By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) In the past two weeks, the two teams that figure to have the best shot of knocking Green Bay off the NFC North perch they’ve resided upon for three straight seasons played host to the Packers. The results of each game were drastically different.
Eight days ago, the Detroit Lions stifled Green Bay’s offense, holding them to a mere seven points on nine possessions. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished the game 16-for-27 for 162 yards and a touchdown in a 19-7 loss to the Lions. Yesterday, Rodgers surpassed those numbers in the first half alone in the Packers’ 38-17 rout of the Bears.
There’s plenty of football left to be played, but given the disparity of the results of these two games, it’s fair to question how successful the Bears’ offseason moves were in narrowing the gap between that exists between them and and the Packers.
Clearly, the Bears attempted to mimic the Lions’ defensive game plan of rushing with four, stopping the run with seven and playing split safeties to congest throwing lanes. However, as evidenced by yesterday’s game, there’s a significant difference in the talent and production between the defensive fronts of the Lions and Bears.
Giving an average NFL quarterback three or more seconds in a clean pocket to survey a defensive backfield is a losing proposition. Against a quarterback as skilled as Rodgers, it’s criminal. The Bears’ defensive line was stymied by the Packers’ offensive line and rarely got Rodgers off his launch point, which led to a nearly perfect passer rating (151.2) for Rodgers, who surgically dissected the Bears’ zone coverages, finishing the day 22-for-28 for 302 yards and four touchdowns.
What’s most troubling about the nature of Sunday’s loss against the Packers is the vast majority of offseason resources — free agent money and draft picks — were allocated to bolstering the defensive front. Yet on Sunday, the revamped defensive line didn’t register a single hit on Rodgers.
When your front four isn’t generating pressure on its own, blitzes must be sent from the back seven of the defense. While it’s wise to be calculated and judicious about the frequency with which you send blitzes at a quarterback as skilled as Rodgers, the Bears were fairly effective when they on Sunday — certainly more so than when they sat back in coverage.
By my count, the Bears blitzed on 10 plays, five in each half. In the first half, the five blitzes resulted in three incompletions, a three-yard completion and a 22-yard touchdown that was thrown to the opposite side of the field the blitz came from. Bears cornerback Isaiah Frey was simply beaten on that play by Randall Cobb, who got a free release off the line of scrimmage on a vertical route.
In the second half, the five blitzes resulted in an 8-yard scramble, drew a holding call and resulted in an incompletion, a three-yard completion and a three-yard touchdown that was also thrown to the opposite side of the field where the blitz came from. The Packers ran a rub route, and safety Chris Conte jumped inside — appearing to execute a “banjo” or exchange technique on his own — which left Cobb wide open in the corner of the end zone.
Historically, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has struggled to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Bears used the same blitz schemes they’ve used since last year — slot, Sam linebacker through the B-gap and Sam and Will linebackers off the edge — and while none of them got home, they did speed up Rodgers’ decision-making. Of his six incompletions, four came while he was under pressure.
In the first half, the Bears attempted to “steal a possession” from the Packers’ offense with an onside kick attempt, which they nearly converted. So, if a team is willing to make a calculated gamble like this, it’s fair to wonder why more pressure packages weren’t dialed up to potentially steal the ball from the Packers?
Through the first quarter of the season, the Bears defense has faced two second-year quarterbacks and two quarterbacks who have played in Super Bowls over the past five seasons, with Rodgers being the only to win the Lombardi Trophy. Granted, they won’t face quarterbacks of Rodgers’ caliber every week, but they will face him again as well as Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Matt Stafford, Tony Romo and Drew Brees.
Thus far, NFL offenses are averaging 23 points per game. If you take away the pick-six the defense scored last week against the Jets, the Bears’ offense is averaging 21 points per game.
Unless the defense tightens things up, are the Bears closer to a playoff team, or do they remain part of the bloated middle-of-the-pack?
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.