By Dan Durkin–
(CBS) As a pending free agent, Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery is incentivized to be on the field in 2015. With the recent contracts that were doled out to peers like T.Y. Hilton and Julio Jones, he’s is in line for a big payday in the next five months.READ MORE: South Shore Woman Sees Police Activity After Shooting Leaves Man Dead, Only To Find Out It Was Her Own Beloved Brother
It’s been a tough year for Jeffery physically. Back in mid-August, he missed time in training camp due to a calf injury, which limited him at the start of the season. Then a hamstring injury cost him four games, making this past Sunday’s game against the Lions his first since the season opener against the Packers. His presence was felt immediately on the field.
Jeffery finished Sunday’s game with eight receptions (six resulting in first downs) on 11 targets for 147 yards and a touchdown. He was able to attack all three passing zones, but in particular he brought a vertical element back to the Bears’ offense that had been lacking.
Not only did Jeffery win individual matchups, he created single-coverage opportunities for his teammates, which is the definition of a coverage-dictating wide receiver. Wherever he lines up on the field — which was both inside and outside against Detroit — the opposing defense must account for him and typically dedicate safety help over the top.
Marquess Wilson’s 46-yard reception early in the fourth quarter was a perfect example of how Jeffery affects an opponent’s coverage scheme.
The Bears come out in 11 personnel in an empty shotgun set in a three-by-two formation, with trips to the left. Wilson (circled in yellow) is the No. 2 receiver to the trips side of the formation, while Jeffery (circled in white) is the No. 2 to the opposite side.
Notice the alignment of the Lions’ deep free safety (circled in blue). He’s lined up 16 yards off the line of scrimmage on the left hash mark, shaded to Jeffery’s side. This is significant, as the Lions have now put three defenders in coverage over the Bears’ two-receiver side and left single coverage to the trips side of the formation. They’ve dedicated their free defender to Jeffery’s side of the field to provide deep help.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Patchy Frost Well Inland
(All images courtesy of NFL GamePass)
The Bears run mirrored whip routes with Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and Eddie Royal to occupy the underneath defenders. Jeffery runs a dig to occupy the deep safety, while Wilson runs a go route.
Jay Cutler’s first read is Royal on the front-side whip route. The Bears switched Royal and Jeffery’s release, but the Lions defensive backs exchanged coverage responsibilities, and cornerback Josh Wilson played tight trail-man coverage on Royal.
Not only is Cutler’s first read taken away, right tackle Kyle Long gave up the edge, forcing Cutler to evade laterally to his left. The protection breakdown was costly, as Wilson beat Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis off the release and quickly stacked on top of him, giving Cutler a big throwing window.
Cutler was able to get free in the pocket and climb to his left and get the ball out to Wilson. However, with Cutler being flushed, he was unable to get more on the throw, which could’ve gone for a touchdown. Wilson had to slightly adjust and come back to the ball.
This explosive gain set the Bears up with first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, but they were intercepted in the end zone two plays later.
Regardless of the fact that the Bears came up with no points on this drive, this play is a prime example of the impact Jeffery has on the game, both when he’s targeted and a decoy. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase now has his full complement of weapons and will be able to devise plays to take advantage of the extra attention Jeffery draws.MORE NEWS: Constituent Says She And Others Were Kicked Out Virtual Meeting With Embattled Ald. Jim Gardiner, And Alderman Isn't Providing Answers
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @djdurkin.