By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) It was a tale of two halves for the Bears this past Sunday against the Jaguars. More specifically, one quarter – the fourth – where the offense really came together and put some points on the board. So what was different about the fourth quarter? Was it something the Bears did differently? Somewhat. It had more to do with what the Jaguars did to the Bears, and how the Bears countered.
As I alluded to in my Know Your Opponent Jaguars preview, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker runs a vanilla 4-3 scheme, not too dissimilar to what the Bears run. The difference is the Jaguars don’t have the personnel the Bears have up front to create pressure with just their front four.
Coming into game, the Jaguars had an NFL-low two sacks through four games. After not sacking Cutler in the first half, Tucker “turned up the heat” a bit more in the second half, sending extra blitzers. The Bears met this challenge on a few key plays, which I break down using NFL GameRewind in this week’s playbook.
The situation: On the first play of the 4th quarter, the Bears are driving and have the ball 1st-and-10 at the Jaguars 10-yard line. The Bears line up in 2WR-2TE-1RB personnel and the Jaguars counter with their base 4-3 personnel in Cover-0. Cover-0 is man coverage with no safety help over the top. The Jaguars walk both of their safeties up, one of which doubles Brandon Marshall, in a similar fashion to how teams would block a gunner on a punt, and the other walks into the box as a blitzer.
This leaves Alshon Jeffery “on an island” with Rashean Mathis. Given his size and ability to post up a defender, Cutler likes this matchup and audibles to a slant route. The Bears keep in seven to protect against eight, and the end result is an easy pitch-and-catch touchdown to Jeffery.
Unfortunately, there was some collateral damage on this play, as Jefferey suffered a fractured right hand. The Bears will certainly miss him in the red zone, where he is a matchup nightmare.
The situation: With 12:26 remaining in the game, the Bears have the ball 2nd-and-6 at their own 10-yard line. The Bears line up with 2WR-2TE-1RB personnel and the Jaguars counter with their base 4-3 personnel, and show a Cover-2 shell. They then walk Dawan Landry into the box as a blitzer, leaving them in a Cover-1 (Man Free) alignment.
With the free safety shading to Brandon Marshall’s side, Cutler again looks to the top, where Devin Hester gives a stutter-step move to the inside, creating space to the outside on a vertical route.
Cutler leads Hester, allowing him to make a tremendous diving catch for a big 39-yard gain.
This play is a testament to Marshall’s presence. Since the free safety is cheating to Marshall’s side, there is a wide throwing lane for Cutler to get the ball to Hester. I’ve been writing about it a lot, football becomes simple math in these situations, and the Bears have receivers other than Marshall who can make teams pay in single coverage.
The situation: Just five plays after the completion to Hester above, the Bears have the ball 3rd-and-3 at the Jaguars 24-yard line. The Bears line up in 2WR-2TE-1RB personnel, and the Jaguars counter with their base 4-3 in a Cover-2 shell. The Jaguars walk both of their linebackers up to the edge and both safeties are showing blitz, again leaving them in Cover-0 with no help over the top.
Devin Hester stems Rashean Mathis outside before breaking inside on a vertical route, and Brandon Marshall sets Derek Cox up with a stutter-step at 5 yards, creating space on the vertical route.
Cutler reads Cox the entire time, and lays out a perfect fade to Marshall in the end zone for the touchdown. Game. Over.
The Bears offense is still finding its way. With new pieces and a new coordinator it’s going to take time to get comfortable with what they like running. However, plays like these are very encouraging as they illustrate just how deadly this offense could become.
When teams are forced to blitz to create pressure, there are opportunities for plays to be made down the field. The Bears only visibly audibled on the slant to Jeffery. This means they either had the right play called for the situation, or there’s chemistry developing between Cutler and his receivers where they know which route to run based on pre-snap sight adjustments.
An explosive offense to match a dominant defense? This team could be scary if the offense continues to progress.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.