Tales from the Tape: Defense

The Chicago Bears were handed one of their worst defeats of the season in Denver on Sunday. We go over the film and analyze the defensive performance from Sunday's loss to the Broncos.

First quarter

-1st down. QB Tim Tebow is in shotgun with RB Willis McGahee to his right and RB Lance Ball to his left. At the snap, Tebow fakes a handoff to McGahee running to the play's left. Tebow heads to the right. Ball swings behind the play and is the pitch man. DE Israel Idonije, who is unblocked, shadows Tebow and gives him nowhere to run. LB Nick Roach sprints out to Ball, taking away the pitch option. The quarterback tries to cut back but is swallowed up by Idonije, with LB Lance Briggs and S Craig Steltz cleaning up the tackle. The play goes for a three-yard loss.

The Broncos could not get many of the zone-read plays to work against Chicago's speedy defense. On this play, and throughout most of the game, the Bears defenders followed their assignments against the option, with Roach covering the pitch man. Idonije then flashed his athleticism and the play went for a loss.

-2nd and 9. Tebow lines up in shotgun with a running back on his left and right. WR Demaryius Thomas is wide left, with CB Charles Tillman five yards across. At the snap, Tebow fakes a handoff to McGahee. Peppers uses an inside swim move and gets pressure up the middle. Tebow is forced to roll to his left, where he finds Thomas running an eight-yard hook. Tillman comes up to make the tackle but is out of control and flies right past the receiver. Briggs and LB Brian Urlacher both converge on Thomas, who is still a yard short of the first down, yet Urlacher slides right off and Briggs can't wrap up. Thomas keeps moving his feet and spins away, picking up the first down.

For the most part, Chicago's defense tackled well, but poor tackling like this can turn minimal gains into game-changing plays. Later in the game, it ends up really hurting the team.

DT Henry Melton
Brian D. Kersey/Getty

-1st down. Tebow runs a sprint option to the right with McGahee as his pitch man. Idonije goes unblocked and immediately crashes into the quarterback. Tebow pitches it to McGahee, who catches the ball eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. He breaks forward but LB Nick Roach, DT Henry Melton and S Chris Conte all converge on him for a loss of a yard.

Option plays typically leave one "read", or one player not blocked. Based on what this one unblocked player does, the quarterback can choose to keep it or toss it to his running back. When defending this read option, the key is to make your decision quickly and commit to it. Idonije chooses Tebow over McGahee and forces him to pitch the ball early. The runner never had a chance to get upfield for the pitch and catches it eight yards back. By the time he gets to the line, three guys are waiting for him. And how about Melton, tracking down a runner to the sideline? His athleticism for his position is off the charts. The former running back at Texas picked up his seventh sack of the season in this game, the most for a Bears defensive tackle since Tommie Harris in 2007.

-3rd and 16. Tebow takes the ball in shotgun. The Bears rush three down linemen and drop the fourth, Okoye, into short-zone coverage. The remaining three defensive linemen can get no pressure and Tebow has all day to throw. He rolls to his left and eventually finds Matt Willis for a 18 yards and a first down.

Tebow had 10 seconds to throw this pass. If you give any quarterback 10 seconds, he's going to find an open receiver. The Bears have been using this strategy of dropping a defensive lineman, usually Melton or Okoye, into the short-middle zone all season, typically on third downs where an underneath pass could result in a first down. Yet on 3rd and 16, that didn't seem necessary. Even if you drop all three linebackers 15 yards, they'll still be able to corral an underneath receiver before he reaches the first down marker. Okoye should have been rushing, instead of standing there covering no one. That way, Tebow wouldn't have had all day to throw and the Bears defense could have gotten off the field.

-Tillman's interception of Tebow late in the first quarter was a thing of beauty. He went high for ball and came down tapping both toes on the field as he fell out of bounds. It was an outstanding individual effort. Yet it was DT Stephen Paea flushing Tebow out of the pocket that forced the bad throw.

Second quarter

-Julius Peppers picks up his ninth sack of the season early in the second quarter, yet Okoye deserves a lot of the credit. He comes quick off the ball and uses his strong hands to work his way quickly around G Zane Beadles. This forces Tebow to step up, right into the arms of Peppers, who himself manhandled LT Ryan Clady.

DT Stephen Paea
Ron Chenoy/US Presswire

-The following play, Tebow scrambles and runs over CB Tim Jennings, picking up the first down on a 3rd-and-15 play. Just another example of costly poor tackling.

-Paea picks up his first sack of the day a few plays later. Yet DE Chauncey Davis deserved half of that sack. He holds his ground as Tebow tries to sprint outside, forcing him back up the middle to Paea. Yet Davis chases down the play and hits Tebow at the same time as Paea. The tape shows both guys deserving of half a sack. Davis should get it just for the great individual effort.

-A few plays later, the Broncos run right at Davis. He gets out of position at first but is able to fight through the block of Clady and force his way inside. He gets a piece of the runner as he goes by, stopping him from picking up the first. That's not a play DE Corey Wootton is making right now.

Third quarter

-For most of the game, the Bears slid S Craig Steltz up into the box, even in passing situations. They would move him up late the majority of the time, all the way to the line of scrimmage just before the snap. Against the run, this was a very strong strategy, and Steltz did a great job acting as the team's fourth linebacker.

Yet that strategy also leaves the secondary vulnerable. On a 2nd and 10, Steltz slides up into the box, leaving only Conte deep. Tillman is five yards across from Thomas wide left. At the snap, Tebow fakes a handoff, which absolutely freezes Conte. Thomas run a post pattern and gets behind everyone. The pass is right in his hands for what would have been a 55-yard touchdown, but Thomas drops it.

When he's the only deep player, Conte must avoid becoming flatfooted. The Bears were very lucky on this play. Had Thomas caught the pass, all the hoopla surrounding Marion Barber late in the game wouldn't have meant anything.

-I believe the referees came into this game having decided not to call any holding penalties. The missed calls, for both teams, were just ridiculous. Flat-out indefensible. On one play, the referee stands and watches three Bears players get held right in front of him, yet he never reaches for the yellow flag.

Fourth quarter

-2nd and 5. McGahee runs off-tackle left. From the right side, Idonije rips inside TE Daniel Fells and drives his way down the line, catching the runner from behind. The play goes for a one-yard loss.

DE Israel Idonije
Ron Chenoy/US Presswire

Idonije has played very poorly in stretches this year, especially against the run. Yet the past two games he's finally starting to play with some intensity, which has served him well. He's a very mellow person. He needs to learn how to consistently flip the switch and get mean on the field. With his size and strength, just a little attitude is all he needs.

-Denver's touchdown-scoring drive started with 4:34 left in the game. Tebow completed seven straight passes. After Chicago had used Cover 1 all game – man coverage with one deep safety – they suddenly switched to a Cover 2 prevent look for this drive. Tebow was able to dink and dunk his way down the field to wide open receivers underneath. At that point, Chicago's coaches were playing not to lose, instead of playing to win. Man-to-man coverage had been working the whole game. There was no reason to change things up. In essence, by backing the safeties 25 yards off the ball on every play, the Bears coaches handed the Broncos a touchdown.

-Denver began their final drive of the fourth quarter at their own 20 with 56 second left. The first play is a five-yard hitch to Eric Decker. Tillman comes up to make the tackle but can't bring the ball carrier down. Decker slides around the hit, picks up the first down and gets out of bounds.

If Tillman makes this play, another 10-15 seconds would have run off the clock. Another crucial missed tackle.

-Three plays later, 2nd and 10 with 28 seconds left. Broncos are at their own 40. Tebow drops back to pass. Wide right is Willis. Jennings gives Willis a 12-yard cushion, then turns and runs deep at the snap of the ball. Decker runs 15 yards then turns and catches the pass without a defender near him. He's able to step out of bounds, stopping the clock, at the 41-yard line.

It was this play that put the Broncos in field goal range. What was Jennings doing so far off the receiver? He allowed an easy pass where Willis was able to step out of bounds and stop the clock. This play, as much as any other, cost Chicago this game.

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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.

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