Weekend mailbag


Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

We’ll keep it brief.

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Josh in Tampa, Fla., writes: Much has been made of the fact that Jay Cutler leads the NFL in red zone interceptions since the beginning of the ‘08 season. I would like to know how many drives has he led both the Bears/Broncos in that time span to the red zone. I think with his production/yards over the past couple of seasons that he may also lead the league in drives that get to the red zone instead of ending in either a punt or turnover outside of the red zone. I don't mind trading a long drive taking time off the clock and ending in a red zone turnover every once in a while with a 3-and-out and punt since a red zone turnover ususally means that the opposing team is starting deep in its own territory.

Kevin Seifert: Fair question, Josh. Here’s what I can tell you: Cutler’s teams have ranked in the top half of the NFL in total number of red zone possessions the past two years. The breakdown:

2008: 55 (No. 11 in NFL)

2009: 18 (No. 10 in NFL)

I can see the point of what you’re saying: The more trips to the red zone, the better. And it’s fair to point out that turnover numbers could increase in proportion to additional trips. Perhaps we should invent a statistic called “red zone turnover percentage” to make it a fair comparison with teams who might not make as many trips there.

On the other hand, there are some variables to consider when it comes to red zone trips. A big-play offense is naturally going to have smaller numbers here because they score more often before getting inside the 20. So trips to the red zone could be a sign of offensive consistency, but it could also be a signal that a team doesn’t have much explosiveness.

With all that said, I don’t think we should minimize red zone interceptions. I gave Cutler a bit of an out earlier this week, wondering if the Bears’ lack of experienced receivers is magnified in the bottleneck near the goal line. But teams only make a handful of trips into the red zone each game. (The Bears, for one, are doing it three times on average.) They represent the best opportunity to score each game, even if it’s only a field goal. It’s especially difficult to overcome mistakes there.

JT writes: Are NFL teams taking any special precautions to minimize the spread of the flu, both internally in practices/meetings and for games? Here is an example: The Browns have the flu. Green Bay plays them Sunday. Green Bay does not want to catch the flu because it could have devastating effects for the game against Minnesota.

Kevin Seifert: Most teams are doing what you’re seeing in other workplaces: Extra hand sanitizers, sending infected players home, etc. As for spreading the flu during games, I think the NFL is assuming teams wouldn’t use a player who is still contagious -- i.e. has a fever -- because they would be too weak to be effective.

As an extra incentive to keep ill players off the field, the NFL is offering special roster exemptions on game days for teams who have at least six proven cases of the H1N1 virus. According to this report from ESPN’s John Clayton, teams could activate up to six players from its practice squad as late as four hours before the game to avoid a personnel shortage.

Boneman of Washington, D.C, writes: Have you ever said anything positive about the Bears in your lifetime?

Kevin Seifert: Yes. In 1985, I distinctly recall saying, “Geez, the Bears defense is pretty solid.”

Sean of St. Paul, Minn., writes: How long can the Bears keep starting Frank Omiyale? He is constantly committing false starts, has mediocre pass protection skills and displays no push for Forte. Josh Beekman is smaller, but plays better. I think the Bears need to look for a long-term solution in the middle of the draft this coming year, but for now the poor line performance is costing Cutler and the RB corps -- making the offense one dimensional.

Kevin Seifert: Agreed on all levels. Omiyale has three false starts this season. (Of course, so does right tackle Chris Williams. The NFL high for one player is four.) It’s hard to measure an offensive lineman’s performance through statistics, but Omiyale certainly deserves his share of blame for the Bears’ anemic running game this season.

Omiyale played more tackle than guard during his time with Carolina, so it’s possible the Bears are giving him an extended time to get comfortable with the position. And I don’t necessarily think Beekman is a great player. But to this point, I think we can all agree Omiyale has not been an upgrade.

Maybe there is more to it than meets the eye, but this sure seems like a classic case of feeling obligated to use a highly paid player.

Beekman clearly outplayed Omiyale early in training camp, according to those who watched every practice, but you knew it was only a matter of time before Omiyale was pushed into the starting lineup. The Bears are paying him $6.3 million this year alone. Unfortunately, in this era, there is no way a player with that kind of contract starts a season on the bench.

Matt of Woodbury, Minn., writes: Why was Pat Williams on the sideline for much of the game against the ravens? Was it injury or the fact that Baltimore did not have much of a run game outside of the ray rice fourth quarter run.

Kevin Seifert: No injury that I’m aware of. I didn’t find it too unusual considering the Ravens were in passing mode for much of the game after falling behind 14-0. Williams routinely comes out in passing situations.

Anecdotally, however, it has seemed the Vikings are rotating their defensive linemen a bit more liberally this season. Coach Brad Childress recently said that Williams is being targeted for 30 to 40 plays per game, which roughly translates into half of a typical game. Playing time figures are difficult to obtain, but I would say Williams is playing a little less this season than he has in the past.

I can only assume that is part of nursing a soon-to-be 37-year-old nose tackle through a 16-game season. (He turns 37 on Sunday, in fact.)