By Jeff Joniak-
(WBBM) Below are Jeff Joniak’s “Keys to the Game” for the Bears matchup against the Colts on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Offense: Dictate Tempo
Everyone wants to know in specific terms what the Mike Tice/Jeremy Bates offense will look like.
Ideally, it will look like the first series against the Washington Redskins in Week 2 of the preseason. Quarterback Jay Cutler checked out of the first play call, exposed a mismatch, and hit Brandon Marshall on a go-route for 41-yards. First down Bears, leading to a touchdown drive.
Cutler thrives off rhythm. He doesn’t like waiting for a play call. He wants to get it, and go. Nothing gets Cutler’s blood up more than waiting. Tice likes the no-huddle, which also plays in Cutler’s strengths. The Bears offense wants to dictate, not react. That should play well on the scoreboard, where in three years Cutler has thrown passes with the lead on only 30% of his 1411 drop-backs. 52% of the time he’s worked from behind.
Defense: Coverage Confusion
Traditional defensive thinking leans in favor of blitzing rookie quarterbacks.
A potentially more beneficial plan is to force quick reactive thinking by mixing coverages. Andrew Luck of the Colts enters the league uniquely qualified to understand what is happening pre-snap to post-snap, but no matter how smart he is, he’s still a rookie. And at critical points in the game, the Bears defense hopes to make him make rookie decisions.
A year ago, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, and Blaine Gabbert all were blitzed more than 140 times. The results were low completion percentages on those snaps were 63 sacks, 27 TDs, but only nine interceptions. There might be a greater chance at takeaways from a young quarterback these days by confusing coverage more than pressure.
Special Teams: New blood, same results
No special teams unit in the NFL since 2004 can claim the success of Dave Toub.
His creativity, willingness to take calculated risks, and ability to create a mindset of excellence in his players is among the best in the game. Devin Hester, Eric Weems and Lorenzo Booker are all options in the return game, and the Colts were last in the NFL in kick return coverage last season. Toub is replacing many from his core group, but the new blood should bare the same results. Veteran additions Blake Costanzo, Weems, Sherrick MacManus, and Geno Hayes are being asked to emerge as impact players on kick coverage. They still claim one of the premier trios of specialists in snapper Pat Mannelly, kicker Robbie Gould, and punter Adam Podlesh. The Colts are in good hands with Adam Viniateri kicking field goals and will be putting their eggs in the return basket of Ohio University rookie speedster Lavon Brazill. Like the defense with Luck, the special teams unit will try to make Brazill play like a rookie.
Intangibles: Element of surprise
Week 1 in the NFL always presents opportunities for surprises.
With change across the league on staffs and front offices, no one really knows what to expect after a vanilla preseason. The Bears new offensive coordinator Mike Tice is calling plays and it will take time for opposing defensive coordinates to figure out Tice’s tendencies. It gives Tice an early edge. The Colts offense is being called by Bruce Arians, who in Pittsburgh liked to run the ball to complement Ben Roethlisberger. It appears the Colts want to run it more with Donald Brown. Their defense moves to a 3-4 with pass rushers working out of a two-point stance for the first time in their careers. How it will look and how effective Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will be is anyone’s guess.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM.