With 13 minutes left on the clock in the second quarter of Sunday's contest against the Seattle Seahawks, the Chicago Bears lined up for a 4th and 1 play at the opponent's 15-yard line. Chicago was up 7-0 at the time and could have attempted a 32-yard field, which is almost automatic for Robbie Gould. Instead, they chose to go for it on 4th down, with the ball roughly a foot away from the first down line.
Michael Bush this year had been 3-for-3 in 4th-and-1 situations coming into the game, so the Bears felt comfortable handing him the ball on a run up the middle. Unfortunately, the play was stuffed, resulting in a turnover on downs. The Seahawks went on to score 10 points in the second quarter, taking a lead into the halftime locker room.
The game eventually came down to a 46-yard Gould field goal that sent the contest into overtime. Yet had Chicago taken the easy three points in the second quarter, that game-tying kick would have been a game winner.
Let's break down that 4th and 1 run to find out what went wrong on that play.
The Bears declare rookie offensive lineman James Brown, who was active in his first NFL game on Sunday, at tackle eligible before the play. It was one of three plays in which Brown saw the field, all in short-yardage situations. This has been tactic of coordinator Mike Tice all season when the Bears have needed a yard or two, particularly near the goal line.
RB Michael Bush
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
Chicago breaks the huddle with QB Jay Cutler under center. Bush and FB Evan Rodriguez are stacked in the backfield. Brown lines up on the left side of the line, between LT J'Marcus Webb and LG Edwin Williams. TE Matt Spaeth is on the left edge of the line, creating an off-balanced left formation – four blockers to the left of the center, two to the right.
The Seahawks counter with five defensive linemen, as well as a safety and linebacker on the left edge, stacking players to the strong side. Two linebackers are lined up three yards across from the A gaps.
At the snap, Cutler turns and hands the ball to Bush running up the right A gap, on the weak side of the play. On the backside, Seahawks DT Red Bryant blows right in between Williams and Brown. Williams completely whiffs and Brown is driven sideways into the play. Bryant carries Brown down the line of scrimmage before wrapping an arm around Bush's waist.
At the point of attack, C Roberto Garza and RG Gabe Carimi both clear out their respective defensive tackles. LB Malcolm Smith then fills the open gap. Rodriguez attempts a lead block on Smith but the defender stuns Chicago's fullback, before grabbing hold of the ball carrier. With Bryant around his waist and Smith around his shoulders, as well as LB Bobby Wagner finishing the play with a final push in the gap, Bush cannot pick up the first down. The play goes for no gain and a turnover on downs.
The play call here was solid. Bush had converted all year in theses situations. Tice and Smith were confident he would come through again. The play is off-balanced left, which slides extra defenders to the left side. That gives Chicago a numbers advantage on the right side, where the play is eventually run. If everyone could have made a block at the point of attack, a first down would have come easy.
Yet the coaching staff did not take into account the revamped offensive line, and the fact the Bears were not moving the ball consistently on the ground – while also averaging just 3.0 and 2.9 yards per carry in their last two games. For three weeks, the front five has failed to get push in the run game. It's anyone's guess why Tice and Smith thought they were going to suddenly improve, to the point where the staff was willing to take points off the board.
Williams, a finesse lineman who is a better pass protector, and Brown, a rookie who had never played in an NFL game before Sunday, both fail on the back side, allowing Bryant to get a hand on the runner. At the same time, Rodriguez can't clear the linebacker out of the hole. The result was a failed 4th-down attempt and Chicago's fourth loss of the season, dropping the team out of the lead in the NFC North.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.