By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) A slow start on offense Sunday dug a hole too big for the Bears to get out in their 26-18 loss to the Saints.
That was hole was created in part by three well designed blitzes called by Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan that resulted in three first half sacks of Jay Cutler. In fact, Ryan caught the Bears off guard with one specific blitz twice.
“The first sack was an assignment error and should have been picked up and was picked up during the week and wasn’t (in the game),” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said Monday.
That sack resulted in a fumble by Cutler and set the Saints up for a field goal to go up 6-0. Trestman said that the Bears “walked through it, but we didn’t run through it during the week.”
Going back and looking at the tape, you can see that the Bears actually had the numbers to pick up the blitz, but left tackle Jermon Bushrod blocked down instead of up.
This is the front the Saints showed:
As you can see (circled) at the bottom of the screen, safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Malcolm Jenkins are bunched next to rush backer Junior Galette and all three of them are going to rush the quarterback. That appears to leave Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson with the responsibility of blocking three rushers, but because Eben Britton is added as a blocker on the right side of the line, the Bears still have the Saints matched up 6-on-6.
But as you’ll see, the Bears actually have a 6-on-5 advantage because linebacker Ramon Humber drops back into coverage. Unfortunately, the sack is still allowed because, as Trestman said, there was an assignment error.
As you can see, Garza shifts to his left after the snap to take Galette, allowing right guard Kyle Long to take the nose tackle. With Humber dropping back into coverage, Britton, Jordan Mills and Long have a 2-on-1 advantage on the right side of the line. With Garza on Galette, Slauson and Bushrod are free to take both blitzing safeties. Unfortunately, both of them go to block Vaccaro, giving Jenkins a free lane to Cutler.
Assignment errors are usually the result of the center either not communicating the assignment or the blocker (in this case Bushrod) not hearing or not understanding the assignment. Considering Garza moved to the blitzing side, however, that would indicate that the error was on Bushrod, although Trestman did not say.
As for the second sack allowed, inside linebacker David Hawthorne came unblocked up the middle and Trestman took some of the blame, saying it was not a front they had seen on tape.
“That was on me, I could have helped Jay with the call,” Trestman said. “We got a unique front and I accept accountability for that. I could have helped Jay in the headsets with a call and I didn’t do that.”
The biggest problem, however, appears to be the third sack — mainly because it was the exact same front and blitz as the first one.
Once again, Galette, Vaccaro and Jenkins are bunched to the right and all three rush. And once again, Humber drops back into coverage on the left side.
The only difference is how the Bears are lined up. This time, Matt Forte is lined up to the left side and Martellus Bennett is on the right side of the line instead of Britton. But the Bears still have a 6-on-5 advantage.
And once again, Bushrod blocks down instead of up.
This time, Garza shifts to his right to stay with the nose tackle, which he and Long have together. Slauson then has Galette and that leaves Bushrod and Forte with the responsibility of picking up the two blitzing safeties.
But Bushrod doesn’t take either of them, instead moving to double team Galette with Slauson. That puts Forte in a horrible position of having to pick up both Vaccaro and Jenkins and he ends up missing both of them.
Down goes Cutler.
This was early in the second quarter and the good news is that the Bears made the adjustments from there and kept Cutler clean the rest of the game. But the damage was done. Not only did the first four Bears drives leave them behind on the scoreboard, but Trestman said Monday it had a cascading effect on the defense, leaving them tired in the second half.
“The residual effect of being on the field that long is we didn’t have enough to stop them long enough to have the ball 11 minutes in the third quarter and that really held us back,” the head coach said. “Offense only had the ball three legitimate drives in the second half, and I attribute that to the time they were on the field in the first half and our inability for our offense to move the football early in the game, so that’s where the connectivity comes between offense and defense particularly.”
Five Highest Grades
WR Alshon Jeffery – Jay Cutler admitted Jeffery’s stat line was a little “misleading” and the wide receiver is definitely benefitting from a lot of 1-on-1 coverage, but he still deserves a ton of credit for getting up and catching virtutally everything. His over the shoulder catch up the middle was a thing of beauty and you don’t just accumulate a franchise-record 218 receiving yards by accident.
LB Lance Briggs – It was a big bounceback game for Lance Briggs, who struggled against the Lions. This time, his 14 tackles were mostly a result of being in the right places and making plays, rather than tackling a guy after a catch or decent gain. Unfortunately, two bad plays are going to stand out as he bit on a play action that resulted in a big gain for Jimmy Graham and also had the horrible neutral zone infraction late in the game on 4th-and-1. But for the most part, Briggs was a playmaker, racking up a sack and three tackles for loss. He even created a free rush for Shea McClellin at one point with a well-timed blitz.
QB Jay Cutler – Cutler didn’t play as well as his 128.1 passer rating would suggest, but he was good enough to earn a positive grade. He wasn’t always accurate, but he made enough good throws and didn’t have any interceptions.
DT Landon Cohen – If there’s a silver lining with Nate Collins being out for the year, it’s that Cohen has been pretty good through two games. He wasn’t credited with anything on the press box stat sheet, but he consistently got a push and was effective inside.
TE Martellus Bennett – The tight end caught five passes for 56 yards, but more importantly, his blocking looked better. His injured shoulder has held him back in that area in recent weeks.
Five Lowest Grades
RB Matt Forte – A dropped pass and his fumble on the first play of the game brought down his grade. He racked up 55 rushing yards on 12 carries and added four catches for 40 yards, but it was mostly an unspectacular day for the running back.
DE Shea McClellin – McClellin’s stat line was a little deceiving. He was credited with a quarterback hurry and a tackle for loss. In reality, he probably had three pressures, but they were all created by his teammates and he still didn’t get to the quarterback. Corey Wootton created a free lane for him by running straight up field, but McClellin missed the sack. Later, Briggs created a lane for him, but he wasn’t able to get home. Meanwhile, there were plenty of plays where McClellin was still bottled up in the running game.
RT Jordan Mills – The rookie still isn’t giving up free shots to the quarterback, but I do have him down for a negative grade in three of five games now. He’s allowing a good amount of pressure, but at least it’s on Cutler’s strong side.
DE Julius Peppers – The defensive end saw a mix of single and double teams, but wasn’t able to create much pressure. He did not appear on the stat sheet either.
LT Jermon Bushrod – As detailed above, Bushrod was probably the guilty party on two of the three sacks. That said, his game wasn’t as bad as it originally seemed. After going back and watching the tape, he made some good run blocks and kept Cutler’s blind side clean on a couple of big plays. Still, overall, he ended up with a negative grade.
– Saints tight end Jimmy Graham caught 10 passes for 135 yards, but there were a number of times where the Bears stopped him short of a first down after a catch. As big as those numbers look, it could have been a lot worse. The Bears used a team defense to guard him with Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Chris Conte and Major Wright all getting matched up with him 1-on-1 at some point in the game.
– The Bears stayed in their base defense more which gave middle linebacker D.J. Williams more playing time. He played 54 of 66 snaps and even saw some reps in the nickel defense.
– Kyle Long’s ineligible man downfield penalty on 1st-and-goal was Jay Cutler’s fault, according to Trestman. Cutler has the freedom to keep the ball on called run plays, but he’s not supposed to pass it, as he did on that play. The linemen on the field don’t know if he’s going to keep the ball, so they are blocking to run. If Cutler throws it, that leaves the linemen illegally downfield. To his credit, Long blocked his guy almost to the back of the end zone. It was an impressive block.
– Remember in training camp when the Bears’ defensive linemen were getting in trouble for batting down balls at the line of scrimmage? What happened to that? Through five games, only one Bears’ defensive lineman has a pass broken up: Corey Wootton, with one.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.