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Tag:Jay Cutler
Posted on: January 24, 2011 10:59 am
Edited on: January 24, 2011 2:43 pm
 

Report: Cutler tore his MCL

Posted by Andy BenoitJ. Cutler (US Presswire)

UPDATE 2:45 p.m. EST: Lovie Smith said Cutler has a sprained MCL. A sprain is the same as a minor tear. Smith also said that Cutler is a tough guy.

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Sounds like a slew of former NFL players and overactive Twitter users might owe Jay Cutler an apology. According to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun Times, the Bears quarterback suffered an MCL tear in Sunday’s NFC Championship game.

Doctors are still determining the grade of the tear. It’s worth noting that the grade of the MCL tear is significant. A tear can sometimes be another word for “sprain”.

Because Cutler was simply standing on the sideline and not getting treatment on his knee during the second half Sunday, many outside observers (who, of course, could not feel Cutler’s pain) were quick to criticize his toughness and heart.

Though the initial harsh reaction to Cutler’s injury was startling (how often do NFL players get questioned like this?), it wasn’t unprecedented. LaDainian Tomlinson went through a similar ordeal a few years ago when a knee injury kept him out of playoff action. Tomlinson’s knee injury just happened to be an MCL.
 

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Category: NFL
Posted on: January 23, 2011 7:43 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2011 9:37 pm
 

What will we think of Cutler now?



Photo courtesy of Twitpic.

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

The condemnation came quick and mercilessly.

@RaheemBrock (Raheem BrockSeahawks DE) “Cutler...wut a sissy! This is the NFC Championship game! Guaranteed if it was brett farve..he would still be in the game!” (and) “Cutler u little siSsy...how does it feel that ur back up's backup is the only 1that can put pts on the board!I bet cutler comes back now!”


Bears QB Jay Cutler was out of the game early in the third quarter with a knee injury, and those in the Twitter world, especially his NFL colleagues, began to brutalize him.

@Jones_Drew32 (Maurice Jones-DrewJaguars RB) “Hey I think the urban meyer rule is effect right now... When the going gets tough........QUIT.. (and) “All I'm saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee... I played the whole season on one...”


Cutler, out with a knee injury that no one had seen him sustain and that kept him on the bench for most of the second half of the Bears 21-14 loss to the Packers, showed no heart. He has no guts. One sweet-looking woman on Twitter – she looks like she makes cookies on the weekends for her children – called him the p-word.

@DBrooks55 (Derrick Brooks – former Buccaneers LB) “BEARS fans I am so SORRY, I have to be crawling and cant get up to come off field,Josh Freeman would not come out, MEDS ARE AVAILABLE


But much of the rancor came from Cutler’s fellow players. Most of them would play on a knee injury – any kind of knee injury – if they had the chance to participate in a conference championship game. Like a certain QB from San Diego.

@DBrooks55: “Knee injury has to be VERY VERY INJURED, if you come out, Philip Rivers p[layed on torn acl now its pick,seriously JAY CUTLER”

Cutler left the field a few seconds early at the end of the first half, and he was one of the last Bears on the field to begin the second half. After one series, he was done for the day.

@kerryrhodes (Kerry RhodesCardinals safety): “Cmon cutler u have to come back. This is the NFC championship if u didn't know.”

I guess the issue now is how his teammates will view him. Is he not tough enough? Did he quit on his teammates?

@Thepresidentcb (Asante SamuelEagles CB) “If he was my teammate I would be looking at him sideways.”


Hell, would his teammates even allow him to dress in the same space as they did after the game?

@ddockett (Darnell Dockett – Cardinals DT) “If I'm on chicago team jay cutler has to wait till me and the team shower get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room! #FACT”

So, let’s hear from one of Cutler’s teammates. A guy who most likely knows Cutler better than anybody else on Twitter. A guy who watched the Bears offensive line allow an NFL-high 56 sacks behind a mediocre offensive line, a guy who watched Cutler continue to rise from those sacks to take even more punishment.

“A lot of jealous people watching our game on TV when their season is over,” Bears LB Brian Urlacher said when he was told many NFL players were blasting Cutler on Twitter. “Jay was hurt. We don’t question his toughness. He’s tough as hell. He doesn’t bitch, he doesn’t complain when he gets hit.”

Will the comments from his teammates - C Olin Kreutz indicated to reporters he thought Cutler had a torn ligament and that he couldn't believe Cutler came out for the second half at all - change the public’s perception of Cutler? Probably not. If Cutler – who declined after the game to comment on those questioning his toughness – is diagnosed with a torn ACL, will people walk back their words? Doubtful. If he needs major surgery, will people apologize for their snap judgments? No chance.

The die already has been cast for Cutler. His reputation will suffer. It might follow him for the rest of his career.

People won’t forget this, no matter the reasons he couldn’t play. People still will want to burn his jersey. His career will be tainted by this. It’s unfortunate.

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Posted on: January 23, 2011 4:59 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2011 5:30 pm
 

Caleb Hanie in for Bears; Cutler, Collins out

Posted by Will Brinson

Update (5:20 PM): Caleb Hanie's now replaced Collins under center. The primary logic there was "mobility" and "he's not Todd Collins." However, because Hanie was the "inactive" as the third quarterback and played before the end of the third quarter, neither Cutler nor Collins can return for the remainder of the game.>
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After halftime in the NFC Championship game, there was some confusion as to the state of Jay Cutler -- he returned to the field without a helmet and Todd Collins, the Bears backup quarterback, was warming up.

However, Cutler returned to the game for the Bears first possession of the second half (their sixth punt on seven) despite a knee injury. He didn't last long -- after Brian Urlacher intercepted Aaron Rodgers, Collins entered the game.

Cutler's return is "questionable" with a knee injury.

It's an incredibly bizarre injury, because the second half is the Bears season -- not scoring 14 or more points means they're done for the year, and in order to justify Cutler sitting on the sideline, something horrible must be wrong with his knee.

After all, the NFL playoffs has seen its share of people step up and produce on the field even with injury (Philip Rivers beating Indianapolis on the road without an ACL comes to mind). Cutler's not doing that and it will likely leave anyone watching the game -- and, more importantly -- Chicago fans -- pretty perplexed about his toughness if he doesn't return.

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Posted on: January 21, 2011 1:37 pm
 

Five questions (or more) with Gale Sayers

Gale Sayers (Getty). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Gale Sayers is a Hall of Fame running back who isn’t afraid to tell Bears fans what he thinks about their team. Earlier this season, the legendary Bears RB dismissed Chicago’s success – a move that predictably drew some heat – and he’s said recently that he thought he was a better kick returner than Devin Hester.

But Sayers also wants to know what YOU think. Which is why he’s teaming up with the Pro Football Hall of Fame (along with Van Heusen and JC Penny) to highlight Fanschoice.com, where fans can pick who they think should make the HOF from this year’s list of finalists.

Said Sayers: “We have about 4 million people who have voted for who they want to see in the Hall of Fame. There are some people they put down that are pretty good players. You have Ray Guy, Jim Plunkett, Lester Hayes and Donnie Shell. There are some people that probably should be in the Hall of Fame but they’re not for some reason.”

Earlier today, we caught up with Sayers and asked his thoughts about his controversial Bears predictions, about Hester’s chances for the Hall of Fame and about his thoughts for Sunday’s Packers-Bears tilt.

Previous Five Questions (or more):

Dec. 10: former Patriots WR Troy Brown

Dec. 3: Panthers QB Brian St. Pierre

Nov. 12: 49ers LB Takeo Spikes

Nov. 5: former WR, current NFL analyst Keyshawn Johnson

Oct. 29: Chargers LS Mike Windt

Oct. 15: Redskins WR Anthony Armstrong

Oct. 8:
Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich

Sept. 24: Texans WR Kevin Walter

Sept. 17: former Bengals, Titans DT John Thornton

Sept. 11: Seahawks RB Leon Washington

1. CBSSports.com:
Since we’re talking about the Hall of Fame and since you’re already in there, what do you think about a guy like punter Ray Guy? He was the most dominant punter of his time – and of all time – and I know there is only one kicker in the Hall, but what do you think? Should a player like Guy be in?

Gale Sayers:
I was playing in the league when Ray Guy was playing in the league. He was the best kicker I’ve ever seen. He could bullet that ball 70 yards. He was so unbelievable. I just don’t know why they’re not letting a punter into the Hall of Fame. It’s so crazy. One of these days he will get in there.

CBS: Just to dismiss punters doesn’t make sense to me. I mean, you see it every week how much they can affect the game. It’s just kind of crazy.

Sayers:
It really is. If you have a great punter, he’s almost (as valuable as a) great running back. Ray Guy was that great punter. What happens also is that a lot of those people and reporters who vote for Hall of Famers, some of the people who were around when Ray Guy was around are deceased. And some of the reporters don’t remember Ray Guy. He should have been in the Hall of Fame 15 years ago.

2. CBS: Considering you were one of the best kick returners of all time, tell me your thoughts about Devin Hester. Especially since he, like you did, plays for the Bears.

Sayers: They got him now, and he’s run back 14 kicks for touchdowns. That’s pretty good. That’s not bad at all (laughs). Will he be in the Hall of Fame? If he doesn’t get hurt in the next two or three years, and he’s still doing the same thing, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll get in the Hall of Fame. He’s been a super young man to run back punts and kick returns. He has a gift to do that. You hope he goes in the Hall of Fame, but the voters might think, “Well, he’s a kickoff returner, but he should be something else also.” Personally, I think he will get in, but you don’t know. Is (his returning only) enough to get him in the Hall of Fame?

3. CBS: Every week, there’s so much talk about how teams should play Hester. Should they kick to him? Avoid him? Punt it out of bounds? When you were playing, was there that much talk about what other teams should do about you?

Sayers: They punted to me, and after they saw what I could do with the football, they started punting away from me. But we always had two men back. When they kicked to me, I always thought I had a chance to run it back. What we did when they knew I could run back kicks, my coaches put in the offensive line to block for me. Usually, you don’t do that. You usually put in scrubs. But we had the offensive line up in front of me, and they gave me a good chance to get a block that would allow me to return the kick. With Devin Hester, they’re doing some of the things they were doing when I was playing.

4. CBS: You’ve taken some heat for some of the things you said about the Bears in the preseason and earlier this year. I wrote on this blog also about how I didn’t think the Bears were all that good and about how those early wins seemed like flukes to me. What do you think now, and do you like their chances to play for a Super Bowl?

Sayers:
I’m not against the Bears. What I saw out there earlier in the season, they didn’t look that good. I didn’t think they would be competing for the Super Bowl. With them playing the Packers, it’s going to be an outstanding game. I don’t think it will be a high-scoring game. Jay Cutler, he’s a fine quarterback, but I think at times he gets a little nicked up. And (Aaron) Rodgers for the Packers, he’s had a hell of a season. One hell of a season. I think if Cutler is not on and Rodgers is on, the Bears are in trouble. Hopefully, we can stay free of injury, and that’s one thing the Bears have done. You need to do that when you get into the playoffs. The Packers have some injuries, and that might be the difference.

5. CBS: Tell me about the Bears-Packers rivalry when you played in the mid to late-1960s.

Sayers: The Bears fans and the Packers fans really hated one another. But when we got on the football field, the Packers knew and we knew that they were going to give us their best shot and that we were going to give them our best shot. We talked to them on the field, but once the game was over, we shook hands and went home. When we got on that field, we hated one another. Ray Nitschke and Willie Wood – Hall of famers and great football players for them – and you have Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus and Mike Ditka for us, and we fought like dogs.

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Posted on: January 20, 2011 2:44 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2011 2:47 pm
 

Assessing the X-factors: Super Bowl hopefuls

Posted by Andy Benoit

Only four teams are still standing in the 2010 NFL season, and each believes they’re destined to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Feb 6. The Steelers have hoisted the trophy a record six times. The Jets have hoisted it zero times but only because the stingy NFL does not hand out hardware for self-proclaimed preseason titles.

The Bears have won gobs of titles, but only one of them has been in the Super Bowl era (1985). The Packers have won three times that many Super Bowls (’66, ’67 and ’96). Neither the Packers nor Bears ever had to go through the other during the postseason to claim their title. In fact, they’ve only met in the playoffs once – and that came a week after Pearl Harbor. Yet, many fans have acquiesced to the television executives and marketing gurus telling them to view this as the best rivalry in football. In the spirit of Championship Week hype, we’ll go with it.

It will stoke the Bear-Packer rivalry when one of the teams ruins the other’s Super Bowl chances this Sunday. We’ll assume the same concept will also lay the groundwork for a Jets-Steelers rivalry (so far it’s been a bizarre love fest between those two teams).

So what are all these teams’ chances at actually making it to Arlington and having a shot at the Lombardi Trophy? Well, technically, 50 percent each. But vagueness disguised as mathematics is no fun. And neither is breaking down the same key matchups a million times. So, instead, we’ll drum up some Super Bowl appearance odds based on various X factors.

*taking the opponent’s factors into consideration


Green Bay Packers

Known to Football Fans for:
Offensive weaponry, aggressive 3-4 defense
C. Woodson (US Presswire)
Known to Non-football fans for: Cheeseheads

Most dangerous X factor: Charles Woodson

Most subtle X factor: Mike McCarthy’s occasionally questionable clock management

Injury factor: Nothing new this week (a nice changeup for a team that’s been a mash unit all season)

External conditions factor: Must adapt to the unfamiliar and unstable Soldier Field surface

Favorable karmic factor: Taking a hard line against Brett Favre’s wishy-washiness three years ago by turning to Aaron Rodgers
Unfavorable karmic factor: Stringing Rodgers along for three years before that (though to be fair, that Favre guy was pretty darn good)

Overall factor impact on Super Bowl chances*: +8

Final Super Bowl appearance chances: 58 percent



Chicago Bears

Known to Football Fans for:
Black and blue offense that we’re all still trying to remember is actually more of pass-first Mike Martz offense now. Also, known for classic Cover 2 defenseJ. Cutler (US Presswire)

Known to Non-football fans for: Da Bears

Most dangerous X factor: Devin Hester

Most subtle X factor: The offensive line’s ability (or inability?) to diagnose blitzes before the snap

Injury factor:
Safety Chris Harris missed practice earlier this week with a sore hip

External conditions factor: Haven’t faced an above .500 team in the postseason since losing to the Colts in Super Bowl XLI

Favorable karmic factor: Jay Cutler and Mike Martz have been able to put their big egos aside and get along just fine

Unfavorable karmic factor: Cutler and Martz are only here because so many others got sick of dealing with those big egos
Overall factor impact on Super Bowl chances*: -8

Final title chances: 42 percent



New York Jets

Known to Football Fans for:
Complex defensive scheme, run-first offense led by young quarterback and brashness
Known to Non-football fans for: Hard Knocks, Ines Sainz, foot fetishes and, before those things, being that “Oh that’s right, there are TWO teams from New York” team
R. Ryan (US Presswire)
Most dangerous X factor: Brad Smith

Most subtle X factor: The unheralded defensive line’s ability to get penetration against the run.

Injury factor: WR/KR Brad Smith (groin) practiced this week after sitting out against the Patriots; OLB/DE Jason Taylor did not practice (concussion)

External conditions factor: Attempting field goals in Heinz Field is unsettling. Attempting field goals in Heinz Field with a bewilderingly up-and-down kicker like Nick Folk? Downright nerve-wracking.

Favorable karmic factor: Their confidence

Unfavorable karmic factor: Their arrogance

Overall factor impact on Super Bowl chances*: -13

Final title chances: 37 percent



Pittsburgh Steelers

Known to Football Fans for:
Being the consummate NFL franchise

Known to Non-football fans for: Being the last true remindB. Roethlisberger (US Presswire)er that Pittsburgh once had a burgeoning steel industry

Most dangerous X factor:
Troy Polamalu

Most subtle X factor: Nose tackle Casey Hampton’s immovability against the run

Injury factor:
SS Troy Polamalu once again rested his sore Achilles; CB Bryant McFadden sat out with a strained abdomen; DE Aaron Smith (triceps) practiced for first time since October but will not play Sunday.

External conditions factor: Because they didn’t lose them all in a row like their intrastate neighbors to the east, you don’t hear much about this: the Steelers have lost four AFC title games since 1994. All at home, by the way.

Favorable karmic factor: Management dumping bright star Santonio Holmes after his off-field transgressions

Unfavorable karmic factor: Management not dumping brighter star Ben Roethlisberger after his off-field transgressions

Overall factor impact on Super Bowl chances*: +13

Final title chances: 63 percent


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Posted on: January 17, 2011 1:02 am
Edited on: January 17, 2011 2:16 pm
 

10 championship round stories worth attention

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Jets Win; So how are we supposed to feel?

Normally, a sixth seeded 8.5-point underdog going on the road and upsetting the runaway Super Bowl favorite would classify as one of those feel-good Cinderella stories. But because the garrulous New York Jets have irritated so many this season, we find ourselves in a silent state of ambiguity. Did anyone actually stop and think befoNew York (US Presswire)rehand about the possibility of the Jets backing up their words? Or were we all too busy preparing our clever one-liners about comeuppance and karma?

Most troubling for Jets haters is that the Jets didn’t just beat the Pats, they beat them while staying true to form. A great example was how Shonn Greene opted for the blatant 15-yard celebration penalty after his de facto final-coffin-nail touchdown run. It was an immature and untimely gaffe that Greene’s coach was surely going to chew him out for. That is, if Greene’s coach hadn’t run (OK, lumbered) to the end zone to join the celebration.

To be fair, Greene’s coach had plenty to celebrate. Rex Ryan said all along that this matchup was about him and Bill Belichick. Well, Ryan won it. The Jets defense stifled New England’s high-powered offense by pressuring Tom Brady (Mike DeVito had his best game of the season; Shaun Ellis had two of New York’s five sacks; Jason Taylor put left tackle Matt Light on skates in the second half).

The Jets pressured Brady primarily by locking down his receivers. Deep in the fourth quarter, Ryan’s gameplan was still befuddling Brady and the Pats (you think New England was intentionally milking the clock on that fruitless 15-play drive?). Maddeningly enough, the Jet most responsible for the lockdown job on Brady’s targets was, aside from the brilliant Darrelle Revis, one Antonio Cromartie. The ex-Charger might be an utterly unlikeable reprobate, but the reality is, the Jets wouldn’t be returning to the AFC Championship without him.

Cromartie wasn’t the only “villain” responsible for the win Sunday. Wideouts Santonio Holmes (who served a four-game suspension early in the season) and Braylon Edwards (who was arrested for DUI in September) both had crucial touchdown catches. And neither was shy about enjoying the moment.

So the Jets walked their talk. No one could have predicted it. After all, they lost by 42 in Foxboro just a month earlier. Not to mention, theirs was the type of talk that even Moses would have had trouble walking. But because they did it, we get at least one more week of hearing them rattle off all the reasons they’re going to win the Super Bowl. And this time, we’ll have to listen quietly.

 

2.) Aaron Rodgers: the best quarterback left? A. Rodgers (US Presswire)

Hard to believe that “Aaron Rodgers has never won a playoff game” was actually a viable storyline earlier this month. Rodgers’ performance at Atlanta Saturday night (31 of 36, 366 yards, three touchdowns) was within arm’s reach of flawless. It was Rodger’s second straight three touchdown-zero interception playoff performance. And let’s not forget, the man registered 633 yards while throwing five touchdowns to just one interception in Green Bay’s final two must-win games on the regular season (coming off his second concussion of the year, no less).

Rodgers is the quarterback many experts would choose if starting a team right now. That’s saying something considering Ben Roethlisberger, two wins away from a third Super Bowl ring, is only 20 months older than Rodgers. Rodgers, like Roethlisberger, has an innate ability to extend a play and find his third or fourth read. Also like Roethlisberger (and Cutler, too), Rodgers is blessed with incredible natural tools (strong arm, mobility, etc.).

But it’s Rodgers’ shrewd presnap awareness that sets him apart. The three other remaining quarterbacks are all, at best, average when it comes to diagnosing a defense before the snap. Rodgers, as his wideouts will tell you, is fantastic. Maybe – MAYBE – that’s because he, unlike the other three remaining quarterbacks, was not shoved into the starting lineup as a first-round rookie.


3.) Sanchez’s Spotlight

An indirect (or perhaps direct) consequence of Rex Ryan’s loquaciousness is that it diminishes the media’s spotlight on quarterback Mark Sanchez. Who’s to say whether that’s Ryan’s intent. (The guess here is it’s not, given that Ryan at one point talked openly about benching his young signalcaller.) But given Sanchez’s youth and the disposition of the New York media, a diminished spotlight is probably a good thing.
M. Sanchez (US Presswire)
Think about the intensity of the spotlight if it weren’t diminished. The Jets traded up to draft the USC superstar  fifth overall. In two seasons Sanchez has led the Jets to two AFC title game appearances. He already holds the franchise record with four career playoff wins. This postseason, he has defeated Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Granted, Sanchez did not outplay Manning. But with three touchdowns and no turnovers at New England, he did outplay Brady. (And besides, we’re talking about a media spotlight here; it doesn’t matter to the headline writers if he outplayed Manning).

This is a quarterback who could easily be overhyped. Adding fuel to the Sanchez fire is the fact that he’s far and away the most prominent Latino player in today’s NFL. Given America’s changing demographics, you think marketing execs aren’t salivating at this?

In a lot of respects, Sanchez still has a long ways to go as an NFL passer. But so did Eli Manning after two seasons. The New York media could not resist the urge to pile on Manning. That’s partly because Manning never had the luxury of playing for an attention-grabbing head coach.

 

4.) The irony of Santonio Holmes

The Jets probably wouldn’t be in the AFC Championship if they hadn’tS. Holmes (US Presswire) brought in Santonio Holmes. His speed, quickness and precise route running have infused a big-play element into an otherwise run-of-the-mill passing game. Holmes’ tiptoe (or tip-right-knee) touchdown in the back left corner of the end zone at Foxboro gave the Jets a critical 10-point advantage late in the second half. Earlier in the year, Holmes helped the Jets keep winning while they went through somewhat of a rough patch by registering a 52-yard catch-and-run set up a game-winning overtime field goal against the Lions in Week 9 and a 37-yard overtime touchdown against the Browns in Week 10.

Where the irony comes in is the Steelers might not be in the AFC Championship if not for dumping Holmes. Sure, Holmes was just as important a big-play weapon for Pittsburgh as he’s been for New York. (We all remember Super Bowl 43.) But Holmes’ extensive off-field transgressions also flew in the face of everything the Rooney Family’s organization stands for. It’s the commitment to character that, in the big scheme of things, has laid the foundation for the Steelers’ six Super Bowl titles.

What’s more, if Holmes didn’t depart Pittsburgh, third-year pro Mike Wallace might not have become a 1,200-yard receiver and lethal big-play specialist. And youngsters Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown probably wouldn’t have gotten enough reps to assume critical roles come playoff time.

 

5.) Jerry Angelo’s and Lovie Smith’s Gambles Pay Off

Before this season, every decision-maker in Chicago was on the hot seat. No seats were hotter than those hosting general manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith. In 2009, Angelo gave up a pair of first-round draft choices and handful of attractive ancillary pieces (namely quarterback Kyle Orton) to acquire Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler. The cannon-armed but petulant 26-year-old (at the time) tossed a league-high 26 interceptions in his first season as a Bear. L. Smith (US Presswire)

In the ensuing offseason, outside observers understood that Angelo had no choice but to stick with Cutler. What they didn’t understand was why Angelo would not invest in an offensive line to help protect his quarterback. Instead of bringing in reinforcements for one of the least talented front fives in football, Angelo handed more than $40 million in guaranteed money to free agent defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers was a great acquisition, but his price tag would doom the organization if he remained as inconsistent as he was in Carolina.

As it’s turned out, Peppers has been sensational in Chicago. His eight sacks don’t begin to tell the story of his dominance. Brian Urlacher (whose return after missing 15 games with a wrist injury also reinvigorated the Bears D) says his first-year teammate deserves Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Cutler has been less spectacular than Peppers though still good enough to lead the Bears to an NFC North division title (despite operating behind a questionable front five). Credit the arrival of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. And, credit Martz’s arrival to Lovie Smith. Knowing that a fourth straight missed postseason would result in his unemployment, the defensive-minded Smith called upon the most offensive-minded coach football has seen in the past 10 years. Smith and Martz were old friends from their days in St. Louis, but many doubted that there would be enough humility in the air for their seemingly clashing philosophies to gel.

But gel they have, thanks to Smith’s willingness to be hands-off. He has let Martz handle the offense. He’s let Mike Tice, another former head coach, handle the offensive line. Tice has made chicken soup out of chicken…well, you know.

The offensive line’s consistent improvements are comparable to the consistent improvements of Chicago’s more-talented defensive line. Israel Idonije and Matt Toeaina have been particularly impressive, thanks to the tutelage of Rod Marinelli, the defensive line specialist who accepted the defensive coordinating responsibilities thrust upon him by Smith.

In all, with his job on the line, Lovie Smith delegated major responsibilities to three former head coaches who are now assistants on his staff. How many of the other 31 Type A personalities running NFL teams would be willing to do THAT?


6.) The AFC’s Rich Defensive Casts

The Jets and Steelers both run 3-4 defenses littered with big-name stars. For the Jets, it begins and ends with Darrelle Revis, the best shutdown corner since Deion Sanders (if not the best all-around cornerback of the post 80’s era). Then there’s playmaker Antonio Cromartie. And inside linebackers Bart Scott (outspoken Pro Bowl caliber veteran) and David Harris (tackling machine whom colleagues voted team MVP). Plus, outside linebacker Jason Taylor is a future Hall of Famer. I. Taylor (US Presswire)

The Steelers, of course, have the most identifiable defensive player in football: Troy Polamalu. Outside linebacker James Harrison is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and his counterpart LaMarr Woodley is not far behind. Plus, most fans recognize nose tackle Casey Hampton because a.) He’s the size of a small house and b.) He’s the fulcrum to a run defense that, in nine years under Dick LeBeau, has never ranked worse than No. 3.

LeBeau, a Hall of Fame player and innovator of the 3-4’s famed zone blitz, is a star himself – just like the coach behind the Jets’ complicated 3-4 scheme. All in all, the 2010 AFC Championship is ripe with big defensive names. But without the little defensive names, neither team would be here.

For the Jets, as we highlighted a few weeks ago, defensive end Mike Devito has been playing out of his mind. So has Shaun Ellis, who recorded two sacks and a slew of quarterback pressures against the Patriots. Backup nose tackle Sione Pouha, who took over when Kris Jenkins went down in Week 1, has also been pushing the pile with regularity. Pouha’s not the only backup thriving; safety Eric Smith has done a noble job filling in for injured defensive signalcaller Jim Leonhard. Smith brings valuable headhunting prowess to what is an otherwise finesse secondary (Revis aside), plus he’s a reliable filler against the run.

On Pittsburgh’s D, because Ike Taylor drops interceptions the way John Mayer drops women, many don’t recognize him as an elite corner. But that’s exactly what the lanky 6’2” veteran is. Taylor’s ability to shadow in man coverage and extend his long arms into passing lanes out of zone positions make him a bona fide stopper (which is exactly what a cornerback is supposed to be). What’s more, Taylor, like every Steeler defender, can tackle.

Before he made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, defensive end Brett Keisel would have earned an Ike Taylor-like “unsung hero” paragraph. Keisel is finally getting the recognition he deserves, so instead of piling on there, we’ll close by mentioning that Ryan Clark (aka “Pittsburgh’s other safety”) is one of the fiercest openfield hitters in the NFL.


7.) Rethinking Brady, Belichick and the Patriots

Stop and think about New England’s last three playoff appearances. There was the stunning divisional round loss at home to the rival Jets on Sunday. Last year, it was the blowout wild card loss at home to the Ravens. And in 2007 it waT. Brady (US Presswire)s the astonishing Super Bowl defeat and derailed perfect season at the hands of the Giants.

We think of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick almost as untouchable geniuses above all criticism. That’s understandable. They’re still the only head coach-quarterback duo to ever win three rings in a four-year span. And the reason two of their last three playoff defeats have been so shocking is because of the dominance that immediately preceded it: New England was a perfect 16-0 in ’07 and an NFL-best 14-2 in ’10.

That said, it was six years ago that Belichick and Brady last hoisted a Lombardi Trophy. And keep in mind, in 2006, the Patriots blew an 18-point second half lead to Indy in the AFC Championship.

Is this story meant to call into question the reputation of the NFL’s current greatest head coach and quarterback? Absolutely not. Over the past six years, Belichick and Brady have still accomplished more with less talent around them than anyone in football. But the beginning chapters of these men’s book were about the auras of two untouchable legends. In the middle chapters, that aura evaporated.


8.) Pro Bowl Snubs Shine

There were two NFC cornerbacks whom many felt got the shaft from Pro Bowl voters: Green Bay’s Tramon Williams and Chicago’s Charles Tillman. Largely because of their performance in the divisional round, both will be on the field for the NFC Championship Sunday.

Williams’ postseason brilliance began a week earlier than Tillman’s. The athlT. Williams (US Presswire)etic undrafted veteran who took over the No. 2 job when Al Harris blew out his knee last season clinched Green Bay’s wild card victory with an end zone interception in the closing minutes at Philly. Williams snagged a second end zone pick in similar fashion at Atlanta: by maintaining underneath technique against a bigger receiver (in this case, Michael Jenkins). After keeping points off the board with two interceptions, Williams put points on it with his third. With nine seconds left in the first half and the Falcons trying to get in field goal range, Williams jumped Matt Ryan’s ill-advised sideline pass to Roddy White and took it to the house for a momentum-swinging 14-point lead that Atlanta would not overcome.

As for Tillman, his excellence was key to Chicago's defensive dominance against Seattle. The Bears’ only true cover corner normally mans the left side of the D. But on Sunday, Tillman shadowed Mike Williams, holding Matt Hasselbeck's No. 1 target to four catches for 15 yards. Yes, Williams caught two touchdowns, but the second was thanks to sheer luck that resulted from Tillman’s textbook deflection.

It will be interesting to see what matchups Tramon Williams and Tillman draw this Sunday. Williams has the speed to run with Johnny Knox outside (figure the Packers will put an inside defender on Devin Hester, as Hester usually aligns in the slot). Tillman will have to rely on his physicality to keep the quicker Greg Jennings in check.


9.) Seahawks-Bears: Tough Watch

So the Seattle Seahawks weren’t a Cinderella team after all; watching them at Chicago was more like watching one of the evil stepsisters dance at the ball. Or like watching a sub-.500 team try to win a playoff game on the road. The game felt over before the midpoint of quarter two. As divisional round contests go, it was awful television. Shame. J. Cutler (US Presswire)

But whatever, doesn’t matter now. Besides, the story of Sunday’s unwatchable NFC divisional round game wasn’t the Seahawks, it was the Bears. Jay Cutler threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns in his first postseason game since high school. Aside from a small handful of first half glitches, Chicago’s once-putrid offensive line gave Cutler all the time in the world to throw. And when Cutler couldn’t find a receiver, he scrambled for positive yardage (he finished with 43 yards and two touchdowns on eight runs).

On the other side of the ball, the results were what you’d expect from the NFC’s No. 1 run defense going up against the NFC’s No. 16 run offense. With the Seahawks feeling compelled to throw on 49 of 61 offensive snaps, the Bears were able to sit back in that Lovie Smith Cover 2 and let their speed take over. Mike Williams, who appeared to tweak his upper leg early in the game, was manhandled by Charles Tillman. That hurt because the loss of tight end John Carlson (head injury) prevented Seattle from fully attacking Chicago’s questionable safeties.

If you want to get picky, the only concern Bears fans can take away from Sunday is that their defense took its foot off the gas late in the fourth quarter.


10. Quick Hits

*Most people believe that the Ravens lost at Pittsburgh because of turnovers. That’s valid, though let’s not forget, late in the fourth quarter Anquan Boldin dropped a huge touchdown in the end zone and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who had been carping for more balls all season, dropped a very catchable fourth-and-19.

*Terrell Suggs should change his name to Terrell Rooney because he owns the Steelers. Suggs had three sacks Saturday, giving him 15.5 in 18 career games against Pittsburgh.

*A storyline from Baltimore that didn’t get talked about (because of the nonstop intensity of the contest itself) is whether this was Ed Reed’s final game. The future Hall of Fame safety is 32 and contemplated retirement this past offseason.

*The Atlanta Falcons need to add one more playmaker to the center of their defense. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton is solid but does not have star tools. Neither of the safeties is a game breaker.

*Was anyone else surprised that Pete Carroll elected to punt with his team down 28-10 and just over six minutes to play?

*When Danny Woodhead fumbled in the fourth quarter (recovered by the Patriots) it brought to mind the episode of Hard Knocks where Rex Ryan flipped out in the preseason finale after so many of the Jets backups fumbled. In that episode, Ryan put Woodhead back in the game specifically because he knew he wouldn’t cough up the ball.

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Posted on: January 16, 2011 11:25 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2011 11:30 pm
 

Packers-Bears sets the stage for epic NFC finale

Posted by Will Brinson



Unfortunately for NFL fans, the NFC divisional round games weren't entirely compelling -- Green Bay pantsed Atlanta on Saturday and the Bears beat the Seahawks 35-24 Sunday in a game that seemed to last approximately 43 hours and, cliche aside, wasn't nearly as compelling as the scoreboard might indicate.

Fortunately for FOX executives, people still love football, and ratings probably weren't bad. Also fortunate for them: the Bears and Packers will meet in Chicago for the NFC Championship, and likely provide an unbelievably compelling matchup.

You see, despite being bitter division rivals who play twice a season, Green Bay and Chicago aren't exactly familiar postseason foes. Back in 1941, the Bears beat the Packers 33-14 in their only playoff meeting ever.

Obviously, the stakes -- a chance to play in the Super Bowl -- couldn't possibly be higher and the lack of postseason history only escalates what should be a pretty stout matchup.

The Packers, oddly enough, are favored by three points for a game that will be played in Chicago -- that probably has as much to do with their obliteration of Atlanta and current hot streak that Green Bay's riding. Chicago just doesn't get as much credit for whipping their opponent because that opponent happened to be the clearly overmatched Seahawks.



However, nothing from this season (the teams split the series with the Packers outscoring the Bears 27-23 and Chicago playing its starters through the fourth quarter in Week 17 despite clinching the second seed already) or previous seasons (the all-time series is tied 92-83-6) should give the world any reason to think this won't be one of the most compelling championship games in recent history.

Neither team has a whole lot of historical trepidation hanging around their respective franchise (like, say, the Cubs or something), but both Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers still have "something to prove" in the minds of many. Making it to a Super Bowl would at least move the rhetoric about their careers to the debate involving the finality of the "big game."

And while Cutler's prone to make mistakes, there's no question when he's on, he's REALLY on -- as Clark Judge wrote earlier, the "Good Jay" is ridiculously good -- and the same goes for Rodgers, who put in one of the all-time great playoff performances against Atlanta on Saturday.

Both defenses clearly bring an elite level of play, which means there's no reason to think the first postseason matchup between these rivals in over 70 years will end in anything other than an exciting finale.

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Posted on: January 13, 2011 5:07 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2011 8:31 pm
 

Bears vs. Seahawks: 7-Point Divisional Preview

Posted by Andy Benoit



CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. As an added bonus, check out our playoff podcast preview:



1. Seattle Seahawks (No. 4, NFC, 8-9) @ Chicago Bears (No. 2, NFC, 11-5)

Arguably the most unlikely second-round playoff team in NFL history goes on the road (like it should have had to do in the wild card round) to face a storied franchise that filled up the bottom half of everybody’s NFC North preseason rankings.

No taking potshots at the Seahawks this week (aside from that little “going on the road” one…which not even the most fiery Seattleites can, deep down, disagree with); Pete Carroll’s men played too well against the Saints to be mocked.

Besides, Seattle beat Chicago at Soldier Field back in Week 6. It was Marshawn Lynch’s Seahawk debut, and his club became, at the time, just the second team to rush for more than 85 yards against Chicago’s reinvigorated defense. (Lynch wound up with 44 of Seattle’s 111 rushing yards; his former Cal teammate, Justin Forsett, had 67). Regardless of what happens from here on out, Lynch will forever be remembered for his earth-rumbling 67-yard run against the Saints.

He’ll need similar tenacity Sunday. The Bears held opponents to an NFC-best 90.1 yards rushing per game during the regular season. Forsett’s quickness won’t be as viable on the sloppy Soldier Field surface; the Seahawks will need to call upon their new hero.

2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking



The Seahawks bring a David factor to this equation, but it’s not like the 11-win Bears are a big bad Goliath.

3. Key Matchup to Watch: Earl Thomas/Lofa Tatupu vs. Bears Passing Offense

After tearing him apart in the regular season, the Saints were eager to pick on rookie safety Earl Thomas Saturday. But the first-round pick from Texas responded admirably, finishing second on the team with eight tackles. Thomas showcased blazing speed on many of those tackles – including one where he crossed the field to hunt down Reggie Bush.

That speed will be crucial against Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, Chicago’s two playmaking receivers. Though a slapdash offensive line has compelled Mike Martz to call fewer seven-step-drop passes in 2010, you can bet the Bears will still look to stretch the field a time or two. The Seahawks gave up an NFC-high 60 passes of 20 yards or more during the regular season. They also allowed 11 passes of 40-plus yards (tied for fourth most in football). Some of those passes were due to Thomas’ misreads.

Thomas is obviously more experienced than when the Bears last saw him, but given how vulnerable Seattle’s corners are to downfield patterns (knee injuries have cost Marcus Trufant a half-step; No. 2 corner Kelly Jennings struggles with his outside change-of-direction technique at times) Martz and Jay Cutler will be tempted to showcase their big-play prowess on a high-stakes stage.

As far as Tatupu goes, his speed and instincts are key to Seattle’s short-area pass defense. The Bears completed 51 passes to running back Matt Forte this season (tied with Knox for the team lead). Seattle may want to consider shadowing Forte with their veteran Pro Bowl middle linebacker.

4. Potentially Relevant Video

Pete Carroll should make his special teams unit watch this video 10 times a day the rest of this week.



5. The Seahawks will win if ...

They get another spectacular performance from Matt Hasselbeck and take advantage of Chicago’s issues with recognizing pass blocking assignments (that is if the Bears haven’t corrected these issues over the past two weeks).

6. The Bears will win if ...

They simply break even with Seattle in the “mistakes” category and can take advantage of the favorable mismatches for their defensive line.

7. Prediction: Bears 24, Seahawks 17

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com