Tales from the Tape: Defensive Awareness

We use All-22 coaches film to analyze numerous missed assignments by the Chicago Bears' defense, which led to the Washington Redskins racking up nearly 500 total yards in Week 7.

It's the job of every NFL head coach to prepare his players to perform on Sundays. Coaches must make sure their athletes understand what is expected of them, what there assignments are in every given situation and to put their players in a position to succeed.

If that doesn't happen, success cannot be attained on the football field.

Under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the Chicago Bears defense looked like a lost unit in Week 7 against the Washington Redskins. It was one of the worst defensive performances in the history of the organization. Players were not prepared for the offensive attack of the Redskins, did not understand their assignments and failed to execute. The result was a 45-41 loss – the first time in the history of the franchise the Bears have lost a game in which they scored 40 or more points – in which Washington racked up nearly 500 yards of total offense, with more than 200 coming on the ground.

There's no denying the impact of numerous injuries to key players. The defense is banged up at a historic level. Which is why the unit desperately needs a coordinator who can pull them together and devise an effective plan of attack. No one is expecting Chicago's defense to be a Top 5 unit with so many Pro Bowler hurt or over the hill, but they don't have to be the worst team in the league. The Green Bay Packers won a Super Bowl with a number of starting defenders on IR, so it can be done.

Let's look at the film from last week to find out where the mistakes were made and how they can be fixed going forward.

PLAY I

3rd and 9. The Bears are showing blitz with two linebackers, Lance Briggs and James Anderson, over the center. Safety Major Wright will slowly creep up to the line and come on a delayed blitz. Redskins TE Jordan Reed begins the play on the right edge.

Reed motions across the formation until he is next to receiver Pierre Garcon, but no one follows him, which gives away the fact the defense is playing zone. Instead, CB Charles Tillman is left alone to cover two players.

At the snap, Anderson and Wright blitz, yet Briggs drops into coverage. The problem is that he drops to his left, where both receivers are covered, instead of dropping to his right and giving underneath help to Tillman.

Garcon runs a deep flag route, which pulls both Tillman and S Chris Conte away from the line of scrimmage. Underneath, Reed runs a stop route and has no one around him. Notice where Briggs is as the play develops, covering no one.

From there it's an easy pitch and catch, with neither Tillman nor Briggs able to reach Reed before he picks up a first down.

This is a situation where Tucker drew up a blitz that didn't take into account the two receivers on the right side. An easy way to defend this would have been to flair Briggs right, where he would have been able to undercut Reed. Instead, he stands in the middle of the field, unaware of his missed assignment.

PLAY II

3rd and short. The Bears use tight coverage on the two receivers to the right, yet inexplicably CB Zack Bowman is six yards off his man.

This isn't rocket science. If you need two yards and the defender is giving you six, you stop at the first down marker and turn to the quarterback. Because of where he was lined up to start the play, Bowman has no chance to break up the pass, which goes for an easy first down. Tucker had the right call with the two receivers on the opposite side of the field but handed a first down to Washington on a platter with Bowman's alignment.

PLAY III

The Redskins line up at the 3-yard line and split Reed wide right. The Bears, despite the fact Reed was absolutely eating them up, forget to cover him.

By the time Conte gets there, it's too late. Reed catches the easy back-corner touchdown. The lack of preparedness on this play, one in which the Bears were backed up on their own goal line, is pretty ridiculous. Failing to even cover the Redskins' best pass catcher is completely unacceptable and shows an undisciplined and unsure defensive unit.

PLAY IV

This is the game-winning touchdown play. Running back Roy Helu will take the carry and cut back behind his offensive line to the play's backside.

Notice how easily the three weak-side defenders are sealed inside. Major Wright can't beat a wide receiver and Julius Peppers can't fight off a tight end.

At this point, the only hope of stopping this play lies with nickelback Isaiah Frey (blue). He's in position to crash down on the runner and prevent him from entering the end zone.

But Frey wants nothing to do with tackling Helu. Instead, he stands around and waits to be blocked, allowing Helu to waltz into the end zone. A proud, accountable player – two things coaches must instill – would not stand there while the opposing team scores the game winner.

PLAY V

This a 3rd and 1 play earlier on the game-winning drive. QB Robert Griffin III will fake a handoff to Helu before rolling right.

The play fake brings both DE Shea McClellin and Anderson inside. Yet Conte is man to man on Reed, who is running behind the play. As such, Conte is sprinting play side, where Griffin will soon be.

There is a lot going on here. The play is supposed to go to Santana Moss on the deep out but Frey has him covered. In front of Griffin, McClellin shucks Reed, knocking the tight end off his route. Conte sees Reed get hit and also knows he has two linebackers (blue) in his zone. The area if flooded with defenders and Reed is no longer a threat.

Notice Reed has his back to Conte. After McCleliln hits Reed, he gives up on his route and just stops running, as he's unsure of where Griffin is at that point. Conte sees all of this and knows he has a linebacker behind him. Even if Reed catches the ball at this point, he's still 12 yards short of the first down.

Conte has an opportunity here to rush Griffin and force him to throw the ball. Yet he stands there, not covering anyone, watching the play develop in front of him. McClellin can't reach the speedy RGIII and needs help, but Conte isn't budging.

Conte stands and watches as Griffin outruns McCellin and gets a pass off to Garcon near the sideline.

Garcon catches the ball just on the other side of the first-down marker, keeping Washington's drive alive. This play, more than any other in the Week 7 contest, killed Chicago's chances of winning the game. It's a play for which the analysts lauded RGIII, yet it could have easily been a game changer in Chicago's favor had Conte showed some awareness and pressured the passer.

ANALYSIS

The Bears hired Tucker because of his experience running 4-3 defenses, as well as his promise to keep the same system and basic terminology. It obviously wasn't because of his resume, as his Jaguars defense finished 30th in the league last year.

Tucker has some very creative ideas and with a fully healthy team he might have been able to have success this year. But at this point, with a unit populated by backups, things have to simplified. Now more than ever Tucker must find cohesion through sound technique and a fundamental understanding of scheme and assignment. Throughout the Week 7 contest, Chicago's defense looked confused and unsure of where the needed to be on the field, both before and after the snap. This falls on the coordinator.

If the defensive players continue running around unclear of what to do, there's no way the Bears can expect to stop anyone going forward.


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.

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