Sure, Alshon Jeffery can catch and all, but can he block?
The Bears seemed to have troubles against the 3-4 in years past, but for at least one game they had it beat pretty well. How did they finally figure out what to do against the five rushers that a 3-4 will frequently send after Jay Cutler? On one drive in the first quarter, Mike Tice and Jay showed three different looks that all served to either neturalize the extra rusher or take advantage of the weaker numbers behind the five-man front. Flip below the fold for the glorious details of how the Bears picked apart the Colts and to find out why Alshon Jeffery'sThe debut of the 2012 Bears offense could generously be called "slow," but would more accurately be called "horrible." The first drive was killed before it even started because of a sack, and Jay Cutler threw a pick six on the next thanks to the pressure coming directly at him. Tice, Bates, and Cutler, however, figured something out after that: on the next drive, they used three different looks to get around the Colts edge rushers and put seven on the board. If you've got the game recorded, head to 9:58 in the first quarter to follow along.
Option One: Ignore the Extra Man
Here's an obvious option. Simply ignore the edge rusher on one end by running the other way. You get a numbers advantage on the other side, and the defense ends up wasting the extra man on the line: he has no chance to get in on the play. This plan becomes much easier when your number one running back - a certain Matt Forte - happens to be one of the most effective edge runners in the league. Here's how Tice drew it up:
9:50, 1st Quarter
Garza (the O sticking out in the middle of the line) and the right side of the line push two interior defensive linesmen to the right and out of the play. Tight end Kellen Davis ("Y") finishes off the job by blocking the third interior linesman. Fan favorite J'Marcus Webb and Chris Spencer pull out to seal the left edge of the line, laying down blocks on the two incoming linebackers to keep the edge clear. H-back Evan Rodriguez ("F") also gets it done against the safety to keep the edge clear for Forte, who by now is running out of the backfield. With the offensive line having done its job, it was left up to Alshon Jeffery to block the cornerback out of the play. Jeffery does a great job - he sells a quick decoy route and then lays the wood on his defender. With every defender that had a chance to make a play now out of the way, Forte runs clean for a twenty yard burst - it took the deep safety rotated over Brandon Marshall (the black "X" in the upper right) to finally make the tackle. After this play, the Colts might have thought twice before rushing five. With Forte always a threat to get the edge and gash you, perhaps it's better to lay off a little bit.
Option Two: Pre-Snap Motion
I talked about this idea in my last article, and the Bears found a pretty clever variation on the theme I discussed. Instead of moving a tight end to force one of the outside linebackers to follow him, the Bears motioned Forte out of the backfield.
9:15, 1st Quarter
Someone more clever than me will need to name this new player set: the Bears come out with Forte ("F") lined up as a fullback and Michael Bush ("T") lined up as the tailback. The red lines show the pre-snap motion. Forte motions out of the backfield, and the strong safety swings over to cover him. At the snap, all four receivers head pretty much straight upfield. The key to preventing the pass rush is Kellen Davis' ("Y") route: Davis gets a good jump off the line and quickly comes open, forcing the linebacker across from him into coverage. With Forte now occupying the flat and Bush a threat to creep out of the backfield, the linebacker on the left edge of the line has to stay in a short zone to defend against these two running backs. With the lone deep safety having to divide his attention between the two receivers on the right and the two now on the left, Davis comes wide open fifteen yards down the field. Either Cutler overthrows him or Davis cuts his route off too soon, as the pass sails over his head, but a good play design nonetheless. The moral here: the outside linebacker can't rush the passer when he suddenly has three potential receivers to keep an eye on.
Option Three: Let Them Come!
The classic play designed to take advantage of an overeager pass rush is the draw. You let the linesmen come in thinking they have a chance to make a play, then run the ball right past them. Tice drew up a nice variation on this theme, which worked perfectly two plays later. Hey, if the Colts keep wanting to rush five, the Bears were more than happy to take advantage. Here's the somewhat complex blocking scheme:
8:45, First Quarter
Here's how it went down. First, Alshon Jeffery ("Z") comes in motion towards the line of scrimmage with his cornerback following. At the snap, the Bears give a free rush to both outside linebackers. The left-side linebacker is taken care of by Webb with a simple shove, and LG Chris Spencer crosses the formation to take care of the right-side rusher. All the while, the interior of the offensive line has wiped out the three middle defensive linesmen, leaving RT Gabe Carimi to head upfield to block a linebacker. Evan Rodriguez ("F") leads Forte ("T") through the gap, getting a nice block on the middle linebacker attempting to clog up the running lane. Alshon Jeffery also gets in on the action, getting just enough of a block on the deep right safety that Forte is able to break completely through the defense. He is chased down from behind at the two yard line, but the damage had been done. Again, Tice and Cutler were able to turn a problem - a strong rush around both edges of the offensive line - into a weakness. If all the outside linebackers want to do is run upfield as fast as possible, sometimes all you have to do is give them a little shove out of the way while the play runs right past them.
I hope that Mike Tice viewed last Sunday's game as a trial run of what his team can do against a 3-4, because the Bears' horrible start on offense turned into a thing of beauty. By neutralizing the biggest threat the Packers pose - their pass rush - Jay Cutler will have a chance to do what the Bears have rarely done before: beat the Packers in a shootout. Keep an eye out for what the Bears do when the Packers load up the line. Do they run the ball up the middle? Head towards the edge? Use motion to manipulate the defensive look? Heaven forbid, do they simply try and block five defenders long enough for Cutler to throw the bomb? Considering how bad the Packers' D looked last Sunday, I'm guessing Tice will take an "all of the above" approach.