Long-time Bears fans know well enough what an aging all-pro linebacker looks like. The stats are still there and the wow plays are still made, but the speed just isn't what it used to be. We saw Brian Urlacher progressively age until he was a "spectator" making it by on knowledge alone last season, and after last week's game against the Lions, it's fair to question whether we're starting to see the same decline in Lance Briggs.
Now, don't get me wrong - I don't think it's time to start worrying that Briggs is done. He did lead the team in tackles last week, after all. But for all that tackling, he rated out as one of the worst Bears defenders on the week according to Pro Football Focus. His hesitation and missed tackles allowed the Lions to squeeze extra yards out of plays, turning what should have been second or third and long into more manageable downs for the Lions. Those long drives added up to points on the board.
Things already were looking iffy for Briggs on the second offensive snap by the Lions. The play call was a vanilla inside zone by Detroit, and Lance arrived to make a tackle after Bush had already pushed ahead for first down yardage.
The issue here appears to be Briggs' conservative play towards the point of attack. He takes two shuffle/hop steps at the snap, which may have had the effect of sending Bush towards the inside instead of bouncing it out. But with Charles Tillman on edge protect here - you can see him fly into left side of the shot midway through the play - Briggs didn't need to worry about Bush getting outside by committing inside too early. Turn one of those hops into an affirmative step to the right, and Briggs would have met Bush at the point of attack in prime position to make a play on the ball as well as on Bush.
The same hesitation was Briggs' downfall in the passing game as well. Look at this play from the second quarter, which featured Lance Briggs covered tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The Lions had a very nice run-pass option play running on Briggs here, as you can tell by the way that Matt Stafford stares down Briggs at the snap.
Briggs makes this read way too easy on Stafford. Just as an unblocked player in the "usual" read-option should pick a player and take him out, Briggs should have committed at the snap either to get after the TE or to fill the running lane forming to his right. By doing nothing, he allowed Pettigrew to get the edge and squeeze nine yards out of the play. Hard to make a big play when you're being read by an opposing QB, to be sure, but Briggs needed to pull the trigger a split second earlier here.
That's not to say that it was all bad for Briggs. Here's a play from the second half where Briggs was caught doing yeoman's work and freed up his fellow defenders to make a tackle. A basic pitch right by Reggie Bush, with the Lions pulling two offensive linesmen to lead the way for Bush:
Here's the Briggs we've come to know and love. He evades the first block, and then completely flattens the next blocker. With no other blockers left to take care of Chris Conte, the safety forces Bush out of bounds for a minuscule gain. If Briggs could have brought this level of play to the rest of his game, the scoreboard might have been a bit different when the clock read triple zeros.
You can't pin all the blame on one player, or even on the players as a whole, as the Bears were also victim to a bit some simple bad luck. The team managed to force three fumbles by the Lions, but only managed to recover one of the three loose balls. The Lions were wise enough to have someone trail Reggie Bush on his fumble, but the Stafford fumble on the goal line was a very lucky (non)bounce for Detroit. If that ball takes a little hop the Bears' way, the whole game might have had a different complexion.
You can't blame bad luck for the loss, but when your defense is predicated on forcing turnovers, you are forced to depend on a bit of good luck for the plan to work. Good luck or bad, Briggs still looks a bit off from his Pro Bowl streak days. Perhaps it's the added responsibility of making the play calls that's slowing his reactions, or perhaps he simply doesn't have that hustle anymore. Whatever the case is, I still think that Briggs has more than enough left in the tank to contribute to this defense. Getting to that eight Pro Bowl, however, isn't looking too likely right now.
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