Defense: Force Matt Forte To Block and Double Cover Brandon Marshall
The starting point against the Bears offense has to be limiting the damage all-purpose running back Matt Forte can cause. In particular, the Redskins have to be wary of his threat as a receiver out of the backfield.
One of the best ways to do that is to target him in pass protection. Coordinator Jim Haslett can design blitzes to force Forte to stay in to block rather than releasing on a pass pattern.
The Detroit Lions used a similar tactic in their Week 4 40-32 victory.
On this play, the Lions crept their linebackers up to the line of scrimmage to force Forte to join the protection scheme.
The plan was to run a basic zone pressure with an overload blitz on one side, involving middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch. On the other side, weak-side 'backer DeAndre Levy and defensive end Jason Jones would drop out into short zone coverage.
Forte got caught up in the crowd. He tried to chip on the defensive tackle rather than meeting Tulloch in the hole. The middle linebacker came through clean to sack quarterback Jay Cutler.
Blitzing at Forte will reduce the number of times he can release as a receiver. That will be important because the Redskins will need to dedicate most of their coverage to wideout Brandon Marshall.
Often a controversial figure, Marshall is still as talented as any receiver in football. He is Cutler's favorite target, and Washington's defense must nullify him and force Cutler to beat them another way.
That means combining pressure with a commitment to double coverage on Marshall.
Another play from the Lions game shows how this plan can work in practice.
Here the Lions stacked the line of scrimmage with all three of their linebackers. That would force Forte to again have to stay in and block.
Detroit blitzed all three 'backers, filling every gap along the Bears' O-line. That meant Forte had to come across to block the defensive end and could not release as a pass-catcher.
The Lions showed a single-high safety look behind this blitz. But they still ensured they would double Marshall.
Glover Quin was the deep safety, and while the cornerback played press underneath, he rotated toward Marshall, staying over the top of his vertical route.
As he often does when under pressure, Cutler looked for Marshall as his outlet. But his hurried pass was overthrown into double coverage and Quin intercepted it.
This is just one variation of combining pressure to target Forte in protection and using double coverage on Marshall. In Week 5, the New Orleans Saints showed another variation.
They would bring two safeties, Malcolm Jenkins and rookie Kenny Vaccaro, off the same slot, right at Forte. Marshall was the slot receiver, but the Saints still had a plan to double cover him behind this overload pressure.
With both defensive backs coming free off the edge, Forte had a tough choice to make about which one to block.
A moment of hesitation from Forte allowed Vaccaro to break through and sack Cutler.
The Bears quarterback had to hold the ball because of the way Marshall was doubled behind the blitz. The Saints used a linebacker underneath and a deep safety over the top to bracket the prolific flanker.
These are the kind of pressure designs the Redskins can use to take Chicago's two premier offensive weapons out of the game.
In particular, Washington cannot let Marshall take over. Forcing Cutler to consistently look away from his favorite receiver will force mistakes that a patient offense can capitalize on.
Force Chicago Into Eight-Man Fronts, but Be Wary of A-Gap Pressure
The Bears may have switched defensive coordinators from Rod Marinelli to Mel Tucker, but they have still not entirely ditched their two-deep safeties scheme.
Tucker has retained a lot of the framework of the Tampa 2 system and still shows plenty of Cover 2 looks. The Redskins can manipulate this by running on undermanned fronts.
This will force the Bears to commit safeties to the box to create eight-man fronts. That is when the Redskins can attack with their play-action passing game.
In Week 6, the New York Giants had a lot of success running at two-deep safety looks, featuring only seven defenders in the box.
On one play, Brandon Jacobs ran against the base 4-3 defense. Chicago only had seven in the box.
NFL Network commentator Mike Mayock described this as a "soft box," and Jacobs rambled his way for 15 yards.
The two safeties did not even approach Jacobs until he had gained half of those 15 yards.
Later in the game, the Giants used Da'Rel Scott on a delayed draw from a shotgun formation. He ran against the Bears' nickle front, again featuring only seven men in the box.
Scott went over the right side and gained 13 yards. He was not contacted until the end of the run.
Washington's ground game has struggled to get on track so far this season, but head coach Mike Shanahan's zone scheme can still defeat the "soft box."
Their biggest offensive play against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6 was a prime example. The Redskins used a balanced line, featuring two tight ends, against the Cowboys' seven-man front.
The presence of the tight ends made it easier to get offensive linemen on the linebackers, a key part of Shanahan's system.
Left tackle Trent Williams (71), was able to move up and block a linebacker while tight end Fred Davis stayed in to block the defensive end.
In the middle, center Will Montgomery (63), moved up to block middle 'backer Sean Lee. On the right, tight end Logan Paulsen (82), double-teamed on the end before moving up to secure the third linebacker.
Those blocks split the defense and created a natural cutback lane for Alfred Morris to attack.
With Montgomery occupying Lee in the middle, Morris was able to turn upfield and complete a 45-yard scoring run.
These kind of runs force defenses to bring safeties down into the box. The Redskins are one of the league's best at using play action to manipulate eight-man fronts.
On this play, Cowboys safety Barry Church has crept down into the box to give Dallas an eight-man front.
The Redskins would attack with a run fake to free two short post routes by their receivers behind the linebackers and in front of the single deep safety.
Griffin faked the handoff to Morris, which drew the attention of Church, Carter and Lee.
Griffin then rolled out before firing a pass to Leonard Hankerson, just over the head of Lee, who was too late to cover the middle zone.
The play gained 19 yards and is the type of play-action concept that can catch the Bears and rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic out of position.
Using the run to set up play action is a basic formula, but Washington must rely on it to stay in manageable down-and-distance situations.
If they don't, they will be forced to face Chicago's dangerous package of A-gap pressures. Tucker is using the A-gap blitz to wreck blocking schemes and harass quarterbacks into mistakes.
The scheme proved very effective against the Giants. In one example, the Bears put both linebackers, Lance Briggs and James Anderson, on either side of the center, ready to run a cross blitz.
Briggs went first, with Anderson looping around him. Running back Scott went for Briggs and failed to pick up Anderson's blitz.
Anderson came free and pressured Eli Manning.
The Giants quarterback just avoided Anderson but ran straight into Briggs. He notched the sack for a seven-yard loss.
Given their issues facing middle pressure, the Redskins must avoid putting themselves in long-yardage situations where the Bears can unleash their A-gap blitzes.
When they do face it, Washington should counter with maximum protection looks. Any A-gap pressure quickly forces a running back into blocking duty. So Washington will also need Roy Helu Jr. and Morris to fare better in this area than they did against Dallas.
The formula for beating the Bears is clear on both sides of the ball. Firing zone pressure to target Forte in front of double coverage on Marshall will force Cutler into mistakes.
Offensively, the Redskins have to trust their ability to run the ball and manipulate fronts with play action.
Of course, all those efforts could be rendered moot if the special teams suffers another inept display. Corralling Bears return ace Devin Hester won't be easy for beleaguered coordinator Keith Burns and his porous unit.
The Redskins will probably opt to kick away from Hester when punting, although that can carry some risks. Shorter kicks might help on kickoffs.
The Redskins don't want to give Hester the opportunity to see the field or for the blocking in front of him to get set.
Overall, it will be about containing Hester and avoiding surrendering the kind of big returns that doomed Washington against the Cowboys.
If the Redskins can limit Chicago's big-play potential in all three phases, they will earn their second win of the season.
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