Watching Brady have a substandard game against a Baltimore defense that hasn't played at a really high level this year made me wonder how they managed to make one of the great quarterbacks and great offenses look very flat.
It's something that Lovie Smith has been working on for years.
Now, I look at one of my favourite offenses of all time, Ted Marchibroda's K-Gun offense with Jim Kelly. If you're unfamiliar, it was a no-huddle offense that relied on read-react principles from the receivers and QB's, so much communication, verbal and non-verbal that required receivers to read the defense the same way the QB did and run routes according to the pre-snap look that the defenses were giving. It's very similar to Tom Coughlin's Streak and Read principle that has receivers and QB's making assessments on sight adjustment based on how the Corners are playing their receivers, where the linebackers sit and how the Safeties are placed. It's the simple sight adjustments of exploiting CB techniques: if they're pressed close, and playing short, run deep routes, if they're deep, take what's short, if they're even but taking away outside leverage, run inside, if they're taking away inside leverage, run outside.
And Jim Kelly, in this offense was extremely efficient. He was able to diagnose defenses before the snap to try to determine the best matchups, and burn through his progressions with lightning fast efficiency and tear apart defenses, in an era of tough defenses. He was Peyton Manning before Peyton Manning was. Even now, in it's modern roots, with Coughlin and Gilbride, with New England, with Peyton Manning, these pocket passing, option based offenses are about trying to beat defenses by picking out the obvious mismatches before the snap, reduce the amount of tough plays, and know where the easy plays are going to be and using their physical prowess to punch the ball. It's an effective system, and mentally similar to the read-option run, only in the passing realm, and is something that a lot of elite offensive systems pride themselves on being able to do. It's Wes Welker, Dallas Clark, Victor Cruz, Rob Gronkowski, Greg Jennings as these option routes come early and often to rip apart defenses that always seem to have holes in them.
It always favours the offense, right? If they know what you're playing, and they can see it, does it really even matter what you call if good offenses can always find an open reciever or run?
I think Tom Brady found out the hard way against Baltimore.
It's very similar to what the Bears have done against Rodgers, they may not be more aggressive, may not be Blitzing more, but they've done an excellent job at disguising coverages, by moving around before the snap, by pretending and implying that the defense is going to look like it's playing cover 3, but as the ball is snapped, step back into cover 2. For established, good quarterbacks, they don't think out there, they know what you're doing before your doing it, and as always, it looks like offenses will always have the advantage, and the defense is merely reacting, but what Baltimore did, was the same thing. They glittered, they tempted Brady's pre-snap reads and processes, and as the ball was snapped, they forced him to take that extra half of a second to re-adjust to the post-snap call, which was a different look than the pre-snap call.
Half of a second? That leads to a man hitting the ground a lot in the NFL, especially with a QB with a shoddy line like Green Bay. If it takes a half of a second to realize and adjust that what coverage a QB originally thought was being called out there wasn't, and the receivers aren't on the same page as the QB, and they're running into places where they both thought they should be, but now there was Ed Reed standing in your spot? You'll find even a mediocre pass rush can still get home and you're prone to a few mistakes.
Those interceptions that Brady threw weren't accidental, they were created by scheming, and those same principles are exactly what Mel Tucker needs to embrace here in Chicago against Green Bay. It's not just about winning all the physical battles, because the rules of the game now bring the offense to an 'untouchable' level, but it's about beating the minds. It's about getting into the head of Aaron Rodgers, and making him not trust his option routes with Jordy Nelson, it's about the Bait and Switch. It's about deception at its core. Defenses, schematically, have been slow to adjust to the new offensive dominance. Sure, they've been able to be physical, strong, and fast, and win on those laurels from years past. But what the next generation of Defensive Coordinators are preparing for is to not just be deceptive about who you're bringing in the rush, but how you're presenting the coverage to the QB, and how are you taking it away when they're getting comfortable.
When I mentioned Mike Nolan as being an defensive mind who should get another look at a HC spot, it's because he embraces what it takes on defense to get into the minds of QB's. Watching the Falcons defense, you're relegated to watching a very bland cover 2 shell pre-snap. But, post snap? No, no, no, they're rotating, they're attacking, they're causing confusion that gives their athletic defensive backs a lot of opportunities to be effective and make plays. They were 2nd the league in the bendability index at Cold Hard Football Facts, with 19.56 yards allowed per point (Bears were #3 with 18.24).
Obviously playing defense like this requires a coordinated, disciplined, fast, athletic defense, because being out of place early can result in blown assignments and lots of yards in a hurry. But, this isn't something that's unfamiliar to the Bears, it's something that Lovie Smith has done for years when facing Aaron Rodgers, and we've seen how effective it is, even when a normally conservative Lovie Smith, shows those pre-snap pressures and cornerbacks who go from playing press, to reading the snapcount and stepping off their receivers, and the safety who presses down a little from their normal depth, but not enough to be in the box, and forces QB's to run though the scenarios:
Are they're playing Cover 2, Cover 1, or is that safety playing the Robber? Are they playing man? Are they in Cover 3? Are they rotating before the snap? Or are they going to rotate after the snap? Are they fast enough to get into place? Are we fast enough to beat them there? Should we audible to a run? Can we run against the formation? Are they Blitzing, are they Delayed Blitzing, are they fake Blitzing?
Confusion works. Deception isn't only a game that offenses are allowed to play, or even defensive fronts. It's something that former DB Coach Mel Tucker needs to embrace. If Tucker studies and tunes what Lovie Smith did against the great foe up north, in Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers, and then executes in such a way to confuse those timing routes and receivers without opening up the defense through copious amounts of blitzing, Mel Tucker is going to make Trestman, and the Chicago Bears Fans very, very happy the next time Green Bay comes to Chicago.