Compared to last year, defensive coordinator Dom Capers has more potential solutions in his arsenal, whether it's the pass rush of rookie defensive linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, the depth at outside linebacker or the new blood in the secondary with cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Jerron McMillian.
One area that has to be of concern to Capers is the coverage of his inside linebackers. A.J. Hawk increasingly has been phased out of coverage situations, which the Packers could get away with because of Desmond Bishop's all-around ability. Bishop's out for the season and his replacement, D.J. Smith, was exploited by Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Tice and quarterback Jay Cutler a few times.
Midway through the first quarter, the Bears got running back Matt Forte matched up on Smith on third-and-9. The pass fell incomplete and Cutler was furious that Smith wasn't flagged for what appeared to be a rather obvious holding call.
On Chicago's next drive, Smith was beaten deep down the middle by tight end Kellen Davis, resulting in a 24-yard gain when Smith was penalized for pass interference.
Late in the first half, Forte beat Smith for 22, though that drive died a couple plays later on the first of Tramon Williams' interceptions. Finally, midway through the fourth quarter, Davis got deep down the middle again against Smith, with Cutler and Davis taking advantage of Smith's lack of size and speed for a 21-yard touchdown.
"You saw last night that the coverage scheme we were playing isolated him a lot of times, so he was isolated on Forte some, he was isolated on the tight end some," Capers said on Friday. "Different coverages put more pressure on guys. We just happened to have a lot of pressure on D.J. on a few of those snaps last night. I think D.J.'s fine. He'll be fine. If you see him too much in those situations, then I've got to be aware of that."
Capers is right that he can't help everybody, but he also can't hide everybody at a position group. Ever since Hawk got beat for 36 yards when singled up against the Saints' Darren Sproles in last year's opener, Capers has tried to avoid using Hawk in one-on-one matchups.
Going into this season, Capers took another step toward eliminating Hawk from coverage responsibilities by putting a much bigger emphasis on a six-defensive-back dime package in which Hawk is taken off the field in favor of an extra cornerback. After using dime on just a few plays in the opener against the run-heavy 49ers, Capers used it frequently against the Bears. By the end of the night, Smith played 63 snaps compared to 39 for Hawk.
The scheme put Smith in some tough spots because safety Morgan Burnett was used frequently to help Tramon Williams against Brandon Marshall. Moreover, Forte is one of the best receiving backs in the league with his unusual combination of size and speed. However, nobody would confuse Davis with one of the best tight ends in the league and Smith couldn't handle him on a couple of occasions.
None of this is to say Smith had a bad night. His sack on the Bears' first snap of the night set the tone, and he added two hurries with his five other rushes. Plus, as a young player who just made his fifth NFL start, Smith figures to improve throughout the season. In fact, he's shown improvement in the early stages of this season. After struggling in the run game and missing two tackles against the Niners, Smith tied for the team lead with seven tackles and didn't miss any against the Bears.
"You can't help everybody out," Capers said. "Obviously, we're trying to make sure that Marshall didn't have the type of day he had the week before, when he was targeted 15 times and had nine receptions for 119 yards. We know how much Cutler likes to go to him, and a big part of our game plan was to try to take him away. You can't take everybody away, so D.J. was in a lot of one-on-one coverage situations."
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