After a 3-6 start to the season and back-to-back contests in which the Chicago Bears defense allowed 50 or more points, everyone is searching for answers.
Most believe, and rightly so, that this team is much more talented than their record reflects. Yet the Bears have lost three games in a row, and four of their last five, and now must figure out where to begin making corrections.
After a full evaluation of the game film, it’s clear that miscommunication and a general lack of big-picture comprehension are the main culprits for the defense’s historically bad performances of late.
With that in mind, let’s break down three plays from Sunday night’s contest against the Green Bay Packers to illustrate these points.
PLAY I: Rodgers to Nelson (Part I)
The Packers line up with two wide receivers to the right side of the field. Slot receiver Randall Cobb (yellow) will run a deep slant, while flanker Jordy Nelson (blue) will run a go route. The key on this play is S Ryan Mundy (red).
With two deep safeties (red), this is Cover 2 zone coverage. It’s a defensive set that basically brackets the outside wide receivers, with cornerbacks using trail technique and a safety over the top of each half of the field.
QB Aaron Rodgers (white) rolls right out of the pocket. There is no contain. Notice the white arrows near the sidelines. Both CBs Tim Jennings and Kyle Fuller are sitting in their underneath zones, passing the receivers to the deep safeties. Green Bay floods Mundy’s zone with Cobb and Nelson, which freezes the safety.
At this point, Rodgers is cocking his arm for the throw. Notice Nelson (blue) running alone near the sideline. Nickelback Demontre Hurst is trailing Cobb in the middle, with S Chris Conte floating toward the hash. Mundy has help on Cobb but not on Nelson, yet he’s still stuck in his backpedal.
The ball is halfway to Nelson and Mundy has just now broken on the pass.
Mundy is nowhere near Nelson as he makes the wide-open touchdown grab.
Analysis: The Packers did a good job of isolating Mundy by running two receivers into his deep half. Mundy tried to cover both pass catchers but stayed in his backpedal far too long and ended up covering no one.
With the cornerbacks playing underneath, Mundy had no help near the sideline. Hurst was trailing Cobb right in Mundy’s line of vision. He had help inside, yet Mundy didn’t break toward the sideline until it was too late.
PLAY II: Rodgers to Nelson (Part II)
Conte follows Quarless, indicating man coverage. Rodgers then steps back and calls a check to his three receivers on the right side.
In response, Briggs calls his own audible, which sends Bostic out of his mug position. Conte looks at Briggs, takes a step forward, then kind of floats as if he’s not sure what to do.
The audible throws off Conte, who slides inside at the snap …
… before then spinning around and trying to cover the far flat. Notice that both the right cornerback and the nickelback (black arrows) have sat in their underneath zone, which indicates they’re playing a zone set. Yet on the far side of the field, Fuller (white) is in man coverage. The Packers again flood the deep safety, Brock Vereen, with a sideline-go/deep-post combination.
As Rodgers releases the pass, Conte (blue) runs into Hurst. Vereen (red) is stuck in the middle of field worried about Cobb, which leaves Nelson (yellow) wide open down the numbers.
With the ball a half second from being caught, Vereen (red arrow) is still 15 yards from Nelson, who catches the pass, cuts inside and scores.
Analysis: This looked similar to the previous play, yet the Bears found a totally different way to let Nelson run free. Briggs’ last-second audible causes confusion. The right side of the defense plays zone, the left side plays man and Conte runs around like a chicken with its head cut off.
This puts Vereen on an island and, like Mundy on the previous play, he freezes in the middle of the field. A simple pitch and catch from one of the most prolific passing duos in the league results in an easy score for Green Bay.
PLAY III: Mailing it in
The Packers run a screen to RB Eddie Lacy (blue). He has three blockers (yellow) in front of him and all four Bears defensive linemen (red) behind him.
LB Lance Briggs is double-teamed right away and knocked down.
Mundy (red) steps into the running lane and forces the runner inside to Bostic (white) who is attacking the play inside out. Notice Tim Jennings (black) who appears comfortable hanging with Nelson near the sideline.
Bostic falls down. Mundy fights off the block yet doesn’t attempt a tackle on Lacy. Jennings is still trading recipes with Nelson outside. Notice DT Stephen Paea (black circle) trailing the play. He’ll have an opportunity to make a tackle on Lacy from behind.
Paea watches Lacy go by, as does Hurst. At this point, Mundy (red) has taken himself out of the play. Notice to the left (white circle) Fuller and Conte crashing into each other.
Look at the amount of separation Lacy creates almost immediately. Either he’s Usain Bolt or he’s running harder than Chicago’s defense. Because of their Keystone Cops routine, Fuller and Conte cannot reach the cutoff point and allow blockers to get in front of Lacy, who turns the corner for a 56-yard touchdown.
Analysis: This was all about effort and desire. Lacy wanted to score much more than the Bears defense wanted to stop him.
Briggs gets knocked on his behind, Bostic falls down, Mundy is within arm’s reach of the ball carrier but doesn’t attempt a tackle, Jennings plays patty cake with Nelson out wide, Paea can’t close two yards, while Fuller and Conte run into each other.
This was a confused, underprepared defense that lacked confidence and on-field leadership from both the coordinator and the veterans. We’ll see in the final seven weeks if any of these players have any pride, because they didn’t show it on Sunday night.
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.