In the regular season opener, the Chicago Bears gave up 245 yards to the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half. It wasn't a strong showing, although two Charles Tillman interceptions kept the team within four points at halftime. Yet the defense clamped down in the second half, giving up just 95 totals yards in the final two quarters.
It was an up-and-down performance in coordinator Mel Tucker's first game in Chicago. To get a better idea of what did and didn't work, let's break down the 10 most significant defensive plays from Week 1.
-2nd and 7 from the Cincinnati 29-yard line. The Bengals line up strong left with QB Andy Dalton under center and WR A.J. Green wide right. The Bears counter with a base 4-3, with Tillman a few yards across from Green. Before the snap, S Chris Conte creeps up to the line of scrimmage, just outside of LDE Corey Wootton. At the snap, Dalton turns and shows a half-hearted play fake before quickly turning back to the line of scrimmage. Conte comes freely off the edge, forcing Dalton to fire the ball immediately to Green running a quick slant. Tillman sees the hot route coming and breaks hard on the ball, jumping in front of the receiver and intercepting the pass.
This was an interesting play design, as Wootton slanted inside at the snap and draws the offensive tackle with him. This left no one to block Conte, who applied the pressure that led to the turnover. And what more can we say about Tillman, who picks up an interception on just the second defensive snap of the 2013 season. It was a great read-and-react play by the veteran.
-3rd and 5 at the Cincinnati 25-yard line. The Bengals line up in a three-receiver set with WR Mohamed Sanu in the left slot. Dalton is in shotgun. The Bears counter with a base 4-3 and have LB James Anderson lined up five yards across from Sanu. At the snap, Dalton drops back to pass. DT Stephen Paea uses a bull rush and pushes the offensive linemen into Dalton's face. The QB has to fire the quick pass to Sanu running an out route at the first down line. Anderson reads the play, quickly breaks forward and knocks the pass away, forcing the Bengals to punt.
Anderson showed throughout this game he's a weapon in coverage. On this play, he reads his key and makes a great play on the ball, all against a wide receiver. If Anderson can handle slot receivers, he shouldn't have a lot of trouble with opposing tight ends this year.
-2nd and 4 at the Chicago 46-yard line. The Bengals line up with two tight ends, Dalton in shotgun and a receiver to either side. Green is wide right with Tillman across from him. The Bears counter with a base 4-3 and rush just four linemen. At the snap, Green releases upfield and Dalton pump fakes in his direction. Tillman isn't fooled by the fake and runs stride for stride with Green down the field. The two men collide at the five-yard line. Tillman is in great position yet Green is just too strong and he's able to shield the defender and still make the catch. The play goes for 44 yards and gives the Bengals the ball at the 2-yard line.
Green caught nine passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns in this game. Yet Tillman did about as well as anyone could against one of the game's elite receivers. On this play, Tillman keeps pace and is right there to break up the pass. All but a handful of receivers in the NFL would have collapsed under the type of pressure Tillman was applying, yet Green just shrugs him off and makes the catch. He's truly one of the special receivers in the league. At the same time, one has to wonder what S Chris Conte, who was nowhere near the play, was doing. The Bengals have only one good receiver and Conte was the only deep safety. No other pass catcher ran a deep pattern, so what was he doing 20 yards behind the play?
-1st and 10. The Bengals line up strong right with Dalton under center and RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis alone in the backfield. The Bears counter with a base 4-3. At the snap, Dalton hands the ball to Green-Ellis up the middle. DT Stephen Paea explodes into LG Clint Boling. Peas then rips inside and dives at the runner's feet. At the same time, DE Shea McClellin extends his arms into TE Jermaine Gresham and holds his ground. As Paea trips up the ball carrier, McClellin sheds the blocker and finishes off Green-Ellis. The play goes for a gain of three.
The Bears held the Bengals to just 63 rushing yards and Paea was a big reason. On this play, he shows power in rocking Boling back on his heels, quickness in cutting inside, and awareness in location and taking out the running back's legs. On a day when few Chicago defensive linemen shined, Paea was a rock on the inside. This play was also a good sign for McClellin. Overall, he had his obligatory struggles against the run but on this snap, he did very well at the point of attack. It was a play you wouldn't have seen McClellin make last season.
On the next snap, McClellin strings out a stretch run, which allows Anderson to come from the inside and make a tackle for a loss of three.
-1st and 10 from the Chicago 45-yard line. The Bengals line up with two tight ends, Dalton under center and a receiver to either side of the field. Green is wide right with CB Tim Jennings five yards across from him. The Bears are in a base 4-3. At the snap, Dalton drops back to pass. The front four gets no pressure and the QB has all day to survey the scene. Chicago is in zone coverage. Jennings runs with Green for 15 yards but then lets him go into the deep zone. Yet there is no one in the deep zone, as S Major Wright is preoccupied with the tight end running down the seam. Green is wide open and scores a 45-yard TD.
This was a good play design for two-deep zone coverage. The Bengals flooded Wright's deep zone and he lost track of Green. But, like Conte on Green's deep catch earlier in the game, why is the safety concerned with players other than Green? When a team has an elite receiver, you roll coverage his way, not away from him.
-Late in the first half, with the Bears down 14-7, the Bengals took possession in a two-minute situation deep in their own territory. On the first play, a stretch run, Paea and DE Julius Peppers disrupt the play at the point of attack and Briggs flies in to drop Green-Ellis for a loss. On the next play, Briggs breaks up a pass attempt to the tight end. On third down, Briggs holds his ground at the second level, sheds and takes down the ball carrier. The Bengals are forced to punt.
The Bears were then able to move the ball into field goal range, setting up Robbie Gould for a 58-yarder, which he banged through. And wouldn't you know it, Chicago ended up winning by three points. Briggs stepped up at a big time in the game and almost singlehandedly forced a three-and-out. If the Bengals get a first down, Gould never gets an opportunity. It was quite a three-play series by the 10-year veteran linebacker.
-1st and 10. The Bengals line up with trips right, Dalton under center and Green-Ellis alone in the backfield. The Bears counter with a nickel package. Before the snap, nickelback Isaiah Frey creeps in toward the right side of the line and shows blitz. At the snap, Dalton hands the ball to Green-Ellis up the middle. DT Nate Collins bursts through the gap and knocks Boling on his butt. At the same time, Frey comes untouched into the backfield. Green-Ellis bounces off of Boling and Frey wraps him up around the legs. Paea then slips past his blocker and lowers the boom on the ball carrier, driving him backward into the ground for a two-yard loss.
The lack of pass rush on Sunday was concerning but Chicago's defense definitely showed very well against the run. On this play, both of the interior defenders dominate their respective blockers. Collins' explosion off the ball sends the guard onto his backside and into the ball carrier. With the power of both Collins and Paea inside, opposing teams are going to have a tough time running the ball up the gut this season.
-2nd and goal from the Chicago 5-yard line. The Bengals line up strong left with Dalton under center and Green-Ellis alone in the backfield. Two receivers are stacked wide right. The Bears counter with a base 4-3. Wright is showing blitz off the left edge and Jennings is three yards behind him. On the far side, Anderson is split wide with Tillman across from the two wideouts. At the snap, Green-Ellis carries up the middle. The defensive line gets shoved out of the way and Briggs is sealed by the tight end. That leaves LB D.J. Williams to make the play, yet he's staring in the backfield as the runner goes right by him for the touchdown.
Williams didn't do much in this game and this play was horrible for a 10-year veteran. He was in the wrong gap staring at the wrong thing as the Bengals scored. He missed all of the preseason with a calf injury and is still getting up to speed. But with rookie Jon Bostic looking for playing time, Williams needs to quickly pick up his game if he's going to keep his job. And why was Anderson out wide on this play and not in his linebacker spot on a 2nd and goal? Was it necessary to have both Wright and Jennings over the far-side tight end? Anderson inside could have made a difference on this play.
-2nd and 9 from the Chicago 27-yard line. The Bengals line up trips right with Dalton under center and Sanu wide left. The Bears counter with a base 4-3. Conte is on the left edge showing blitz. At the snap, both Conte and Anderson blitz the left side. Paea crashes into C Kyle Cook and knocks him on his butt, right at the quarterback's feet. On the outside, Sanu runs a 7-yard hitch and Jennings falls trying to break forward. Dalton gets rid of the pass quickly and Sanu makes the easy catch. Jennings then gets up, punches the ball out of the receiver's hands and falls on the fumble.
This was a huge turnover, the second fumble Jennings forced on the day. The Bengals were driving to take a 7-point or possibly an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter. Yet Jennings' strip gave the Bears the ball back. The offense then drove down the field for the game-winning score. Tillman and Jennings both had game-changing turnovers in this game, so it doesn't appear last year's first-team All Pros will be slowing down any time soon.
-3rd and 10 at the Cincinnati 20-yard line. The Bengals line up bunch left, Dalton in shotgun and WR Marvin Jones wide right. The Bears counter with their nickel package. Briggs and Anderson are on top of the center showing blitz, as is Wright off the right edge. At the snap, Briggs and Wright blitz. Dalton looks to his right and sees Jones running a slant. What he doesn't see is Anderson, who did not blitz and is instead clearing into the right flat. Dalton fires the pass to Jones yet Anderson dives into the passing lane and nearly intercepts the pass. The Bengals are forced to punt.
On the ensuing drive, Chicago's offense ran more than 6:30 off the clock, which sealed the victory. So this was an extremely crucial play, one that was designed and executed very well. Tucker shows blitz with his two linebackers and brings pressure with Briggs and Wright. Yet he sends Anderson underneath to the opposite side of the field. When Dalton releases the pass, he has no clue there is a linebacker sprinting into the passing lane. Anderson shows off his athleticism by diving and breaking up the play.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. 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.