Senior writer jclombardi: Bears scouting report & game plan.
Scouting report: Run Offense–OC Martz has committed more to halfback Forte and the run game. Forte is a complete player who rates in the second tier. He finished No. 10 in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (1,616 yards) and averaged a solid 4.5 yards a carry (1,069 yards rushing). The Bears’ offensive line is average talent but plays better than average. Pass Offense–Forte takes much of the pressure off QB Cutler, who is improving but still is prone to the occasional head-scratching decision. Cutler has big-league arm strength and excellent mobility but isn’t as accurate a thrower. Cutler’s 86.3 passer rating ranked No. 16 in the NFL. He doesn’t have a great receiver, but he has two fast ones in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. Their deep speed makes it risky for defenses to move up their safeties to play the run. Tight end Greg Olsen remains an auxiliary part in Martz’s wide receiver-oriented offense. Run Defense–Chicago doesn’t have the best front seven in the NFL, but it’s among the top five to eight in the league and the main reason the Bears finished No. 2 in the regular season in fewest rushing yards allowed. Peppers makes plays against both the run and pass. Weak-side linebacker Briggs and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher are among the best at their positions. The Packers gained only 123 yards rushing (3.2-yard average per carry) in two games against the Bears. Pass Defense–The Bears aren’t especially talented in the secondary but tackle well and are extremely well schooled in coach Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2 scheme. Peppers has made all the difference in the world and had a much bigger impact than his eight sacks would suggest. DE Idonije isn’t quick but has extremely long arms and good power as a rusher. Tommie Harris is showing some of the quickness that made him a top defensive tackle. CB Tillman is their best cover man, but he’s best is playing zone, reading routes and stripping the ball from receivers. The other cornerbacks, Jennings and nickel man Moore, are short and small. Safety Chris Harris is slow but has exceptional instincts whereas the other safety, Manning, is fast and athletic but with suspect instincts. Special Teams–Hester tilts the field in the return game. Unflappable Robbie Gould has made 85.5 percent of his field goal attempts in his five-year career. Punter Maynard doesn’t have much oomph but he’s one of the best in placement.
Defense wins championships: Weight stories are tough. They’re just so personal. No one wants to talk about what they’re draggin’ in their wagon. Those weights listed on the Packers roster for some guys are probably about as accurate as what we put on our driver’s licenses. But get a load of Green Bay’s defensive line: Left end Ryan Pickett, 340 pounds. Nose tackle B.J. Raji, 337 pounds. Right end Howard Green, 340 pounds. That’s 1,017 pounds up front – the largest 3-4 defensive line in the NFL. Pickett thought that was possible last week, but when told Wednesday that the numbers had been crunched, and confirmed, he pumped his fist. “Yes!” he mouthed. Then he was asked whether he really was 340 pounds, as he is listed on the roster. “Yeah. Some days!” he said with a roar of laughter. The truth is, Green Bay’s defensive line takes a little bit of pride in the fact that it’s the biggest and baddest. The line’s rare combination of size, strength and speed makes it stand out. “There are few guys in the league who have the size and ability to take on double teams, hold the position and hold your ground and not get knocked off the ball,” Green said. “And that’s really what it’s all about.” All of the linemen, including Cullen Jenkins, Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson, bring their own strengths to the table. Green and Pickett are the brute strength guys. When Green came out of Louisiana State six years ago, he could bench press 495 pounds, he said. But Raji is explosive and quick, with the bottom half of his body even stronger than his top. “J.W. also has great upper-body strength,” Raji said. “Other guys are more lower-body strength. Cullen is more of a quick-twitch guy, so he’s not lifting as much weight in the weight room but doing a lot of fast reps just to get his muscles going.” The key to their size and great weight is balancing it with the necessary athleticism to play in the NFL. Of all the three linemen, four-linebacker base defenses in the NFL, the Packers are heaviest even if Jenkins resumed his starting spot for Green at right defensive end. But collectively they stand in Green Bay’s shadow. “I mean, we make Cullen Jenkins look small,” Pickett said. “And Jenkins is really big. He’s over 310 pounds.” The linemen say the best advantage for all that size up front is when the Packers stay in their base defense and defend the run. Green Bay allowed six rushing touchdowns in the regular season, No. 3 in the NFL. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Atlanta’s Michael Turner are the only backs to have 100-yard rushing games against Green Bay since Week 3 of 2009. In the playoff game Sunday, however, Turner was held to 39 rushing yards.
Packers Play Study–Chicago runs its Cover-2 defense as well as any team in the league and one play that coach McCarthy can use to beat it: As you can see, the Bears’ primary defensive scheme is quite simple, but reliable with the right personnel and the years of running it under coach Lovie Smith. However, there are gaps in it that can be exploited with the right play-call. The most glaring one is in the middle of the field. Urlacher and Briggs are two talented linebackers who have and can man the middle zone effectively. The other hole is on either sideline (short). The Bears will drop their defensive backs in an effort to prevent the big play, confident in their cornerbacks’ ability to make a tackle and yield only a short gain. Still, this will allow Rodgers to find receivers like Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver on slot outs to the sidelines. Here’s a look at my favorite play inside the Packers’ playbook that they need to run for this type of defense.
This play looks complex, but in reality is quite simple. All five wide receivers are on the field, and all run slight slant routes except for the slot trey receiver and split end. The slot trey receiver runs a strong slant out toward the sidelines, while the split end on the far two-receiver side runs a drag slant in. The object of this play design is simple–stay in front of the defense and find holes after the catch. The two hot reads are the two nonconforming routes. The rest are meant to stretch the defense back enough to open up the two target spots. The Packers ran this to perfection at least twice against the Falcons; once in the first meeting, and once last week during their playoff win–Jordy Nelson’s touchdown. The beauty of this design is that the routes can be moved to different receivers and the formation can be flipped to cause defensive headaches. It’s also hard to jump because Rodgers is so good at reading what the defense is going to do ahead of time and won’t be afraid to pump and go down the field if the situation warrants.