Dissecting the D (cont.)
Posted: Thursday February 1, 2007 2:24PM; Updated: Thursday February 1, 2007 2:33PM
5) Every team teaches ball-stripping -- Fine. The Bears are good at it. They forced 20 fumbles. Only three other teams in the entire NFL forced more than 15. Coach Lovie Smith told me in training camp: "We pride ourselves on getting the ball back for our offense.'' OK, every coach says that. The numbers don't lie. Making turnovers is not just good luck.
6) It's the depth, stupid -- Even with Harris out, the Bears rotate seven players in their front four. Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown are terrific edge pass rushers who can also play the run reasonably well. Tank Johnson -- whose presence in this game is fodder for another discussion altogether -- is a space-eater. It might be warm enough in Miami that fatigue will be a factor, and the Bears are deeper along the front than almost any team in football. Johnson is clearly the key: In two December games he missed during weapons-Gate, the Bears gave up 357 and 372 total yards, their two highest totals of the season.
And it's a domino effect: When the Bears yield first-down yards and are out of Cover Two on second down, that's a problem, because....
7) The corners are not great in man-to-man -- Lovie Smith recruits people to fit Tampa Two principles. Harris because he reminded him of Warren Sapp. Briggs because he's like Derrick Brooks. The prototypical Tampa Two corner is a physical player who is skilled at jamming wide receivers in the five-yard bump zone, disrupting the timing of sophisticated offenses. Tillman and Vasher are world-class jammers.
The problem arises when the Bears are forced out of Tampa Two by down-and-distance (second-and-short or third-and-shorter) or game-and-score situations (i.e., trailing). In such cases, they have to consider moving a safety down into the box or committing Urlacher to the run game. This typically leaves Tillman and Vasher in man-to-man coverage on wideouts, and possibly nickelback Rickey Manning, Jr., as well. "If Peyton gets these guys in man-to-man, he's going to exploit the mismatch,'' says Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. "I had the same chance, but I didn't execute it well enough."
(It should be noted that the Bears are not entirely inflexible in their defensive theory: They came out with eight in the box and challenged New Orleans and Drew Brees with man-to-man coverage in the NFC title game. They were not going to allow Deuce McAllister to dictate the game on the ground, and it worked. Brees says, "We had the opportunity to make plays, but we just turned it over too many times.''
8) It's all about the love, brotha -- Do not underestimate the value of teamwork and familiarity. Thirteen of the 18 Bears who play regularly on defense have been in Chicago for three seasons or more. "I can't emphasize that enough, in this era of free agency,'' says Kitna.
The Bears know each other. Urlacher is an outstanding communicator. "Even from when we played them in September to the playoff game in January, you could see a difference,'' says Hasselbeck. "In the first game, he was gesturing more frantically; in the second game, he would just half turn around and look at the safeties. They're on the same page.'' Occasionally, the Bears are physically beaten by a run or a pass, but seldom are they out of synch with each other. This will be vital in playing against a master like Peyton Manning.