Next Monday Night, the Detroit Lions will perhaps be playing one of the most anticipated games in the last decade when they take on the Chicago Bears at home. Even though it is only week five, this game actually has playoff implications for both teams. As pointed out of Steven Schweickert over at Windy City Gridiron, a Lions win puts the Bears at 2-3 and three games behind the NFC North division leader(s). A Lions loss means that the Bears are right back into the mix of things for both the division and the wild card. For the Lions side, a win would be a huge, as it would put them at 5-0, which means they could go less than .500 the rest of the way and still win ten games with six of the next eleven at home.
In today’s post, I will break down the Chicago Bears offense, not Mike Martz’s classical offense. I will leave that for the next time these two teams meet.
There is a common misconception out there that the Bears offense last season was the classical Martz offense: pass heavy with a weak run game and high sack totals. While some of that may be true, the Bears were actually a very balanced offense, running the ball 47 percent of the time while passing only 53 percent. During Martz’s two years with the Lions, the offense only ran the ball about 35 percent of the time and ranked dead last in 2006 in rushing attempts and second to last in 2007. I think it’s safe to say Martz has learned his lesson from his days with the 49ers and Lions and realized that he needs to run the ball to keep his job ... or has he?
In four games this season, Martz has sort of gone back to being Mike Martz, running the ball only 38 percent of the time. The Bears offense still ranks near the bottom in passing attempts in the NFL overall, but they are also ranked 30th in the NFL thus far in rushing attempts, just ahead of the Colts and Seahawks. While that is predictable knowing Martz’s history, it is actually quite an interesting decision on both Mike Martz and Lovie Smith’s part. In their 11 wins last season, the Bears were actually quite run heavy, rushing the ball 53 percent of the time in those wins. In addition, they passed the ball more than they rushed it in only two of those 11 victories.
On the other hand, the Bears only ran the ball 32 percent of the time in their five losses last year and never ran the ball more than they passed it. You can actually see this trend in the four games this season too. In their two wins so far, the Bears have run the ball 54 percent of the time, whereas they rushed the ball only 22 percent of the time in their two losses. They score more points when running more, scoring 32 points a game in the two wins while managing only 15 per game in the two losses.
I guess the question now is this: Why is there such a big difference between when the Bears are slightly rush-oriented versus being completely pass-oriented? The answer has to do with how the Bears skill position plays matched up against other teams and how the Bears take advantage of that. For starters, the Bears' starting wideouts are Devin Hester and Jhonny Knox; both are fast and great in the open field, and both are basically one-trick ponies. In a standard cover two with two deep safeties, Knox and Hester don’t pose too much of a risk, as deep routes can be taken away by the presence of the safeties. In cover one (one safety deep) or cover zero (no safeties deep, also known as man coverage), things change quite a bit.
Teams generally use cover zero and cover one to either bring in an extra nickel or dime backs to cover all of the options on the field or to bring an extra man down in the box to defend against the run. In these situations, the Bears offense has the upper hand as they can choose to simply throw a screen pass to the versatile Matt Forte, which is something the Bears do very often. They also can choose to either throw similar screen passes to one of the two wideouts or make them run deeper routes. Doing any of these three things works extremely well for the Bears since they have the personnel to run the plays, as you will see in the play at the bottom (watch it here at the 1:56 mark).
In this play, the Falcons have all eleven players within ten yards of the offense and are set to stop the run. The Bears in their I-formation are showing run, and they actually run fake to the left when the play starts (which the Falcons bite on pretty hard), while motioning Devin Hester outside before the play begins. The result is Hester catching a one-yard pass and turning it into a 53-yard play.
This is really the type of play the Lions need to avoid at all costs. Seeing how Jay Cutler was sacked 52 times while dropping back only 432 times last season and how he has been sacked 15 times on 146 attempts so far this season, the Lions will be far better off forcing the Bears to pass the ball, which is really the key to this game. If they can shut down the Bears running game like they have shut down Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs, LeGarrette Blount and the Bucs, and Adrian Peterson and the Vikings, the Lions should cruise to their fifth win in five tries. If they cannot, then they still have a strong chance to win the game, but life will be much tougher for them.
Overall, I expect a good game out of the Lions in their second game at home this season. I expect the defensive line to come out of their early season funk and finally get a bunch of sacks under their belt and hold the Bears offense to fewer than 17 points. All in all, I think the Bears special teams might scare me a little more than the offense.