When teams face the Detroit Lions, the one player that must be corraled is wide receiver Calvin Johnson – arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL. The Chicago Bears defense, having faced him twice a year since he was drafted second overall in 2008, know exactly the challenge "Megatron" brings.
"He's got great hands," said safety Chris Conte. "His ability just to go after the ball and I think he's deceptively fast. He's got a lot of speed and tons of range. There's not too many guys with that combination in the league."
Yet while Conte espoused Johnson's on-field prowess, he was also quick to point out the second biggest threat to Chicago's defense when the two teams face on Monday Night Football.
"Their tight ends are definitely a key in their offense," Conte said.
Johnson leads Detroit in catches and receiving yardage, yet second in both categories is tight end Brandon Pettigrew. When teams have focused too much on Megatron, Pettigrew has been able to take advantage.
Let's go to the game tape and analyze how Detroit has been able to utilize its tight ends this season.
QB Matthew Stafford (white) is under center and will fake a handoff to the running back before rolling out to his left. Pettigrew (blue) is lined up on the left edge and will fake a block inside before releasing into the left flat.
Here you see the safety (yellow) biting on the play fake. This allows Pettigrew to find an open area in the left flat.
With the outside wide receiver running the cornerback deep, and the strong safety biting on the play action, Pettigrew is wide open for a first-down catch.
On this play, Pettigrew (blue) motions from the offense's right to the left wing spot. He will cross behind the line of scrimmage and into the right flat. Stafford (white) will fake a handoff to the running back before rolling out on a bootleg.
The play action draws both the safety and linebacker (red) away from the rollout. This leaves Pettigrew a wide-open area to run in the right flat.
Because of the effectiveness of the play fake – which is surprising, considering Detroit's struggles in the run game – Pettigrew is wide open. Stafford's throw is horrible and falls at his tight end's feet, but had Pettigrew caught the ball, the play would have gone for a huge gain.
This is another play-action pass that fools Philadelphia's defense. TE Tony Scheffler (blue) is lined up on the right edge. He will run a go pattern down the right hash. The strong safety will again bite on the play fake, allowing Scheffler to get open deep, away from the free safety.
Here you see Scheffler has beaten the strong safety. The free safety has to respect the two wide receivers on the opposite side of the field, so there's no way he can get across the field fast enough to break up the play. Stafford again throws a garbage pass that falls incomplete, but had he put the ball on the money, this play would have gone for an easy touchdown.
When asked about Stafford's mobility, Conte replied: "He's a great athlete. You see him against the Eagles, he can get out of the pocket and run a little bit and throw the ball."
Let's take a look.
Scheffler (blue) is lined up on the right edge. He will run down the right hash for 15 yards and then break inside before cutting back outside. He'll be covered by the middle linebacker (red). The play will break down, forcing Stafford (white) to roll out to his right. The safety (yellow) will see Stafford scramble and will break up to the line of scrimmage.
This is where the pressure gets to Stafford, forcing him to roll out to his right. Scheffler is about to make his second break, which will leave the defender in his wake. The safety is already starting to creep forward.
Stafford finds room to run on the right side. Both the outside cornerback and nickel corner have their backs to the play. The safety sees this and begins sprinting to the line of scrimmage to stop Stafford from running for a first down. At the same time, Scheffler cuts to the outside and gets three yards of separation between him and the defender.
Because the safety left his deep zone, and the middle linebacker was unable to cover him on the double move, Scheffler is wide open deep. Stafford hits him in stride for a 57-yard gain.
As you can see, play action ate up the Eagles' defense. The key for the Bears is to be cautious with the run fakes and stay disciplined. The Lions are not going to gouge anyone on the ground. Their bread and butter is the downfield passing attack. So there's no reason for the safeties to bite forward on play fakes. If they do, Pettigrew and Scheffler will slice up the secondary.
Chicago's defense will obviously key on Johnson but if they forget about Detroit's two tight ends, especially on third down, the Lions will have a lot of success moving the ball through the air.
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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.