Over the past decade, safety has been a questionable position for the Chicago Bears. The team has cycled through safeties like a commodities broker. During Lovie Smith's nine-year tenure as head coach, the Bears selected a safety in all but one of his drafts. That says a lot about the futility of the position.
Yet it appeared the carousel would finally come to a close with the emergence of youngsters Major Wright and Chris Conte the past few years. Unfortunately for Chicago fans, neither player has been anywhere near consistent this season.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Conte ranks 63rd amongst 86 qualifying safeties in the league. Even worse is Wright, who ranks 85th. In essence, PFF has graded Wright the second worst safety in the NFL right now. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 85.7 percent of passes thrown to Wright's coverage, good for a 128.6 passer rating. He's allowed three touchdowns in 2013, second most of any safety, and has missed nine tackles in six games.
Against the New York Giants last week, Wright had arguably his worst game of the season. Let's break down three plays from Week 6, using All-22 coach film, to show where Wright is failing and what he can do to right the ship.
The Giants line up with two receivers to the right side. Wright (blue) is lined up at strong safety and will bail into the deep half at the snap. Out wide, WR Reuben Randle will release to the sideline on a fly pattern, while the slot receiver will run a deep post.
Wright is just off camera here in his deep half. As you can see, Tim Jennings has passed Randle off, showing zone coverage out wide. Nickelback Isaiah Frey is trailing the slot receiver and Conte is shading over the deep middle, so there's no reason for Wright to be worried about the inside man. Yet Eli Manning is able to freeze Wright by eyeing the slot receiver, which opens a huge area for Randle along the sideline.
Manning quickly turns and fires a deep pass to the wide-open Randle. Notice that Jennings is 10 yards behind the play, so he obviously had no deep responsibilities on this play. That means it was Wright's job to seal the sideline, yet as you can see, he's nowhere near the receiver, who makes the catch at the 12-yard line.
Wright then compounds his first mistake by not breaking down for the tackle. He comes in out of control and Randle cuts inside, resulting in a 37-yard touchdown for the Giants.
The Giants line up two receivers to the right with Wright in the strong safety spot. The slot receiver will run an inside drag, while the wideout will release down the sideline on a go route.
Notice the huge area in blue sans New York receivers. That's the area to which Wright is paying attention. At the same time, Victor Cruz has gotten a step on Jennings down the sideline. Yet Wright is still in good position at this point to take away the fly route.
For some reason, Wright drifts in the middle of the field, even though there isn't a single pass catcher anywhere near that area. The only deep receiver is Cruz, whom Manning finds down the sideline. Notice Wright is eight yards from Cruz as he's making the catch.
Cruz has now pulled in the reception and Wright is still five yards from him. That's how out of position he was on this play.
With the Giants in Bears territory, they line up with a receiver wide left and a tight end on the left edge. CB Zack Bowman is across from Randle out wide. The Bears are going to run a Cover 2, with a line of underneath defenders and Conte and Wright each in a deep half.
The Bears have good coverage initially and get some pressure up front, forcing Eli to scramble around the pocket. Notice the tight end near the 30. He's wide open underneath, so Bowman passes off the deep man and jumps on the tight end. The white circle shows there are absolutely no other deep receivers besides Randle. Wright, just off screen, is roaming in the middle of the field, while Cruz (yellow) is wide open near the sideline.
Wright is nowhere near the receiver when he makes the catch and once again comes flying in out of control to make the play.
Cruz makes a quick move inside and Wright slides right past him. Cruz then has an open path to the end zone but, fortunately for the Bears, he slips and falls without anyone touching him. Notice Wright is eight yards behind the play when Cruz falls down.
Wright has three major issues he has to correct: read, react and tackling.
Read: The ability of opposing quarterback's to freeze Wright and look him off open receivers has been astonishing this year. On two of the three plays we outlined, Manning is able to hold Wright in the middle of the field with his eyes before firing bullets to the sidelines. Wright has no other receiver anyone near him, yet he still doesn't put himself in a position to make a play. His awareness of those around him and where the receivers are on the field is horrible.
React: On the Randle touchdown, Wright isn't that far away from the play when the ball is thrown. Yet he stands like he has cement in his shoes as Manning steps into his throw. This gives Randle the extra second he needs to make the catch and put a move on the defender before scoring. Wright was slow the entire game reacting to plays as they happened. In a game where half a second can be the difference between a pass breakup and an opposing touchdown, those slow reaction times are killing Chicago's pass defense.
Tackling: This has been a problem for Wright his entire career. When plays happen around him, it's as if he forgets entirely about technique and form, and the importance of balance when approaching a ball carrier. Whenever the ball is in his area, it's as if an alarm goes off in his head screaming "GET THERE NOW!!!", which results in a player, who is the last line of defense, completely of control when trying to make a touchdown-saving tackle. It's obvious the game has not slowed down for Wright, who appears very unsure of himself on the field.
If Wright doesn't improve in these three areas, it's going to be hard for coordinator Mel Tucker to justify keeping him on the field. If Wright continues to struggle, we could see veteran Craig Steltz starting in the very near future.
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.