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The Trial of John Fox: Part 3 - The Zapruder Films

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In this 3-part series, I explore how John Fox has stunted the growth of his quarterback, his offense, and his team. Part three shows us just how much the play-calling has changed with Trubisky under center.

Carolina Panthers v Chicago Bears
The Mastermind?
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As I continue my witch hunt through this third, and final piece, we look at the visual evidence. The play-calling has inexplicably changed since Mitchell Trubisky has become the Bears starting quarterback. One would think that with worse offensive skill-position players, that the coaches would do more to help the quarterback, not less.

As if it’s not bad enough that this offense is as predictable as it can possibly get right now, it appears as though the plays themselves are different. We roasted Glennon for missing open receivers. Sure, Trubisky has missed a few open receivers -- mainly in an attempt to be cautious with the ball, at the behest of his coach — but more times than not, there simply are no receivers open. Why is this? The plays that Dowell Loggains was calling for Glennon earlier in the season — which had the ability to get players open by the combination of routes being run — have suddenly fallen off of the play sheet.

(I am going to apologize for this now. The Soldier Field all-22 film is terrible. The shallow angle makes watching route concepts difficult)

This is actually a sight-adjustment on a zone running play to the right (strong-side of the formation). John Sitton gets beat immediately and Glennon makes a nice play here. The sight-adjustment was for Kevin White (the weak-side flanker) to run a slant. This is — or should be — a staple of every NFL offense. It keeps you out of a negative play and is an easy throw for the quarterback.

Here is a simple drag-route by Dion Sims over the middle off of play-action to Jordan Howard. By having Sims use the middle linebacker as a natural pick, he comes free easily with the Falcons in man-coverage. Glennon is a split-second late in getting this ball out, but it still picks up the first down.

Again we see man-coverage, this time against the Buccaneers. Deonte Thompson and Kendall Wright are on the right-side of the formation (top of the screen) with Joshua Bellamy on the left (bottom). Thompson and Wright are clearing out the middle for Bellamy on this play. Wright stems (or gets pushed, it is hard to tell) to the inside, which brings the safety to the middle of the field. Bellamy runs a post underneath the clear-out routes and gives Glennon a nice target over the middle.

This is a perfect call against zone coverage. Watch the Bucs defense, they show man, but the the safeties rotate back into cover-2 and the middle linebacker drops. The 4 underneath defenders fan-out into a “quarters” look. The key here is Zach Miller and Wright stacking at the line of scrimmage. Wright runs a simple drag underneath for an easy pitch-and-catch.

This actually appear to be the almost same play as the previous one, but in reverse. It looks like Thompson was supposed to get Miller open here, though Glennon chose the quicker, easier throw. For a guy who loved to check the ball down to his backs, Benny Cunningham looks to have a really nice gain here too. Point being, there are 3 very open receivers on this play.

Here is that same route concept again. Clear out the defenders on one side, and let the shallow cross (drag) come open underneath it. I can’t tell if Wright is supposed to sit down and just made a move to get open with his quarterback being in trouble, or if the route was designed to have that stutter in it. Either way, the stack-drag concept works and was utilized effectively early in the season, when Glennon was running the offense.

Forget the results of this play, the key here is to watch the routes. This is a soft-zone coverage — which probably isn’t the best defense to show these routes against — and the 3 underneath receivers are all open here. Actually, the only receiver that wasn’t open is Joshua Bellamy, which is where the ball goes. Again, open receivers by the play’s design.

This is one of my favorite plays that Loggains runs (which is why I slowed it down). Trips-right (3 receivers to one side) and White runs what is essentially a wide receiver (“tunnel” or towards the quarterback) screen. The Falcons are in zone, but this play works against man-coverage as well. It is a simple throw for the quarterback, and had this throw been made on-time, this would have been a huge play.

Nobody was as hard on Glennon as I was at the beginning of the season. The issue that I had was mainly decision making. There are dozens of other examples of similar route concepts that showed just how to get your receivers open, even when you don’t have great — or good for that matter — receivers. There are ways you can “scheme your receivers open” but those plays seem to have disappeared.

Those plays outline exactly what the Bears should be doing currently, but they aren’t. So what are they doing, and how does that affect Mitchell Trubisky?

Here we have “11” personnel, with Zach Miller in the slot, in a 2x2 alignment (2 receivers to each side of the formation). Both slot receivers run 12-yard curl routes, while the flankers run them at about 17-yards, or just past the firs-down marker. Because this is a 3rd-and-long situation, the pass rush gets to Trubisky before these routes — which create no separation — have a chance to develop. This forces him to break the pocket and run.

This play was really only designed to get Zach Miller open. It is a roll-out to Trubisky’s right, but because of the traffic at the line of scrimmage, the only receiving option wasn’t open when the ball needed to be out, forcing a scramble by the quarterback. Why is there only 1 receiver available on this play? The rest of the receivers are moving away from the quarterback on a designed roll-out. Poorly designed.

This is basically an all-verts (vertical route) play design. An odd choice from your own 5-yard line, but what do I know? The thing that gets me here is that this was a zone coverage from the get-go. Why is there no ability to audible or change a route? Howard is open on the check-down, but the internal “play-clock” in Trubisky’s mind doesn’t allow for him to wait that long. He basically has to throw this ball away.

Here is another roll-out to the right. This time the Bears run a hi-lo (out-breaking routes at differing depths) concept to the same side as the roll-out. I don’t necessarily have an issue with the play design as much as this is a play that the Bears run frequently. Watch how quickly the defense is sprinting to that side of the field, virtually eliminating any chance of success.

I don’t really understand what this play was trying to accomplish. For me it appears that they are trying to free Tarik Cohen on the play, but the safety cuts off his route. This is the same play that Howard has dropped the ball twice this year. What should have happened, in my opinion, is Zach Miller (blocking/picking for Cohen) should have been the target (of the play design, not decision), not Cohen. Hindsight is 20-20 but don’t those 10 extra inches in height make a different inside your opponent’s 5-yard line?

This is the perfect defense against this play but Cohen’s route is poor here. I am not sure if he made the mistake or if it was designed for him to “wheel” up the sideline. It looks like he should have been more patient and allowed the two outside receivers to “clear-out” for his out-route. Then again, the middle “trips” receiver runs a curl, so that doesn’t appear to be a “clear-out” route. That would have made sense, but either way, this is not a great play design and does little to get your receivers free of their defender.

Here is another play where I struggle to find what the objective was. At the bottom, Tanner Gentry basically does nothing. Kendall Wright (slot) runs a corner route, with McBride III (right flanker) running an in-cut underneath him. Not a bad concept but it’s an odd call at your opponent’s 8-yard line. The intended target (Adam Shaheen) gets badly held here (no call), so it is difficult to know what his job was here, but my guess was that it wasn’t anything earth-shattering.

Another unintended by-product of these poor route designs, predictability, and poor protection, are sacks. Here we will go into how these ill-conceived plays have added to sack totals since Trubisky has taken over.

Here is another long-developing play on a 3rd-and-long. The Saints bring pressure and drop Trubisky quickly on this play. Not much the quarterback can do when put in tough situations like this...time, and time again.

More of the same...

I just don’t understand what is trying to be accomplished here. 3 short curls and 2 go-routes. What is the point here? Now the outcome is what it is because Charles Leno Jr. gets beat, but even if he doesn’t, who is open? What was the play-design here? Truly baffling to me.

This is a good concept, but he has the wrong slot receiver running the out. Had this been the innermost of the two — to the quarterback side — this is probably an easy pitch-and-catch. However, this concept is easily defended without the “clutter” provided by an actual pick by the flanker and outermost slot receiver.

Here is a max-protection play, with only 2 receivers out on a route. Carolina is in nickel and drops a linebacker into coverage, leaving 6 defenders in the secondary. This is a true coverage sack. The 2 receivers can’t get open with 6 defenders, but the Bears should be able to protect with 8 blockers. This is a piss-poor play all around, but why are you running max-protection schemes with these receivers? Short, quick passes are needed, not bombs.

We touched on the fact that the Bears have abandoned the shotgun running game. Instead, they are running from heavy (2 or 3 tight ends and/or 1 or 2 tight end(s) and a fullback) formations, where the quarterback is under center. As you will see below, the formations tip off the defense. If that wasn’t bad enough, the plays are run out of a tight alignment — meaning that the players are close to the ball — which brings extra defenders into “the box.”

Here we see “12” personnel (1 tight end, 1 fullback, and Cohen in the backfield) and the left flanker (Gentry) is tight to the formation. The Bears run the ball over 65% of the time to left, keep this in mind as we move forward. The Ravens are in their base 3-4 defense, plus Sims (88) and Tanner Gentry (19) bring extra defenders into the box. I count 9 at the snap of the ball. Watch Terrell Suggs (55) blow past Dion Sims. He knows exactly where the ball is going before the snap. Sims is not a great blocker, but the lack of respect for the passing game, plus the tendency to run left — and to the strong side of the formation — make this an easy read for the veteran outside linebacker.

Here the Bears come out in a “31” alignment (3 tight ends, 1 running back). Hmmm....I wonder if they are going to run? The formation again brings extra defenders into the box, 9 again, as the strong safety (29) creeps up at the snap. It looks like Cody Whitehair was supposed to get off of his combo block on the nose tackle (97) and pass him off to Josh Sitton. Since he doesn’t do that, the middle linebacker (57) is free to make this play easily. Again, watch how quickly he reads and fills this hole.

This play is in “21” personnel (2 tight ends, 1 running back) but this time with Jordan Howard as the back. Tanner Gentry actually motions into the “backfield” before the snap, which is where you see him on this gif. Not only that, but watch the end of the play and you will see Tre McBride III (18) in the slot trying to crack-block the outside linebacker (54) who ends up making the play. Notice the formation and the direction. Once 54 sees Gentry try and block across the formation to the back side (cut-back), he knifes into the backfield, and brings down Howard just as he is getting the hand-off.

Another example of “31” personnel. The Bears run when in a 3-tight end formation nearly 90% of the time, in case you were wondering. To add insult to injury, Deonte Thompson (14) is lined up in the slot, tight to the formation. This, once again, brings unnecessary defenders into the box. Harrison Smith (22) makes it 9 in-the-box. This was well-blocked, except for Bobby Massie. The point here is that if the defenders know which way the ball is heading, and if it is a run or pass, their job is exponentially easier.

This is basically the same play again, except this is in “21” personnel, with double-slot receivers, and to the opposite side (right). Jordan Howard does a great job of reading his blocks — watch Kyle Long lose leverage immediately and get pushed into the backfield — and cutting back against the play’s design. When you invite extra defenders into the box and then ask wide receivers to block All-Pro safeties, this is what happens. There is 8 in the box, plus the cornerback on the play-side (26) who enters the screen late.

Another example of “12” personnel with Gentry motioning into the “backfield” on the weak-side of the formation. Sure, Gentry is an extra blocker, but he also brings a defender with him. So this is another example of trying to run against a 9-man box. Not easy to do in the NFL. Once again, Kyle Long fails to keep his assignment from getting immediate penetration, which strings this play out to the sideline for a 1-yard loss. But the middle linebacker (51) had this one bottled up either way.

Another play with “12” personnel, plus McBride in the slot, but really playing the role of a second tight end. There is 8 in the box plus the safety creeps in once Sims motions across the formation. Again a heavy formation, again to the left, again to the strong-side, again a negative play.

I threw a lot of statistics and numbers at you in part 2. I want to show you why those numbers are important. You need to be able to visualize the lack of respect that defenses have and the ease with which they can guess what the Bears are going to to. With a very high level of accuracy, you can guess the play based on down and distance, formation, and personnel. Sure, you can reasonably assume some things with any team, but the Bears are easily the most predictable offense in the NFL.

This boils down to coaching for me. No, Ryan Pace does not get a pass for the state of the receiving corps, but there are ways to utilize what you have. The Bears simply aren’t being creative in trying to free-up receivers. We have seen that it is possible, and not that complicated to do. The plays are already in the playbook, they just need to be used.

It is difficult to pinpoint the blame for this mess we call an offense. If we look at the evidence, and the track record however, it points to one man. John Fox.

In closing, I ask you to consider the evidence, then ask yourself who you think is to blame. If I was a member of this jury, I would convict the defendant without hesitation. The most important question facing this team as the 2017 season is simple: will the Bears also sentence John Fox’s coaching career to its (merciful) death?

For the sake of everyone’s sanity, the answer had better be yes.