted as a playoff team. They’re going to have to do better if that’s going to be the case.

Yet Another Reason Why Twitter Is a Bad Idea for NFL Personnel

Former Eagles and Browns executive Joe Banner really should know better.  And maybe the fact that he doesn’t tells you all you need to know about why he’s currently an ESPN analyst instead of a NFL front office man.

Banner tweeted to his more than 27,000 followers something that was almost certainly not intended for public consumption.  He was calling somebody “a moron,” apparently in response to a question about this particular moron’s advisors. The full tweet, was screens hotted before Banner deleted it:

“True, but he is a moron on his own. He has many advisors, but Alec is his top advisor by a lot. Don’t agree with the no advisors outside…”

Speculation, which Banner has denied, was that the “moron” was Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, who fired him in early 2014.    “Alec” is presumably Alec Scheiner, the Browns president.  Even funnier than that tweet are the responses below Banner’s denial like this one:

“Joe Banner is Cleveland’s Crazy Ex-Girlfreind.”

Regardless, this once again reflects the dangers behind using Twitter to say things, either publicly or privately, that shouldn’t be said.  What’s even worse is that Banner has exhibited stupidity via Twitter before.  Banner and those like him should be sending text messages and destroying phones per the normal protocol.

Forte Jerseys Burning Hot in Wisconsin. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune states categorically that the Bears defensive linemen will play one-gap. But I’m reasonably certain that it will depend upon who the player is (e.g. Eddie Goldman Vs. Will Sutton) and what defensive alignment they are in. It will be interesting to see how they handle it.
  • Campbell quotes defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on the defense’s lack of talent.

    “We’re going to have to make our own building blocks. We need to make the guys that we have here better.”

    I think that’s the way its done no matter how much talent you have. But it’s going to take some time.

  • Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times unleashes this zinger:

    “The early leader for Bears Quote of the Year came when outside linebacker Pernell McPhee was asked this week to describe Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

    “‘Hall of Fame,’ he said. ‘Two words.'”

  • I suggested on Friday that head coach John Fox was laying in the weeds by characterizing his top three wide receivers as “questionable” despite the fact that they practiced all week. But consider this via Finley. Broncos with a questionable tag appeared in games only 35 percent of the time last year under Fox. It does make you think.
  • Bears running back Matt Forte on the fact that his jersey, not Rogers’ is the best selling jersy in Wisconsin since the end of last season:

    “There must be a lot of Bears fans in Wisconsin. Either that, or they’re buying it to burn it or something. I don’t know.”

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

I don’t usually shill for anything but I’m going to make an exception and recommend that readers support Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com by becoming a Pro Member at the site. Hub is the former publisher of Pro Football Weekly, a magazine that went down with the dawn of the Internet age. He’s not always right and I often don’t agree with him but he’s usually willing to say things that other people aren’t willing to. We need more like him.

This is an informative site largely focused on the Bears. It also doesn’t hurt that its easy to navigate (though I could wish that as a paying customer I wouldn’t have to sell myself to Google to read some of the articles). It’s a good, reliable source for fans who want to go above and beyond in their understanding of what’s going on with the team.

Intelligence Is a Talent, Too. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • I’m not going to bother to post much related to the fourth preseason game Thursday night. But if you want some things to watch, Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune has a list:
    • Zac Dysert Vs. David Fales
    • Charles Leno Vs. Jordan Mills
    • the wide receivers
    • Ka’Deem Carey
  • The Bears are supposed to be accumulating draft picks, not trading them away. Particularly for undrafted free agents.
  • Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times thinks right guard Kyle Long should b playing right tackle:

    “Will it cause chaos along the line? Not as much chaos as
    Charles Leno and Jordan Mills have caused while attempting to play right tackle. Find somebody else to play right guard and let Long get comfortable as the Right Tackle of the Future. Unless he’s actually the Left Tackle of the Future. But first things first.”

    First, I’m not happy with the idea of Leno playing right
    tackle, either. I have a nasty suspicion that, like Mills, he’s not
    going to develop. But Mills got three years to show that he could be
    better. To my eye Leno shows some athleticism and it might be a bit
    early to be giving up on him completely. Hub Arkush at
    chicagofootball.com thinks that “it’s very unlikely both Jordan Mills and Charles Leno make the team”. In that case, I’m guessing that Mills is in serious
    jeopardy.

    I might add that I don’t think I agree with the commonly
    given reason for moving Long: that tackle is a more valuable position
    than guard, especially right tackle. Like many football experts, I’m not
    too sure I wouldn’t rather stay strong up the middle and keep the pocket
    clean in front of Cutler so that he can step up.

  • The Bears apparently didn’t like quarterback Shane
    Carden
    much. He didn’t even get a chance to throw a pass in the
    preseason before they released him in favor of signing Zac Dysert on Tuesday.
    Via Wiederer.  I liked Carden before the draft because, as far as I could tell, he’s about the only reason East Carolina won a game last year. But he was reportedly
    long on release and short on accuracy.Dysert is an interesting signing because he was on the practice squad for Denver under Bears head coach John Foxand offensive coordinator Adam Gase. He was released by Denver this year in their first round of cuts. It will be interesting to see if he’s just a short term signing who knows the offense and can get the Bears through the fourth preseason game with Jimmy Clausen out with a concussion or if he might stick around long-term. It could well be the latter. Carden knew the offense and likely could have played with fellow quarterback Fales on Thursday night.
  • Weiderer reports that Kyle Long is willing to move to tackle but
    no one knows yet whether it will be necessary. My guess is that the
    Bears are looking for a starter as other teams make their cuts. Where
    Long ends up may depend upon whether they find a guard or tackle.
  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times on the growing list of injured
    players
    and the Bears’ secretive way of dealing with them when it
    comes to the media:

    “[Matt] Forte, who has all of 14 carries in the preseason, has been given back-to-back veteran’s days off ahead of five consecutive days without practice. Anybody buying that one?”

    Noupe.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

    “Any guesses for surprise cuts to get to 53? — @sylv0028

    “Not sure there can be any surprise cuts from 75 to 53 for an organization that was 5-11 last season and has undergone complete turnover in the front office and in the coaching staff. If veteran Willie Young, who looks like a defensive end out of place at outside linebacker, is released you will not be able to classify that as a surprise. Young is a better fit in a 4-3 scheme and he is coming off a serious injury. I don’t think anything the club does this weekend will catch you off guard.”

    Biggs wouldn’t be surprised but I would. Young will be a pretty good end in the nickel package, which by all accounts the Bears will play at least half of the time. It would help if he played special teams but still, I dont see it happening.

  • Former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs on his retirement:

    “‘Outside of freak injuries, I’ve been durable,’ Briggs said. ‘I want to play. At this point in my career, I understand a whole lot.’”

    What Briggs doesn’t say but is pretty likely is that he “wants to play” only for the right price. The guess here is that the 49ers made him an offer but, similar to former linebacking partner Brian Urlacher in similar circumstances, he didn’t consider the money to be worth the wear and tear on his body.

Elsewhere

  • Chip Kelly admits that he didn’t
    understand the rule
    by which quarterbacks can be hit if they are
    handing off the ball. But that doesn’t make avoidably diving for a guy’s
    knees in an effort to hurt him in a preseason game any less dirty. Terrell Suggs any less of a jerk. Via profootballtalk.com.
  • Read this open letter to Bills head coach Rex Ryan, substitute “Jay” in “EJ” and tell me that you don’t want to send it to John Fox. Immediately.

One Final Thought

Greg Gabriel at the National Football Post on why Robert Griffin III has failed in the NFL:

“He looked like he would have a great future, but that hasn’t happened. He has regressed every year since. It is entirely possible that in the near future Griffin III may be a former Washington Redskin.

“How can this happen? How can a player with that much talent not continue to improve and grow? Some may say it’s coaching, but that isn’t the answer. The answer is simple: RGIII lacks any kind of football character.”

“Football character is about the desire each player has to become great. It includes his work ethic, leadership, passion for the game and ability to be coached. Most players fail or bust because they lack a degree of football character. RGIII has great talent, but he lacks football character.

“When RGIII was growing up and in college everything came easy to him. He was a very smart kid and the best athlete on campus. When a player gets to the NFL, every player on every team is a great athlete, the best of the best. If a player wants to improve he has to work at it. Once RGIII got to the NFL he had never been in that kind of environment before. Things no longer came easy. He had to work and he didn’t know how.

I don’t doubt that this is true to an extent. But to be fair to RGIII have the talent to play the position. Something tells me that this goes beyond “want to”.

People always thing of “talent” in terms of physical properties. How far can you jump? How fast can you run? I think in this case that we might be talking about natural talent that has nothing to do with physical characteristics. Some of it is instincts and a lot of it is mental.

People have a bad habit of assuming that someone with great physical ability who fails at something like football did so because they didn’t work hard enough. And that’s really not fair. Mental gifts are talents just like the physical ones. I’m not in any way saying that RGIII is stupid. On the contrary, most reports about him coming out of college said the opposite. It’s just that the ways that he’s smart might not be the ways that are needed to play quarterback in the NFL.

Bears May Look to Miami as a NFL Draft Trading Partner and Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Will Brinson at CBS Sports rates wide receiver David Terrell as the worst Bears first round draft pick in the last 25 years. I don’t see how he beat out Michael Haynes and Cade McNown but it must have been close.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com continues to claim that the Bears have a “screaming need” for a number one receiver. I’m not too sure that they don’t have one in Alshon Jeffery. In fact, I’m going to be mildly disappointed if he’s not. I look around the rest of the league at what other teams have and I’m not too sure the need at receiver is as great as some Bears commentators seem to think it is. Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune agrees here.  Don’t get me wrong – another playmaker would be welcome and you won’t hear any complaints from me if they draft one. But with Marquis Wilson and Eddie Royal, with Martellus Bennett at tight end and Matt Forte at runningback, I think that the Bears have plenty of receiving talent. The “need” might be for depth.
  • Arkush has the Bears selecting runningback Todd Gurley in his latest mock draft. I would hope the Bears would desperately try to trade back if Gurley is their guy.

    Arkush has been pushing runningback as an underrated need for the Bears for quite a while now. He’s got a point but this might be over doing it. The draft has plenty of depth at runningback and Stanford OT Andrus Peat, Iowa OG Brandon Scherff, Michigan State CB Trae Waynes and West Virginia WR Kevin White – picks 9-12 in Arkush’s mock – all look like better picks to me in that spot.

    The guess here is that Arkush is just having a little fun with it and that he doens’t seriously believe that the Bears will take Gurley at seven.

  • The Bears best free agent signing? For my money its linebacker Mason Foster, signed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (profiled here by Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times). Foster wasn’t a great fit for the cover two but I think he’s perfect for an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Football outsiders points to the Bears struggles at linebacker in coverage as a major problem in 2014, one that they think Foster could help solve. Jon Bostic in particular looked lost in space last year.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

For those of you wondering what Brit McHenry did to get herself suspended from ESPN, the video of this media darling is below. McHenry’s car was towed by a company that is, by most accounts, pretty shady. Note that she is warned immediately that she is on camera.

I get that she’s upset and I would be, too. But taking it out on the employee at the front desk, especially in this manner, is not a good look.

Whose Problem Is It Really?

LeSean McCoy

Gregg Rosenthal at nfl.com quotes runningback LeSean McCoy (above) on his former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly:

“‘[Buffalo] is more of a NFL type of feel,’ McCoy told NFL Media’s Kimberly Jones on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access. ‘Being with Coach (Andy) Reid for so long … you get used to that. A player’s coach. An NFL type of atmosphere in the locker room and around the facility. And for two years in Philly it wasn’t like that as much. Not in a negative way, but it was different. It was more like a college feel.'”

“‘I don’t think he likes or respects the stars. I’m being honest,’ McCoy said Monday, via the Philadelphia Inquirer. ‘I think he likes the fact that it’s ‘Chip Kelly and the Eagles.’ … It was ‘DeSean Jackson — a high-flying, take-off-the-top-of-the-defense receiver.’ Or ‘The quick, elusive LeSean McCoy. I don’t think (Kelly) likes that.’

Translation: “Kelly didn’t treat me like a pro because he didn’t ‘just let me do what I wanted.” Or, put another way, “Doesn’t he know who I am?”

091613-chip-kelly_600

I don’t have a single doubt that Kelly (above) has a big ego. To a certain extent it comes with the job. But I also don’t have a single doubt that he’d love to still have McCoy.

My read on this is that McCoy was at least as big of a problem as Kelly was or will ever be. His running style didn’t fit what Kelly wanted him to do and he refused to accept authority and adapt to the scheme. If that is what having “more of an NFL feel” is all about, I want no part of it.