Five Top Bear Plays of '08 and How to Tweak 'Em for '09
4-3: Tampa 2
The Chicago Bears run the majority of their defensive plays out of the Cover 2/Tampa 2 formation given their recent history of an alert defense secondary, which is a necessity whenever a franchise decides Cover 2 is their official weapon of choice.
The scheme the mighty Bears employee relies on the tenacity of not only the safeties, but also corners Nathan Vasher and (especially) Charles “Peanut” Tillman’s outstanding ability to create takeaways.
With certainty in the glory years of the mid-2000s, the Bears were typically forcing turnovers en route to Super Bowl XLI.
The Bears have always been a franchise dependent on their defense, and this current group is no different than tradition dictates; their success is riding on how vicious this year's players will react out of the Cover 2.
Chicago runs their Cover 2 out of a 4-3 due to the quickness of Bear legend Brian Urlacher, who covers a lot of ground in the backfield resulting in its success.
However, Urlacher has been showing signs of age in recent years.
Converting Lance Briggs from Sam (strong-side linebacker) to Mike (middle) is not an option because he’s so valuable outside. Free-agency and the draft are the only ways we will find a future Mike linebacker for Chi-town.
Flawless tackling and a strong sense of staying home to protect your gap are the ways to run an ideal Cover 2. In 2006, when the Bears were tops in the NFC, week after week (with notable exceptions) they executed with discipline the superior turnover ratio a sufficient Cover 2 requires.
In this zone formation, the middle linebacker is more times than not dropped back into coverage since he has such a liberal amount of field to patrol. Urlacher is one of the best linebackers to defend the pass in NFL history; his inevitable decline will necessitate a replacement that’s comfortable in the secondary.
Offset I, two tight end set: Pass
The Bears had one wide receiver with more than 50 catches in 2008 (Devin Hester had 51). Needless to say they lacked a No.1 and No. 2 threat at wide out like Al Bundy lacked money.
Outside the developing Hester, a mediocre cast of wide-outs clogged the depth chart leaving coordinator Ron Turner with an obvious alternative: Get the most out of pro bowler quality tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen.
Finding Clark and especially Olsen down the field was something Kyle Orton was simply a beast at doing all season. Jay Cutler will be able to buy a lot more time than Orton did with his legs and has the luxury to check-down to not only Olsen and Clark, but FB Jason McKie as well.
McKie’s stellar hands were so valuable in 2008—his late season quad injury all but crushed the Bears playoff hopes. Having McKie available as a fourth or fifth option for Culter should keep the Bears coming out in passing situations in the I, as opposed to the no fullback Ace.
Olsen, a 2007 first round pick, fits this formation like a cold beer in the hands of Archie Bunker. His speed, height, and dominant hand-eye-coordination mark the ideal mold of a receiving-first tight end, something the two tight end set thrives on.
Although Clark is a skilled receiver, he will ease into a role as more of a blocking tight end in 2009, allowing Olsen to blossom out of the double tight end set. Expect Olsen to be lined up in the slot again as Chicago continues to struggle for production out of its wide receiving corp.
Matt Forte’s success has opened up the passing attack out of this formation. Cutler will be able to bootleg out of the offset I just in time to hit a sprinting receiver in stride (pending the protection of an aging offense line).
Single set: Draw
The Bears were prone to throwing the ball on first down in 2008. It was a somewhat feeble attempt to boost Orton’s confidence and perhaps catch defenses napping, but it seldom had the success Turner envisioned.
A ubiquitous Orton-incompletion usually kept the Bears as conservative as Fox News on second down. This meant giving the ball to Forte and praying his motor that never stops would lead to a third-and-short, first down or even six points.
Out of this Ace formation, the Bears need to consider using more zone blocking schemes for two reasons:
1. Keep the Bears shaky O-line disciplined by outsmarting more physical defensive lines.
2. Cutler is coming from the zone blocking Mecca of Denver and this will be familiar terrain for him to operate from.
Something needs to change up front in the Bears' offense. Forte is too gifted of a physical runner to be constantly gang tackled because his blockers are being overpowered.
In 2008, a Forte run up the middle meant positive yardage, but when defenses rapidly adapt, experimenting with zone blocking could keep a simple downhill run as dangerous as ever for the Bears O.
Any Formation: RB Screen
The Bears found out in 2008 that getting the ball into Forte’s hands was a safe and effective way to dink-and-dunk their way down the field. Swinging the ball to Forte in the flat and letting him rumble was one of the major reasons Chicago was able to finish above .500.
This play is most successful when ran to the strong side utilizing Greg Olsen or Desmond Clark as the lead blocker. Cutler will have to do a good job faking a deep pass before hitting Forte in the flat in order to get the most out of this play.
Another safe weapon the Bears can benefit from every other series or so will be finding Hester on a bubble screen. Getting Hester the ball leaves the possibility open of a big play every single time, and there’s no simpler way to get him the ball...save for a direct snap.
Of course with Cutler in town, simply playing things safe is now officially going against the status quo, but with the type of receivers available...screens are still a viable option on Sunday.
Ace: WR Post
One thing Devin Hester brings to the Chicago Bears, no matter where he’s at, is speed.
His burners are second to none in the NFL.
That’s why getting him as many touches as possible is as obvious as keeping Dennis Miller away from Monday Night Football.
The Bears understand developing the hands of those with impeccable speed is a winning formula, because you can’t teach it. This is after all the same organization that brought you legendary speedster/wide receiver Willie Gault.
With Hester on the field, he instantly becomes the main focus of the opposing secondary creating a favorable situation for Orton and now Cutler. Cutler will have the option of decoying Hester and finding Rashied Davis, Earl Bennett, etc.
Last season it was such an effective play because of the Windy City Flyer’s ability to draw costly pass interference on the defense, resulting in major changes in field position.
Or in a best case scenario, this play results in Hester completely beating the coverage and finding himself 30-yards downfield with a head full of steam ready for the ball.
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