When a quarterback doesn't see a linebacker in coverage, you end up with plays like Jon Bostic's 51 yard interception return. The West Coast Marc Trestman brought into Chicago is all about recognizing where the defense is and then throwing the ball to wherever they aren't, an approach that matches perfectly with Jay Cutler's tendency to read then react. Let's look at the bad and the good from last week's game to see how Cutler can keep the likes of a Luke Kuechly out of the play by working through his receiving options. Worst case, we'll see how he could, blocking willing.
It was the first "real" play of the 2013 Bears offense, so you probably guessed it wouldn't be a good one. Interception or no, Jay Cutler made the right read on the play. Trestman presented Cutler three different passing options to the QB's left - Matt Forte wheeling out of the backfield, Eric Weems sprinting straight ahead from the slot, and Alshon Jeffery slanting from out wide.
These three passing threats make the Panthers middle and weak linebackers pick their poisons early. If Kuechly moves to his right to cut off the slant, Forte would be wide open, and if the Panthers' Will linebacker stays home to cut off the slant, Weems could square in and pop free. The linebackers commit early to taking away Forte and Weems, so Jeffery becomes the primary target - he's only got one man to beat to secure the catch.
The blame for the interception lies mostly with Jeffery, who stopped short when Cutler threw the ball. If the WR keeps running his route, it's at least a five yard gain. Miscommunication between Jeffery and Cutler aside, Jay's read to his left was solid. That said, if the protection held up, Jay could have quickly moved the third linebacker with a pump fake and ended up with Martellus Bennett wide open on the other side of this formation. Long story short, if you want to know where Cutler's going to throw the ball in this offense, focus your attention on the middle level of the opposing defense. Wherever the linebackers go, the ball won't
This "read it, throw it" approach panned out on the next play, another slant to Jeffery. Here, the Bears come out in a run formation, and might very well have run the ball were it not for the defensive alignment. The Panthers move an extra man over to Cutler's right to protect against the run, so Cutler quickly throws left. This time, the ball is on the money, and Jeffery takes a quick stroll past the first down marker and ends up with a gain of 14.
Cutler and Jeffery's easy pitch and catch is set up by the elaborate run-fake executed by the nine other Bears. With the two tight receivers on Cutler's right both run-blocking and LT Jermon Bushrod hustling after the linebacker as if to do the same, the Panthers LBs couldn't help but be entranced. This play-action - and solid blocking all around - created all the space that Cutler and Jeffery didn't have last time.
One can only assume that these first couple of plays were pretty well rehearsed, which is why a run play later in the second series particularly alarmed me. First, look at what the play should have been: an basic inside zone run. Knowing that the H-back to Cutler's right is going to block the edge defender, Jermon Bushrod finds the next defender in and squares up to block him. LG Matt Slauson, however, makes his blocking read as if the H-back wasn't going to be there.
As you saw, this caused problems:
Bushrod has to shove Slauson in the right direction before either of the two offensive linesman are able to set their correct blocks. This confusion creates enough of a traffic jam at what was supposed to be the point of attack that the play never had a chance. With unblocked and half-blocked Panthers all steamrolling in to the point of attack, Forte was held for a small loss.
Look to the linebackers if you want to know where the ball is headed, but you'll want to keep your focus on the offensive line first. If the blocking never develops, you might not have to move your eyes out of the Bears backfield. Still, mental errors like this one and the Cutler INT are going to happen in a new offense. If the mistakes continue at a pace like this, I would be more than a little worried, but we can only hope that Thursday's game will look a little more polished.
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