Offense: Three straight to Roy
Third quarter. 1st and 10 at the Chicago 34-yard line. The Bears line up in a two-receiver set with QB Jay Cutler under center. RB Matt Forte is alone in the backfield and two tight ends are stacked on the left edge of the line. To the right side, WR Johnny Knox is split wide and WR Roy Williams is in the slot. The Chargers counter with a base 3-4 set. CB Antoine Cason is playing two yards across from Williams, while CB Quentin Jammer is giving Knox a 10-yard cushion. The Chargers have both outside linebackers up on the line, showing blitz.
WR Roy Williams
At the snap, Cutler drops back to pass. The Chargers blitz two linebackers from the left side. Forte and TE Matt Spaeth pick up the extra rushers, while the rest of the defensive line is also held in check. Cutler has a nice pocket from which to throw. On the outside, Knox runs a slant route right at Cason. At the same time, Williams runs straight toward Cason. The defender sees Knox and forgets about Williams, letting him go right past. This shows Cutler that it is zone coverage. Knox then breaks back out toward the sideline, taking Cason with him. Williams then runs straight toward Jammer, who has the deep zone. Yet the receiver quickly breaks down in front of the cornerback and turns back to the play. Cutler hits Williams in the soft spot in the zone for a 12-yard gain and a first down.
Previous to this drive, the Chargers had tied the game 17-17. This play was the second of three-straight where Williams caught a pass for a first down. The first catch came on a crucial third down. These three plays kept the drive alive and led to the go-ahead touchdown. Had Williams not stepped up here, the Chargers would have gotten the ball back with a chance to take the lead. As it was, the Bears ended up going ahead for good.
On this play, the Bears ran two receivers right at Cason, causing the defender to make a choice. He let Williams go deep and chose to cover Knox underneath. Once he got past Cason, Williams then ran Jammer deep before quickly breaking down in the soft spot between the second and third levels of the zone. Cutler did a good job recognizing the zone coverage and firing the ball to his receiver just as he was finishing his break. This was a great play call against zone coverage that was executed perfectly.
Defense: A zone clinic
Fourth quarter. 2nd and 10 at the Chicago 16-yard line. The Chargers line up in a three-receiver set with QB Phillip Rivers in shotgun. WR Vincent Jackson is wide left with TE Antonio Gates in the slot. Split right is WR Vincent Brown. TE Randy McMichael is in a down position on the right edge of the line. The Bears counter with a base 4-3. Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are lined up three yards across from the wideouts. LB Nick Roach is shaded inside of Gates, while LB Lance Briggs is four yards across from McMichael, next to LB Brian Urlacher. Safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte are lined up on the goal line.
QB Phillip Rivers
At the snap, Rivers drops back to pass. All three receivers, plus McMichael, release down the field. The Chargers double-team the defensive ends, yet Julius Peppers is still able to collapse the left side of the pocket. Up the middle, NT Anthony Adams relentlessly bull rushes G Stephen Schilling, driving the lineman backward until Rivers is flushed out of the pocket to his right. Out of the left slot, Gates releases on an inside flat angle toward the end zone. Roach sticks with him for a few yards and then passes him to Conte, who immediately steps up to cover Gates. Urlacher drops into his middle zone and cuts under Gates. On the outside, Tillman does not pass Jackson deep, instead running with him all the way into the end zone. On the right side, Jennings passes Brown off to Wright in the second level. Brown then cuts to the middle of the field, where Urlacher then picks him up. McMichael runs a 10-yard out pattern. He's shadowed by Briggs until his break, at which point Jennings picks him up. Adams flushes Rivers to the sideline where the quarterback is forced to throw the ball away.
This was the second play after Cutler's interception to Antoine Cason. The Chargers start this drive in the red zone, yet the Bears shut them down on three straight plays, ending in a Major Wright interception. Chicago was up by 14 at this point in the game and a San Diego touchdown would have made it a one-score game with just less than 10 minutes to play. Instead, the Bears' defense holds firm and doesn't allow any points on the board.
This was textbook zone coverage on this play. The front four, in particular Anthony Adams, got just enough push to flush out Rivers. Yet it was the secondary that didn't allow him anywhere to throw. The key to zone coverage is players working together to pass receivers between the different zones. On this play, Jennings passed Brown to Wright, who then passed Brown to Urlacher. Jennings then picked up McMichael, who was passed off by Briggs. On the other side, Roach passed Gates to Conte, who was then bracketed by Urlacher and Conte. And on the back side, Tillman knew he didn't have safety help over the top, so instead of passing off Jackson, he chose to stay in the receiver's hip pocket. This was 11 players all trusting each other to do their jobs.
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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.