By Dan Durkin–
(CBS) Trailing the Raiders 20-19 with 1:30 left in the game Sunday, the Bears faced a fourth-and-5 situation from their own 25-yard line. A game that had gone through five lead changes boiled down to one play.
To this point in the drive, quarterback Jay Cutler hadn’t completed a pass. The Bears were sacked on their first pass attempt, and their second was closer to being intercepted than completed.
The Raiders played the same coverage on both passes — Cover-1 lurk, in which five defenders (cornerbacks and linebackers) are manned up, one safety is deep in single-high and the other safety is roving and “lurking” underneath as a middle-hook zone defender.
Charles Woodson was the lurking safety lining up on the two-receiver side of the formation, and he had just intercepted Cutler in the red zone on the previous drive.
On each of the three throws, the Bears used their 11 personnel grouping from three-by-two sets, with the three-receiver side to the left. This alignment kept Woodson on the offense’s right side. Furthermore, the Raiders manned up linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong against tight end Martellus Bennett.
(All images courtesy of NFL GamePass)
Here’s a presnap look of the alignment before the second-down play. Woodson is circled in yellow in both images below.
Here’s a presnap look of the alignment before the third-down play.
Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase used this information about the defense to create leverage and room for Bennett, who has become the Bears’ go-to receiver in top receiver Alshon Jeffery’s absence.
On the fourth-down throw, Bennett is the No. 3 receiver to the trips side, detached from the formation. The Bears use Marquess Wilson (the No. 1 receiver) on a vertical clearout to take his defender and occupy the deep safety. Eddie Royal (the No. 2 receiver) releases on a shallow crossing route underneath to occupy Woodson, while Bennett runs a stick route into the vacated area.
Bennett’s release on this play is critical to the success of the route and the throw. He stems Armstrong inside off of the snap.
In doing so, he gains leverage and snaps his route toward the sideline. He’s now positioned to use his body to shield the defender from the ball and give Cutler a throwing window. Armstrong’s left in a trail position, and Cutler puts the ball right on the money for Bennett to make the game-extending catch.
This was perfectly executed and excellent recognition by Gase to dial up a safe throw on a coverage mismatch to a player Cutler currently trusts more than any other to make a play.
The Bears went on to drive the ball down to the Raiders’ 31-yard line, using flares, stick and mirrored route combinations. Surprisingly, the Raiders stuck with the same coverage on all but one play, on which they played Cover-4. They surrendered underneath and sideline throws to the Bears.
By going shotgun and working shorter route combinations toward the sideline, the Bears effectively took the pass rush out of the game. The Raiders’ off-man coverage allowed the Bears to deliberately work the ball down the field with high-percentage throws and kept the ball out of harm’s way en route to their first win of the season.
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.