By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) If I were to ask you which Bears player the Bengals chose to double team in the redzone nursing a four-point lead with 8:06 remaining in the game, you’d most likely scoff at such an easy question, and reply: “Brandon Marshall, obviously.”
You’d be wrong. Surprisingly enough, the Bengals chose to double team tight end Martellus Bennett instead.
Let’s go to the tape to look at the Bears game-winning 19-yard strike from Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall.
The Bears come out in “21” personnel (2 running backs, 1 tight end) with Marshall lined up as the ‘Z’ receiver in the slot. The Bengals counter with their base 4-3 personnel.
The Bears ran a “smash” route, which is a two-man route combination. The outside receiver runs a 6-yard smash route (dig or hitch), and the inside receiver runs a corner route.
Typically this concept is most effective against Cover-2, as you put the cornerback in a bind. If he jumps on the smash route, you hit the corner, if he sinks on the corner route, you hit the smash. On this play, the Bengals bring a 5-man pressure package, blitzing James Harrison from the weak side. Harrison tipped his hand too early on this blitz, which was called out by Brandon Marshall.
As I always say, football is a game of simple math, so with a 5-man rush, the Bengals have six defenders to cover five receivers. With only two defenders on the open side of the formation, Cutler and Marshall know they have man coverage, against a safety nonetheless.
Marshall stems Reggie Nelson inside, which turns him around, opens his hips and creates a clear passing lane to the corner.
Cutler reads from Bennett to Jeffery to Marshall, loads up.
And delivers a game-winning strike to Marshall in the corner of the endzone.
Hard to believe the Bengals chose this coverage at such a crucial moment in the game. Not only did the Bengals leave Marshall single-covered, they matched him up with a safety (Reggie Nelson), a situation Marshall said he could “only dream about.”
Perhaps this was an in-game adjustment to the red zone touchdown Bennett hauled in earlier, but even so, it was a questionable coaching decision to not force the Bears to beat them with someone other than their best offensive player.
Questions about this playbook or suggestions for a future playbook? Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin