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Bears Playbook - Four Verticals, Zero Points

Football is a game of inches, as Martellus Bennett showed at the end of the first half against Green Bay. Let's take a look at this fateful play.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

All told, the offense could have had a much worse day last Sunday.  Matt Forte had his best game of the season, Jay Cutler made some amazing saves on bumbled snaps, and the team was firing on all cylinders in the first half. The Bears had the chance to keep the game close by striking one more time on the two-minute drill to close out the half, but questionable clock management and this final play of the half turned things south in a hurry.

The playcall itself is was a staple of the Trest Coast Offense's red zone playbook, a four verticals with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Josh Morgan serving as the three wide receivers on the play.  First, let's start by taking a look at the all-22 from the play to see those WR routes and the defensive alignment:


Like any play out of the spread formation, the defense has to, well, spread out and cover the entire area of the field, and we see the Packers secondary scattered across the end zone at the snap.  After spreading the defense out, a four verticals play will split any zone defender and create one or more favorable one-on-one matchups for the receivers. Add in the additional difficulty of simultaneously defending the fade, curl in, and square routes that any of the wideouts could run on the goal line, and you've got a recipe for a touchdown.

The Bears get exactly what they want on the outside of this one - the Packers are planning man across the board on the outside.  This was a perhaps a wise decision by the Packers, as they have to respect both Martellus Bennett off of the left edge of the formation and keep another eye on Matt Forte out of the backfield.  Double on the outside, and it's an easy touchdown up the middle.

To get a sense of why this playcall didn't work despite getting exactly the look the team wanted, let's take a look at the endzone angle and dig a bit deeper into the mechanics of the play:


While you might be quick to fault Jay Cutler for staring down his man, his eyes are exactly where they should be: on one of the inside defenders.  By staring down the defender, Cutler forces him to stay in place, which keeps the Green Bay defender from doubling up Brandon Marshall on the left of the formation or reacting to Martellus Bennett's curl to the inside.  This is textbook four vertical mechanics for the QB - stare down the slot defender, wait for your receiver to come open, and work to a secondary read if the slot-man doesn't get open.

The problems with the execution of this play are apparent from this angle, however.  Jordan Mills allows the one thing he absolutely needed to prevent from happening to happen, letting his man get inside of him.  Equally frustrating, Matt Forte doesn't see the missed block until its too late for him to help out his beleaguered right tackle.  With the pressure building, Cutler doesn't have time to work his progression and look for one of his many open receiving options on the edges: he pulls the trigger as soon as Bennett comes out of his break.

The other big issue is the way that Bennett runs his route: given the game situation, the tight end absolutely has to break his route a bit closer to the front edge of the end zone.  I give Ha Ha Clinton-Dix full credit for playing his zone perfectly, and he shows veteran savvy in keeping his toes on the end zone line and forcing Bennett to cut off his route a half-yard too soon.  With Cutler rushed and Bennett off his key, this play came up inches short.

Trestman and his team talked at length about resiliency in the first quarter of this season, and the Bears are going to need plenty of that grit to make it to the bye week with a winning record.  I'm not sure the Panthers, Falcons, or Patriots are quite the threat that we made them out to be in the preseason, but consider that everyone had the Bears beating a bad Bills team in the opener and many experts had the Bears carving up the Packers last Sunday. If the Bears can get back some of that Week 2 and 3 magic on defense and clean up the mistakes on offense, they can roll into the second half of the season with a winning record and a well-earned break.