Defense: Diving Pick
First quarter. 2nd and 2 at the Chicago 35-yard line. The Falcons line up in a strong-left, three-receiver set with QB Matt Ryan under center and RB Michael Turner alone in the backfield. Two receivers are to the play's right with one receiver wide left. The Bears counter with a nickel defense. Linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher are a few yards deep of the four down linemen. CB D.J. Moore is up tight on the slot receiver. The outside corners are giving a five-yard cushion.
At the snap, the entire Atlanta line crashes left. Ryan turns and fakes a handoff on a stretch-play left. The fake brings the defensive line and linebackers to the play's left. Ryan then turns and rolls out to his right. The slot receiver does not block Moore, who had slid inside on the play action. Once he sees Ryan roll out, Moore immediately goes after the quarterback. At the same time, TE Tony Gonzalez runs a deep drag from the opposite side of the field. Urlacher is about four yards in front of Gonzalez but trailing him by another four yards. Ryan has to hurry his throw or risk getting sacked by Moore. He fires the ball downfield to Gonzales. Urlacher makes up the ground in an instant and dives for the ball, intercepting the pass.
On this play, Moore was blitzing inside. Last season, Pro Football Focus ranked him as one of the most efficient blitzing cornerbacks in the league. That was the case again on this play. He does a good job of changing direction and forcing Ryan to get rid of the ball early. It was all Urlacher after that. The 33-year-old closes the four-yard gap between him and Gonzalez in a heartbeat and makes an extremely athletic diving interception. The veteran still has plenty left in the tank and, after racking up 10 tackles and returning a fumble for a touchdown, should be one of the leading candidates for NFL Defensive Player of the Week.
Offense: Clutts Paves the Way
RB Matt Forte
First quarter. 1st and 10 at the Chicago 44-yard line. The Bears line up in a strong-left formation with QB Jay Cutler under center. Two receivers are to the right side: Johnny Knox out wide and Earl Bennett in the slot. The backs, RB Matt Forte and FB Tyler Clutts, are stacked offset right. The Falcons counter with a base 4-3. Eight players are in the box with two deep safeties and CB Frank Grimes playing across from Knox.
At the snap, Cutler play fakes to Forte running off-tackle right. At the same time, guards Lance Louis and Chris Williams pull left. Bennett also swings left behind Cutler, as if he's to about to receive a reverse handoff. All but one defender in the box, LB Sean Witherspoon, bites on the reverse and takes off left. Even the up cornerback, Dunta Robinson, comes up in run support. Yet Cutler doesn't hand the ball to Bennett. He instead turns and lobs a screen pass to Forte in the right flat. Garza slips out to lead block, as does Clutts. Clutts turns to see Forte make the catch, then quickly spins around and picks up S Thomas Decoud. On the outside, Knox puts a good block on Grimes and takes him out of the play. Forte nearly reaches Clutts and sees S William Moore coming up to make the tackle. Yet he puts a juke move as if he's going to go left and Moore bits for it. Forte then cut back right and breaks free. Trailing the play are Weatherspoon and defensive end Ray Edwards. Clutts releases DeCoud and then picks up Edwards just as he's about to reach Forte. This leaves just Weatherspoon to make the tackle but he fails to wrap up and Forte bounces off him, scampering 56 yards for the touchdown.
There was a lot of talk about why the coaches decided to forego fullbacks Eddie Williams and Will Ta'ufo'ou after the preseason and instead sign Clutts, who had never played in an NFL game before yesterday. I think we can put some of those concerns aside. Clutts helps sell the fake, gets out in front of the runner, quickly picks up a block, sustains and it forces the deep safety pick a side, then sheds the defender and takes out the back-side guy coming in pursuit. From watching this play alone, he seems to be the right man for the job. Yet there is no way this play goes for a touchdown without the outstanding run after catch by Forte. He sets up Moore perfectly and doesn't even give the defender a chance at the tackle. Then he absorbs the big shot from Weatherspoon, keeps his feet and stays in bounds, and outruns everyone else for the touchdown. Bears management may truly come to regret not locking him up before the season started.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.