Chatter the last few days regarding the Chicago Bears' loss to the Green Bay Packers this week has revolved around QB Jay Cutler's interception late in the first half. The pick set up the Packers for an easy score, giving them a seven-point lead heading into halftime – a lead they never relinquished.
Yet the score that did Chicago in came on the opening drive of the second half. Green Bay started that drive on their own 21-yard line. It took them 13 plays to move 79 yards down the field for the touchdown, a score that put the Packers up by two touchdowns.
That drive sucked the life out the Bears, deflating the sidelines and the stands. Green Bay missed two relatively easy field goals and turned the ball over on a ridiculously dumb punt return, yet Chicago was never able to mount a comeback.
On that third-quarter drive, the Packers converted two third downs, as well as a crucial fourth down. Let's break down that fourth-down play, a snap that, for all intents and purposes, finished Chicago's 2012 season.
4th and 6 at the Chicago 26-yard line. The Packers line up in a four-receiver set, with two wideouts on both sides of the formation. QB Aaron Rodgers is in shotgun. In the left slot is WR Randall Cobb (white). Across from him is LB Lance Briggs (blue). Before the snap, Rodgers barks out a hard count and Briggs immediately takes a step forward, revealing the fact he's about to blitz. Further giving away the blitz, S Chris Conte (red) slides in behind Briggs, across from Cobb. In the seconds before the ball is hiked, Rodgers knows this: Briggs is coming from the left side and the defense is playing man-to-man on the receivers.
On the opposite side of the field, nickelback D.J. Moore (yellow) lines up across from TE Jermichael Finley. By doing this, Chicago is left with just a safety to cover Cobb, one of the most explosive slot receivers in the game. When he saw this, I wonder if Packers head coach Mike McCarthy actually salivated.
This play is real simple: Cobb is going to run a seven-yard drag pattern with Conte trailing behind.
Briggs comes on the blitz, yet the Packers know it's coming and do a great job of picking it up. Rodgers has a beautiful pocket in which to throw. Down the field, Cobb makes his break inside and Conte is late to react, creating a two-yard cushion between him and the receiver.
The ball is in the air at this point and you'll notice WR James Jones uncovered running a crossing route from the right side. CB Kelvin Hayden, who is covering Jones on this play, is the guy standing on the "10" painted on the field, a good 12 yards away from Jones. Had Rodgers wanted, he could have hit Jones for the easy first down.
Here you see Cobb making the catch and being dragged down after a 12-yard gain. Five plays later, the Packers would score a touchdown to go up 21-7.
This was a play that, had Chicago's defense made the stop, would have kept the game within one score and shifted momentum to the home team. Instead, the Packers ended up building an insurmountable lead. The victory gave Green Bay its second NFC North title in as many years and crippled the Bears' playoff hopes.
On this play, Briggs fell for the hard count and gave away the fact he was blitzing. Rodgers knew there would be no one underneath to take away Cobb's drag route. When Conte then slid across from the receiver, it further validated Rodgers' read.
Yet the biggest mistake was putting Conte on Cobb in the first place. Finley was eating up Chicago's safeties, so I can understand the Bears trying a different approach on the big tight end, but by putting Conte on the one of the best slot receivers in the game, you're basically handing the defense the first down if the blitz doesn't finish. When the Packers picked up Briggs, the play was doomed.
Yet it wasn't just Cobb who got open. Jones was also by himself on a crossing pattern from the other side, with Hayden apparently enjoying the view. In place of injured starter Tim Jennings the past two weeks, Hayden has truly struggled. This play was just one of many where he failed to do his job.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.