Bears Refuse to Defend Slant Pass

The Chicago Bears entered Week 10 with the 30th ranked passing defense in the NFL, allowing 247.8 yards per game. A good chunk of that yardage has been via the slant, which seems to be a weakness the coaching staff refuses to fix. Why is this pattern in particular proving to be so indefensible?

Just like your mother taught you when you were a kid: You can't always control what happens to you, but you can control your reaction to what happens to you.

The Monsters of the Midway put up a good fight but ultimately fell to the undefeated Titans 21-14 at Soldier Field, as Chicago dropped to 5-4 and Tennessee moved to 9-0. But it wasn't the thunder-and-lightning combination of Chris Johnson and LenDale White on the ground that gave the Bears fits all afternoon. Instead, it was Kerry Collins through the air who appeared to be unstoppable in Week 10.

Johnson, who came into the game leading the AFC with 715 rushing yards, and White, who was pacing the entire league with 10 touchdowns, managed just 22 yards on 24 carries between them. The Bears' sixth-ranked rushing defense proved up to the task, stonewalling a Tennessee running game that had been averaging 149.1 yards per contest – third best in the NFL. White managed to find the end zone with a 2-yard plunge in the fourth quarter, but Johnson was a complete non-factor.

However, like most good teams do, the Titans made the necessary adjustments and took what the Chicago defense was giving them.

Collins hadn't thrown for more than 199 yards in any of his seven starts this year, and he had been unable to top 24 completions. But he enjoyed by far his best statistical day of 2008 against the Bears, slinging the ball all over the field for 289 yards with a 30-of-41 performance. The Chicago front four once again was unable to generate any pressure, as Collins had tons of time in the pocket and was only sacked once.

In particular, Collins had a ton of success with the slant, a route that has been wide open against the Bears seemingly all season long.

Corey Graham, a second-year pro who saw extensive action Sunday at both cornerback and nickelback, doesn't take any solace in the fact that the defense shut down the vaunted Tennessee running game since Collins and Co. picked them apart through the air.

"It's very frustrating," Graham said in the locker room after the game. "We come in the game talking about how much we've got to stop the run, and then these guys come out and are able to have a big game passing the ball against us. We're definitely down, and we've definitely got to figure it out. We can't keep coming out and allowing teams to just throw the ball all around on us. We've got to figure that out and come out and make sure we stop the pass."

Collins connected on 73.2 percent of his passes, was not intercepted, and put together an impressive passer rating of 108.7 – light years better than his season mark of 72.9.

"You've got to play as a whole," Graham said. "You've got to stop the pass and the run, or at least contain it. When these guys just come out and sling the ball on us like that, it kind of takes away how good you played against the run."


CB Corey Graham
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Head coach Lovie Smith always has been and always will be a believer in his Cover-2 scheme, but it's come under heavy criticism in the Windy City ever since the Super Bowl season of 2006. Even though the Bears boast current or former Pro Bowlers at six of their 11 starting positions on defense, a simple slant route – perhaps the most basic of pass patterns that is taught at the Pop Warner level – has given this team problems game after game. Cornerbacks are taught to play an outside-shoulder technique against wide receivers, which helps take away the sideline throws and funnels pass catchers toward the hash marks.

That's where speedy linebackers are supposed to take over and provide support, but there has continually been a gaping hole in the middle of the field that's being expoited. Tennessee took the lead for good when former Bear Justin Gage caught a TD pass off a slant in the third quarter. Gage's score was the first for a Titans wideout since all the way back in Week 2.

Bears opponents have apparently been paying attention in the film room.

In addition to Collins, Tampa Bay's Brian Griese (407 in Week 3), Atlanta's Matt Ryan (301 in Week 6), Minnesota's Gus Frerotte (298 in Week 7), and Detroit's Dan Orlovsky (292 in Week 9) all had their season-bests in terms of passing yards against the Midway Monsters.

Nathan Vasher, a Pro Bowl cornerback in 2005 who'd been dealing with injuries and ineffectiveness for most of the last two seasons, all but admitted after the Tennessee loss that the slant pass is being – for lack of a better term – condeded.

"That's the defense," Vasher said. "That's all I can say really."

Football at this level is a game of adjustments, so have the Bears ever thought about shifting their corners' alignment and perhaps employing an inside-shoulder technique?

"I'm always outside leverage," Vasher said. "That's just the defense. So we've got to just make plays, basically. Everybody has to do their part."

Right now, apparently the Chicago defensive coaching staff isn't doing its part.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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