Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports

Bears All-22 Lab: Defensive Front 7 Headed in Right Direction

Detailed film breakdown and analysis of the Chicago Bears defense the past three weeks, specifically the improved play of the front seven and a group of outside linebackers on fire.

The Chicago Bears are 5-8 and will miss out on the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. While the overall results have been disappointing, the Bears are just a few Robbie Gould missed field goals away from being 8-5. 

Defensively, this team is headed in the right direction. They've struggled to stop the run the past few weeks but overall, the play of the defense, particularly the front seven, is dramatically improved in comparison to Week 1. 

This is key, as there may not be as many glaring defensive holes to fill this off-season.

I went to the film room to analyze the club's front seven, highlighting some of the more impressive snaps of the past three weeks. 

Play I

This is a 3rd-and-short snap against the Packers three weeks ago. RB Eddie Lacy will run the ball up the gut. OLB Pernell McPhee (blue) will pinch off the weak side. Key on this play is DE Jarvis Jenkins (red). 

At the point of attack, Jenkins immediately rips right through the double team. This, combined with McPhee crashing inside, forces Lacy to cut back left. 

Jenkins clogs the hole as McPhee explodes into Lacy's hip, propelling both players laterally. 

The hit sends both McPhee and Lacy hurtling left, short of the first down marker, and into OLB Lamarr Houston's arms. 

Analysis: McPhee receives a lot of credit for his ability on pass downs but he's also extremely disruptive against the run. On this play, the Packers choose not to block him, which is a big mistake. McPhee reads the draw immediately and sprints toward the mesh point. Jenkins destroys a double team, which clogs the hole and allows McPhee to make the play in the backfield. On the opposite end of the line, Houston sheds a block from the tight end and makes sure Lacy doesn't fall forward. 

Play II

On this play against the Redskins, RB Alfred Morris (yellow) will run off-tackle left. The key on this snap is OLB Willie Young (blue). TE Derek Carrier is trying to seal Young to the outside. 

Young plants his outside foot when he sees Morris cut inside. 

Young uses a quick spin move to slide inside of Carrier and toward Morris. 

Young makes the solo tackle for no gain. 

Analysis: Willie Young, who led the club with 10.0 sacks last season, has 4.5 sacks in the past four games. He's been a force on passing downs but plays like these remind us he's also very good against the run. Houston has very good lateral quickness, while his hand usage and arm extension have always been solid. On this snap, he easily sheds the blocker and fills the running lane. Very impressive. 

Play III

Here again Morris will run off-tackle left in an unbalanced formation. The Redskins will zone block up front. Key on this play is OLB Sam Acho (blue) who will immediately crash inside at the snap. The victim is LT Trent Williams, whose job is to clear to the second level for ILB Shea McClellin (red). 

Williams never sees the hit coming and Acho absolutely blows him up, lifting the 6-5, 337-pound lineman off his feet. 

Acho regains his balance, breaks down and fills the gap. Notice Williams, who is tumbling backward four yards from where he was originally hit. He'll end up on his backside. 

Because of Acho, Morris has to cut left toward McClellin, who has shifted laterally into the path of the ball carrier. 

McClellin makes the tackle after a short gain. 

Analysis: Acho hasn't had a sack all season, causing some to question why he's so prevelant in the OLB rotation week in and week out. This play shows why the Bears' coaching staff loves Acho, who is a quality run defender. Acho shows brute strength and explosiveness sending a massive offensive lineman to the ground. He then has the awareness to find the ball carrier and force the cut outside. 

Play IV

On this snap, 49ers RB Shaun Draughn will run counter left, with a weakside pull and kickout from TE Vance McDonald (orange). Key on this play are NT Eddie Goldman (blue), DE Mitch Unrein (black) and Acho (red). 

Look at the penetration Goldman gets off the ball. He has nearly driven the center into the mesh point. Unrein is being double teamed. 

Goldman's penetration forces Draughn to cut outside left. Goldman sheds the block and continues to penetrate, while Unrein slips right past the double team. Acho is using his hands to drive McDonald to the ground and step around the block attempt. 

Unrein and Acho drop Draughn in the backfield for a loss. 

Analysis: Goldman has anchored the defensive line all season and has made a number of plays similar to this. He has heavy hands he uses to shock offensive linemen off the ball, then the power to drive them backward. His penetration on this play forces the play outside. Unrein has been a lunch-pail contributor since the Bears picked him up in Week 3. He's stout at the point of attack and has the strength to muscle through double teams, as he shows here. 

Play V

On this snap, Lacy (yellow) will clear from the backfield and into the right flat. It's a designed screen in which C J.C. Tretter (purple) will clear to the second level to block McClellin (red). 

Tretter is already sprinting toward the hash as Aaron Rodgers releases the pass. McClellin reads the play and begins working toward the sideline. 

McClellin beats Tretter to his spot and ducks his shoulder to avoid the block, showing good balance as he bends back toward Lacy. 

McClellin makes the open-field tackle. 

Analysis: McClellin is not a downhill player and never will be but his speed and lateral agility are an asset. Linebackers who are "thumpers" don't typically have the speed and quickness to make a play like this, in which McClellin utilizes some old defensive end technique in turning the corner around Tretter. 

Play VI

Here we have a simple cross stunt by Young (red) and Jenkins (blue). 

Young crashes hard inside, taking the offensive tackle with him as he slams into the guard. This occupies both blockers, allowing Jenkins a free lane around the outside. 

Jenkins goes untouched, forcing the early throw by Rodgers. 

The rushed throw results in an incompletion. 

Analysis: This is not a complex play but it results in a quarterback pressure that forces the early throw and incompletion. That's simple football. I chose this play because it's a clear demonstration of what solid technique and teamwork can accomplish. Young takes one for the team and occupies two blockers, giving Jenkins a clear path into the backfield. It's not detailed stuff but it doesn't have to be when the execution is on point. 

Play VII

On our final snap, we again have a cross stunt. Pernell McPhee, lined up at defensive tackle with his hand in the dirt, will crash outside, with Houston swinging inside. On the weak side, Young will get a single block from LT Joe Staley.

McPhee forces the double team, which opens a wide lane for Houston, who is just about to swing inside. On the far side, Young has Staley on his heels at the moment of contact. 

The 49ers are late to rotate and cannot pick up Houston on the loop inside. At the same time, Jenkins (yellow) sheds his single block in the face of QB Blaine Gabbert. Young is in the process of dumping Staley on his backside. 

Young literally jumps over Staley and gets his arm around Gabbert. 

Jenkins closes and finishes the play, splitting the sack with Young. 

Analysis: On this snap, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio uses McPhee as a defensive tackle, allowing him to get his three best pass rushers on the field at the same time. He then uses McPhee, who has been consistently double teamed throughout the year, as a decoy, which gives Houston a clear path to the quarterback. Both Jenkins and Young beat their single blocks, with Young doing it in dramatic fashion against one of the best left tackles in the NFL. When all three are healthy, the Bears may have the best trio of 3-4 outside linebackers - McPhee, Houston and Young - in the league. 

Bear Report Top Stories