The Chicago Bears Week 2 loss to the Buccaneers was not pleasant to watch for any Bears fan. For me, what upset me the most was watching Jordan Howard repeatedly run for minimal gain as my secure conviction in the running game as a strength of the Bears’ offense incrementally crumbled around me.
I’m taking this opportunity to look more closely at what went wrong in the Bears running game that averaged 1.3 yards per attempt on 16 carries for 20 yards. I chose this topic based on my therapist’s recommendation to face my greatest fears for something called “immersion therapy.” It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a known Mike Glennon apologist who doesn’t want to discuss MG8’s performance.
So I pulled out the coaches film, sat down on my couch’s thin film of food residue, and watched every run in the first half. I focused on the first half because I’m most interested in how the running game went when the game remained at least hypothetically competitive—and because I could only tolerate so much repeated exposure to the Bears inert running game. The stat line in the first half is impressively even worse than overall game, dropping to an average of 1.14 yards per attempt on 14 carries.
We should give some credit to a great showing by the Buccaneers defense—and perhaps some retribution from Gerald McCoy after I referred to him as a poor-man’s Akiem Hicks—but much of the responsibility falls squarely on the Bears’ round and furry shoulders.
Specifically: the offensive line blocked poorly; there were clear miscommunication with players playing out of position; the Buccaneers took advantage of the predictability of the Bears’ running game; the lack of passing threat led to a high amount of plays with 8 defensive players engaged in the run game (a long way of saying 8 man boxes because they weren’t technically always in the box); and finally, there was a shortage of broken tackles or exceptional running back play to make up for these issues.
Starting with the first running play of the game, in a play that looked to be intended as an outside zone, Tom Compton moved in the opposite direction of the rest of the line, leaving McCoy functionally unblocked to tackle Howard for a three yard loss.
Below you see Compton lined up between Whitehair and Leno just before the snap: so far so good.
Now you see Compton and McCoy mid-field as the rest of the line is zone-blocking to the left. This is a quick moment before McCoy departs from Compton’s company to scoop up an easy tackle for loss.
In a perfectly-executed run blocking scheme, all of the offensive lineman move in the same direction moving the defenders they block with them. Ideally, they also move at about the same pace, creating a row of gaps the runner can chose between. Many times last Sunday, the defenders moved at different paces and crowded together, leaving only one option for the back which was to cut into a gap that led straight towards an unblocked linebacker.
Howard’s reads often looked a lot like this:
In theory, at this point Jo Ho could have tried his luck with the lineman currently beating Bobby Massie on the right: he’d risk a tackle for loss but if he beat him one-on-one it might lead to a big gain. Howard did what most would do and ran through the only gap (between Massie and Sitton) to get met immediately by Kwon Alexander in the middle of the screen—you’ll have to trust me that despite the fact that Whitehair is kind of in front of him in this still, Kwon was essentially unblocked in this play.
In a pleasant side note, what tight ends Adam Shaheen and Dion Sims are doing below looks a lot more like proper zone blocking than what the line was able to muster up. Kudos, boys!
Here’s a full list of the runs, the outcomes, and who I would like to blame. I’m not surprised that Tom Compton shows up here a few times, as he’s a back-up tackle taking on a position he lacks experience in. I am surprised and concerned to see Cody Whitehair making mistakes, missing a couple blocks and having some unnecessary double teams with Compton that were probably avoidable.
The plays I finger-pointed towards Dowell Loggains were immediately snuffed out by defenders who seemed to recognize the play and get to the right place to stop it. The first example was on the third consecutive inside zone run, Lavonte David crept forward pre-snap to the outside of Dion Sims and ran around him straight into Howard for a 3 yard loss. The next two examples are both on outside pitches to Tarik Cohen, one of which was thwarted by an exceptional play by TJ Ward but other was sloppily put to rest by some Buccaneer scrub whose name I don’t recall but is on the chart.
Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen were not the problem in the running game on Sunday, but they didn’t rise to the opportunity to overcome the problems either. Some of this is probably a little random—in particular the broken/missed tackles, since Cohen caused multiple missed tackles in the receiving game on Sunday but zero in the running game. I’m not ready to place blame on either of these two infallible Bears (although seriously, next time don’t touch that punt Coh Coh). This was just not a day for them to shine.
Sunday was not a good day for the Chicago Bears. I hope that Kyle Long’s return will cause a reverse-domino effect setting things right with the offensive line, and Cody Whitehair can settle into center and start building on his terrific 2016 season. If the line continues to play like it did Sunday, we may be in for a longer season than any of us imagine.