The Chicago Bears have been creative this year in the use of the team's defensive linemen. In each of the first three contests, the club has activated just three defensive tackles. Typically, the coaching staff likes to keep four DTs and rotate them heavily throughout the game.
Yet on this year's club, the talent is weighted toward the defensive ends. Israel Idonije and Julius Peppers continue their high level of play as starters. In addition, rookie Shea McClellin and a healthy Corey Wootton have added depth to the end rotation.
As a result, coordinator Rod Marinelli has felt comfortable with just seven defensive linemen active on game days. This forces the Bears to be creative in their use of these players. Typically on passing downs, either Idonije or Peppers will slide inside but the club is also experimenting with a new formation, one that has never been used during Lovie Smith's reign.
Let's go to the tape to break this down.
This is your standard nickel rush formation. Idonije and Henry Melton are in their usual spots on the left side, while McClellin is on the right edge and Peppers is inside at defensive tackle. On third-and-long situations, this has been the defensive line personnel the Bears have used most often this season.
Here you see the new formation, which the team used three times against the Green Bay Packers in Week 2. The Bears deploy just three down linemen (red) and McClellin (blue) is in a standup position along the line of scrimmage. On this play, he'll show blitz but then drop into coverage.
Dropping McClellin allows the linebackers to fly back to their intermediate zones without having to worry about underneath passes.
McClellin started this play in his standup rover position but Brian Urlacher called an audible after he saw Green Bay's formation. As a result, McClellin had to drop down and rush Aaron Rodgers from the defensive tackle position.
Here again you see McClellin standing up to the right of the nose tackle, which on this play is Peppers. At the snap, McClellin will rush the passer, crossing behind Peppers.
The combination of McClellin and Peppers in the middle puts pressure in the quarterback's face.
Against the Rams, McClellin starts to the nose tackle's right, showing blitz.
Before the snap, McClellin shifts to the opposite side of the formation, giving the offense an entirely different look.
McClellin takes a step forward as if to rush the passer but then drops back into the short-middle zone.
When the Bears drafted McClellin in the first round this year, Lovie Smith and GM Phil Emery claimed the rookie would play with his "hand in the dirt" and would not be used as a linebacker. This flew in the face of all the experts that felt he'd fit better as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Well, it took just two games before they started using him out of a two-point stance. The coaching staff obviously realizes that his speed and athleticism are too valuable to waste as just a situational pass rusher off the edge. As such, they are attempting to confuse defenses by lining up McClellin, and the rest of the defensive linemen, all over the defensive line.
The strategy is working, as Chicago currently leads the league in total sacks (14.0). Expect the Bears to continue this type of creative deployment with McClellin going forward.
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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.