Not your Father’s Bears
For years, Chicago had backers that controlled the middle of the field. With the recent retirement of Brian Urlacher, and the loss of weakside backer Lance Briggs, the middle has less bite than ever before. Case in point, against the Lions, tight end Brandon Pettigrew consistently attacked the seams. In general, the Lions had no fear throwing the ball in at that area of the field against an ILB group that doesn’t get enough depth in their drops.
For the Ravens to exploit this weak point in the Bears’ coverage, they need inside route runners to make tough catches in traffic. Thus far, that type of reliability has been hard to come by. Rookie receiver Marlon Brown has the toughness to take on that role but at the tight end position, Ed Dickson needs to step up in a big way. He has the big body and larger catch radius to snatch the ball behind the linebackers, but has never been trustworthy to make tough catches. The Ravens need to find a couple of playmakers that can step up to pierce the middle.
Backs in Space to Slow Down the Blitz
One of the new wrinkles that offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell rolled out against Cincinnati was more designed passes to Bernard Pierce in the flat. These plays acted as pseudo screens in which Pierce got the ball quickly, on the move, and had a blocker out in front to help clear the way. For Pierce, the play was a nice changeup to get him out in space and utilize his open-field running ability.
Unlike past Chicago defenses, this version sells out more often. The Lions were able to take advantage of the Bears’ aggressive play by hitting some counters and running some designed screens. The new approaches to get Pierce the ball in the flats are the perfect antidote to defuse the Chicago blitz attack.
Speaking of the Chicago blitz, they remain notorious for employing “double A gap” pressures to break down opposing protections. At times the Bears will bluff the look, which can distort the assignments for the offensive line, leaving blockers vulnerable to any delayed blitz action up the middle.
The Ravens have been especially bad handling the inside blitz all season, as they have given up an astounding 6 sacks to inside backers A.J. Hawk and Vincent Rey alone. The Bears could have a field day against the Baltimore interior line and running backs. Blitz recognition needs to be much better from quarterback Joe Flacco, and he needs to have some hot routes ready over the middle to deter Chicago from bringing their inside backers.
Hold the Forte
It’s no secret that the Bears’ offense runs through Matt Forte. The sixth-year back has evolved into arguably the best dual threat runner in the league. He gobbles up yardage as a pass catcher underneath, and as a runner, he has the shiftiness and open-field moves to turn a would-be short gain into a big play.
The Bears use Forte from a variety of formations, but one of their staple looks is having the Pro Bowler line up offset in shotgun. From the gun, Forte is extremely dangerous off tackle on toss sweeps and quick pitches.
For the Ravens to keep Forte in check, they’ll need to flood the outside lanes and get him to cut back inside. While he is a decent inside runner, he is far more dangerous in space. The defensive backs should be heavily involved on blitzes and downhill run support to keep contain along the edges.
When the Bears faced Detroit’s dynamic front four rush, they struggled to handle the Lions’ stunts and line games up front. Detroit did a nice job of sustaining steady four and five-man rushes while creating mismatch opportunities for their pass rushers. That enabled them to keep reinforcements on the back end and keep their safeties back in coverage.
The Ravens ran their own variation of line stunts, twists, and inside gap pressures to harass Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati offensive line. The duo of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil should continue to move around and rush from both outside spots, and DC Dean Pees should try to loop both rushers inside to break down the Bears’ interior blocking scheme. The front seven needs to apply consistent pressure without having to rely too heavily on the backers and defensive backs to blitz.
Throw off McCown’s Rhythm
Josh McCown has adjusted well to being Jay Cutler’s replacement at the quarterback position. He is an athletic player who moves well in the pocket, and can deliver the ball from different launch points. One of the elements he has brought to the Bears’ offense is the quick throw to the intermediate parts of the field. He does a nice job of getting rid of the ball on time and can buy time with his legs.
The front seven defenders will need to be aware of McCown’s quick feet and movement. Thus far, the backup QB has been able to make most of his ad-lib throws moving to his right. The Ravens will have to find a way to force him to his left. They’ll also need to squeeze the inside passing lanes and turn McCown into more of a deep ball thrower. In that regard, Cutler is far more dangerous and McCown hasn’t been taken out of his comfort zone to this point.
One-on-One Battles of the Week
Lardarius Webb versus Brandon Marshall
The monsters of the midway are back again with the combo of Marshall and Jeffery reigning terror against secondaries across the league. Marshall has been almost unstoppable all season long regardless of who is checking him. On top of being a dominant vertical target, he has also been tremendous on inside routes and acts as almost a second tight end. Webb played his best game of the season and was outstanding in the slot corner role when the Ravens were in the Nickel. He should be active in press coverage and line up over Marshall when he slides to the slot.
Jimmy Smith versus Alshon Jeffery
Jeffery has evolved into the perfect complement to Marshall. He is a little shorter than Marshall, but has an even bigger wingspan and incredible leaping ability. When Smith matches up with Jeffery, he will need to play physical and anticipate when the ball is in the air. Overall, Smith is doing a much better job of locating the football.