One of the dangers of a Cover 2 system is that a highly accurate quarterback can simply pick it apart. The soft spots in a zone simply leave too much open field available for his receivers to get open. One such play might not go for big yardage - the whole point of a Cover 2 is to keep the play in front of you - but let the QB complete ten of these passes, and there won't be much field left to defend.
The Bears found themselves facing such a quarterback last week, and while the defensive schemes were pretty vanilla, Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli still used a bit of confusion to try and keep Peyton Manning on his toes during his one offensive series. Do you send pressure to force him into a bad pass, or do you simply wait for him to mess up? The Bears' answer, at least on one play, was "yes." Flip below the fold to see how the Bears bluffed Peyton into dialing it back and giving them just what Lovie wanted.
If you want to follow along with your recording of the game, head to 13:10 in the first quarter. The Bears came out in a nickel, but other than the replacement of strong-side linebacker Geno Hayes with nickelback D.J. Moore, the formation appeared to be a classic Tampa 2 look.
From here, however, the Bears shifted the entire look of their defense.
Free safety Chris Conte (right top X) came down to the line of scrimmage, as did D.J. Moore, Nick Roach, D.J. Moore, and Lance Briggs (from left to right, the three Xs in the middle). Briggs adds a bit more to the confusion by switching from standing in between the defensive tackle and end to moving over to the outside. Right-side cornerback Tim Jennings moved his positioning a bit towards the middle to play with inside leverage, suggesting some variety of man coverage, and the other safety, Major Wright (left top X), strolled over to center field. It might be a Cover 3 zone - one safety over the top with three DBs each taking a third of the field in front of him - or it might be a man coverage scheme, but it sure doesn't look like a Cover 2 any more. With a final look like this, Peyton had to think the Bears were blitzing.
Manning, who presumably was ready to send his tight end and running back out as receivers, did his thing and started changing the play. As we end up seeing when the ball is snapped, he keeps all seven of the players on the line in to protect against the blitz. The blitz, however, never materialized. Instead, here's what happened:
On the right side, Tim Jennings immediately bailed out to cover the deep half of his side, and Chris Conte sprints over from the line to play the zone below the right-side receiver (farthest right O). Something similar happened on the other side of the field: Major Wright works towards the top of the left-side zone, while Charles Tillman (first X on the left) worked the zone below that (i.e. right where he already is). D.J. Moore (second X on the line of scrimmage) covers the slot receiver across from him in the low zone, and Lance Briggs runs from his spot to cover center field.
Long story short? After all that motion, the Bears ended up running pretty much the same zone scheme they showed at the start of the play. Two zones on each side of the field, a linebacker covering the deep middle, and another player (normally a linebacker, this time the nickel back) covering the shallow routes. It's seven defenders versus only three receivers, a nice numbers advantage for the defensive secondary. Unfortunately, having such a numbers advantage in the secondary means that it's four pass rushers versus seven pass blockers for the Broncos. The pass rush got nowhere fast, and Peyton Manning did pretty much what he expected to do in the first place. He finds WR Eric Decker (first O on the left), who has run to a spot on the sideline right between the two defensive zones on that side of the field. It's a first down for the Broncos.
The play wasn't a big win, but the blitz look probably kept Peyton from taking a deep shot. After all, the Broncos were in just the right spot on the field to go for the bomb, and with five players out on passing routes, he would have had plenty of options to hit down field. Better to think of this play as an example of how flexible a Tampa 2 look can be. Set up a QB to think you're playing a soft zone, then show a blitz look to get him to check out of a play designed to flood the zones with receivers. Once the ball is snapped, you can always just rotate your players right back into the zones and hope the new offensive play was designed to take advantage of man coverage. Things might have worked out better with a Julius Peppers on the pass rush, sure, but even in this minor defeat Peyton Manning was probably kicking himself for not sticking with his first, more aggressive play-call.
Be sure you get your Bears games on your DVRs, because I'll be breaking down plays all season. See you back here after next Saturday.