Lance and Jay are still out. Martellus didn't practice today. His ankle was sore. He did practice yesterday. So we're hopeful that a day off the ankle will give him a little relief and he'll be back at it. Pat didn't practice and Shea worked with trainers today and Jeremiah worked on the side and got some work done as well but not in the practice. Jordan has a little bit of a quad. He practiced yesterday, the entire practice, had a little residual in his quad. He got a few reps today but was limited overall. Had a very good practice today. The team was very energized from the get-go. They had a lot of fun. They were efficient. The guys ran around.
Both sides of the ball we worked primarily on third-down situations and we were feeling an improvement offensively. Last week, had a tremendous first half on third down against one of the top third-down defensive teams in the league. We went back at it hard today. We were third down and long four times last week, third-and-11 plus four times last week which really hurt our overall percentage-wise, it's difficult when you're behind the eight ball third and long and we don't want to be that this week against this Ravens team who is highly diverse as you get into third-and-longs. They've got three or four different packages, a four down, three down, multiple blitzes from everywhere. You don't want to mess around on third-and-long with the Ravens. We are going to do everything we can to be manageable there on the offensive side of the ball.
On defense, our focus is just to try to improve. As I said, early in the week, I'll say it again, our young guys are getting better, they're finding themselves in the right place more often. They are very focused in. The older guys, Lance has done a great job of just helping these guys out, I mean they are in early. They are in at 6:30 in the morning, these linebackers, and they're in working and getting extra meeting time and they leave late. I am really proud of these guys the way they are working and becoming pros.
These are small steps, these are gradual steps each and every day for these guys to reach their potential. That is what the focus is with our football team, just gradual steps each day to try to get better, regain our energy as we move through the week, I cut practice one period short today because they were moving around so well and try to save a little legs today as we move into the weekend and get ready to play this game.
HOW IS BALTIMORE ADJUSTING WITHOUT Ray Lewis?
I think they have overall. I think it is a good question. You just see them on the other side of the ball. They are very in tune with their scheme and what's going on around them. You can tell they just don't know their job, but they know what the people are doing around them. They pass people off, they don't really look like they have skipped a beat in terms of how solid they are and statistically that shows up. I don't know that they're as good statistically but they certainly know what they are doing vs. the run and the pass.
GUARDING AGAINST THE SUCCESS FLU
That's kind of a hard one to get into too much detail. When the H1N1 was going on and the flu bug hits you get vaccinated so you don't get sick right? (laughs) So what we try do in the times when we're having success and people are telling you how good you are and how good we are, it kind of stabilizes you. So we vaccine these guys so they don't make it about themselves. They realize the reason we're having success is because of the work and endeavors of others. That's really the definition of humility, when you understand that it's not because you're doing it well, it's because all those people are putting you in a position to do well and that's what you're doing for them. The concept simply is when you start feeling that things are going your way or you're being given the credit, we have some syringes available and we vaccinate them and that stabilizes them to be more even keeled and recognize that these guys around them, these coaches and these players around them, are the reason why they are having this opportunity to execute at a high level on the field.
END AROUND TO JEFFERY EVERY GAME
We put them in there because they have a chance of being successful. I don't know that they've lost their element of surprise. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don't. They are like any play. When we think they have value, when we think we have a team over-pursuing or we see them over-pursuing, we have it available. They don't always work. No play always works but we try to use Alshon and get the ball in his hands any way we can. One of the ways is getting him to run with the football. I guess it's just game to game and when we feel it has an opportunity to work we run it. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't but it has a residual effect. That's part of it as well. Sometimes you can run a play and move it and you say to yourself, if we can just get back to the line of scrimmage that can be a successful play because it can have a residual effect. It can wear a team out. It can take a defensive line away from focusing on the passing spot. It forces a defense to defense everybody. It can work by just getting back to the line of scrimmage. It's not a wasted play but one that can affect the course of the game as we move forward.
He's the same all of the time. I haven't seen Josh change since the first time I met him. I didn't follow his path particularly the last five or six years. I know that Phil was extremely high on him in terms of what he can do for our locker room and the position, the backup quarterback. I just got to know him as we've moved along and he's always the same every day. He's the kind of quarterback that you want to have when you come to work every day. He's just like Jay. They love football. They're highly intelligent. You can communicate with them quickly. You don't have to go to the board every time you want to explain something and go through 15 minutes of why we're doing this. They pick it up right away and they assimilate things very quickly. You put a pass play up and they've had experience doing it and they're excited about doing it. They just know how to work the locker room and they know how to work the huddle. But I haven't seen any change in Josh. He's been the same as a backup as he was after the Green Bay game. I haven't seen any changes in him.
WHAT MAKES THEIR RUN DEFENSE GOOD?
It's the three guys inside. They're two-gapping everything, they're playing everything, they're bench-pressing the offensive line and they're waiting to see what happens. And then they're just squeezing everything to the ball and that's what makes a 3-4 defense so tough to run against. They just stop everything at the line of scrimmage and squeezed everything with their ‘backers and their speed on the edges. It makes it difficult and they've got three big guys that hold up very well.
CUTLER IN A HARD CAST
He's week-to-week. It's just precautionary, just to stabilize the ankle. I don't know much more about it than that. The doctors and the trainers talk about just making it stabilized. It wasn't swollen after the game. It was swollen on Monday and they just wanted to make sure it was stabilized. It'll just be week to week with it.
IMPROVING OFFENSIVE LINE
I think that it's week to week in the National Football League. Some weeks we've done very well, been very productive up front. I think we've been reasonably consistent in the pass-protection game. We continue to improve; we're still making mistakes. The young guys miss once in a while in terms of which way to step but I think the communication is better. We continue to be pretty efficient in pass protection. Run-game wise, we're going from 3-4's to 4-3's to 3-4's and I think as a result of that, our experience with our young guys has caught up with us at times. But I think we are improving weekly. The productivity didn't show up in the running game last week but you feel that when you're out there in practice. You see it in communication; you see it with our guys moving together. You see the conversations that are going on. It's less about mistakes and more about continuing to work on fundamentals and techniques and just getting better at executing our plays and our runs.
THE USE OF Eben Britton
I think that Eben is unique from the standpoint that he has value both in the running game and the passing protection. Part of that evolution came with Marty and him and his shoulders early in the year. That's when we made the transition and it's really worked out well. We've been able to maintain some balance and it hasn't affected our productivity, and Eben's done a nice job on the outside. Certainly that's a big part of when we are running the football, and when Marty's in there we also run the ball with him at the tight-end position. But a lot of it was from the pass-protection standpoint and it's just been an evolutionary process. And that could change as we move on. We might see less of Eben and more of Marty in certain situations.
IS MCCOWN A STARTER IN BACKUP'S CLOTHING?
I don't know that I can answer the question other than this team feels very, very good about him starting for us. In our environment here, his position is the backup quarterback and he's a guy that we trust to go in there and we can seamlessly get the job done. We are doing the same things with Josh as we do with Jay, and everybody knows physically the things that Jay has and the skill set Jay has, which is unique, it is unique. Josh certainly has a skill set that can allow us to win and help us win and I think we've seen that on two or three occasions already this year.
WHEN QBs HAVE EXTRA PRESSURE TO CARRY THE LOAD, IS THAT WHY SOME TALENTED QBs STRUGGLE?
I don't know how I would answer that. We try to sell our guys that nobody has to carry the weight, whatever position, whatever coordinator, that none of us have to carry the weight or put the pressure on us. If we're all doing our job, then we can easily work within the framework of what we have to do and not take the burden of the team on our shoulders. We try to put every player in that position and that includes the quarterback.
MCCOWN SAID INTENTION IS TO PASS FIRST, RUN SECOND
He's entitled to his opinion. I think we work for whatever play we're running, we want to succeed on that play. We're calling the play because we think it can have success. We don't want to waste plays. Every play we run, we want to make sure it's got a chance to have success. The passing game gives us that opportunity and we think the running game does as well.
BOWMAN REPLACING TILLMAN
I don't know that there's a lot of worrying going on. Everybody on our team is on the team because we expect them to move in and be able to play. Certainly with Zack, he does have experience, he knows the defense, he's been productive — we saw that on the first play of the Giants game. He made a play to help us change the field position and so forth. The only thing I can say is we have an experienced player who's stepping into that role. He's had success. His teammates trust him. We expect him to play at his best and not have to carry the weight of right corner on his shoulder. He's got 10 other guys to help him out as well. He's expected to do his job and I know he's going to be prepared to be at his best on Sunday.
HARD TO FIND A BACKUP QB IN THE NFL?
I don't think I can speak for the NFL in that. I can speak for the experience I've had at other places. At other places, I think we've had quarterbacks, through my time at Cleveland and San Francisco and Arizona and Oakland where we've had guys who can step in and play. Ideally what you'd like to do in a backup role is have a veteran player who can step in and play and has some experience and he can service the football team in a proper fashion and then, along the way, develop a younger player along the way in some fashion.
BEST QB TANDEM YOU HAVE COACHED?
I don't think I can think that quickly at this time. I've got the Ravens on my mind. Maybe another time I could have some time to think about that one. There's been a lot of good tandems and a lot of good quarterback meeting rooms where there's been a lot of football learned by coaches and players alike, I can tell you that.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.