Due to the unprecedented rash of injuries at defensive tackle this season, the Chicago Bears took a chance on former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff. The eight-year veteran tore his groin in Week 11 last season and the healing process was lengthy.
As a result, the Cowboys cut Ratliff on Oct. 16 this year. The Bears scooped him up on Nov. 2 with the hope that, once the groin was fully healed, Ratliff could provide a spark at the 3-technique position. He got his first taste of game action against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 13 but didn't have much of an impact during his first two contests wearing the Navy and orange.
Last week, Ratliff played a season-high 44 snaps against the Cleveland Browns, finishing with a two QB hits, three QB hurries and a tackle for a loss – this on a day when the rest of the defensive line failed to generate any pressure. Ratliff's performance played a role in limiting the Browns to just 273 passing yards and one touchdown, which came in garbage time, through the air.
Let's go to the film room to analyze Ratliff's game, as well his potential impact going forward.
This is the first snap of the game for Chicago's defense and coordinator Mel Tucker dials up a blitz right away. Ratliff (blue) and McClellin (white) will slant right, with James Anderson coming off the edge and Jon Bostic blitzing up the middle.
The blitz is key here, as it forces both the tight end and running back to stay in and block, leaving Cleveland QB Jason Campbell without an underneath option. Anderson occupies two blockers off the edge, which leaves 1-on-1 matchups for the five other rushers. Ratliff initially works his way up the field on the outside shoulder of the guard.
No one can take advantage of the single blocking, except for Ratliff, who spins back inside.
Ratliff hits Campbell as he's releasing the pass, resulting in a pass that falls 20 yards short of the intended receiver.
The Browns will run the ball right at Ratliff (blue), who is shaded over the center. Cleveland motions the tight end to the strong side and the Bears stack all three linebackers on the same side, giving them five defenders at the point of attack.
Chicago does a great job of sealing the edge by overloading personnel. Running back Edwin Baker has no room to bounce the play outside. Notice that Ratliff has driven his blocker into the backfield. This leaves Baker no option but to cut back to the weak side.
By being stout at the point of attack, Ratliff sends Baker into the waiting arms of Julius Peppers (yellow), who drops the ball carrier after a minimal gain.
This play is less about Ratliff and more about the blitz package. Ratliff (blue) is lined up on the outside shoulder of the right guard, with Bostic (red) showing blitz in the A gap. McClellin (white) is in a stand up position and will rush off the edge. S Chris Conte (yellow) is beginning his blitz just as the ball is snapped.
Conte blitzes and Major Wright drops into the deep middle zone. McClellin comes off the edge yet Bostic drops into coverage, briefly.
With Conte, McClellin and Ratliff occupying the right side of the offensive line, Bostic comes on a delayed blitz up the middle and has a clear path to the quarterback. The play results in an off-target pass that falls incomplete.
The Browns will run up the middle, with Ratliff (blue) in the left A gap.
Corey Wootton (red) does an outstanding job getting penetration, which forces Baker to cut inside. Ratliff flies up field at the snap but when he sees the play running away from him, he flattens his pursuit angle. Bostic reads the play as an outside run and immediately takes off for the edge.
Wootton's penetration drives the play to the backside. Ratliff pursues and hops on Bakers' back after a short gain. Throughout the game, Ratliff showed this type of pursuit and never-ending hustle. Notice how far Bostic (white) has run himself out of the play.
On the right side, Peppers and Wootton will slant inside, with Ratliff (blue) swinging behind them on a delayed stunt.
Wootton and Peppers both get double teamed. This gives Ratliff a clear path to swing behind.
Ratliff hits Campbell as he's releasing the pass, forcing an incompletion.
The Browns will attempt to run Chris Ogbonnaya up the gut. Wootton (yellow) is in the right B gap, while Ratliff (blue) is in the left A gap.
The left guard tries to cut Ratliff, yet he extends his arms and uses his strong hands to drive the blocker into the turf. At the same time, Wootton just explodes right between a double team.
Baker is forced to cut back by Wootton but Ratliff is waiting for him.
Ratliff brings Ogbonnaya down after a three-yard loss.
Ratliff had a very strong game against the Browns. He penetrated off the snap, worked the stunts and was powerful at the point of attack. At the same time, Wootton was beastly, as he's been for most of the season. If Wootton were able to stick at one position, he'd be a Pro Bowler. As it is, he'll just continue being the most underrated player on the defense.
Finally, Tucker used a lot of 3-4 looks against Cleveland, standing McClellin up and bringing pressure from multiple angles. With the injuries on defense, Tucker has to get creative. If his creativity pays off over the next two weeks, the defense should be able to do its part in helping the team to the playoffs.
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.