Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
24 Jan 2007
by Michael David Smith
As Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy breaks down the tape of the Chicago Bears' 39-14 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game, one drive in particular will give him an upset stomach. That drive came late in the second quarter, when the Bears had eight plays, handed off to Thomas Jones on all eight of them, and marched down the field 69 yards for a touchdown.
Dungy's run defense has played much better in the postseason than it did in the regular season, but that Chicago drive showed how the Bears might exploit the Colts' weaknesses. To find out how the Bears had so much success on that drive, I watched and re-watched all eight plays, which I'll break down here.
First-and-10 from the Chicago 31: Jones left guard for 14 yards
Chicago came out in the I formation, with tight end Desmond Clark to the right, fullback Jason McKie in front of Jones in the backfield, and one receiver on each side of the field. Right guard Roberto Garza and center Olin Kreutz doubled nose tackle Hollis Thomas, keeping him from moving, and left guard Ruben Brown pushed defensive tackle Antwan Lake straight down the line. McKie blocked linebacker Scott Shanle, and Jones looked like he was going to follow McKie to the right, but Brown's block opened such a huge hole to the left that Jones cut back and ran that way to pick up a big gain. Downfield, wide receiver Bernard Berrian threw a nice block to help Jones pick up a few more yards at the end of the run.
First-and-10 from the Chicago 45: Jones right tackle for two yards
Jones lined up behind McKie in the I formation, with Clark to the right and the receivers lined up in twins to the left. McKie blocked linebacker Scott Fujita and stopped him dead in his tracks, and Garza did a nice job of neutralizing Thomas, but the play never really had a chance to get anywhere. Brown was supposed to pull and block linebacker Mark Simoneau, but Brown was a step slow and never got into good enough position. He ultimately just got in Jones' way, and Simoneau tackled Jones. Although pulling Brown worked on some later plays, I don't think it will work against the Colts. Brown is a fine lineman, but he has a plodding gait and looks like he'd never have a chance to keep up with the Colts' speedy front seven. The Bears would be wise to have Brown blocking straight ahead, not pulling.
Second-and-8 from the Chicago 47: Jones right tackle for 33 yards
This was the best run of the day. Initially the Bears came out with McKie lined up as if he were a slot receiver between Clark and wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad. But before the snap McKie motioned into the fullback position in an offset I formation. At the snap, Fujita tried to run around Clark rather than take on the block directly, and that gave Jones a big space to run straight ahead. Seeing the Bears take advantage of a linebacker running around a block must have made Dungy cringe: The biggest knock on the Colts' linebackers is that they run around blocks too often, and the Bears showed on that play that they can make linebackers pay for doing that. Thanks to Fujita's outside move, Clark could turn his attention to blocking strong safety Jay Bellamy. Right tackle Fred Miller got a great block on Saints defensive end Charles Grant, and between that block and Fujita's outside rush, Jones had a huge hole. Muhammad threw a nice downfield block on Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie, and that allowed Jones to pick up about an extra 25 yards. If the Colts' outside linebackers try to run around plays the way Fujita did, the Colts will need their defensive backs to fight off Muhammad's blocks better than McKenzie did.
First-and-10 from the New Orleans 20: Jones right tackle for seven yards
This time the Bears flipped the formation, with Clark lined up to the left, and Muhammad as the flanker going in motion toward the middle of the formation. McKie was again in front of Jones in the I and he buried Simoneau. Kreutz and Brown doubled Thomas, and outside linebacker Scott Shanle took a bad pursuit angle. That combined to let Jones follow McKie for a gain of seven.
Second-and-3 from the New Orleans 13: Jones right guard for 2 yards
McKie again lined up in the slot and then motioned into the I. Clark was back to his usual spot on the right. New Orleans tackle Brian Young got a great first step on Garza, and that allowed him to disrupt the Bears' backfield, forcing McKie to help out on Young instead of blocking his own man, Fujita. Jones had to change course behind the line of scrimmage to avoid Young, and he ran directly into Fujita and was tackled for a gain of just two. That's a play that's promising for the Colts: Indianapolis defensive tackle Raheem Brock has a great first step, and if he can get past Garza and disrupt the backfield the way Young did, he'll give the Bears' running backs trouble all day.
Third-and-1 from the New Orleans 11: Jones right tackle for two yards
As they often do in short-yardage situations, the Bears brought in John Gilmore as a second tight end. Brown pulled to the right, and although he looked better on this play than he had when he pulled previously, he still didn't get much of a push on Fujita. But Miller had a great drive block, and Jones followed him for the first down. Neither of the Bears' tackles, Miller and John Tait, are great run blockers, but they can be effective in straight-ahead situations like that, and on this type of short-yardage play they should have success blocking the Colts' undersized pair of ends, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
First-and-9 from the New Orleans 9: Jones right guard for seven yards
The Bears kept their two-tight end personnel package on the field and this time motioned Muhammad into the backfield as another blocker. Muhammad threw a nice block on New Orleans safety Bryan Scott, and that -- combined with Miller's driving Young down the line, allowed Jones to bounce to the outside and nearly score. Clark threw a great block on Grant, and that's a bad sign for the Colts. Grant is typically better at taking on blockers than the Colts' ends are, and if Clark can push Grant around, he should have a field day against the Colts.
Second-and-2 from the New Orleans 2: Jones right tackle for two yards, touchdown
This time Chicago had all three of its tight ends on the field: Clark, Gilmore, and Gabe Reid. Garza threw the key block, one-on-one against Thomas. Brown pulled again and destroyed Bellamy. With that kind of blocking in front of him, it was easy for Jones to run straight ahead into the end zone to finish the best drive of the day.
Will this work against Indianapolis? I think it will. The Bears' offensive line should have a great day run-blocking against the Colts' defensive line, and both Jones and Cedric Benson should have a good day running against the Colts. That means the Colts had better get off to an early lead and put the game in Rex Grossman's hands.
Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season.
71 comments, Last at 29 Jan 2007, 2:14am by Roundhouse