The Chicago Bears defense through six games this year has exceeded expectations. The unit is Top 10 against the run, 16th overall and 17th against the pass. The team also boasts the league leader in sacks – Willie Young with 7.0 – and interceptions – Kyle Fuller with three.
The defensive improvement over last season – the club finished 30th overall and 32nd against the run in 2013 – has been one of the main reasons the Bears are 3-3 this year, especially considering the numerous inconsistencies of the offense.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker deserves much of the credit. No longer handcuffed to the Lovie 2 as he was last year, Tucker has deployed a number of differing and creative blitz packages to keep opposing offenses guessing.
With that in mind, let’s go to the film room to analyze Tucker’s blitzes through six games using All-22 coach’s film.
TRAFFIC AHEAD, EXPECT DELAYS
We’ll start with last week’s contest against the Atlanta Falcons. On this snap, we see the Bears giving the classic “mug” look, with two linebackers over the center. S Chris Conte (blue) initially lines up 10 yards deep of the line of scrimmage.
Just before the snap, Conte rushes to the line of scrimmage.
As soon as he sees the guard block down on the defensive tackle, Greene comes on a delayed blitz.
Conte’s blitz occupies the running back, giving Greene an open lane to the quarterback, which forces the early throw.
Analysis: Tucker uses a lot of pre-snap motion, in both blitz and non-blitz calls, trying to disguise his defense before the snap. We see that on this play with Conte sprinting 10 yards to the line of scrimmage.
Yet the key to this play was the delay of Greene’s blitz. The guard doesn’t see a blitz initially and crashes down on NT Stephen Paea. With Conte taking the running back out of the play, that leaves a clear path for Greene, who is a half second away from picking up the sack.
On this snap, LB Christian Jones (white) lines up off the right edge and shows blitz. It will be a zone blitz, with DE Jared Allen (blue) dropping into coverage. This play is designed for Sharpton (yellow).
At the snap, Jones comes off the edge, while Allen drops into the short zone on the opposite side of the field. Sharpton waits until the guard looks inside, then comes on the delayed blitz.
The key on this play is DE Lamarr Houston (red) who deliberately crashes inside, sealing the guard and taking the right tackle with him. With Jones occupying the running back, Sharpton has nothing but green grass between him and the quarterback.
Sharpton levels Falcons QB Matt Ryan as he releases the pass. At the same time, Allen has dropped right into the passing lane. Unfortunately for the Bears, the pass is just out of Allen’s reach and the play goes for a 15-yard gain.
Analysis: Tucker designed this play to get Sharpton in the backfield, using Houston and Jones to clear a path for the linebacker. The zone blitz then puts Allen sneakily into the middle of the field and nearly results in an interception.
This is the simplest of the blitzes we’ll analyze in this piece, yet the design of this play is deceptively effective. Jones is on the right side making no effort to hide his impending edge rush. Houston (blue) is at defensive tackle on the opposite side of the line.
Houston wins his 1-on-1 matchup and collapses the pocket inside, which forces Ryan to release the ball a tick earlier than he’d like.
Behind the blitz is man coverage. The three corners, plus safety Ryan Mundy, are manned up on the receivers and running back. The inside slot receiver is Julio Jones (red), easily Atlanta’s best wideout – and arguably the best pass catcher in the league. In yellow is Sharpton, who appears to be 1-on-1 with Jones. Getting a premiere wide receiver like Jones matched up in man coverage against a linebacker is exactly the mismatch the Falcons are looking to exploit. Yet in reality, Jones is being double teamed, as Conte has bracket coverage over the top.
Ryan can’t help himself and fires the pass to Jones running a skinny post. Sharpton underneath forces the low-and-outside pass, which throws Jones off balance. Conte then comes in over the top and knocks the ball out of Jones’ hands.
Analysis: This was a beautifully designed play. Ryan thinks he has his best receiver 1-on-1 with a linebacker, yet he doesn’t realize Jones is actually being double covered. By blitzing Christian Jones, Tucker gives all five pass rushers 1-on-1 matchups. Houston takes advantage of the single block and forces the early throw.
THE OVERLOAD STUNT
This play has Paea and Allen stunting on a cross off the left side. Sharpton (white) is showing blitz over the center. Greene (blue) does not show blitz pre-snap.
Paea’s job on this play is to crash right and take as many blockers with him as he can, thus clearing a path for Allen to swing inside. Sharpton blitzes initially, which takes the center’s attention, yet Sharpton then drops into the short-middle zone. Greene comes on the delayed blitz, which overloads the left side.
The three blockers to the left become too worried about Allen and Greene, which allows Paea to bust through and take Ryan down for the sack.
Analysis: Paea was supposed to be the space eater on this play, clearing out the right side in order for Allen to get the sack. The left guard recognizes the stunt and disengages from Paea. At the same time the running back is focused on the delayed blitz by Greene, which gives Paea the room he needs to pick up his fourth sack of the season.
The Bears show an all-out blitz before the snap. Linebackers Lance Briggs and Jon Bostic are in the “mug” look over the center. Both safeties, Conte and Mundy, are up near the line of scrimmage. This will be another zone blitz, with Allen (blue) dropping into coverage.
At the snap, Briggs and Mundy blitz, with Conte, Bostic and Allen dropping into coverage.
Briggs climbs the A gap and clears out the interior blockers, while Houston (yellow) swings behind. Paea swings wide, taking the left guard and tackle with him. The blitz doesn’t finish though, as Briggs is stymied by a double team and Houston can’t get off his block.
Analysis: Tucker showed blitz from every angle, bringing a linebacker and safety at the snap, while dropping a defensive end into the short middle. Yet this was all done to free up Houston on the delayed swing.
THE GO-TO BLITZ
During my film work, there was one blitz Tucker used repeatedly, particularly early in the year. It’s a B-gap blitz coupled with an interior cross stunt. In this first example against the Carolina Panthers, Bostic will rush the right B gap, with Paea and Will Sutton crossing.
Paea does a great job of clearing two blockers, while Bostic’s blitz forces the right guard out wide. This leaves Sutton a wide lane, although Cam Newton releases the pass before Sutton can finish.
Here we’ll see the same exact blitz against the Green Bay Packers, which is again designed to free up Sutton.
Paea eats up two blockers, as does Bostic, which clears a path for Sutton. Sutton collapses the pocket, although Rodgers is able to step away from the rush and complete the pass.
Analysis: This is Tucker’s old standby. It’s a relatively simple blitz in design, yet it has been fairly effective more often than not this year.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.