The Chicago Bears last week tabbed Adam Gase to be the club’s offensive coordinator. Gase brings two years OC experience under John Fox in Denver, developing his playbook with the help of Peyton Manning.
We have already examined the Xs and Os of Gase’s run game, as well as his screen passing attack. Now it’s time for the downfield portion of Gase’s playbook.
This will be the first of a three-part series in which we utilize coaches film to dissect the passing attack Gase will be running in Chicago.
For this piece, let’s break down seven Broncos pass plays from the club’s Week 3 meeting against the Seattle Seahawks, which was a rematch of Super Bowl XLVIII.
Play I: The Rub
This is a four-receiver set with two receivers to either side of the line of scrimmage. The right slot receiver (yellow) will run a quick out directly in the path of the wide cornerback, Richard Sherman (black). WR Emmanuel Sanders (red) will rub off the “pick” and drag across the middle of the field.
Here we see the crossing point in which Sherman has to maneuver around his teammate, thus giving Sanders a yard of cushion. Notice the far slot receiver, who is running just outside the left hash. This occupies the free safety, leaving a juicy open area (blue) in the intermediate zone between the hashes.
The rub doesn’t create much room but it gives Sanders the inside leverage he needs to make the grab.
Analysis: The Seahawks run predominately press-man coverage. A pattern will emerge in this contest where Gase uses complementary receivers to clear space for the primary target. On this play, he uses the classic pick, which forces Sherman to hesitate briefly and gives Sanders the space he needs for an 8-yard gain.
Play II: Pick and Roll
Unlike last snap, the Broncos on this play make very little effort to hide the pick, which is technically illegal. TE Julius Thomas (red) is on the right edge of the line of scrimmage and will clear into the right flat. To his right, WR Demaryius Thomas (yellow) will slam right into the box safety, who has man responsibility on the tight end.
Here we see the wide receiver (yellow) blocking the safety down the field, leaving plenty of space for Thomas to run.
As Thomas catches the ball, there isn’t a defender within five yards of him.
Analysis: Gase uses a blatant clear-out tactic on this snap, using the wide receiver to drive the safety away from the line of scrimmage. Thomas just has to run underneath and he’s wide open for a short gain. This is a play in which Martellus Bennett, the toughest tight end in the league to tackle, could pick up a big chunk of yards.
Play III: Out and In
This will be another variation of a rub play. WR Wes Welker (red) is in the slot, with Sanders (yellow) out wide. At the snap, Welker will run a two-yard out route, sliding underneath Sanders on a skinny post.
Here we see Welker break inside. Sanders uses an inside release so he can run the nickelback (blue) out of the play. At this point, the nickel has to choose whether to come underneath Sanders, and risk getting behind Welker, or go over top of the rub.
The nickelback comes over top of Sanders. At the same time, Welker cuts off his route and breaks back inside. Notice the tight end (white) running down the right hash, taking the safety with him. This leaves a huge open area in the middle of the field.
Manning gets greedy on this play and tries to hit Sanders on the skinny post, yet notice how wide open Welker is underneath. This play would have gone for a first down and more had Manning taken the easy option in Welker, who had room to run.
Play IV: Welker Clear Out
The Broncos deploy trips right in a bunch formation. The Seahawks are showing zone coverage on the strong side, with press-man on the backside receiver. Welker (red) is in the middle of the bunch. The receivers on both sides of him are going to run vertical routes.
Welker uses a stutter step at the snap, allowing the other two receivers to get out in front. Notice all four Seahawks defenders (black) sliding backward in response to the vertical routes.
As the front receivers push the defense backward, Welker stops on a dime. This is a timing route, with Manning having already released the pass.
Notice there’s not a defender within four yards of Welker as he makes the grab.
Analysis: Here again Gase uses secondary receivers to clear space for the primary target. This isn’t a pick play but the concept is the same. The timing between quarterback and receiver is crucial on this snap. Manning anticipates the comeback route and fires the pass to Welker well before the defense can converge.
Play V: Play Action
The Broncos line up in a power run formation. Both tight ends are stacked on the left edge, creating an unbalanced offensive line. In response, Seattle puts eight defenders in the box.
This will be a play-action pass with max protection against Cover 1. The ball fake will bring the strong safety forward, leaving the free safety alone to cover the entire deep zone. Both of the wide receiver will push vertically at the snap.
Here we see the ball fake. Notice there isn’t a single defender beyond the 39-yard line, leaving the free safety (blue) in no-man’s land with receivers creeping up on either side. The primary target on this play is Sanders (red) at the top of the screen.
Both wide receivers run hitch routes at 18 yards. Because they pressed the deep zone on each side of the field, the free safety is stuck between the hashes as the ball is released. This is a timing pattern that is executed perfectly for the first down.
Analysis: The play-action on this snap eats up eight defenders and puts pressure on the free safety. With both wide receivers running up the seams, the safety cannot commit to either side of the field. The success of this play relies on Manning’s anticipation and him releasing the pass before his receiver’s break. Had he waited for Sanders to get open, the cornerback would have had time to break forward and make a play on the ball.
Play VI: Weak-Side Isolation
Before the snap, Welker will motion inside.
The motion creates trips right. Seattle’s defense gives the bunch formation all its attention, which creates a big open area (black box) on the left side of the field. Sanders (red) will slant across the field at the snap before breaking outside into the open area.
Sanders is now in his second cut and will soon create the separation he needs to make the grab. Manning lets the ball go right as Sanders makes his break.
Sanders make the easy grab for the first down.
Analysis: This was an isolation play the deployed a bunch right formation, leaving Sanders in single coverage to the left. Manning played the odds and took advantage of the one-on-one matchup out wide. Again, this play doesn’t work without good timing between the quarterback and receiver.
Play VII: Reverse Screen
On this snap, Sanders (red) will motion right and then run behind the play, faking an end around. At the snap, Manning will use a ball fake to the running back (white) up the middle. The two receivers (yellow) on the right side of the field will serve as lead blockers.
Here we see Sanders running behind the play as Manning fakes the handoff. Sanders will keep running into the right flat, behind his blockers.
The ball fake here is key, as it causes the play-side defensive end (blue) to take a step inside, which is all Sanders needs to get outside.
Manning lobs the pass over the head of the defensive end, who cannot remotely keep pace with Sanders, who catches the ball with a full head of steam.
This angle shows both receivers (yellow) locked up on a defender, leaving only the free safety between Sanders and the end zone.
Analysis: This is a really creative play, one that uses a play-action end-around to put Sanders in space with blockers out in front. In essence, this is a glorified wide receiver screen.
Two things stood out during this first film session on Gase's aerial attack. The first is timing. Most of his passing plays relied heavily on Manning’s ability to release the pass before the receiver made his break.
For the Bears, this may not be a good thing, as Jay Cutler lacks anticipation. Throughout his career in Chicago, Cutler has proven that if the receiver isn’t open, he’s not going to find him. Timing patters have often been his bane, so if these plays are going to work, Gase and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains must get Cutler to anticipate these passes and put them on target, because if he’s late on these throws, the defense is going to end up with the ball.
Second, Gase often uses his receivers as decoys or pick players whose primary goal is to create room for a teammate. Whether it’s by rubbing off a defender or using vertical routes to occupy the safeties, Gase’s wideouts depend on each other to get open.
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.