Defense: Memories of Mike Brown
First quarter. 3rd down and 8 at the Carolina 9-yard line. Carolina comes out in a three-receiver set. QB Cam Newton is in shotgun with a back to either side of him. WR Legedu Naanee is in the slot to the right. The Bears counter with a nickel defense. Both linebackers, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher are up on the line of scrimmage, showing blitz. The three corners are manned up four yards across from each receiver, with D.J. Moore covering Naanee.
CB D.J. Moore
Rob Grabowksi/US Presswire
At the snap, Newton drops back to pass. Neither linebacker blitzes and both drop into the middle zone 10 yards down field. The backs both swing into the flats and the edge receivers take off downfield. Naannee angles toward the middle of the field and Moore passes him off, indicating zone coverage. Naanee then hooks back to his quarterback at the 20-yard line, just in front of the linebackers. At the same time, RE Israel Idonije and RDT Matt Toeaina run a cross stunt. The offensive tackle and guard switch defenders but during their exchange, Idonije is able split the blockers. He drives his way into Newton's face, forcing him to let fly a quick pass off his back foot. The ball floats to Naanee but he's swallowed up by Briggs and Urlacher. The ball is tipped in the air and Moore grabs it before it hits the ground. A wall of blockers forms and Moore goes untouched 20 yards for the touchdown.
This was one of just a handful of plays on the day where the front seven was able to get pressure on Newton. When they did hurry him, he floundered and was forced into bad throws, like the one on this play. Yet they knocked him down just one time during the game and had zero sacks. The secondary has been spotty in the first quarter of the season but they haven't gotten much help from the down linemen. DT Henry Melton was invisible for most of the day, which allowed Carolina to chip on Peppers all day. None of the other linemen were able to beat the one-on-one matchups Peppers' double team afforded them. The team gave up 543 yards to the Panthers, a trend that will continue until the front four gets their collective act together.
Special teams: Hester's Record-Breaker
Second quarter. 4th and 5 at the Carolina 25-yard line. The Panthers line up in punt formation with punter Jason Baker standing at the 11-yard line. The Bears do not attempt a block but instead begin setting up their return as the ball is snapped. Baker gets off a clean kick but not a good one. It's a low, line-drive punt that knuckles its way to Hester, who catches it at his own 31-yard line. Carolina's coverage unit doesn't have a player with 17 yards of Hester when he makes the catch.
Hester takes a few false steps to his right before breaking hard to his left, letting the initial wave of players fly past him. Craig Steltz swings around to lead block but he whiffs and allows a defender a shot at the ball carrier. Hester breaks down, sheds the arm tackle and takes off up field. He gets good cut-off blocks from Nick Roach and Sam Hurd, and Winston Venable takes out the kicker. Hester races up the hash untouched, outrunning everyone. The play goes for a 69-yard touchdown.
This was the Hester's 11th career punt return for a touchdown, a new NFL record, surpassing Eric Metcalf. Hester followed his time-tested formula on this return, one that opposing coverage units cannot figure out. After catching the ball, he takes a few steps one way then breaks hard up field. It's a one-cut strategy that works over and over. The rest of the return team did their job in sealing the edge. Bakers' punt was terrible and the Panthers did not tackle well, which was all Hester needed to break another NFL record.
Offense: Forte for 40
Fourth quarter. 1st and 10 at the Carolina 43-yard line. The Bears line up in an unbalanced-right set. Lance Louis is tackle eligible on the right edge, just outside of RT Frank Omiyale. QB Jay Cutler is under center. RB Matt Forte is deep in the backfield and FB Tyler Clutts is off-set right. TE Kellen Davis is wing left. The Panthers line up in a 3-4 with no one showing blitz. Before the snap, Davis motions behind the line until he's just outside of Louis and across from OLB James Anderson.
RB Matt Forte
Rob Grabwoski/US Presswire
At the snap, Cutler hands the ball to Forte on a stretch run to the strong side. Davis gets good leverage on Anderson and drives him to the sideline. Louis heads immediately to the second level and takes out the legs of MLB Dan Connor. On the backside, LT J'Marcus Webb and C Roberto Garza seal off the defensive tackle and end, while LG Chris Williams is able to get to the third level and get a hand on S Sherrod Martin. RG Chris Spencer gets quickly to the second level and clears out WLB Jason Williams. At the point of attack, Clutts leads into the hole and wipes S Charles Godfrey. Forte then has an enormous hole to run through. He takes off down field untouched for 30 yards, then cuts inside of CB Captain Munnerlyn and is caught from behind by Martin at the 3-yard line. The Bears scored the game-winning touchdown two plays later.
Coordinator Mike Martz used this unbalanced formation three times during the game, each time lining Louis up in the tight end spot outside of Omiayale. It appears he was doing whatever he could to make up for the front five's inability to move players on their own the past two weeks. On this play, he stacked two tackles next to each other, motioned Davis next to them and then used Clutts as the lead blocker. This overpowered the defense at the point of attack. Every blocker did his job, allowing Forte to pick up 40 yards, bringing his game total to 205 yards, second-most in a single game in Bears history. Let's not get too excited though: The Panthers present the weakest defensive front Chicago has seen all year, and probably will see the rest of the season. Still, it was good to see them use the run to keep their foot on Carolina's throat.
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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.