Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How To Score on The Bear Defense.

I like to think of some football concepts in baseball terms. First downs are analogous to getting on base (or if you prefer, not making an out). Picking up first downs gives your offense extra chances to score, and in general, the more first downs you pick up, the better your offense will be.

There is another way to generate offense in the NFL. This is the “big play” which I see as analogous to slugging. Even if you create a lot of outs in baseball, you can still be (somewhat) valuable if you hit a lot of HRs, essentially capitalizing on the chances you do have.

The Bears “Cover-2” scheme has a reputation for taking away the deep ball, but I believe as the Bears play it this is a misnomer. The Bears cover-2 scheme excels at stopping drives. The way to attack the Bears is with slugging, not with OBP.
The key to understanding the Bears cover-2 is to understand Brian Urlacher’s responsibilities. He is charged with taking away the middle of the field on passing plays, which allows the safeties behind him to get deep drops and take away most deep balls from most teams. I would also be remiss if I did not mention that Lance Briggs is one of the best LBs in the league as well, especially in pass coverage on TEs. Against conventional offenses and with proper personnel (which the Bears do possess) this defense is truly difficult to do anything against. Throw Julius Peppers into the mix as both a pass-rusher and a run-stopper and it’s easy to see why the Bears have excelled this season.

While the presence of Urlacher makes the deep ball hard to throw for most teams the Packers are not most teams. In the last game of the regular season, the Packers scored all 10 of their points off of bombs to Greg Jennings on the outside (he was tackled at the 1-yard line both times). The Jets receivers also had success with big gains, as did the Bills’ Stevie Johnson. Look for the Packers to try and get the ball deep using two formations in particular.

1. Play-Action

Perhaps the Packers biggest upgrade going into this game is the perception of James Starks. Starks hasn’t actually played that well overall (though he was a major factor against the Eagles) but he’s played well enough to warrant some attention. Moreover, the one thing the Bears defense does struggle with is power running. Brian Urlacher is great in side-to-side pursuit, but can be blown up in one-on-one matchups with fullbacks and TEs. Former Detroit Lion fullback Corey Schlesinger seemed to delight in bowling over the fast but undersized middle linebacker.

If the Packers can get off a few successful runs early (even if it is only 4-5 yards) they will be able to draw Urlacher up from the deep middle and attack the area behind him. Even if play action isn’t working the Packers have one more option.

2. The 4/5 WR set.

Teams simply do not score a lot on the Bears (including the Packers), but the teams that have put up points on them have something in common. The Jets have Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, and Dustin Keller. The Eagles have Maclin, Jackson, Celek, and a good 3rd WR in Jason Avant. Seemingly everyone on the Patriots is a weapon.
The Bears Cover-2 becomes vulnerable when it is spread out, and faced with multiple deep threats. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones should be able to do damage down the field if they’re not dropping the ball. The 5-wide set wreaks havoc with the Bear defense for a few reasons:

a. It forces them out of their base and into Nickel or Dime. Briggs and Urlacher are at their best in zone coverage. If you put them in a position where they’re rushing the passer or, even better, chasing a WR, you are neutralizing one of their strengths.

b. It forces inferior DBs onto the field. The Bear secondary isn’t a strength, and the more backups you can force onto the field, the better it is for you.

c. Aaron Rodgers is at his best outside of the pocket in the 4/5 WR sets. There is typically more room for him to run should it come to that, and with only 4-5 rushers and a lot of space, he can also buy time. If you give Jordy Nelson 7 seconds he will come open against a Nickel defender.

Soldier Field injects a lot of randomness into Bear home games. The wind is often howling off the lake which makes it colder and more difficult to pass effectively. The field is famously terrible ad players routinely slip and fall. The Packers would like nothing more than a nice calm day. If weather makes it difficult to throw the deep ball, the Packers will be in big trouble.


tracker said...

The last forecast I heard is for a high of 19, with light winds. While such a day won't shut down the Packers, it's hardly an optimal work environment for them. This is not a Packer team built for the elements, elements that could reduce the game to the simple fact that Forte > Starks.

TD said...

I'm not buying this whole notion that they are not a good cold weather team, and would be better off playing indoors. They are a fast team, with an offense that relies on very precise routes ... which presumably would favor the type of team the Packers are. But the numbers don't seem to support it. Yeah, they played great last week in Atlanta. But it was in a dome they played their worst game of the season, perhaps in decades, when they lost at Detroit ... and it was in 25 Degrees when they played arguably their most complete game of the season in beating the Giants 45-17 at Lambeau.

On the season, including playy-offs, hey are 10-4 outdoors (10-3 on Grass but just 2-2 indoors (2-3 on Turf), also including the play-offs.

They have played 5 games where the temp was 32 degrees or colder, and went 4-1. That means they were 8-5 in temps above freezing. In the 5 cold weather games this season the only loss was a very strong effort at New England. Of the 4 wins, 3 of them were games which were, or essentially were, playoff games against play-off caliber teams, including the Bears.

Going back to the New England game they have run 158 times for 656 yards ... 131 yard per game average. That is span of 5 games, with all but one game outdoors, and all outdoor games 32 degrees or colder. This team has pivoted to a more balanced team at a time of the year it is necessary, running 49% of the time and passing only 51% over those 5 games. I don't think it is a coincidence they are playing the best overall football of their season during this span.

And even in the dome at Atlanta the Packers ran 31 times for 138 yards. Pretty much on average for the time period, and about the same rate (46%).

This all bodes well for the Packers on Sunday. If they lose, it won't be because of the cold, or because its on grass ... it will because they can't cover kicks, and they fumble too much ... something they do just as much on turf and indoors (as they did in Atlanta and Detrois) as they do on Grass.

Chris said...

I don't know TD that loss to the lowly Colt in the 96 season was pretty bad ;)

tracker said...

Well, that's not a bad case, but after dismissing the Detroit game since half of it was played without Rodgers (and the NE game for that matter), perhaps the stronger case can be made that the environment in which they play doesn't matter.

That said, Aaron Rodgers says he prefers playing indoors. And any field issues favor the superior Bear running game. And any cold-weather issues that compromise the already-suspect ability of Starks to hang onto the football favor the Bears.

I love the Pack. I just think the elements bring the Bears closer to them.

Chris said...

Hey the Packers are in the fraking Super Bowl you all going to mention that in a post or two? Biggest sports event in Wisconsin in a decade and you guys go dark lol

Jib said...

*Cough* Super Bowl, boys?

PaulNoonan said...

Busy. Maybe tomorrow. Or the weekend.

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Charlie said...

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