After watching the thrashing of the Colts on Sunday, call me crazy (but don't call me maybe), I think Bears OC Mike Tice wasn't just looking at the Colts game, he was looking at the Packers game when installing his game plan. You saw a lot of passing early, 30 dropbacks in the first half, 9 in the second half. You could ask, where was the rushing? On a team with such dynamic, powerful rushers, that ran for 2000 yards last year. Where was the rushing attack? The Bears clearly showed they were capable running to close the game, but we didn't see it to set the play.
We can be overjoyed, nay, elated over the strong performance through the air by Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Earl Bennett, and Alshon Jeffery. You know who's not going to be excited? Dom Capers. He's probably sitting there in his office, in the dark, deep recesses of Green Bay, at 6:30am after waking up on his couch in his offense, pouring over the gameplan for the Bears, thinking: we have to rush the Bears, we have to get after Cutler so Jeffery and Marshall don't abuse us like Moss could have, the Bears are coming, the Bears are coming, the Bears, OH THE HORROR.
That's not what he should be worried about though.
Bears were taking plenty of advantages from a weak Colts defense and especially secondary, but, the intention Mike Tice sent with that dominating performance was: put fear in the heart of Dom Capers. What we saw from the Packers game on Sunday was an inability to defend the run, and bad defensive back play, and a hard time adjusting to the balance of the Niners offense. The Packers were playing 3-4 most of the game to combat the power running game of Frank Gore and San Francisco. Usually the Packers stick with a 2-4-5 (or essentially a 4-2-5 nickel) defense to cover most aggressive passing teams (read: pretty much everyone). Against teams like Detroit, New Orleans, and the New York Giants, it makes sense. Against teams like San Francisco, they can't get by with 2 defensive linemen to cover enough gaps for the linebackers to contain and make plays against the run.
Both Green Bay and Pittsburgh use this formation in the 'New Era' Offense to contain aerial assaults. But as we talked about last week, there's a yin and a yang, a push and a shove when you play defense like this. The Packers drafted faster, quicker last year. Gone are the days of stalwart, stout, and superlative 3-4 2-gap linemen who are pushing 340 lbs and constricting the inside running lanes, allowing their faster, more athletic linebackers to mop up easy tackles. The Packers 2-4-5 has Jerel Worthy and B.J. Raji up front, Perry, Hawk, Smith, and Matthews, with Charles Woodson reprising his role from 2010, to be the 'Slot Cornerback'. Which, if you recall, is a combination cornerback, run support, safety in the box sort of role. If you're 7 in front are 4 linebackers, 2 of which are not good in the run game (Matthews and Perry), 1 is a Cornerback (admittedly a very good tackling one), you have 4 players to play to the run game, which in B.J. Raji and Jerel Worthy's case, isn't really their strong point either. It's very effective against the pass in setting up the blitz from their base defense (both Matthews and Perry can effectively rush the passer out of the base defense, and with 2 linemen, you're bringing a base 4 every time), and using a combination of linebackers and CB's to attack the QB is Capers' modus operandi. This gives him the options not to worry about the Defensive Line dropping in coverage in Zone Blitz vs teams who are more adept in picking up the Blitz.
San Francisco forced Green Bay into their 'less potent' 3-4 more often than they were used to (about 50% of the time), forced both Matthews and Perry to play a bit more in coverage, and the defense suffered against Alex Smith. Green Bay needed to play the 3-4 because 3 Defensive Linemen up front (Pickett, Raji, and Wilson), absolutely help in the running game by defending their gaps with power. You note that Worthy (who'd probably be a 3-Technique on the Bears, or maybe something similar to Paea when he lines up as a 1-Technique) doesn't join that lineup. It's better against the run. Woodson drops to Safety and Matthews and/or Perry drop into coverage. Bigger bodies move the line better, and may not get better penetration, but better gap and edge control. We know both of their outside linebackers aren't really great at the run, we heard from Acme Packing Company that their biggest concern is the physicalness of the corners. This leads to a situation where the Bears will be able to run the ball on the outside, turn the corner, and run up field time after time again. We haven't seen a bunch of power running plays from the team this year, where there's 7 blockers for 7 defensemen. And that's because Tice was preparing it for this game. We constantly hear from Lovie how he doesn't want to tip his hand to the other teams, especially not in preseason, and I'm convinced that this was Tice's rationale for playing so heavy outside in the pass game, let the other teams know that this is indeed an option the Bears can lean on for once in our lives. The Bears are no longer a one dimensional team, like the Niners, and played like one this past Sunday.
The Niners looked at the Packers and diagnosed how to beat the defense using their personnel. With a strong running game, good TE's and decent WR's, and a QB who makes smart plays. They lined up often with 2+ Tight ends, both split and inline, a variety of FB and Full House sets, and passed and threw out of both.
One play I want to point out was at 12:36 in the 2nd Quarter, Niners were split 5 wide, but came out of the huddle with a 2TE, FB personnel, setting up Michael Crabtree vs Nick Perry inside. Crabtree ran a five yard in route, made instant separation from his cut, and turned upfield for 10 YAC. They may try to take away the deep ball by constantly bailing their corners and failing to apply press coverage to the WRs, but they're susceptible in the middle of the field. The Packers tried to play the Bears game of force the QB into short high percentage throws, and it works more often than not because of the inability for the linebackers to effectively play coverage.
And after the snap, you see Perry matched up on Crabtree.
When the Bears are lined 3+ wide with Evan Rodriguez between the hashmarks, the Packers are in the unenviable position of trying to determine if the Bears are going to run or pass.
If they come out in the 3-4 personnel grouping, they lose the ability to cover the middle of the field and the flats when the X and Z receivers run deep, leaving it Forte & Bennett vs the field to stop them.
The Niners did that at 4:40 in the Second Quarter. Packers were in their Base 3-4, Woodson, playing SS, seemed to be shaded over Mario Manningham in the slot. Vernon Davis was inline on the left side, motioned right and apparently picked up by Woodson, leaving Joe Staley to block down on Clay Matthews for the quick release because of the big cushion given both outside receivers, and it left Manningham 1-on-1 with Nick Perry. Once again, Perry gets abused in coverage because the Packers fear the run.
If they come out in 2-4-5, they may be able to cover the pass and pass rush more effectively, but they become severely deficient vs the run, and if it's 6 blockers Line + ERod, they can seal an edge and rush right at the two most vulnerable defensive targets: Nick Perry and Clay Matthews Jr.
2 plays ahead in at 3:27 in the 2nd, Niners come out 2 wide to the weak side, TE inline on the right, I formation, Packers playing out of the 2-4-5 with Tramon Williams on the empty side on Vernon Davis, Woodson in the slot and Sam Shields on the X, DTs both heads up over the Guards. Single High Safety. The middle of the line becomes a sieve to Frank Gore as Nick Perry is unable to get his hand on the play while the line blocks left, even though he's standing right there. The DT's can be pushed off their line easily when they can't get a stable base (which is exactly what Harbaugh called), and the linebackers are sure tacklers like every single Bears linebacker is.
It's what I hope to see the Bears run with Forte and Bush up the middle. There's room to run behind the Center, and 5 yards to pick up every time you see the formation up the middle. But that's not to say the Bears can't run outside too.
The Packers like to bring overload blitzes, stacking one side of the line against 4 rushers. When you don't know if a Pass or Run play is going to be called (such as on 3rd and 3, between the 40's, in a neutral scored game), there a lot of risk bringing the an overload pass blitz, primarily in losing half of your available defenders against a run. That's where Cutler's athletic ability needs to take over. Even in passing plays, the Jay Cutler still has the feet to make a play on the run or scramble for the first down. With the way the Packers have been covering blitzes, even not in ambiguous situations like that, quick releases will cause a lot of damage just by moving the chains.
One of the things I was really impressed with in the Bears run game against the Colts was the ability for the WR's to make plays in the running game, to use their big bodies against the CB's and help take them block them downfield. You can't really mistake Frank Gore with Matt Forte. Matt Forte plays a bit more like Kendall Hunter in the Niners offense, but with so much more ability. The Niners really punished the Packers defense inside the run game, where the Niners strength lies. The Bears will be able to run on the outside, with those big bodied recievers and force the Packers to try to contain the edge more, move those linebackers a foot further outside. When they want to do that, you take that away from them in their 2-4-5 and gash them up the center and move the chains.
Of course the role of TEs and the personnel the Bears use versus the personnel the Niners use is very different. We know Vernon Davis is legit receiving threat. Kyle Adams, Kellen Davis, and Evan Rodriguez aren't there yet. But what we lack in TE receiving quality, we make up for in better wide receivers and a better quarterback. Our TEs are going to be asked to block circa the NFC East in the Lawrence Taylor era against the 1-2 punch of Matthews and Perry. Chip block, and play the flats and shallow middle. It's going to be an effective method to fight the defense, tire them out, and make them look like they did against... *cough cough* Alex Smith. They're not going to be able to use Kellen Davis as Vernon Davis, but will be able to get adequate blocking from their TEs in order to stop the horde of Green and Gold. Make no doubt, the pass rush will be omnipresent, it's not a matter of stopping Matthews and Perry, but just making them less than optimal by running the ball at them from the inside and out. On the outside, the amount of crossing routes and slants will probably be significant to attack the middle of the defense that likes to play on the edges.
The Packers are a defense that was built specifically to fight one dimensional offenses. They force you to become one dimensional by their obscene offense (that puts up 500+ points a year), and forces you to throw the ball without the option to run the ball. That's when they beat you. They defend well, and rush the passer. It's actually a really brilliant job by Ted Thompson in this day and age when defenses are weaker than ever and running games aren't what they used to be. But, it doesn't work when you have the option to run the ball, because then the Packers are easily put in their place on defense. You don't have to take deep shots often to beat the defense, you just have to bend them until they break. But each team gets a possession to score. The Bears have seen the 2012 gameplan of how to beat the Packers defense by a team with considerably less offensive talent than the Bears: Run the Ball right at them.