Defense: Corey on the spot
Second quarter. 3rd and 18 from the Chicago 47-yard line. The Raiders use a three-receiver set with QB Carson Palmer in shotgun. He has RB Michael Bush to his left and a receiver split right. WR Louis Murphy is wide left, with WR Chaz Schilens in the left slot. TE Kevin Boss is positioned on the left edge of the line. The Bears counter with a nickel package. The four down linemen are supported by linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. Corey Graham is six yards across from Schilens in the slot.
CB Corey Graham
At the snap, Palmer drops back to pass. The Bears bring three rushers, but the fourth down lineman, DT Henry Melton, doesn't rush. Instead, he takes a false step forward and then drops back into the short zone between the hash marks. On the left edge, DE Julius Peppers works through a double team and drives T Jared Veldheer into Palmer's face. On the other side, DE Israel Idonije uses a rip move to speed rush around the corner. He beats T Khalif Barnes but loses his balance just as he's reaching the quarterback. Palmer is flushed out of the pocket to his left. He has open room in front of him, as Peppers fell down as well, but Melton tracks him from the middle of the field and forces him to release a pass just before he reaches the line of scrimmage. It's a slow, wobbly pass to Schilens, who is surrounded by defenders. S Brandon Meriweather breaks on the ball and tips it up in the air just as it reaches the receiver. Graham is right there to pull in the interception before the ball can hit the ground. The turnover gives Chicago the ball at their own 25-yard line.
The pressure by both Idonije and Peppers was crucial on this play. The Bears used just a three-man rush, yet the defensive ends still got into the backfield and forced Palmer out of the pocket. Meriweather also does a great job of positioning himself behind the receivers and making a nice play on the ball. Yet it was the creative use of Melton that forced the bad pass. On at least five third downs in Sunday's game, Chicago dropped Melton off the defensive line and into the short middle zone. Remember, Melton played running back his first two years in college, so he has the athleticism to roam the second level. He sees Palmer scramble and is able to track him and force the bad throw.
Chicago's coaches positioned the safeties 20-25 yards deep on most passing plays against the Raiders, and have done so for about the past six weeks. After giving up a few big plays early in the season, the solution has been to line the safeties up in New Jersey. Yet this opens the deep middle portion of the field in zone coverage. Urlacher is responsible for that zone, but when the safeties are so deep to start the play, it's almost impossible for him to get back quick enough to cover that area. The only way he can do it is to sprint back the moment the ball is snapped. If he has to read the play or takes any false steps forward, he won't get back fast enough. By dropping Melton back in the short zone, Urlacher doesn't have to worry about anything in front of him and can get back to the deep middle with time to spare.
Offense: Third pick's a charm
Second quarter. 2nd and 1 at the Raiders 7-yard line. The Bears line up in a three-receiver set with QB Caleb Hanie under center. RB Matt Forte is alone in the backfield. Two receivers are to the left side of the play and WR Johnny Knox is alone on the right side. TE Kellen Davis is positioned on the left edge of the line. The Raiders counter with a nickel package. S Matt Giordano is the extra player in the secondary. S Tyvon Branch is across from WR Roy Williams wide left. LB Aaron Curry is lined up across from Davis. Before the snap, Williams motions across the field to the right slot. Branch follows him to the right side, indicating man coverage.
LB Kamerion Wimbley
Kirby Lee/US Presswire
At the snap, Hanie rolls out to his right. Knox and Williams release into the secondary. The Raiders get pressure with DT Tommy Kelly and DE Trevor Scott. At the same time, C Roberto Garza and LT J'Marcus Webb clear into the left flat. Davis blocks LB Kamerion Wimbley, then lets the defender go. Hanie turns and fires a pass back across the field to Davis on a screen. Yet Curry sees the play coming. He breaks on the pass and tips it up into the air. Wimbley runs underneath and makes the interception. He breaks down the left sideline. Forte gets out on front of him and forces Wimbley to cut inside. Forte holds his ground and makes Wimbley cut back outside at about the Bears' 30-yard line. The entire time, RT Lance Louis is racing down the field. He catches up to the play just as Wimbley is about to break into the end zone. Louis grabs the defender by the back of his jersey and makes a touchdown-saving tackle.
First off, this was an absolutely ridiculous call at this point in the game. The Bears needed just one yard to give themselves 1st and goal with one timeout remaining. Yet coordinator Mike Martz tries to go for the jugular by using a trick play. Instead of using RB Marion Barber, who ran over defenders all game, Martz tries to get cute. When Williams motions across the field, Giordano follows, indicating man coverage. As such, Davis is the responsibility of Curry on the play. Curry stands and watches Davis, which is his job in man coverage, until he realizes it's a screen, at which point he breaks on the ball. This play never had a chance from the start. Instead of posting three points and going up by one – or possibly scoring a touchdown and going up by five heading into the half – the Raiders end up kicking a field goal. That's a six-point swing, and potentially a 10-point swing, in a game the Raiders won by just five points. This right here was the play that cost Chicago its sixth straight victory.
Kudos to both Forte and Louis for getting back to stop the Raiders from scoring a defensive touchdown.
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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.