Bears Must Address Defensive Backfield in the Offseason

For all those Bears fans who are cover-2 haters, Andrew Furman at the comments on the Giants use of it in their disastrous loss to Green Bay:

    “You get success vs weaker teams with these schemes, but when you play against the GOOD QBs, it does not work. Aaron Rodgers picked on the off coverage so often (slants, etc..) that he racked up 225 yds in one half.  (Terrell) Thomas and (Corey) Webster were playing on Pluto while (Greg) Jennings, (James) Jones and Rodgers were playing pitch and catch.  By the time the second half came and we began to see a little more press coverage, it was too little too late.”

    “To the untrained observer, the press coverage was equally unsuccessful.  That is a completely faulty conclusion.  Rodgers and his WRs were forced to make some terrific throws and catches.  They did, but at least they earned it.”

    Contempt for the cover-2 amongst offensive players weeks to be very common.  LaDainian Tomlinson‘s comment after the Jets game was typical (via Vaughn McClure at the Chicago Tribune):

    “‘I knew they were a tough defense,’ Tomlinson said, ‘but they’re predictable. We know the things that you can get against Cover-2 defenses no matter who’s out there. They’re a great defense, but we had a great game plan against this scheme.”’

    We hear this over and over again from opponents.  The cover two is fine.  It really is.  But it needs to be properly mixed with other defensive schemes to make it work.

    In particular the New England game and, to a lesser extent, the Jets game taught us that this is the case and, to their credit, though they still play too much of the zone, the Bears have tried to do mix it up.  But the problem is that they aren’t built for anything but the cover two and they don’t execute other schemes very well.  For instance, most of the time when the Bears play man-to-man the opposition’s worst wide receiver is better than the Bears worst defensive back.  That’s the simplest form of a mismatch.

    The comments above are yet another indication that the Bears are going to have to look toward improving their defensive backfield in the draft.  They are beyond the point where they can just attempt to load up on defensive linemen while ignoring everything else.

    Points of View, December 24, 2010


    “Some players felt that ‘‘Monday Night Football’’ analysts Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden were too tough on Cutler during the broadcast after they likely heard about it from friends and family.

    ‘‘’It doesn’t make sense,’’ veteran center Olin Kreutz said. ‘’In the booth, you’ve got two guys who are supposedly quarterback experts, and they’re going to try to criticize Jay. We don’t worry about those guys. Everybody hears the criticisms, but what can you do? It doesn’t make sense.’’’

    I admit that I’m only listening to the broadcast with half an ear most of the time.  But having said that, I’d suggest that if the players are really interested, they should watch it themselves before commenting.  They wouldn’t be doing their jobs if there wasn’t some criticism but I can say that both Jaworski and Gruden repeatedly gushed about Cutler’s ability and both talked about how much they loved him.  I din’t think the broadcast was particularly imbalanced.

    • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune asks a key question:  Is Corey Wootton the real deal?  I’m on record as doubting it.  But I hope I’m wrong.  The Bears have drafted heavily on the defensive line in recent years with little to show for it.  Henry Melton‘s been showing up every once in a while, as well.  They need good, consistent play from these draft picks and they need it sooner rather than later.  I can guarantee that this great health the Bears have enjoyed won’t last forever.
    • Biggs also has this from Dave Toub, Bears special teams coach, on the possibility of his assistant, Chris Tabor, getting a job as a special teams coordinator:

    “‘He is so ready,’ Toub said. ‘I’ve been in that role, same as him three years as an assistant when I was in Philly. This is his third year and I know how he feels. He’s needs to get his own spot. He has the system, he can motivate, he’s a great teacher. The guys respect him. It’s time.'”

    The same could be said of Toub.  If there was any justice, he’d be a head coach somewhere soon.

    “(Head coach Rex) Ryan says the Jets plan to kick away from Devin Hester. Lovie Smith said the Bears plan to kick away from Sal Alosi. Ba-bum-chuh.”


    “Far be it from us to sniff out a conspiracy on the part of Ryan and the Jets to divert the flood of attention on Ryan’s “personal matter” by putting an overly dramatic spin on Sanchez’ status, but …

    “From offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to the offensive players who were on the field in practice, they all thought Sanchez, who took most of the reps, looked fine.

    “‘Watching him throw, I thought he looked very good,’ Schottenheimer said.”

    “If this is only about some home movies, then it is a personal matter, absolutely, it’s Rex Ryan’s business and his wife’s business and nobody else’s and please leave me out of it. But that is only if you think the videos posted themselves.”

    • With a five game suspension hanging over him starting next year, scouts have begun commenting upon Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor as an NFL prospect.  Former NFL scout Dave Razzano gives his evaluation to Pete Thamel at the The New York Times: “I wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole.”

    I can only agree.  I was never impressed by Pryor and I always thought that it was presumptuous of him to choose Ohio State because he thought the offense would prepare him better for being a professional.  When you are already thinking about going to the NFL coming out of high school, I have to believe that winning football games is probably too far down your list of priorities and what I’ve read since has not made me think better of him.  Bottom line, I think he’s got a lot of growing up to do.

    • Gregg Rosenthal at comments on Omar Kelly‘s report that former 49er head coach and current Miami defensive coordinator Mike Nolan regrets not replacing 49er quarterback Alex Smith with current Lion Shaun Hill sooner:

    “’I always thought [Hill] was good,’ Nolan said via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.   ‘I would admit to making a mistake not making him a starter at the end. The last year I was there I should have [switched QBs] because he’s a baller.  . . . He checks it down. But he’s a guy the players trust will lead them to the end zone. That’s a huge factor.’

    “(Translation: Alex Smith is not one of those guys.  Or a baller.)”

    Current Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz was the 49er offensive coordinator at the time.

    • Mike Florio at comments upon the theory that the Redskins are starting former Bears Rex Grossman in an effort to tank the season and get a better draft pick.  I don’t doubt that the Redskins want to win and I don’t doubt that they want to see what Grossman can do.  But if a good quarterback fell into their laps in the draft at the same time, I’m sure it wouldn’t break their hearts.  One has to wonder if Grossman would be starting if the Redskins had 8 wins and still had a shot at the playoffs.
    • Despite getting a contract extension with $8.1 million guaranteed, former Bears quarterback Kyle Orton is less that thrilled about being benched for Tim Tebow (from Jeff Legwold at the Denver Post via  He’s likely to be traded.

    Despite proving repeatedly that he can perform in the league, Orton can’t seem to catch a break as team after team looks for reasons to replace him.  I’ll never quite understand it.

    • The Dolphins still run the Wildcat formation more than any other team.  But Chris McCosky at The Detroit News points out the key statistic illustrating why teams no longer fear it like they did:

    “Of the 55 plays the Dolphins have run out of the Wildcat, 52 have been runs. All three passes were incomplete. None of that, however, eases Cunningham’s worries or lessens the preparation this week.”

    “‘People make it more complicated than it is,’ said Lions middle linebacker DeAndre Levy. ‘All you do is take the quarterback out and it’s pretty much the same run plays. You just can’t get tripped up by all the window dressing.'”

    “‘Ricky Williams, I want him to know this, if he hits one of our defensive backs in the back on a crack-back block, I am coming on the field,’ Cunningham said. ‘He’s had a couple of knockouts, but they’ve not been legal.’

    “Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, when asked for a response, told the media in Miami Thursday, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about.'”

    Cunningham’s attitude is both a blessing and a curse in that I can actually see him doing that if provoked.

    • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thinks that Matt Flynn could carry on the Green Bay tradition of developing quarterbacks by becoming a valuable commodity for the Packers after his solid start against the Patriots.
    • Silverstein covers the league “by the numbers” with this telling statistic:  “24 Difference in the amount of sacks the Minnesota Vikings defense had in 2009 (48) and this year (24).”  The Viking defensive ends in particular just aren’t what they were last year though I really can’t tell why.
    • Brian Murphy at the Pioneer Press points out that the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson hasn’t had a fumble this year.
    • Bob Sansevere, also at the Pioneer Press, gets an interesting comment from Vikings linebacker Ben Leber on whether a player can try “extra hard” in an effort to get Leslie Frazier the head coaching job (the post is short and I didn’t want to quote the whole thing).
    • Vikings defensive coordinator Darrell Bevell didn’t exactly rule out the possibility that Brett Favre could start this weak in an interview with Sansevere:

    “BS: Are the chances remote that Favre will play?

    “DB: Last week was miraculous (when Favre started despite a sprained shoulder). I don’t even know how that happened. It was amazing. Concussions are different. There are all the protocols you have to pass, and I don’t think he has passed those yet.

    “BS: So right now, you’re planning on Joe Webb being your starter?

    “DB: Right now, yes.”

    One Final Thought

    More from Rosenbloom:

    “Cutler said he has seen a different side of Bears coach Lovie Smith this season:  ‘(He’s) more assertive. He knows what he’s doing, he’s leading us.’ He was coaching to keep his job, hel-lo. He finally held people accountable based on play, not pay, hel-lo. Amazing how productive a win-or-go threat can be, huh?”

    It’s Often the Little Things That Count the Most

    Harriet Beecher Stowe once said, “To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization.”

    Gary D’Amato at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel indirectly points to the difference between winners and losers in the NFL by writing a critique of the Packers loss to the Patriots:

    “One glance at the box score from the Green Bay Packers-New England Patriots game confirms the adage about statistics being meaningless.

    “Going strictly by the numbers, the Packers outplayed the Patriots.”

    “So how in the world did the Packers lose, 31-27, at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night?

    “The same way they lost their other five games this season: by failing to convert in critical short-yardage situations, by committing costly penalties and by making game-changing blunders on special teams.”

    You could really sum it up in two sentences:  The Patriots know how to win.  The Packers don’t (yet).

    Even as a Bears fan, I have to confess that I love the Packers and their aggressive style.  The team has guts.  But the Bears have been better this year because, like the Patriots, the Bears avoid many of these issues.  Admittedly they haven’t done well in short yardage.  But that aside, they don’t commit that many penalties, they don’t drop many balls, they usually win the turnover battle, and their special teams excel.  Ask the Vikings how important that last one is.

    There isn’t that much difference in talent between teams in the NFL.  The margin between winning and losing is often discipline and doing the little things.  Success in these small areas add up to victories on days when you don’t play well, sometimes against a better team.

    I’m not exactly ready to canonize anyone.  But in a week when the Bears clinched their division, it seems appropriate to give the Bears and their coaches, especially Lovie Smith, kudos for recognizing this and consistently getting the best out of their players in these areas.  Along with their amazingly good health, this success is the major reason they are headed to the playoffs this year.

    Revealing Patriots Victory Over Green Bay Helps the Bears

    Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

    “Hi Dan. Did you see Rodney Harrison‘s take on playing Tom Brady? He said the only way they got to Tom in practice was to play tight press coverage and make him throw it into tight spaces. If the Bears somehow make the Super Bowl and face the Pats, are they capable of this type of gameplan? I’m just looking for some hope after this backhand from reality. Vinny Diemelo, Chicago

    “I did see Rodney Harrison say that on Interesting take. And certainly, it would be worth trying. But I’d be dubious about the chances of it succeeding for a couple of reasons. The Bears don’t have the type of cornerbacks who match up well playing tight press coverage against the Patriots’ smaller, quicker receivers. And with the way Brady is playing now, I’m not sure any kind of defense would slow him down much. The only way to stop him is to put him on his back, and that’s not easy to do either.”

    I didn’t see Harrison say this but I’m not surprised.  I think the only way to prevent the Patriots from using their personnel groupings to generate unfavorable match ups is to play man-to-man.

    I also agree with Pompei that the Bears don’t have the defensive backs to do it.  But for those who watched or reviewed last night’s game, you will note that the Packers do have the type of players that match up will with the Patriots and they gave them a good, competitive game despite a plethora of injuries this year.

    Its good for the Bears that the Patriots won.  If they take care of business tonight, they can clinch the division.  But don’t make the mistake of believing that the Pats are a freight train headed toward a Super Bowl.  There’s still a lot of football to be played and the right kind of team can and maybe will beat them.

    Points of View, December 19, 2010


    • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reports that Charles Tillman returned to practice Friday.  Tillman had an awful game last week ad he needs to bounce back with a good performance against the Vikings.
    • Biggs also points out that the Bears have among the fewest drops in the league.  This is a very under-rated stat in my opinion.  After penalties and sacks, dropped balls do more to eliminate big plays and put teams in third and long than any other factor.
    • Vaughn McClure at the Tribune reports that Brett Favre has been ruled out for Monday nights’ game against the Vikings.  Joe Webb will officially start.  No surprise.
    • Former NFL safety Matt Bowen reviews some classic cover-two for the Tribune.  Its tough to play defensive back in this scheme, especially safety.  Here’s hoping the Bears do a better job of playing it than they have the last couple weeks when they’ve given up some big plays.


    • Aaron Rogers failed to receive medical clearance and will not be starting against the Patriots today.  That’s good news because Flynn is much less likely to beat them (the Bears clinch the division if the Packers lose and they win).  But more importantly it was undoubtedly the right thing to do for a player who sustained his second concussion of the season.  Here’s hoping Jay Cutler avoids a similar incident.
    • McClure also has this quote from Bryant McKinney on his poor performance against Julius Peppers last season:

    “Nobody talked about the injuries I had in that game,” McKinnie said. “I had an ankle injury and I had plantar fasciitis. I couldn’t plant with my left ankle. I didn’t make a big deal about it. I just went out there and played. You catch me healthy and it’s a different story.”

    I sympathize but no one is going to accept that as an excuse.  Few players remain totally healthy through out an NFL season.

    • Mike Kaszuba and Steve Brandt at the Minneapolis Star Tribune report that the Vikings are trying to make hay out of the collapse of the roof at the Metrodome.  They are trying to use it as evidence that a new stadium is in order.  But the political situation is complicated and with a six billion dollar state deficit looming, not everyone is buying in:

    “‘A lot of people want things,’ said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, an incoming assistant Senate majority leader. He said the Metrodome’s roof collapse ‘doesn’t elevate this to a crisis.'”

    I disagree.  Its fairly clear that there are real safety concerns when you have a building in Minnesota that can’t handle snow.

    The Vikings really should be playing Monday nights’ game in Los Angeles so they can get a feel for the place.  They may be seeing a lot of it in the near future.

    One Final Thought

    McClure also provided a somewhat humorous look at what its like to be shoveling at TCF Bank Stadium in Minnesota for the Tribune:

    “‘You work for the Chicago Tribune? Man, I’m from Chicago,’ says [fellow shoveler, Keith] Ward, 47, who is in between jobs and came to suburban Minneapolis four months ago to spend time with his daughter.

    “‘Hey, do me a favor? If Jay Cutler plays Monday, tell him that I said stop being so scared in the pocket and release it. … Get rid of it.’

    “Memo to self: Don’t tell Cutler anything, because you know how he’ll react.”

    Yes.  Indeed, based upon what we see on the field, one wonders if he sometimes doesn’t react the same way when offensive coordinator Mike Martz tries to tell him similar things.

    Bears Could Clinch the Division This Weekend But Don’t Count On It

    The Bears could clinch the NFC North this weekend with a win over the Vikings and a Packer loss.  Both of these things could easily happen.  But only if conditions are right.

    First let’s take a look at how the Bears are reacting to the way that the Patriots dominated them.  This is what tight end Greg Olsen is saying via Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times:

    “It still hurts. We took a lot of pride in playing well, and it was a big stage for us, and we didn’t take advantage of it at all.

    “‘But we have to move on. One loss could become two, and then you’re snowballing down the wrong path. We have to bounce back. We play the Vikings — a division game. Maybe a week from [today], we’ll be celebrating being NFC North champs. We’ll see.”

    Sounds good.  As long as they aren’t assuming they are going to beat the Vikings and they concentrate and give it full effort this week instead of letting the post-game hangover affect them.  There’s still a chance that they could play the Vikings in the Metrodome and the Bears have lost seven of their last eight there.  If they don’t, they could be playing outside at the University of Minnesota which, as Sean Jensen, also at the Sun-Times, points out, may not be much better.  It isn’t like the Bears looked fast on the snow Sunday.

    But I think the Bears can handle the Vikings.  What is more in doubt in my mind is the Packers-New England game.  Yes, I’m aware that the Patriots have won 26 in a row at home.  And I’m aware that Aaron Rogers might not play.  Without him, the Packers are almost certainly sunk.

    As I pointed out last week and as numerous people have pointed out since the game ended, the Patriots were practically built to beat the Bears.  They specialize in executing a patient, short passing game that works well against the cover two.  As Don Pompei at the Chicago Tribune pointed out yesterday, the Patriots forced the Bears to play a lot of man-to-man because they are so good at setting up mismatches with their personnel against zone defenses.

    So the Bears problem was that they don’t specialize in playing man-to-man.  The Packers do.  In contrast to the good match up that the Patriots had against the Bears, the matchup with the Packers defense is terrible.  They play tenacious man-to-man defense and they have the personnel to do it.  You could argue that even their backups are better at it than the Bears starters are, particularly in the snow.

    And, of course, there’s always the possibility that coming off of two tough wins, the Patriots could let down.  Things like that don’t happen to Bill Belichick‘s teams, you say?  All you have to do is remember that the Browns beat them 34-7 just last month.  No one is in top form all the time.  Though the best do manage to minimize it, it’s human nature to let down at least a little in these situations.

    I know it was garbage time and I know better than to make a big deal of it.  But I’ll say out right that the Patriots played a very sloppy second half against the Bears and if they play at all like that against the Packers with Rogers in the line up, home game or not they’ll lose.

    So even if the Bears react properly and come out on fire against the Vikings, the Packers aren’t going to just lay down and die.  The Patriots could have their hands full next week.