Bears on Defense: Watching and Waiting
At the snap, Rodgers looks to pass. The three receivers on the left side all run crossing patterns and are picked up well by the man-to-man coverage. Nelson runs an out pattern on the right side but has CB Tim Jennings in his back pocket. In the trenches, defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije bull rush on the outside, both getting penetration but unable to move past their respective blocker. In the middle, DTs Tommie Harris and Matt Toeaina run a crossing stunt. Harris crashes inside and is able to get up in Rodgers' face before falling down. Toeaina swings behind and gets upfield, but he runs into an offensive lineman before getting to the QB. At the same time, Kuhn releases from the backfield and runs a crossing pattern to the left, but Briggs is there in coverage. Rodgers is scrambling in the pocket, as all four Bears linemen are closing in on him. All the while, Brian Urlacher is just roaming the middle of the field, watching the QB's eyes. Rodgers steps up in the pocket and, in desperation, throws the ball across the middle to Kuhn. Only Urlacher is standing right there. He snags the ball out of the air for the interception and races down the sideline for 39 yards before being tackled by Rodgers at the Chicago 45-yard line.
The most disappointing aspect of the Bears not making it to the Super Bowl is that one of the best defenses this city has ever seen will not get an opportunity to play for a championship. Throw out the first drive of the game, and this unit played outstanding. When all of the hubbub about Jay Cutler was going on, when the offense was anemic and the special teams not so special, the defense kept playing hard and shut down a vaunted Packers offense series after series. Just think: Because of the play of the defense, Chicago's third-string quarterback had a chance to lead this team to a victory in the NFC Championship Game. Peppers and Co. put pressure on Rodgers all day, while Urlacher and Briggs played some of the best football of their respective careers.
On this play, all four receivers are covered tightly, with the front four getting pressure from all angles. And there was Urlacher, just watching Rodgers and waiting for him to throw it across the middle. It's amazing to consider that, with all of the problems on the offensive side of the ball, had Urlacher been able to cut past Rodgers and stay on his feet on his interception return, Chicago may have sent this contest into overtime.
Bears on Offense: An Understandable Mistake
At the snap, Hanie drops back to pass. Olsen and the two receivers on the right all release downfield. Hester runs a crossing route, and Forte releases from the backfield to the left side. At the same time, Shields blitzes off the left edge. The two ends rush upfield, as does one of the interior linemen, yet DT B.J. Raji takes one step forward and then drops back into short zone coverage. Olsen is able to clear out the middle, and, because Shields blitzed, Hester is running wide open on a crossing pattern. Forte is right behind him, running an angle route out of the backfield. Hanie feels the pressure and sees a wide-open Forte coming across the middle. He fires the pass to his tailback, but Raji steps into throwing lane and makes the interception. He then rumbles 18 yards for a touchdown.
This was an outstanding call by Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers. He knew the Bears had a third stringer throwing the ball, so he dialed up a zone blitz with the cornerback coming hard off the edge. Hanie made the correct read, getting the ball to his hot receiver out of the backfield, only Raji was standing right there. That's the beauty of a zone blitz: It feels like the defense is bringing extra guys yet was just a four-man rush, with Raji dropping sneakily into the short zone. Hanie never saw him, and the rest is history.
What was most disappointing about this play, though, is that Hester was wide open in the middle of the field. Had Hanie just looked a few feet to his right, he could have found Hester, who didn't have a defender within 15 yards of him.
Jeremy Stoltz is editor-in-chief of the Business Ledger, the business resource for suburban Chicago. He is a frequent contributor to both Bear Report and BearReport.com.
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