Archive for September, 2009
The current NFL fad that seems to have taken hold around the league is the 3-4 defense. With the recent success that the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots have had with the scheme, in a league of imitators, there is a lot of new teams running the scheme.
It also just so happens, that the Bears start the season against two 3-4 defensive scheme teams in the Packers and the Steelers. Both teams are early pre-season contenders for the playoffs, with the Steelers being defending Super Bowl champions and having one of the most dominant defenses in the league.
With this in mind what is the best way for the Bears to deal with the 3-4 defense? Fortunately the Bears likely have the best way to match up with a 3-4 right away and the versatility this offensive scheme offers is invaluable in attacking the 3-4. The two tight end set is ideal for attacking the 3-4 defense, as was shown in early returns against Broncos.
Yes the Broncos don’t have the ideal personnel to run the 3-4, but it does force the Bears to scheme for it. This is what the Bears were able to do with ease and they were effective in both running and passing against the defensive front. The Broncos tended to attack with a five man front against the Bears on rushing situations. The Bears attacked it well with the two-TE set. Olsen and Clark were able to take on the OLBs who they match up well with, and this allowed the Bears to double team the nose tackle.
As everyone knows the engine that makes a 3-4 successful is the NT. He needs to be able to square up on the center, and he’s responsible for two gaps on the defense. If you get a good double team block on him, usually you can negate his effectiveness. Even if it’s only an initial scrape block so that the center or guard can move on to the second level and attack a linebacker it gives the offense the advantage.
One of the main advantages is the versatility the TEs offer. They can attack the OLBs (which is the second key to the 3-4) in the run game, block them straight up in the pass game, or they can sprint out in passing game off of play-action fakes. Evidence the play-action pass to Desmond Clark that went for 25-yards on a third and one play. During that play the linebacker cheated up to stop the run, lined up head up on Clark. Clark threw a little scrape block and then took off on his route. Jay Cutler rolled out of the pocket away from where the lineman took their play-action run block steps to and negated the pass rush. From here it was a simple pass to a wide open Clark that just broke the back of the Broncos.
Since a two TE set also allows the offense to to dictate the game plan to the defense and make them adjust, it puts the offense at a consistent advantage. By utilizing the versatility of a two TE set the Bears can attack with two double teams on the NT and then one of the DEs or elsewhere.
Also the Bears don’t have to keep the two TEs lined up head up on the LBs, one of them can line up in the FB spot thus still giving them a different formation look. Either way the key here is negating the 3-4s versatility and forcing them to react to your set.
The Bears are able to do this better than any team in the NFL with their high versatile TEs. The question is when Desmond Clark gets long in the tooth do the Bears draft another TE that offers as much versatility? Do they keep the two TE set around with Olsen grooming his eventual replacement? I believe so long as the Bears are able to show consistent success against the 3-4 front with the two TE set they should continue to take advantage of it.
While most fans and analysts agree that the pre-season isn’t a great indication of how things will go, I’m going to step up and disagree with that assessment. Having seen all three of the Bears’ pre-season games to this point I can clearly say without much hesitation that the pass rush is back.
The Bears’ defense struggled last year against the pass, and it was the main reason they missed the playoffs. Meanwhile in 2009 the CB situation is far from settled and most fans would prefer to see a ball hawking free safety back there, the bottom line is thee success of this defense starts with the front four.
The top off-season priority was to find a way to fix the pass rush and to do it without overhauling the current crop of defensive lineman who were so successful in 2006 together. Enter Rod Marinelli one of the preeminent defensive line coaches in the league, if not the last couple decades. Marinelli’s resume speaks for itself although most Bears fans see only 0-16 and the coach of the Detroit Lions.
However Lovie Smith knows Marinelli well and knew that he was just the guy to fix the front four. There was a reason Smith called him the biggest free-agency acquisition of the 2009 off-season. Marinelli is a motivator of men, and is all football all the time. Toss in that he may be one of the best teachers of the game and is a disciple of the Tampa-2 defense and the choice was an easy and obvious one.
I predict and can say that it has already paid huge dividends for the Bears’ defense. While most fans remain skeptical the fact of the matter is the Bears’ pass rush has improved and it has improved drastically. The Bears currently rank eighth in the league with a pre-season total of 11 sacks. So? It’s the pre-season come the naysayers, fine but consider the opponents the Bears’ pass rush has looked the best against, the Giants and the Broncos.
Then the naysayers come with “the Broncos only allowed one sack the entire game”. Yes I’m aware of the stat, but the Broncos’ offensive line was also the cause of numerous holding penalties. A sign that the Bears’ defensive line was particular aggressive and dominating to the point that they had no choice but to grab and hold.
The Broncos mind you were the best offensive line in the league in pass protection last year. The Broncos only allowed 12 sacks on the season which good for first overall. Part of this has to do with Jay Cutler’s ample mobility and the other part would be they simply were good. Considering how many pass attempts the Broncos and Cutler attempted last year you can certainly see just how well they were in protecting the passer.
Cutler attempted 616 passes last year and was sacked the aforementioned 12 times. An average of 1 sack every 51 pass attempts. A phenomenal stat in pass protection for the Broncos. Yet the Bears’ offensive line did well to attack that well protecting front.
Not only are the sack totals up during the pre-season the intensity level is up. The D-Line seems to never quit on the pass rush and it shows. If one player gets the penetration forcing the QB to step up or move around in the pocket, typically someone else is there to make the sack. The front’s motor never seems to stop where as last year if they were stopped on their initial moves they seemed to just stop.
There is a clear difference in motivation along the front four. A never ending collective effort to get pressure and they have been successful. What also is a healthy indication is it’s not just the starters that have performed well. The backups have been just as intense and just as focused. Add on that the Bears will use a healthy rotation among the 11 members of the front four they could keep and the future looks bright.
There seems to finally be an intense focus as well as a realization of how important the “rush men” are to the success of the defense. The line has bought into what Marinelli is yelling, but more importantly they are learning from what he is teaching. The improvement to this point, has been visible to the untrained eye and that has the makings of what could be a very exciting season of Chicago Bears football.