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Bears Playbook - Shea McClellin's Bad Day

After some time off due to injury, everyone's favorite first-round draft pick was back on the field last Sunday. The results weren't good.

Jonathan Daniel

I've been a staunch Shea McClellin supporter from the day he was drafted, but after his clunker of a game last week, I'm not sure what to think anymore.  Is he simply not an NFL-caliber player, is he the victim of bad coaching or poor scheme, is he in need of more seasoning at linebacker, or it is some variety of "all of the above"?

On this first play, I think the answer is as much "needs more practice" as "can't play linebacker." The Bears actually have the right defensive call in to stop this one, as the Cover Two they ran should have been able to lock up the deep route, the underneath cross, and the seam TE.  Only one problem, however: Shea McClellin doesn't quite seem certain as to what his job is here.  He puts a hand on the tight end and the snap as if to move him towards Derryl Sharpton's middle zone, but McClellin doesn't get enough push to alter the tight end's route.

From there, it appears that McClellin was working a bit of double duty: he reads the backfield to ensure he doesn't have to contain a run to his edge, and once he reads pass, he drops back into coverage.  A couple problems develop, however.  First of all, McClellin didn't slow the tight end enough to allow him the luxury of waiting to drop back, and secondly, Shea shows very bad footwork once he does get into his drop.  He turns his hips in, but when he sees the ball come out, he attempts to turn his hips out to make a play on the ball.  That second turn didn't work out so well for #50:

McClellin Falls Down, MIA @ CHI 2014

Shea eats dirt, and the Dolphins hit paydirt - ugh.  McClellin was trying to skate by on this one with athleticism alone, but better technique might have kept him in position to make a play.  The linebacker wastes an upfield step on his read of the backfield, and the race is lost when he attempts to backpedal after a tight end on a free release.  If he turns and runs, he might have gotten to break this pass up, but with no footing and no chance, this was an easy touchdown.

Still, you have to wonder what was happening with the safety coverage on this one - when you see two safeties covering one receiver and someone running free on the other side of the field, it looks like there was more than one blown coverage assignment on this play.  Still, I'm sure I'm not the only Bears fan who knew this one was going for a touchdown the second we all saw Shea blow a flat on his backpedal - hard to defend anything while face-down in Soldier Field turf.

This next play, the fourth and one try by Miami in the third quarter, was the most pivotal moment in the game.  The Bears offense had finally put points on the board, and it was up to the defense to give them a shot at tightening the score up even more.  There's plenty of blame to go around for the defensive failure here, but again, a good heap of it should get piled on our fearless #50.

It wouldn't take an NFL genius to guess that the Dolphins were going to run a read-option play on this one given the success they had so far running such plays, and sure enough, read-option it was.  The Dolphins added in an extra bit of misdirection by bringing the play back to the weak side of the formation, and that little bit of razzle-dazzle was all it took to break off a big one:

Read Option, MIA @ CHI 2014

Here, I would chalk this one up to equal parts "bad Shea," "bad coaching," and all around "bad defense."  On the left side of the defensive formation, Lamarr Houston gets drawn out of position by the Dolphins' right tackle, which also prevents D.J. Williams from scraping over the top or shooting the gap.  Meanwhile, McClellin either gets a bad read or sticks a little too soundly to his assignment.  Instead of attacking the ball, he eats up the block of the pulling tight end.  While this might have left Williams free to make the tackle, with Houston doing nothing other than getting in the way, the end result is that Ryan Tannehill hits the hole with nary a defender in sight.  McClellin and Houston both make a desperate grab at the QB's shoelaces, but this one was more than this Bears defense could handle.

It is time to bench McClellin?  The superior linebacker play we saw in the Atlanta game suggests yes, but I'm not sure that Christian Jones or Khaseem Greene would prove to be upgrades, especially against the schemes of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.  I suspect, however, that Sunday's game will be the prove-it game of McClellin's linebacking skills.  In a game where you know Belichick will be targeting the many weaknesses on this Bears defenses, if McClellin can come out and prove to be more than a liability, you have to think that there's hope this linebacker experiment is more than an attempt for Phil Emery to save face.  If McClellin continues to be in the middle of blown coverages and fronts, however, you have to think it's time to give someone else a chance to prove their worth.