X-and-O Show: Steelers vs. Bears

Jeremy Stoltz, our very own Prince of the Playbook, goes to the film room once again and breaks down one offensive snap and one defensive snap for the Chicago Bears from Sunday's 17-14 triumph over Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Soldier Field in Week 2.

Bears on Offense: Cutler to Knox
Fourth quarter. 3rd and goal at the Pittsburgh 7-yard line. The Bears line up in shotgun formation, with WR Johnny Knox split right and WR Devin Hester wide left. WR Earl Bennett is slot left, a few yards outside of TE Greg Olsen. RB Matt Forte is to QB Jay Cutler's right. The Steelers counter with a nickel package, yet at the start of the play, eight defenders are all standing and moving around in the box. DE Aaron Smith is roaming the line of scrimmage, before finally settling in front of RG Roberto Garza. The linebackers all start on the left side of the line, before shifting right. LB Lawrence Timmons moves up to the line just to the left of DT Casey Hampton and across from RT Chris Williams. CB William Gay then walks up next to Timmons. This elicits a shift from the secondary to cover the space vacated by Gay. Before the snap, Forte motions slot right.

WR Johnny Knox
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

At the snap, Timmons, Gay and Hampton all rush, overloading the right side. Williams picks up Hampton, but Timmons and Gay have a free run at the quarterback. Cutler shuffles back away from the pressure. At the same time, Steelers S Tyrone Carter mans up on Knox but leaves him a 7-yard cushion. Knox runs straight for two yards then breaks hard left down the goal line. Cutler retreats two steps and fires a bullet off his back foot just over the outstretched arms of Timmons. Knox, who now has inside position on Carter, goes up for the ball and pulls down the pass for the game-tying touchdown.

During the pre-snap, the Steelers defense was moving around like a swarm of bees. Only just before the snap do they settle into a formation. This is a typical strategy employed often by Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who uses roaming defenders to confuse the quarterback and does not allow him to get a read on where the pressure is coming from. Cutler's ability to see through the chaos – and not only understand where the blitz was coming from, but recognize the open space behind the blitz – was a highly advanced read and reaction. He then uses the bazooka connected to his neck to fire a pass off his heels to the open receiver. In addition, Knox' recognition of the one-on-one coverage, and his quick break to open space, is one more example of the rookie receiver's rapid development.

Bears on Defense: Brown Sacks Roethlisberger
Fourth quarter. 3rd and 9 at the Chicago 12-yard line. The Steelers break the huddle in a four-wide receiver set. QB Ben Roethlisberger is lined up in shotgun, with RB Mewelde Moore to his right. Two receivers are on either side of the line. The Bears counter with a nickel package. Linebackers Hunter Hillenmeyer and Lance Briggs start out across from the center. Briggs then swings wide right, outside of DE Alex Brown and across from the slot receiver. Before the snap, Hillenmeyer shows blitz up the middle, and Briggs creeps up to the right edge of the line, indicating blitz also.

LB Lance Briggs
AP Images: Nam Y. Huh

At the snap, Hillenmeyer and Briggs both blitz. The two linebackers are picked up, as is right defensive tackle Israel Idonije. Brown swings in behind Idonije on a cross move and, because the rest of the linemen are occupied by the blitz, has a free run at the passer. Roethlisberger is only able to drop back a few steps before he is clobbered by Brown. DT Tommie Harris comes around from the other side and finishes off the QB for a 9-yard loss.

Looking back, this was arguably the biggest play of the game. An incomplete pass or short gain would have given Steelers kicker Jeff Reed a field goal of less than 30 yards, which is a chip shot for NFL kickers. Instead, Reed is forced to kick a 38-yarder, which floats wide left at the last second. If the kick is 9 yards closer, it splits the uprights and gives Pittsburgh a momentum-building lead of 10 points. Briggs' blitz from the left side was well disguised and timed perfectly, effectively overloading and confusing the left side of the Steelers' line and allowing Brown a free path to the QB. It was the perfect call at the perfect time, rescuing the Bears from a demoralizing 0-2 start.

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Jeremy Stoltz is the editor-in-chief of The Business Ledger, the business newspaper for suburban Chicago. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report and BearReport.com.

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