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Inside Slant: NFL Week 4 QB Report

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Let's take our weekly deep dive into the Sunday performance of five NFL quarterbacks, using data supplied by analyst Jacob Nitzberg via ESPN Stats & Information. After all, the numbers don't always speak for themselves.

Blake Bortles
Jacksonville Jaguars
WEEK 4 vs. SD: L, 33-14
NEXT: 10/5 vs. PIT
CMP: 29
ATT: 37
PCT: 78.4
YDS: 253
TD: 1
INT: 2

A high completion percentage that can be traced to a majority of high-percentage throws. Bortles threw 25 passes that traveled 5 or fewer yards downfield, completing 21 of them. Only three of his 37 passes traveled 15 yards or more downfield. (One was complete.) Overall, Bortles' average pass traveled 4.7 yards past the line of scrimmage, the sixth-lowest average for a quarterback in a game this season. He did complete 5 of 7 passes from outside the pocket and had a 99.0 QBR on third down after completing all eight of his attempts. (Five converted first downs.) The Jaguars' 9-for-14 performance on third down far exceeded their 9-for-37 figure in their first three games under Chad Henne. Against the blitz, Bortles completed 8 of 9 passes but for a total of only 63 yards.


The Jaguars gave Bortles a menu of modest difficulty in his first start. It made sense to keep it short and get him outside the pocket when possible. Sometimes that is what a rookie needs.

Teddy Bridgewater
Minnesota Vikings
WEEK 4 vs. ATL: W, 41-28
NEXT: 10/2 at GB
CMP: 19
ATT: 30
PCT: 63.3
YDS: 317
TD: 0
INT: 0

Bridgewater accumulated 246 of his 317 yards on passes over the middle and that's where he connected for seven of receiver Jarius Wright's eight receptions. Bridgewater also benefitted from 193 yards gained after the catch, including 99 by Wright. Play-action worked well; Bridgewater completed 9 of 13 such attempts for 151 yards -- better than all but four NFL quarterbacks' single-game performance on play-action this season. The Atlanta Falcons blitzed him rarely (18.2 percent of his dropbacks), and when facing four or fewer rushers, Bridgewater completed 16 of 24 passes for 228 yards.


Bridgewater's success between the numbers didn't answer pre-draft concerns about his arm strength and ability to drive balls outside the numbers. But that can wait for another day. Overall, Bridgewater performed with efficiency and accuracy within a game plan that played to his strengths and his inexperience.

Nick Foles
Philadelphia Eagles
WEEK 4 vs. SF: L, 26-21
NEXT: 10/5 vs. STL
CMP: 21
ATT: 43
PCT: 48.8
YDS: 195
TD: 0
INT: 2

Foles attempted a career-high 15 passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, but he completed only two. Two others were intercepted. Of those 15 throws, 10 traveled at least 21 yards downfield. All 10 were incomplete. The Eagles struggled to protect him amid a series of offensive line injuries and he completed only 48.6 percent of his passes (18 of 37) against the San Francisco 49ers' standard pass rush. His two interceptions on such throws were a career high. Finally, Foles over- or underthrew 14 of his 43 attempts, the highest single-game total for a quarterback in Week 4.


Foles' struggles on downfield throws were in stark contrast to his 2013 performance, when he led the NFL with a 52.2 completion percentage on throws that traveled 15 or more yards downfield. His inaccuracy is also a concern; he leads the NFL with 41 over- or underthrows this season.

Mike Glennon
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
WEEK 4 vs. PIT: W, 27-24
NEXT: 10/5 at NO
CMP: 21
ATT: 42
PCT: 50.0
YDS: 302
TD: 2
INT: 1

Of his 302 yards, 81 percent (245) came in the second half. He completed 6 of 9 passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, including 3-for-3 in the fourth quarter, and also completed 7 of 11 passes on third down. Six of those throws converted first downs. Although he completed only two of his 10 red zone passes, one was the game-winning touchdown pass. He struggled against the blitz, completing just 6 of 18 passes for 63 yards and an interception, but diced up the Steelers' standard pass rush for 239 yards and both of his touchdown passes.


Glennon made his best throws count, and the analysis supports what the visual indicated. Glennon performed well late in the game under intense pressure, one of the most difficult tasks for a young quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers
WEEK 4 vs. CHI: W, 38-17
NEXT: 10/2 vs. MIN
CMP: 22
ATT: 28
PCT: 78.6
YDS: 302
TD: 4
INT: 0

Rodgers' career-high 99.0 QBR tells you Sunday's romp over the Chicago Bears was one of the best overall games. The Bears tried to beat him with the standard pass rush that limited him in Week 3 at Detroit, but Rodgers reversed both that trend and several others. Facing four or fewer pass-rushers on 71.4 percent of his attempts, Rodgers completed 18 of 20 such passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. (He completed only 58.3 percent of such passes in Week 3.) He also hit all six of his attempts that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, for 163 yards and a touchdown, after completing only one against the Lions. For good measure, Rodgers completed all seven attempts on third down, accounting for two of his touchdowns, and went 10-of-12 on play-action plays, even as the Packers struggled to run the ball (56 net yards).


It was folly to believe the Lions exposed a 2014 antidote to Rodgers via rushing four and playing coverage against him. We must blame the Bears' defense a bit -- it only put Rodgers under duress on four of his 30 dropbacks -- but Rodgers was sharper than he has been in some time. Only five of his 28 passes were judged off target. The rest? Money.

CINCINNATI -- Leah Still was just waking up after seven hours under anesthesia when her father and other family members tried to help her sit up in her bed at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

The 4-year-old who had spent much of last Thursday under doctors' supervision following a near six-hour surgery to remove a tumor from inside her body, was defiant.

She didn't want any help sitting up in her bed. She wanted to do it on her own. She did. Not just once, but twice.

[+] EnlargeDevon Still
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsDevon Still said his daughter, Leah, is in good spirits after she had a cancerous tumor removed from her body last week.
That's when the long-held suspicions of her dad, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, began ringing true. It was at that moment that he realized she was going to beat the stage 4 cancer that had been ravaging her body since June.

"She's going to bounce back from this fast because she's a trooper," Devon Still said in front of his Bengals locker Monday as he reflected upon what he saw from his daughter up close last week. "She's going to fight her way through this."

Still was back in the Bengals' locker room after spending the bulk of last week's bye in and around Philadelphia in order to watch his daughter as she underwent this latest round of treatments to eliminate the cancer that's called neuroblastoma.

A trip to a movie theater was the highlight of the week for Leah, who spent time the night before her surgery with friends and family in a packed viewing area while the movie "Dolphin Tale 2" played on the big screen. The same night as the movie viewing, Still began psyching Leah up for what she was about to endure.

He said he spoke to her about what surgery was. He tried to ease her uncertainty and answer any questions she had. To help illustrate his responses, Still asked her to look at his ankle, knee and back. In each of those places, the 25-year-old lineman has scars from his own series of surgeries.

The ploy helped, but she still was scared of what loomed the next morning.

So, in an effort to make his little girl smile, Still recorded a video that went viral the instant he uploaded it to Instagram.

"On the way to the hospital she was looking sad," Still said Monday. "You see in the beginning of the video that I said, 'I'm going to say it again.' The first time I asked her she was really down. She didn't really say anything. That's when I asked her again and that's when she started getting happy. So it was just to try to put a smile on her face and not to make her so nervous."

Still and the Bengals -- who originally cut him at the end of the preseason before adding him to their practice squad in part to help him retain health insurance to pay for Leah's treatments -- have put smiles on countless faces across the globe the past few weeks. On Sunday, the team announced it had sold close to 10,000 of the reserve lineman's jerseys, and that it was picking up the cost ($500,000 total) of making each one. That meant that full proceeds from the sales of Still's $100 jersey were going to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center for pediatric cancer research efforts.

By Sunday, the Bengals reported they had raised more than $1 million in nearly three weeks.

Jerseys have been purchased by people in every state, as well as Canada, Australia, England and Finland. Rapper Nelly is among those who have reached out to Still since his story was made public.

"We thought it was vital to get out the [story of] everyday life of a family who is going through life with a child that has cancer," Still said, "just to let everybody know how much support families need financially and just emotionally."

Still was hopeful Leah would be leaving the hospital and going home Monday to Wilmington, Delaware, where her mother and other members of Still's family take care of her while he's in Cincinnati. After some weeks, she'll get back to chemotherapy and radiation therapy and will undergo stem-cell treatments to regenerate her bone marrow.

"For them to be able to remove all the tumor," Still said, "just puts a smile on her face and it gives us something to hope for."
Last week, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers told fans to relax after his team’s 1-2 start, but Chicago’s Jay Cutler stutter stepped that approach and opted for reality on the heels of the Bears' falling to 2-2 Sunday after a 38-17 loss to the Packers.

“I’m not gonna tell them anything,” Cutler said Monday during the “Jay Cutler Show” on ESPN 100. “We’ve got to win games at home. Green Bay, a divisional opponent … we’ve just got to play better. There is a lot of football left. [Rodgers] does have a point. It’s a long season. We’ve had a rough stretch.”

[+] EnlargeCutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJay Cutler dropped to 1-9 against the Packers, but his season numbers are promising.
After back-to-back victories on the road at San Francisco and against the New York Jets, the Bears returned to Soldier Field on Sunday for the first time since the opener. The Bears sprinted out of the gate and marched 80 yards on 15 plays to start the game, only to sputter down the stretch as a result of two turnovers, shoddy play in the secondary and a pass rush that barely made Rodgers flinch as he tossed four touchdown passes.

Starting with a matchup Sunday at Carolina, the Bears play three of the next four on the road before their Nov. 2 bye. Cutler offered no assurances the club would bounce back. The club’s three upcoming road opponents (Carolina, Atlanta and New England) currently hold a combined record of 6-5.

“We’ve had a rough stretch,” Cutler said. “We’re gonna go through a pretty rough stretch, like you guys were talking about earlier, the next four games. So we’ve just got to take it one game at a time.”

The Bears rolled up 496 yards of offense and converted 64 percent of third downs. But a couple of Cutler interceptions, combined with the defense's allowing Rodgers to throw for 302 yards and a passer rating of 151.2, doomed Chicago’s prospects. In 28 pass attempts, Rodgers suffered only one sack, and Bears coach Marc Trestman said Monday that the club blitzed very little in the loss.

Asked whether he remained confident about future meetings with the Packers, Cutler said, “Yeah, you saw the stats. I think we’ve got a really good bead on them now, with Trest[man] and this group. So hopefully we can start improving on that.”

Cutler finished with a passer rating of 82.5 and two touchdown passes to go with the interceptions. Matt Forte was one of the club’s few bright spots on offense. He rushed for 122 yards on 23 attempts.

Despite the shaky outing against the Packers, Cutler has completed 65.8 percent of his throws for 10 touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 94.7, which is promising, considering he entered the season with a career passer rating of 84.6.

Cutler owns a 1-9 record against the Packers, and he’s 41-22 against the rest of the NFL. In games against Chicago’s division rival, Cutler has completed 55.6 percent of his throws with a touchdown-to-interception differential of minus-8. Against the rest of the NFL, Cutler’s completion percentage rises to 61.1 and his touchdown-to-interception ratio to plus-41.

Does the record against the Packers bother Cutler?

"Obviously, you want it to be better," Cutler said. "But there’s not much I can do about it."

In evaluating his own play after the first month of the season, Cutler said, “You’d like to cut down some of those turnovers. A couple of them are pretty stupid. The last one was unfortunate. You clean some of that up, and I’d be happy.”
CINCINNATI -- With their Sunday night game at New England looming, the Cincinnati Bengals returned to practice Monday afternoon and did so at near-full capacity.

Only three players not on injury lists -- linebacker Vontaze Burfict, defensive tackle Brandon Thompson and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler -- did not practice. Everyone else participated in the workout in some capacity. It's unclear who was limited and who participated fully since the team wasn't required to submit an official injury report.

The Bengals normally stay off the practice field Monday and use the day for film review, but last week's bye gave them an opportunity to go outside a little earlier in the week than normal. The NFL still won't require them to submit an injury report until Wednesday.

Burfict, Thompson and Zeitler each missed the Bengals' Week 3 game against the Titans. The week before, Burfict had suffered his second concussion in two games. Thompson had been run from the Bengals' Week 2 win against the Falcons with a knee injury, and Zeitler picked up a calf injury in the same game.

Those three weren't at practice during the 30 minutes media were permitted to watch, but receiver Marvin Jones and defensive end Margus Hunt were among those who were. Jones was working out for only the second time since breaking his foot in the preseason. He practiced last Tuesday in the lone workout of the week. Hunt was banged up in the Week 3 game, but appears likely to participate in Week 5.

Along with those two, running back Rex Burkhead and linebacker Sean Porter also practiced for only the second time since the preseason. Burkhead said Monday that he wasn't sure what his exact role would be in the running back rotation as a reserve behind Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill.

"Whatever role the coaches want me to have and whatever they want to use me for, I'm up for that," Burkhead said. "Whatever way I can get out on the field."
CHICAGO -- Nine seconds remained before the end of the first half Sunday, and the Chicago Bears held possession at the Green Bay Packers' 9.

But instead of walking away with momentum and a 24-21 advantage at intermission, the Bears strolled to the locker room behind four points, after Martellus Bennett's second-effort stretch failed to yield a touchdown as time expired.

Did the Bears mismanage the clock at the end of the first half? That's one of many questions being asked in the wake of Chicago's 38-17 loss at Soldier Field to the Packers.

"We had nine seconds left, and we called a play where everybody is headed to the end zone," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "I don't know if Marty [Bennett] flattened his route working to get open. I thought we made the right call. We had plenty of time. It was really an excellent play defensive to make that stop at the 1-yard line as it was called. Clearly with nine seconds left, we were going to take a shot in the end zone. We had the play we wanted. We just came up short."

Jay Cutler moved the Bears from their own 20 to the Green Bay 9 in five plays with the bulk of the yardage on the drive coming on a pair of completions to Bennett for 53 yards. With no timeouts and nine seconds left in the half, Trestman called for a route that featured four vertical receivers.

But with little room to maneuver in the red zone, Bennett flattened out his route to get behind the linebackers. Upon making the catch, Bennett tried to stretch out the ball to break the plane of the end zone for the touchdown.

But Packers rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix held back Bennett, who outweighs the safety by 57 pounds.

"Four verticals, we're on the 9," Cutler said. "He's gonna bend it around that backer. You feel like he's gonna catch it and land in the end zone. If we go back, obviously [we'd] work outside and throw it away. I liked the call. I liked the throw. I thought the defender made a heck of a play. You see the replay. It looked like he had the ball over the goal line. But we didn't get that one either. Three points there didn't win or lose us the ballgame."

Trestman said the Bears discussed ways they could preserve some time for their offense after the team's failed onside kick attempt which gave Green Bay possession at its 39 with 3:46 left in the half. The Packers scored in just two minutes and 47 seconds on a 22-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb from Aaron Rodgers to go up 21-17 after the extra-point kick.

Chicago's ensuing drive began with 1:03 remaining in the first half.

"We talked about calling timeouts in the previous possession," Trestman said. "We did do that. I can't give you specifics, and there are reasons why we didn't. But we did have that discussion to try to save a little bit more time. There was a first down, and a second and one, if I'm not mistaken. I'm going to go through the whole litany, certainly. But we were in a position and in a discussion about how we were going to save time on the last drive, and we didn't get it done."
CHICAGO -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Bears’ 38-17 loss to Green Bay:

Brandon Marshall caught just two passes for 19 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Green Bay Packers, and his miscommunication with quarterback Jay Cutler led to a Sam Shields interception in the fourth quarter.

Marshall declined to speak with reporters as he dressed in the locker room. He did the same after the club’s win over the New York Jets on Monday night, a game in which Marshall caught only one pass for 6 yards.

Cutler also said he wasn’t able to speak with Marshall after the game because “he was upset.”

Bears didn’t blitz: Lance Briggs said the Bears didn’t blitz at all Sunday as Aaron Rodgers picked apart the defense for 302 yards and four touchdowns. That certainly makes some sense considering Rodgers seemed to have plenty of time to diagnose and find open receivers.

Opposite day? With a camouflage roller bag parked in front of his locker, running back Matt Forte held court with reporters wearing a black shirt emblazoned with the word “Happy” in large white letters. Forte rushed for 122 yards on 23 attempts in the loss.
LONDON -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Miami Dolphins' 38-14 win over the Oakland Raiders:

Everything just peachy: It was a wild week of questions for the Dolphins after losing back-to-back games to the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. But Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake described everything as "peaches" following Miami's blowout victory over the Raiders. "Did you see any turmoil today?" Wake responded in the locker room.

Moore proud of Tannehill: The Dolphins got a bounce-back game from starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill (278 yards, two touchdowns). One of the happiest people for Tannehill in the locker room Sunday was backup quarterback Matt Moore. "I'm so proud of Ryan with the way he came out and played," Moore said. "I'm proud of the whole team, but Ryan being my guy in the quarterback room, I thought he came out and played well."

Ready for rest: Several Dolphins players said they are looking forward to the bye week to rest injuries. No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace (hamstring), who sat in the fourth quarter, said he will take advantage of a week to rest. Starting safety Jimmy Wilson also said the same after being knocked out of the game with a hip injury. The Dolphins will return to the field Oct. 12 against the Green Bay Packers.

NFL Nation Week 4 game balls

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
Game balls awarded by NFL Nation reporters:

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
videoLONDON -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 38-14 win Sunday over the Oakland Raiders at Wembley Stadium:

What it means: After back-to-back losses, the Dolphins (2-2) responded with an important victory over the Oakland Raiders to get back to .500. Sometimes it takes adversity for a team to find itself. The Dolphins had plenty of it last week with pressure from losing and some in-house quarterback drama. Miami responded with its most complete performance of the season. The Dolphins took care of business against a bad Raiders team (0-4) which had no answers.

Stock watch: Miami's offense is certainly on the rise. This group has struggled this season, especially in the first half. But the Dolphins' offense put points on the board out of the gate, taking control with a 24-7 lead at intermission that it never relinquished. It was the first time the Dolphins led at halftime all season. Miami also had both the passing game and running game going simultaneously for the first time.

Finally, interceptions: It took four regular-season games and four preseason games, but the Dolphins finally got interceptions from their secondary. Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes picked off Oakland rookie quarterback Derek Carr in the third quarter to set up a touchdown, and Jimmy Wilson and Walt Aikens intercepted backup Matt McGloin. Add in a 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown from cornerback Cortland Finnegan and the secondary had a strong day overall.

Game ball: Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed resolve after a tough week that included a non-endorsement from head coach Joe Philbin. Tannehill responded with one of his most impressive games of his career. He had a near-perfect first half -- which included 14 straight completions -- and finished with 278 yards, two touchdowns and one interception late in the second half. Tannehill had a passer rating of 109.3. There is no question about Tannehill's status as the starting quarterback entering Miami's bye week.

What's next: The banged-up Dolphins will take a much-needed bye during Week 5 to rest. Miami had 22 players listed on its injury report coming into the game. They will next take the field Oct. 12 against the Green Bay Packers (2-2) at Sun Life Stadium.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 38-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

What it means: The Bears didn’t lose any major ground to division foes considering two other teams in the NFC North -- Minnesota and Green Bay -- own two losses as well. Chicago certainly made the second quarter of its schedule more difficult, though, as the Bears play three of the next four on the road heading into their Week 9 bye.

Stock watch: Jay Cutler's stock plummets here due to a pair of interceptions that led to Green Bay touchdowns. During his time as a Bear going back to 2009, Cutler has never (in 10 attempts) finished a game against the Packers without committing a turnover. Perhaps that’s why he’s won only one contest against Chicago’s main NFC North rival. In Chicago, beating the Packers is just as important to the fan base and ownership as advancing to the playoffs, and Cutler will never do that if he can’t stop committing costly turnovers.

Rodgers is no Smith: Chicago’s defense looked dominant Monday night in their win over the New York Jets, who were quarterbacked by Geno Smith. The club quickly learned dealing with Aaron Rodgers is a different beast, even with the quarterback struggling in recent outings. Green Bay scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions to start the game, followed by a field goal and two more TDs.

Rodgers tossed four touchdown passes for a passer rating of 151.2.

Chicago’s pass rush deserves most of the blame for this fiasco. Playing without defensive end Jared Allen (pneumonia), the Bears rarely pressured Rodgers, who appeared to spend plenty of time diagnosing and scanning the field before delivering to his open receivers. They say pass rush and coverage hold a symbiotic relationship, but on Sunday, it was more dysfunctional than anything.

Game ball: Tight end Martellus Bennett joked Friday that he hoped to catch 15 passes against the Packers, and he certainly came close, hauling in a career-high nine balls for 134 yards on 11 targets. The performance marked the first 100-yard receiving day of Bennett’s seven-year career.

What’s next: The Bears return to a normal schedule after a short week heading into Sunday’s loss to the Packers, which is a positive given all the injuries the club is nursing. The Bears begin practicing Wednesday for an Oct. 5 road outing at Carolina.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears released their final injury report Friday heading into Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers with receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle) and defensive end Jared Allen (illness) listed as questionable.

The club held out Marshall and Allen from Friday’s practice, and officially ruled out center Roberto Garza (ankle), left guard Matt Slauson (ankle), linebacker Shea McClellin (hand), cornerback Sherrick McManis (quadriceps) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion).

Allen visited the team facilities briefly on Friday, but was sent home by the athletic training staff to recuperate.

"He’s just back there resting, but you know where I’m going with this," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "It’s not that things aren’t looking good because he went home. I couldn’t tell you that. I’ll leave it up to the trainers, really the doctors. They have to let us know where he’s at, and hopefully he’ll be ready to go. I really can’t tell you what it is. He just hasn’t been feeling well, and that’s been day to day."

As for Marshall, it’s still unknown whether he will be sufficiently healed from a sprained right ankle suffered in the season opener to make a meaningful contribution to the club’s offense. Marshall was hobbled during the team’s Week 2 matchup at San Francisco, but healthy enough to contribute three touchdown receptions.

Against the Jets on Monday night, Marshall caught only one pass for 6 yards. The short turnaround with the Bears playing a Monday night contest also lessens the receiver’s prospects for making a sufficient recovery. Marshall hasn’t practiced all week.

"It’s very difficult to be at your best when you don’t practice every day and there’s timing issues, there’s different formations, there’s different looks,” Trestman said. “So that’s a challenge, and you have to weigh those costs and benefits as you move through the week knowing that he may or may not play. So we’ll try to work through that, and if he’s going to play, work hard to put him in position where things we can give him he knows what to do and can play at full speed."

In other news, safety Chris Conte (shoulder) was officially listed as questionable. Safety Ryan Mundy (stinger) is probable, as is defensive end Trevor Scott (foot).

If Allen can’t play against the Packers, the Bears will insert Willie Young into the starting lineup opposite Lamarr Houston.

"Obviously it’s an opportunity, but at the same time, Jared would be missed," Young said. "Hopefully, we still have some leadership and his presence on the sidelines. We’re professionals here. When one guy goes down we’ve got to look for guys to step up and be effective. But I haven’t heard anything yet [whether Allen will play]. That’s gonna be a game-time decision I guess. I have no idea."

NFL Nation Week 4 game predictions

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26

Over the years, I've noted how the considerable heftiness of the NFL rulebook has inevitably left officials struggling to keep it all on quick recall. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight added some data to the idea last month, noting its 70,000 words is nearly three times the length of FIFA's rulebook, more than twice that of the NBA's and considerably larger than what Major League Baseball and the NHL use.

The latest consequence took place last Sunday in Cleveland, when referee Bill Leavy's crew failed to recognize that a Cleveland Browns trick play violated league rules. Leavy was bailed out when his crew caught an unrelated Browns penalty, but absent that, the Browns would have gotten credit for the kind of "hideout" play that the NFL's competition committee wants to eliminate.

A quick synopsis: Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel jogged toward the sideline after a play but stopped just short of the white line, as if he were talking to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Manziel stood at the 38-yard line with his back to the line of scrimmage.

The Baltimore Ravens didn't realize Manziel was in essence a wide receiver for the ensuing play, and at the snap, he took off downfield under Shanahan's direction. Running back Terrance West wasn't set at the snap, however, and Leavy's crew called an illegal shift penalty.

But as designed, the play was illegal -- as Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 informs any inquiring mind that wants to search for it. Offensive players can't line up within five yards from the sideline when in front of the team's "bench area," which is defined as between the 32-yard lines. For this play to have been legal, Manziel would have needed to be farther away from Shanahan -- where the Ravens would have been more likely to spot him -- and the Browns would have needed the line of scrimmage to be inside the 32.

Otherwise, the NFL considers the trick play to be unsportsmanlike conduct. You can debate among yourselves whether that should be the case, but the point is that it wasn't intuitive enough for Leavy's crew to process Manziel's position and make the connection.

To me, this is not inexcusable. It's the result of 70,000 words scrambled inside the human brain, and as you might recall, it's not the first time Leavy's crew has missed or misapplied a rule in recent years.

Moving on, this post contains two charts.

The first, to the right, is our weekly look at penalty frequency among the NFL's 17 officiating crews. You'll see that the range remains notable. If Clete Blakeman's crew has your game, you've seen less than half the average penalties as Ronald Torbert's, Tony Corrente's or Carl Cheffers' (not including Thursday night's game at FedEx Field).

The second chart updates how each crew has reacted to three major points of emphasis this season. Again, through three weeks, the range is significant. When one crew has been more than four times as active on a group of penalties as another, as the chart indicates, it's worth noting.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte insists statistics aren’t important but admits to feeling “frustrated” about the team’s inability thus far to run the ball effectively.

After averaging 4.8 yards per attempt on an 82-yard day in the season opener against Buffalo, Forte has rushed for a total of 54 yards the last two games with an average of 2.2 yards per carry.

“It is frustrating during the game,” Forte said. “It’s not that we’re not calling runs. We are calling run plays. But sometimes, the defenses are set up so that the run play we call is not going to work against that defense. Each week we’re continuing to work on it, and we’ve got to get everybody on the same page up front. Some guys that are stepping in for injured players, we have to get everybody on the right page where we’re blocking the right looks so if they change the personnel or change to a different defensive front, we know how to block that as well.”

Starting center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson suffered high ankle sprains in Week 1 and haven’t played since. Veteran Brian de la Puente and rookie Michael Ola have filled in at those spots, somewhat throwing off the chemistry and precise timing between the offensive line and Forte.

Forte said the fill-ins along the offensive line haven’t affected play-calling.

“It’s just sometimes we might have blocked it wrong or didn’t block somebody or whatever the problem was,” Forte said. “There is a little bit of a learning curve when we’re so used to having Slauson and Garza in there, and those five [offensive linemen] solidify that line. There is a little bit of a learning curve, but that’s with every team in the league. Everybody has injuries, and everybody has to step up. We have to figure that out and make it work.”

It’s certainly possible, especially facing a 30th-ranked Packers rush defense on Sunday that is allowing an average of 156.3 rushing yards per game.

“Last year when we played them, [Clay] Matthews didn’t play and that makes a big difference when he’s in the game,” Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “They’re at full strength now. So we need to bring our 'A' game to gain yards and have Matt Forte gain yards. We need to continue to work a balanced attack and give him opportunities.”

Bears coach Marc Trestman downplayed the significance of de la Puente and Ola stepping into the starting lineup. After all, de la Puente came into the season having started 44 games with the New Orleans Saints, who run a system very similar to Chicago’s. Ola, meanwhile, is a rookie.

But the truth is that each of Chicago’s first three opponents -- Buffalo, San Francisco and the New York Jets -- currently rank in the top 10 in the NFL in rush defense.

“Everybody’s gonna have an opinion on that,” Trestman explained. “We’ve had two very difficult weeks against two extremely strong fronts. That doesn’t mean we’re making excuses for it. We recognize we’ve got to get better. We had a reasonable start in Game 1. We’ve been bogged down the last couple weeks. We’re cognizant of that. We’re making it a point of emphasis. But we think we’ve got to work through the next few games and try to get a sense for where we really are with things. I can tell you we’re working at it.

“The fact of the matter is Brian de la Puente has played a lot of football. Michael Ola hasn’t, but I don’t think having two new guys in there has taken away from our ability to run the football. I think it goes a lot deeper than that.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- With a short turnaround to prep for the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears participated in their first full practice of the week without receiver Brandon Marshall, leading to questions about his availability for Sunday’s contest.

The club held out Marshall along with strongside linebacker Shea McClellin, who has already been declared out for Sunday, as well as cornerback Sherrick McManis (quadriceps), defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion), center Roberto Garza (ankle), guard Matt Slauson (ankle) and defensive end Jared Allen (illness).

The Bears kept Allen away from Halas Hall on Thursday, and during the club’s practice time, the defensive end was visiting with a physician.

As for Garza and Slauson’s potential availability, coach Marc Trestman said Wednesday he’s "not optimistic.”

Marshall, meanwhile, has been nursing the right ankle injury since the fourth quarter of the club’s season opener against the Buffalo Bills. During Week 2 at San Francisco, Marshall caught three touchdown passes after the Bears made the decision to play him just 90 minutes prior to kickoff. Marshall was somewhat ineffective as a route runner in that game, but used his 6-foot-4 frame to shield off defenders for the three TDs.

Then, in Monday night’s win over the New York Jets, Marshall caught only one pass for 6 yards. While it’s likely Marshall will play Sunday against the Packers, the short turnaround coming off Monday night’s game puts the receiver’s availability in jeopardy.

“It’s day to day,” Trestman said. “He’s rehabbing and we’ll see where he is tomorrow.”

In other news, safety Chris Conte (shoulder) practiced in a limited capacity, while safety Ryan Mundy (stinger) was a full participant along with defensive end Trevor Scott (foot).



Thursday, 9/25
Sunday, 9/28
Monday, 9/29