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Inside the Playbook: Marshall and Hester Vs. Man Coverage

Even a caveman knows that this guy can't keep up with Devin Hester in man coverage.
Even a caveman knows that this guy can't keep up with Devin Hester in man coverage.

Another week, another pre-season game behind the Bears. This time around, the offense was graced with the presence of Jay Cutler, and things looked more than a little better than they did the first time around. The Redskins brought pressure - plenty of pressure - but with any blitz package, there's always a trade-off: every man chasing down the quarterback is one less you can have in coverage. The Bears were able to take advantage of the Redskins' blitzes, knocking off multiple big passing plays against five- or six-man rushes. How did they do it? In two words, "speed" and "size." Flip below the fold to get your weekly dose of diagrams.

First play from scrimmage for the Bears - 12:00 in the first quarter if you're following along at home - and the Redskins must have been thinking the Bears were simply going to run it. They loaded up the line with six men against the Bears' pro set (one tight end, two wide, a running back, and a fullback). Here's what it looked like before the snap. The red lines show the pre-snap motion by both teams, with the appropriate X or O at the player's final spot before the snap.


A couple of things happened here to give Jay Cutler a clue as to what was going on with Washington's pass coverage. Cutler motioned over his tight end to the other side of the formation, and a Redskin followed him over. In case the single deep safety wasn't enough of a tell, Cutler had to be thinking the Skins were in man coverage. The other big tell that the Skins were going to single cover both receivers? The motion away from the line of scrimmage by the cornerback covering Devin Hester, who is wide left. You don't cede ground to a receiver known for not being able to easily beat press coverage unless you're the only defender on him - he's simply too fast to risk having him blow past you if he does beat the press. The real beauty of the play, however, comes after the ball has been snapped.


Cutler has everyone minus his two receivers stay home to pass-block, and the eight-versus-six protection held up well enough. Hester got half a step on his defender despite the cornerback's head start down the field, and Jay gave Devin a good look before continuing through his read, eye work that also had the benefit of holding the single deep safety (deepest X) in the middle of the field for half a second. The linebackers, who were also watching Cutler's eyes, simply moved into mid-field to guard against potential slant routes or a back sneaking out for a dump-off pass.

Meanwhile, Brandon Marshall - the O out on the right - has done what we all hoped he could do: easily beat man coverage to get open. He worked upfield for a couple yards and forced the issue with the cornerback by quickly engaging him with what looked to be a run-block. The cornerback, whose eyes were on Marshall and not the backfield, had to think for just a second - "Well, the formation was aligned to run my way, wasn't it?" He probably also thought, "D***, B.Marsh just blocked me out of position - that's what I was supposed to do to him!" This moment of hesitation, combined with Marshall's overpowering block, got Marshall all the separation he needed. Cutler fired the bomb, the safety was way too late thanks to Cutler's eyes and Hester's speed, and Marshall reeled in the ball for a quick forty yard gain. Not bad for their first live-action play in four years, eh?

The next play I wanted to look at is for all the haters who scoffed at Brandon Marshall's statement that Hester could get more yards than him in this offense. The nice thing about having a real honest-to-goodness #1WR, however, is that the #2 guy is going to draw some chumps in coverage. It might be an exaggeration to say that Hester will be better than Marshall, but I do think Hester could have a career year based on the looks he got last week. Take, for example, this doozy from 3:54 in the first quarter:


The Bears were once again in a pro set and lined up in an I formation, with the fullback and running back lined up directly behind Cutler. Marshall was out wide left, and Hester was in the slot. The Redskins were threatening to blitz, bringing their right-side cornerback directly over the top of the tight end. If you watch Jay Cutler's eyes closely before the snap, I'm pretty sure he looked at who is across from Hester at least twice - it's pretty hard to believe that Washington would cover one of the fastest men in the NFL with big-ol' pass-rusher Brian Orakpo, but they did just that. Whoops.


Here's what happened after the ball was snapped. In the backfield, H-back Kyle Adams (the first O behind Cutler under center) sealed the edge and carried the blitzing cornerback out of the play. The second O behind Jay, a certain Matt Forte, executed a run-fake into the gap between the left guard and center. This run-fake sucked up both linebackers, who crashed the line right after they saw Forte move up. Even with seven Redskins coming after Jay, the protection was good enough for Cutler, who dropped back and looked at how his two receivers were faring on the left. Marshall was covered quite well on his go route, but Marshall's route had forced the safety (deep left X) to drift well behind Hester's slot route. Hester literally ran around Orakpo - pretty funny in slow-motion replay - got fifteen yards downfield, and then broke towards the sideline. After getting left behind, Orkapo didn't have a chance of catching up, and Cutler made an easy toss to Hester good for first down yardage. Devin sped past Orakpo again, sprinting right through his weak arm-tackle, and picked up a couple more yards before being ushered out by notably worthless safety Brandon Meriweather.

It's simple enough stuff here. Marshall's size allows him to beat press coverage, and his ability to catch anything thrown his way forces defenses to rotate coverage his way. With Marshall drawing away attention from Hester, Devin is going to see a lot more favorable looks, especially out of the slot. Hester is ridiculous, to be sure, but not as ridiculous as a defensive coordinator who thinks he can be covered with a linebacker - Hester can win that race every time. The best part of these two plays? Mike Tice and Jay Cutler know that one of these two receivers can get open against man coverage. Keep eight players at home to pick up the blitz, give Cutler a chance to throw it to the open guy, and good things will happen.