Breaking Down the Bears Defense

This is a busy week for me, so I’ll limit this week’s post to the defense. After all, we all know Mike Martz’s offense from his tenure in Detroit. Actually, we should also know the defense because their defensive coordinator is Rod Marinelli. It’s like the 06-07 Detroit Lions (we all know how that went).

Let’s start with the lineage. Lovie Smith, the head coach of the Chicago Bears worked under Tony Dungy as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebackers coach from 1996-2000. From there, he went on to become the defensive coordinator for the Rams under head coach Mike Martz (oh, how the tables have turned). So working under Dungy, his lineage is similar to Leslie Frazier of the Vikings, and they both run the Tampa 2. That said, not all Tampa 2 defenses are created the same.

Frazier’s Viking defense and Smith’s Bears defense are similar in that they both run a standard Tampa 2 set. The Bears are better at it because of better linebackers, specifically Brian Urlacher, consistenly one of the best middle linebackers in football. Here’s a diagram:

Cover 2

The differences come in how they change things up. It seems like whenever a Cover 2/Tampa 2 team is on a nationally broadcasted game (Thursday, Sunday, Monday, there are a ton of them), the announcers talk about how the Cover 2 team always lines up the same and forces you to beat them. In reality, both of these teams change things up quite a bit. Leslie Frazier likes to play a Cover 1 man defense when blitzing, leaving each guy in coverage in 1-on-1. Here’s a diagram I showed a few weeks ago:

Vikings' man blitz

In watching the Bears’ defense, it seems like Lovie Smith likes to stay in zone when blitzing. Usually, that means either bringing a defensive end off the line of scrimmage opposite of the blitz or bringing a safety down into a short zone. Here’s a diagram:

As you can see, this play keeps the 3 short zones that you would have in a standard Cover 2, but they sacrifice the 2 deep safeties. Because of that, the corners are left in 1-on-1 coverage. They can roll the safety to one side or the other (which the Bears would probably do to double up CJ), but this would still potentially leave Burleson or Titus in 1-on-1 running down the field. Another variation that they run brings two blitzers from one side of the line while dropping the defensive end from the opposite side. Here’s a diagram:

With this formation, they can get heavy pressure on one side of the line while keeping their short zones intact.

Another facet of the Bears defense that I noticed while watching the tape (not sure if it’s normal or not because I’m discovering this all as I go) was the depth of their linebackers. When taking the snap from under center, the linebackers were up close to the line of scrimmage, right behind the defensive line. Here’s a diagram:

However, when taking shotgun snaps, the linebackers would start further back. Here’s a picture of that formation:

This seems pretty smart, considering that the QB takes longer from under center to get set and ready to throw than from shotgun. Meanwhile, being closer to the line allows them to guard against the run better. However, something I noticed when I watched the Packers game was that the Bears linebackers bite heavily on play action. While the Lions only got burned by that once last week, the Bears were taken advantage of on a regular basis against the Pack. While they’re close to the line of scrimmage when the QB takes the snap from under center, they’re very vulnerable to play action. The linebackers that are already close to the line of scrimmage are either frozen or they come forward. Meanwhile, the middle of the field is vacated. In shotgun, the linebackers are dropping deep, so draw plays work well since they initially read pass and drop deeper. Hopefully, the Lions will be able to exploit some of these weaknesses and avoid the first half struggles they’ve had in recent weeks.

So what do I think will happen on Sunday?

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