Up to this point, there has been a lot of material covered. First, we looked at the coaching hires themselves, and discussed the early impact they’ve had on organizational philosophies. Then, we reviewed all of the major moves made in terms of roster construction.
Now, we get to see just what to expect when the season begins in September. I anticipate a much more aggressive approach on both sides of the ball, and not just offense. Besides, it really can’t get any more conservative in comparison to what we witnessed with John Fox and offensive staff.
The New Gameplan
During the John Fox era, the overall plan on offense was to limit their possibilities of committing mistakes, by all means necessary. Even if the means resulted in laughably low attempts to open up the passing game.
Who will ever forget, or really forgive, any coaching staff that was content on giving their young QB seven total attempts to sling the football in a single game? They did win that game, only because a certain rookie made history of his own, returning a pair of turnovers 75+ yards for touchdowns. That strategy will likely stand as a historic red herring, and never be repeated again with favorable results.
Mercifully, those days are officially over. Matt Nagy vows to be far more aggressive, particularly on offense, as Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times recorded in this article.
“Overall, we’re going to be much more aggressive than we are conservative,” Nagy said. (Adam Jahns, Chicago Sun-Times)
You can learn more about Nagy’s tendencies and aggressiveness from this piece written by our very own Robert “Z-Rob” Zeglinski.
Something I feel people haven’t considered enough, is that the same aggressiveness suggested for offense, will carry over on defense.
I feel strongly about how a low octane offense has affected Vic Fangio’s creativity on defense. In truth, a high powered offense can in fact create more opportunities to make plays on defense. Opposing offenses will be pressured to keep up with the new Bears offense; therefore, a greater chance to take advantage of mistakes will likely arise.
One of the basic concepts that Vic likes to utilize, is isolating the protections in order to apply pressure on the QB. Here is a great video featuring Fangio breaking down some of his stunts.
He usually doesn’t send the whole house when he blitzes. Instead, as displayed in the video above, he likes to mask his looks by mugging or shifting his alignment with his linebackers before the ball is snapped. Leonard Floyd is the “Will” backer in their base 3-4 formation, with Aaron Lynch the likely player at “Sam.” Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith will be the “Jack” and “Mike,” respectively. Meanwhile, the defensive linemen are generally tasked with wrecking shop up front. Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman have proven themselves well in that regard.
We’ve also seen plenty of stunts and zone blitzes utilizing nickel and dime packages. A textbook stunt with the isolation concept in mind can be seen below.
The formation in that clip is their nickel package. Bryce Callahan comes in as the “Nickel,” with Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman as the two down linemen in a double 3 look, or sometimes known as a “G.” John Timu and Christian Jones are the “Mike” and “Jack” backers.
Their stunt starts off with Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd both mugging the line, and John Timu moving to stack the middle five yards off the ball. Once the ball is snapped, Hicks and Floyd merge together, while Goldman and McPhee board drill the strong side of the formation. Hicks then sets up to move outside, which makes the Guard guess who his assignment is. That frees Floyd up immediately, as Jerick McKinnon vacates the backfield on a flare. Sam Bradford doesn’t recognize the pressure until its too late. He got dropped for a considerable loss.
Until this off-season, Fangio never had a consistent pair of inside backers who could be moved around the box to set up a few of his looks. Trevathan was the one player he utilized to that effect. Otherwise, he didn’t have much else due to injuries/suspensions — Jerrell Freeman for instance — or because of a lack of depth. Now that he has Smith and Trevathan in his inventory, expect to see a lot more exotic looks like what we witnessed with the San Francisco 49ers. Oh, and he’ll have a new offense backing his defense up, allowing him to take more chances with his calls.
Speaking of the new offense, it is widely expected for the Bears to implement plenty of run-pass options into their take of the west coast offense. Mark Helfrich, a former student of Chip Kelly and current Bears offensive coordinator, comes from a college-based style of football that meshes with the latest crop of young players. Additionally, Matt Nagy has designed some of his own RPOs while with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Alex Smith is a fairly athletic quarterback that can make plays while on the move. Nagy certainly won’t be losing any of that athletic ability with Mitchell Trubisky under center. If anything, Trubisky could wind up being an upgrade in that regard. His accuracy and arm strength are both outstanding, as he’s proven in a short amount of time that he can make a ton of “big boy” throws. When you factor in every possible factor, Trubisky is as prototypical of a fit that you will ever find for this upcoming season’s offense.
One player who helped to set the Chiefs up in their RPOs, was running back Kareem Hunt. His brutality in the ground game forced defenders to respect the outside zone. Outside of all the buzz generated by Nagy’s passing concepts, comes a friendly reminder that Hunt led the league in rushing yards last season alone. Rest assure, the Bears will still depend on the ground game, and they have the right personnel to accomplish that.
Jordan Howard, another sledgehammer of a running back, fits that concept like a glove. In complete contrast to popular perception, Howard’s ability to plant his feet and head north is a major weapon that Nagy plans on taking advantage of in his scheme. His vision is his greatest strength, as we will discuss the transition to a zone-based blocking scheme later on.
Plus, he practices great ball security, which is always helpful when constructing effective game-plans around the quarterback.
Its no secret that Howard needs to improve as a receiver. Then again, Tarik Cohen will likely see more playing time than last season, and has already seen plenty of looks at various positions.
Tarik Cohen arguably is busier learning Matt Nagy’s offense than anybody except quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The second-year running back figures to literally be all over the field — running inside and outside, coming out of the backfield on pass plays, pass protecting and lining up as a wide receiver. Ideally, he’ll be a threat, a decoy and a dynamic weapon who helps keep opponents on their heels and allows the Bears’ offense to zig when the defense zags. (Mark Potash, Chicago Sun-Times)
In Matt Nagy’s take of the west coast, a variant of the systems Andy Reid and Doug Pederson have installed in their respective teams, he features a lot of different positions. Two of Nagy’s most identifiable positions are the “U” or “Utility” tight end, and the “Zebra” or slot receiver. The “U” is what many people refer to as the “Joker,” a tight end who can flex out as an additional target and dictate coverage in the passing game. The “Zebra,” on the other hand, is typically your home run specialist that stresses the defense over the top. If anything, Nagy likes to have his skill players learn all the positions on offense.
As far as the “U” is concerned, Trey Burton was added to the tight end position for that exact role. However, don’t expect to not see Adam Shaheen featured as a receiver in various personnel groupings as well. We’ll likely see the Bears’ usage of the tight end position resemble the Eagles’ more closely than the Chiefs’. And in Philadelphia, they featured three different tight ends, including Burton. It won’t be out of the question to see a ton of dual TE sets where both Burton and Shaheen are lined up on the field together.
Then, there are the receiver positions. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller all have excellent route running and separation skills. What makes them more dangerous, is all three of them have experience in playing from the slot, as well as outside.
Robinson projects as the prototypical “X” receiver, the guy who basically is dubbed the defense breaker. Kevin White, believe it or not, might see plenty of action as the “F” or “Flanker,” given his size and speed. Gabriel and Miller are the likely candidates to play at “Zebra.” Again, though, Cohen is in the mix at zebra. And Robinson’s size is a big advantage for the slot in red zone packages, as well as for attacking the seems.
A major staple in the west coast offense, is disciplined route running. Not for the sake of gaining separation, but for baiting defensive backs. “Jerk” routes, as Jon Gruden likes to say, are a route featured in the west coast. Rookie receiver Miller displays the explosive footwork necessary to pull off such a concept.
In all, the Bears’ offense is set up to be far more aggressive skill-wise. Let’s not forget about the O-line, though; I feel the resident O-Line gurus would gladly agree with that statement!
Traditionally, the west coast offense utilizes more zone blocking concepts than man-up fronts. You’ll see plenty of pulling from the interior during run schemes, and sliding or fanning during pass protection. Here’s an example of the Chiefs’ pass protection.
Instead of being assigned a specific defender, linemen and tight ends are assigned specific areas, or zones. They’re looking for first shirt in their designated responsibilities, which does require a bit of discipline and athleticism along the line, particularly the interior. The later is a reason why James Daniels was drafted out of Iowa, given his combination of size and quickness to pull towards his assignments. Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair are in relatively good shape for this transition as well.
This is an example of another classic play ran within west coast concepts, the counter.
There is a question regarding how tackles Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie will hold up, as they shift back towards an outside-in philosophy with blocking assignments. It makes the hiring of Harry Hiestand all the more critical, as he’ll help refine the techniques for the big nasties. Overall, I feel the Bears should be okay with their O-Line moving forward.
In summary, we should expect a ton of new concepts featured on both offense and defense. It is almost impossible to predict what exactly will transpire following this astonishingly active off-season. But, if there is anything I’m willing to bet on, it is that we will see a far more dangerous team this year.