The Chicago Bears are making incremental improvements on defense and it has shown the past two game days. That's especially the case for the run defense, which was outstanding in the 22-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Latavius Murray came into the game with the fourth most rushing yards in the NFL but was held to just 49 yards on the ground, while the Raiders averaged just 3.2 yards per carry as a team.
I broke down game film of Sunday's run defense. Here's what I found:
The Raiders will run Murray up the middle. The keys on this snap are DE Jarvis Jenkins (blue) and OLB Pernell McPhee (red).
Jenkins gains initial leverage and stops the offensive lineman in his tracks, while McPhee begins working around the edge. Notice NT Eddie Goldman (white), who is anchoring against a double team. That's what people mean when they talking about "space eaters."
Jenkins sheds the block, sending the opposing lineman on his face. McPhee has successfully worked around the tight end and is crashing inside toward the ball carrier.
Jenkins and McPhee converge on the ball carrier at the same time for no gain.
Analysis: This was a pure two-gap stack and shed by Jenkins, who gained leverage, created separation and threw the blocker aside. He then finds the ball carrier and wraps him up, with the help of McPhee coming from the outside. This was the first Raiders snap of the game and it set the tone for the run defense all day.
This is another gut run by Murray right at Goldman (blue). McPhee, lined up on the right side, will again be key on this play.
Look at the push Goldman gets at the snap. He has his hands under the blocker's shoulder pads and he's driving him backward. Also notice McPhee, who uses an inside swim move to immediately leave the blocker in his wake. Jenkins and ILB Shea McClellin (white arrows) seal the back side.
Look at that mass of humanity at the point of attack, led by Goldman's interior push. McPhee will end up taking Murray down for a three-yard loss.
Analysis: Here again we see McPhee beat the edge block and crash inside on an A gap run. Yet even more impressive is Goldman, who uses good pad level and brute strength to drive the offensive lineman into the hole.
This will be a counter run from shotgun. The right tackle is beginning to pull behind the line of scrimmage. Notice McPhee (red), who sees the pulling tackle and immediately sprints inside to follow him. Key on this play are OLB Lamarr Houston (blue) and McClellin (purple).
McPhee is so quick inside, the tight end has no choice but to jump on his back and enjoy the ride. Notice Houston, who sets the edge by crashing hard on the left tackle, with McClellin filling the C gap.
McPhee is right on the heels of Murray, who in front of him has a brick wall created by Houston and McClellin. Notice CB Tracy Porter (white) who comes up to help finish the play.
All four Bear defenders converge for the gang tackle. The run goes for no gain.
Analysis: On this play we see something that almost never happened for two years under former DC Mel Tucker, which is everyone doing their job and working together to stuff a run. McPhee shows amazing instincts and reaction by immediately racing after the pulling offensive lineman. While McClelin and Houston do a great job of filling the play-side gaps. Even Porter chips in on the support tackle.
This is an A gap right run. McPhee (red) is a one-man show on this play.
Look at that wicked swim move McPhee uses to immediately skip right past the block of the tight end. At this point, he has a clear path to the ball carrier.
McPhee uses his outstanding burst to meet Murray at the point of attack and brings the ball carrier down for no gain.
Analysis: Some folks questioned the value of signing McPhee after he was quiet the first two regular-season contests but plays like these show just how dominant he can be. Known as a pass rusher, McPhee showed on this play, and many other against the Raiders, how he's able to also use his quickness and power to shut down opposing running attacks single-handedly.
Murray will take the handoff A gap right. Notable on this play are Goldman (blue) and McClellin (purple).
Goldman again stands up the opposing guard and pushes him backward, right into the path of Murray, who will cut back across the play. Notice McClellin, who is ready to fill the play-side gap without being over-aggressive, instead waiting for the running back to make his move.
Murray cuts behind the guard as McClellin sheds a block and closes on the ball carrier.
McClellin bursts behind Goldman and the two of them wrap up Murray for a short gain.
Analysis: This is a very impressive, patient play by McClellin. Too many times over the past few years we've seen Bears linebackers fill incorrect gaps, allowing gaping holes on the other side of the play. On this snap, Shea positions himself to fill the strong-side gap, yet he sits and waits until the running back reveals himself. McClellin then closes hard across the play to make the tackle. That's a veteran play right there folks.
This is a designed counter play that will feature a pulling H-back for the kickout block. Notable on this play, again, is McClellin (purple).
As the running back makes his cut, notice how McClellin is looking into the backfield and reading the play.
McClellin shuffles down the line of scrimmage, mirroring the ball carrier. Notice the gap fill by DL Mitch Unrein (blue), who stuffs the blocker at the point of attack.
Unrein and McPhee seal the edge, giving the running back nowhere to go. McClellin closes from the backside and tackles the ball carrier after a short gain.
Analysis: This was another play we never saw from McClellin last year, tracking a ball carrier down the line of scrimmage and closing swiftly and correctly for the tackle. His improvement from week to week is substantial and noticeable. Also notworthy is Unrein, who had a number of quality two-gap plays like this one.