The Green Bay Packers were beaten at home last week by the San Francisco 49ers, a team that boasts a defense in the upper echelon of the NFL. Yet beyond their talent, 49ers coaches did a great job of scheming for Green Bay's passing attack.
The first step was to take away the run game. The 49ers didn't need to load the box to accomplish that goal. Instead, they were just more physical at the point of attack, with their defensive linemen routinely outmuscling the Packers' front five. Cedric Benson was held to 18 yards on nine carries and San Francisco didn't have to compromise the secondary by bringing an eighth man up to the line of scrimmage.
Once the 49ers made Green Bay's offense one-dimensional, they had one goal in mind: keep the Packers receivers in front of the defense. Throughout the game, San Francisco used a defensive alignment designed to concede short and intermediate passes, relying on the defense to bring down receivers after the catch.
Here is an alignment the 49ers used repeatedly last week. The two safeties (white) are lined up 15 yards off the ball. The weak side receivers are given a three-to-four yard cushion (yellow), while on the strong side, Jordy Nelson (blue) – Green Bay's biggest deep threat – is being given a seven-yard cushion.
Here we have a 3rd and 8 from midfield. The outside receivers are given a seven-yard cushion (yellow), while the safeties (white) are 15-17 yards deep. The nickel corner (red), as well as the strong side linebacker, blitz on the play.
You see the two blitzers (red) forcing Rodgers to get rid of the ball early. He has TE Jermichael Finley and WR Greg Jennings (white) open immediately. At the same time, the weak side linebacker (blue) floats into the strong side zone.
Rodgers has to get rid of the pass quickly and opts to dump it to Jennings (white) on a five-yard hitch. Yet Jennings has three defenders (yellow) surrounding him, not allowing him to gain any yards after the catch. Green Bay is forced to punt. Of note is the safety (black) at the time of the catch: he's nearly 30 yards off the ball.
This is a 3rd and 10 play during the final two-minute drill of this game. The Packers were attempting to score a game-tying touchdown. Green Bay uses a four-receiver set, with the tight end on the left edge. The 49ers give a 10-yard cushion on each wideout – except for the nickel corner, who is showing blitz – with the safeties again 15 yards deep.
At the snap, the nickel corner (white) flies into the backfield, forcing a quick pass to Randall Cobb (blue). It's a short completion over the middle but the safety is there immediately to bring Cobb down short of the first down.
It's a simple formula for the Chicago Bears defense tonight: line up your safeties deep, pressure the quarterback and be sound tacklers. If that pressure has to come in the form of a blitzing corner or linebacker, so be it, as long as Rodgers is hurried. The 49ers followed this recipe and allowed just one pass of more than 30 yards, limiting the big play.
And if Rodgers is going to complete a pass, make sure it is under 10 yards. Once the receiver gets the ball, bring him down before he can pick up any YAC.
Chicago's defense is built for this scheme. If they shut down Benson and execute this strategy against Green Bay's passing attack, the Bears will have a great chance at pulling off the upset.
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
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.