As Bears fans can attest to, the Bears have almost certainly always been a grind-it-out, mow-your-defense-down, run-first team. Our old school style is as Midwestern as Vienna sausage, Faygo soda, cheese, and Old Style beer.
Even the Big Ten, with the recent exception of Michigan (but who cares about Michigan right now), refuses to switch out of the I-formations and wing-T’s of old.
In Soldier Field, we’ve even consistently passed to one of the biggest targets on the grass in Desmond Clark so he can run past linebackers while bulldozing over safeties and corners.
It sounds good in logic.
But, needless to say, the Bears offense hasn’t been eye candy by any means. Not since “Sweetness” have the Bears had a standout back to shoulder the Bears to glory. But now, we have high hopes for Matt Forte, who showed exceptional versatility out of the backfield.
Yet even Payton needed a quarterback. Jim McMahon was never a Joe Montana, Dan Marino or Johnny Unitas, but he did win the Bears’ a Lombardi trophy. He got the job done. But now, we have high hopes for Jay Cutler, who can do more than just throw a ball.
The addition of Cutler most certainly opens up the pass a bit more. However, another big impact to this year’s playbook may lie with the tight ends and the Gaines acquisition in particular.
Though there shouldn’t be any anticipation for drastic changes to the playbook, the new personnel on the field will allow for some success on a different side of the ball that Bears fans haven’t been used to.
Double Tight End Opportunities
Desmond Clark has become one of the top tight end targets in franchise history with 181 receptions since his acquisition in 2003. And that was with Kordell Stewart, Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton throwing passes. All the while, Greg Olsen is becoming one of the premier tight ends in the league with 965 receiving yards on 93 receptions in just two seasons.
But the Bears, intriguingly, brought in Michael Gaines— a superior blocker in comparison—to the experienced mix.
A two-tight end set with either combination allows a variety of benefits. First, having two tight ends on opposite sides in a single-back Ace Formation doesn’t allow the defense to recognize a strong side.
Though this puts pressure on the two receivers to create openings on the outside in pass plays, it forces the defenses linebackers and safeties to keep an eye on those tight ends, as they can either stay back and block or jump off the ball for a route.
On runs, you have a stacked line from end to end that, again, the defense cannot decipher which side is strong. Gaines will help with sealing up one of those sides. But as a relatively decent receiver, you don’t have to run to his side simply because he is in. Any given play can call for both to block, one to block, or both to run a route.
One of the biggest benefits ironically is what you could do switching out of the set. Maybe most importantly, the motion and audible possibilities for Cutler are practically endless.
Cutler can have either receiver motion to the other side and/or have a TE step out of the line into a slot position if a third receiver is necessary. Olsen, with his speed, fits the bill here.
He can also keep the TEs at the line and motion Forte out into the slot for a 3WR/2TE formation. Heck, in this scenario, Cutler can even step back himself into a shotgun.
Where Gaines or Clark can be useful out of an audible is when Cutler needs a TE to perhaps step back from the line and in front of (or offset from) Forte as a fullback; changing the formation to an I-formation. This can be helpful when the whole stadium knows you only need a yard or two but don’t want to assure the defense what everyone is thinking, thus creating doubt.
Hey, Turner could decide to go with a playaction to a fullback in the slot instead, right? Gaines might not be an superb receiver for a tight end but he is for a fullback.
“Playaction Is Money”
The first word collectively uttered out of Chicago once word broke out that Cutler was coming to Chicago was…
The key here is Forte’s success rather than Cutler’s arm. But that doesn’t mean Cutler’s arm isn’t part of the equation by any means of course. If a defense can plug the run with just four down linemen, Cutler’s arm will not matter in playaction passes.
Defenses have been filling the box with seven, eight defenders for a while now against the Bears. Hopefully, Forte’s success last year will force them to keep safeties cheating up. Even if the opposing defenses don’t stack the line, they still have to make sure someone is paying attention to Forte in the flats.
But, with seven or eight in the box, someone on the offensive line will usually have to pick up a blitz. Orlando Pace isn’t the Pace of old, but he’s seasoned enough to recognize a stunt more times than not, as are Garza and Kreutz.
The offensive line here is crucial just as well because when Troy Polamalu is expecting to hit Forte at what he assumes to be a running hole, he’ll read the play and have to switch his role to a blitz (once he realizes Cutler kept it) if he’s already committed to hitting the line of scrimmage.
This of course is just a random scenario, but it definitely is a possibility in the second week, as we all know Polamalu can blitz. Successfully.
The line must be successful in holding for that extra fourth second or Cutler may be obliterated and the playaction will not be a good idea. Luckily, another one of Cutler’s attributes are his legs.
But as one person commented in a past article of mine, “Play-action is going to be absolutely money…”
If that line can hold…
If that safety or that linebacker bites…
Playaction is money.
Now, Devin Hester can just run and Cutler can just bomb it. Again, it sounds good in logic…
Running The Ball
I firmly believe that Michael Gaines will have more of an impact than people expect. Right now, there is no question that Olsen and Clark are the heads at that position. But Gaines will give a lift in crucial short yardage situations.
As mentioned earlier, he can step back and lead Forte to the hole as Forte’s fullback if need be. But mainly, I don’t anticipate anything too fancy. Gaines can certainly seal the ends and linebackers on off-tackles and sweeps.
The Bears will run the football. No doubt about it.
Have Cutler make a few first downs in each first quarter and the holes for Forte, Wolfe, me, my grandma, will be there.
And when they are, the Bears will run the football. It’s as Midwestern as…
“First off, scheme wise, we're not changing our scheme. I believe fully in the scheme we are running. Each year when I say tweak, you try to improve some of the things you have done and that's what we'll do,” head coach Lovie Smith said in January.
Some reports have said that Lovie intends on “tweaking” the defense by taking over the play-calling. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Bob Babich will coach the linebackers while technically remaining as the coordinator.
“My involvement will be a lot more now in that situation,” Smith said. “I look at the situation as a situation develops and now for us, I think this is what will help us get back to where we need to be.”
Smith fully intends on sticking with the plan that took them to a Super Bowl. Much to the chagrin of the most elite of Bears fans, the Tampa-2 scheme is staying in Chicago.
Without blitzing too much, The Tampa-2 relies heavily on the defensive line to apply pressure, which is precisely where the Bears had problems last year. Tommie Harris rarely looked healthy nursing an injured knee. Adewale Ogunleye, Anthony Adams, and Dusty Dvoracek all suffered injuries as well. Tommie Harris led the team with only six sacks.
So, the biggest difference to the playbook this year is simply using all that’s available when all players are healthy. The addition of Rod Marinelli, who is familiar with the Tampa-2, should also help the linemen learn some more, and perhaps better, technique.
In this sense, if all is well with the players, so too is the Tampa-2.
The good thing about coming back from a not-so-successful year is the great amount of possible upside. Regardless of whether you felt the Bears addressed their holes or not, the Bears have indeed made changes that they feel will benefit the organization—changes that may have the Bears looking different.
Hopefully, these playbook adaptations, as part of that optimism, will pan out.