Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman has been working as an offensive coach in the NCAA, CFL and NFL for more than 30 years. During that time, he's worked for and with some of the most well-respected offensive minds in the game – not the least of which was Bill Walsh, the legendary 49ers coach credited with creating the famed West Coast system that Trestman runs to this day.
Having designed so many plays and game plans, and calling countless games as a coordinator or head coach, Trestman has developed a knack for creative and innovative play calling. His offenses have always had success, which includes the current job he's doing in Chicago. Through just nine games this year, Trestman's offense is by far the most cohesive and productive unit the Bears have fielded in more than 20 years.
Yet at times, getting too cute at crucial points in a contest can blow up in one's face. Such was the case yesterday when Trestman made three key mistakes in play call and design, the result of which was a critical loss to the Detroit Lions, one that will make it extremely difficult for the Bears to win the NFC North this year.
Situation: Lions 14, Bears 7. 11 minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter. 4th and 1 at the Detroit 27-yard line.
Trestman chooses to go for it on fourth down early in the game, instead of kicking a 44-yard field goal and taking the three points (remember, the team lost by two points). The Bears line up in I-formation with FB Tony Fiammetta stacked in front of RB Michael Bush. On the right side, RG Kyle Long and RT Jordan Mills are in their normal spots, yet LT Jermon Bushrod is lined up outside of Mills, where the tight end typically resides. A few yards behind him, T Eben Britton is in the right wing spot. This leaves just G Matt Slauson and TE Dante Rosario on the left side of the formation.
At the snap, Bushrod, Long, Mills, Britton and Fiammetta lead an off-tackle right run, and even Slauson pulls behind the play to be the sixth blocker at the point of attack. The play is blocked well but the Lions just have too many bodies near the hole, allowing LB Rocky McIntosh to come off the edge untouched, dropping Bush for no gain.
By shifting Bushrod to the right side for the first time all year, and stacking Britton behind him, the Bears essentially told the Lions where the ball was going to be run. They figured with six lead blockers, five offensive linemen and one fullback, they could outmuscle Detroit's front seven and create a hole large enough to pick up one yard. Yet the Lions were smart and stacked more defenders on the right side than Chicago could handle. Next time, Trestman should just have the quarterback point to the hole where the play is about to be run, so he doesn't waste any more of the defense's time.
Situation: Lions 21, Bears 19. Two-point conversion No. 1
The Bears line up in I-formation with Fiammetta and RB Matt Forte stacked in the backfield. TE Martellus Bennett is on the right edge, while Britton and TE Dante Rosario are on the left edge. McCown crouches under center but then everyone shifts. Fiammatta moves to wing right, Forte slot right and Bennett wide right. Britton drops back wing left and Rosario splits wide left. McCown is in shotgun.
The Bears get what they want: Forte lined up 1-on-1 with a linebacker in the slot. At the snap, he runs a quick out, yet it's covered well by McIntosh. McCown sprints right but has no one to throw to, as the rest of his receiving options are tight ends, a fullback and a tackle eligible, and he's forced to throw the ball away.
The thinking here: force Detroit to bring out their goal-line package, then trick them by shifting into a passing formation and getting the ball to Forte. The reality: once Forte was covered, the play had no chance at success. The Bears have arguably the best wide receiver duo in the league. Leaving them off the field in this situation made little sense and left McCown with no options once the play broke down.
Situation: Two-point conversion No. 2
The Bears lined up in a passing formation with McCown in shotgun and Forte to his right. Britton is H-back right, Alshon Jeffery is slot right, Earl Bennett is wide right, and Brandon Marshall is split left. At the snap, McCown hands the ball to Forte running to the play's left.
At the point of attack, Slauson and C Roberto Garza initially double team DT Nick Fairley but Slauson immediately peels off for a linebacker. Fairley then explodes into the backfield and Garza does not have the leverage to stop him. Fairley takes Forte down in the backfield for a game-ending tackle.
Here Trestman did just the opposite of the first two-point attempt, lining up in a passing formation and the running the ball. Fault goes to McCown on this play, as it was a run-pass option and he chose to run the ball, which again ignored the receivers. But Slauson's mistake was even bigger. In zone blocking, the linemen typically double down at the snap and then one blocker peels off to the second level. Yet the double team doesn't mean anything if one guy doesn't bother touching the defender. If Slauson had waited one more second on the double team, Garza could have moved into a better position to make the block. Instead, Slauson sprints to the linebacker and Garza gets dragged into the backfield.
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.