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24 Jan 2007

Every Play Counts: The Thomas Jones Drive

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.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 24 Jan 2007

71 comments, Last at 29 Jan 2007, 2:14am by Roundhouse

Comments

1
by Bradam (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 1:17pm

first. good article i love this type. how it breaks down why something works. good job

2
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 1:26pm

Nice piece. I think the obvious solution for the Colts is to put Pat Williams in a xxxxxl Colts' jersey with Booger Mcfarland's number on it, along with a tinted face mask visor, and tell everybody that ol' Booger was really spending a lot of time at the buffet table this week. After Williams whips Kreutz' ass for three and a half quarters, he can feign injury, and go into the stadium, supposedly for x-rays, at which time Mcfarland comes out for the on-field celebration with the helmet off, and he can then remark during the interviews about how physically demanding the game was, resulting in massive weight loss.

3
by MCS (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 1:34pm

So. . .will the Bears be an example of Run-to-Win? This will be counter to the FO studies that show teams run because they are winning.

I think so. I think the Bears will chuck it deep a few times to soften the defense and then run, run, run.

4
by MCS (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 1:35pm

LOL. Thanks Will.

5
by zip (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 1:38pm

#2

Now that's a good plan.

6
by tj (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 1:39pm

thanks, mds. that was a great article. watching that circa 1931 drive (and the rest of Rex Grossman's 1st half) I couldn't help but think that the Bears were setting back the cause of quarterbacking a good 30 years.

A couple things. Berrian and Muhammmed threw a number of key blocks throughout the game. Are they known for their blocking skills as WRs? Muhammed would make sense but I'd be surprised about Berrian, undersized as he is. In correlation how are the Colts DBs at shedding blocks, especially their corners?

Second, it seems the like the Bears running game has markedly gotten better and better as the season progressed after struggling early on. Why is this? The O line is solid but aging and not very athletic with the exceptions of Olin Kreutz (obviously) and Tait.

Lastly I'm wondering about Bob Sanders. Personally I think McFarland's return has been a bigger impact on the run D, but the MSM seems to be crediting Sanders with single-handedly turning the Colts from a sieve into a brick wall. How good is Sanders, really (it seems like he's solid but not in the same league with guys like Dawkins and Ed Reed)?

7
by Josh (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 1:54pm

Bears have done this at least one other time, though it didn't get them a TD. On the first drive of the second half against the Jets, Bears gave it to Thomas Jones 7 straight times, driving from the Jets' 44 to their 2 before settling for a FG

8
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 2:00pm

tj:

Muhammad is a good blocking wr. Berrian can hold his own. Davis is only 5'9" but doesn't shy away from the job.

Several things have helped the Bears running game. Brown had a Pro Bowl quality season. And putting at Miller at right tackle resolved a sore point from previous years. Miller ain't great but he does a solid job on a consistent basis.

I don't know how Tait is doing but he finished the season banged up. I know he played both playoff games so guessing he's fine. The reason I mention it is because his backup, St. Clair, cannot handle a speed rush to save his life. I have seen the guy play multiple times most recently in that final game of the season and speed rushers just blow right past him half the time. If Tait leaves the game expect the Colts to be in Rex's face FAST.

9
by Marko (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 2:26pm

"Second, it seems the like the Bears running game has markedly gotten better and better as the season progressed after struggling early on. Why is this? The O line is solid but aging and not very athletic with the exceptions of Olin Kreutz (obviously) and Tait."

I can think of four reasons. First, Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson both missed most of training camp with injuries, so it took a while to get the running game in rhythm.

Second, because the Bears were confident in their running game but needed to work on their passing game due to Grossman's inexperience, they seemed to focus on the passing game in training camp and the preseason and didn't work as much on the running game.

Third, early in the season, teams were consistently using 8 man fronts to try to stop the Bears' running game, which opened things up for lots of big plays in the passing game and led to a very good start to the season by Grossman. Grossman gets bashed here and in the media probably more than any player in the NFL, but he was the NFC Offensive Player of the Month in September, no doubt in part because teams overplayed the running game and he took advantage by hitting on big passing plays off play action. After that (starting with the Arizona game), opposing teams seemed to adjust by game planning more for the passing game, leaving them more vulnerable to the run.

Fourth, I think Offensive Coordinator Ron Turner's play calling has been better as the season went on.

10
by mactbone (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 2:35pm

Re 8:
Tait had some minor injury which I can't remember and he sat out the meaningless games at the end of the season. Miller actually started all of last year too. Well, all but the game after Kreutz broke his jaw.

I can't say with any certainty why the running game is better, but there are a couple thoughts I have. One is that the Bears are handling the Benson/Jones situation better. They're getting Benson more carries and using them in better places. Another is that they're not relying on the passing game as much. At the beginning of the season the Bears spent a lot of time slinging the ball. The only other reason I can think of is that some teams are respecting Grossman's long ball now and they weren't earlier.

11
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 2:46pm

Badger, I think Tait is pretty healthy, but I agree; if the Bears are forced to give St. Clair significant playing time, they are likely doomed. It is remarkable to me that the guy is still on an NFL roster. I thought Amnesty International was going to intervene in St. Louis, given what St. Clair was inflicting upon Rams quaterbacks.

12
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 2:58pm

Everyone following the NFC North has been stunned by the change in Benson the second half of the season. The guy is BRINGING IT on every down. When he came into the league he was doing the Dayne tippy-toe, tippy-toe and getting CREAMED. Then when he got hurt in pre-season during a practice where he barely got touched I figured the guy was made in Italy, as in FRAJJJEEELAAYY.

But nope. At some point he got healthy, the light went off, and now he's busting tackles and refusing to go down.

Meanwhile Thomas Jones keeps on keeping on. Great combo right now. Against the Saints I don't know if it was the plan to have Benson "soften them up" and then have Jones slash through but it worked like a charm.

Wouldn't mind seeing some of that Kevin Faulk direct snap action involving Jones. I think the guy is more talented then folks give him credit.

Looking forward to seeing the clash of styles......

13
by Ch V Kalyan (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 3:20pm

MDS - Now it would have been great if you illustrated why the colts need to be nervous about this drive (you mentioned it for one play - 33 yd run)

I think that the colts defense is playing out of their skins. They are likely to keep it up for one more game

14
by WWKOD (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 3:22pm

How can Jones' epic running drive be replicated in the Superbowl? Easy: the Bears will be playing the Indiannapolis Colts.

15
by Tweeter Center (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 3:37pm

Can anyone who analyzed the game tell me where Charles Grant was the whole day, in order for him to get completely blanked to the tune of 0 sacks, 0 tackles or assisted. He will be a free agent and I'm really starting to wonder if he's going to be worth the money he'll probably ask for.

16
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 3:39pm

Kalyan, the Colts defense was really not that good against the Patriots. It wasn't awful, like it had been for most of the regular season, but it wasn't good. Expect it to be at a similar level against the Bears, but to look better thanks to inferior quarterbacking.

17
by Xian (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 4:04pm

Interesting notes on the 33-yard run.

My impression from his Packer days is that McKenzie was pretty strong in run support. But a) I don't have any data to back that up, b) the Packer defense was frequently abysmal for many of the last few years he was there, and c) this could have simply been a great block by Muhammad.

Nice article.

18
by Tweeter Center (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 4:18pm

#17 - I've watched a few Saints game this year and McKenzie's run support is abysmal. Look no further than Westbrooks 62 yard run I believe McKenzie had outside contain, could be wrong though.

Strange enough he's actually the best DB they have, less of the evils when compared to Fred Thomas, Josh Bullocks, Jay Bellamy, and Jason Craft.

New Orleans will probably be taking a serious look at corners this year Day 1 draft.

19
by The Skokie Skeptic (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 4:40pm

re 12:

More misinformation from the uninformed. Half of Chicago has thought all season that Benson should be the starter. At no point in his career was he doing the "Dayne tippy-toe tippy-toe," he's doing the same thing he's always done. He's just getting more playing time.

20
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 4:55pm

Post 19:

Well that's news to this Packer fan. There were quotes in the Journal-Sentinel online stating to the effect that the Bears wanted Benson to be decisive in his running style.

And in the limited times I saw him before mid-season in 2006 that seemed to jibe with the comments I read.

I will try and dig up the quotes.

21
by TomC (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 4:57pm

#19 - Uninformed? Who you crappin'? BadgerT watches as much NFC North football as any human should ever have to. Furthermore, having watched every Bears game up to week 10 this year, I agree with him.

22
by Pete (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 5:02pm

I think the Colts are very suspect against Runs, especially if they do not have 8 in the box. They are also weaker against slashing and cut-back running backs. Why did the Pats stick with their older two RB? Of course, none of that might matter if the Pats WR had caught the ball.
Dallas Clark had a monster game against an aging LB corps. Urlacher is a little faster and playing with a lot of intensity, so I do not expect such a great game from them.
By comparison the Colts LB corps seems to be somewhat weak to me. I guess you get what you pay for to some extent. Imagine how much stronger the Colts would be if Manning and Harrison each gave up 20% of their salaries to bring back Peterson or similar caliber LBs. Of course, the Colts are built to stop the pass and given their offense I think that is a safe bet... or maybe it was a safe bet until Harrison lost a step with Wayne not far behind. Has Harrison's production dropped this year? If so, I suspect it could be due to his slowing down.

23
by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 5:08pm

Re: Bears RB tippy-toe

This was the common complaint against Thomas Jones early in the year. I've never heard anyone say this about Benson.

24
by Xian (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 5:08pm

#18, I totally believe that. That was just my recollection about McKenzie, and it could have just been in comparison to all the other non-Al-Harris CBs they've had the last few years.

I mean...Ahmad Carroll (aka Highway 28) and the 7th round/street free agents they've stuck in there? Come on.

25
by Don Booza (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 5:12pm

As a Colts fan I am absolutely thrilled with yet another article on FO that explains how a team will run all over the Colts defense. Seems eerily similar to the articles previewing the Chiefs, Ravens, and Pats games. Does anybody remember what happened in those games? Oh thats right, not one of those teams broke 100 yards rushing. Huh.

Hey MDS - Thanks for keeping the streak alive!

26
by DGL (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 5:16pm

#22: If the Colts defense is very suspect against the Runs, you would have thought that the Patriots would have done better, seeing as how so many Patriots were suffering from a stomach flu.

27
by cjfarls (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 5:50pm

Re: 26

DGL - Did you watch the first 17 weeks of the season? There is a reason everyone talks about the Colts being suspect against the run, and its because for 17 weeks, they most definitely were. For 3 weeks they've played much better, but why is that a better indicator of future performance than the first 17?

Even some of the 3 recent weeks were questionable. For example in the wild card, I think most of us watching the game watched Edwards playcalling and asked "WHY ARE RUNNING AGAINST A 9 MAN FRONT!!!!!" Yes, I will agree... if the bears run against a 9-man front and only pass when its 3rd & 8, the Colts run D will look very good... but I don't see Lovie being that dumb.

Against Baltimore, the Colts D played great. Good for them. Its one exceptional week versus 17 bad. But hey, even the Raiders offense occassionally scored a TD and won a game or 3.

Last weekend, in the first half I saw a lot of the same problems with Indy's run D in the first half that I saw all year. Freeney/Mathis going wide, and Faulk hitting a big draw play behind him etc. This is what Indy needs to avoid. In the second half they stacked the box and looked much better, and along with a colossally bad day by a bad NE WR corp, that was a winning formula for the Colts.

Indy should do the same thing against da Bears. Stack the box and make Grossman beat them through the air. A quick start by Peyton and friends could also doom Chicago's run game. However, I also won't be surprised if Indy gives either lots of run yards, or some long play-action passes, because with the exception of the Baltimore game, I haven't seen them be successful stopping the run with just the front 7.

28
by Jordy (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 5:51pm

Benson was coming around and running well around mid-season last year. In his first start, he was carted off with a knee injury that essentially ended his season.

This year, the coaching staff attributed his early loack of playing time to the age-old "Not good enough at picking up the blitz," not his running style.

He's upended a few linemen with nice blocks the last few weeks.

29
by cjfarls (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 5:51pm

Oh, I guess my response was more for #25, but could apply to #26 as well.

30
by DGL (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 5:54pm

Runs. Stomach flu. Get it?

I guess if you have to explain a joke, it wasn't very good.

31
by cjfarls (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 5:55pm

DGL - No, thats awesome... once you explained it I cracked up. I'm just dumb ;-)

32
by Nate (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 6:01pm

23 - Agreed. I always thought Benson's problem was too little tippy-toe, not too much. I wanted him to run more patiently.

33
by Don Booza (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 6:05pm

#29, Thanks for being the first to offer-up excuses why the Chiefs, Ravens, and Pats didnt accumulate more rushing yards. I'm sure there are lots more excuses waiting in the wings. The fact of the matter is teams have simply not be able to sustain a rushing attack against the Colts in the playoffs. I dont have the stats handy, but I would bet over 50% of the Pats rushing attempts went for 2 yards or less.

I wont deny the Colts were awful against the run during the regular season. In fact, I was one of their worst critics. But the past 3 games ARE are good indicator for future performance because they are the most recent. I cant explain the reason for the drastic improvement, but the facts are there. 1 game may be a fluke, 2 games could be an aberation, but after 3 games you have to start thinking this is a trend.

34
by Xian (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 6:18pm

#33, you are aware of the nature of the website you are posting on, right?

If you don't have the stats, maybe you should do a little research first. Personally, I don't have the time right now. However, you could try starting here: AFC Conf. Champ PBP.

If 3 games are a good indicator of future performance, why aren't 17 games (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/teamdef.php)?

35
by cjfarls (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 6:30pm

Except that as I watched those games, I only saw 1 game where they really were playing great against the run, which you agree could be a fluke. In the KC & 2nd half of the NE game, I saw a lot of 8 plus men in the box. For any NFL Def (including the Colts), this should be enough to stop the run... but it is also why I won't be surprised to see a few Grossman to Berian bombs... but luckily for the Colts, if I were a betting man I'd guess there won't be enough of these to out do Peyton and friends.

That still doesn't mean that Indy has a good run defense though, because they do roll the dice by putting so many in the box. They gave up 34 points to NE... they're just lucky their offense (of any in the NFL) is ideally suited for putting up 38...

While "any given sunday" applies (see Baltimore game), I would guess Indy wins because their offense is awesome, not because their defense lines up straight and stops Chicago rushing.

36
by Don Booza (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 6:32pm

#34 Thanks for the link. 11 or 12 (not sure if a fumbled exchange and/or a sack are included as a rush attempt) of the 24 rushing attempts produced 2 yards or less. Sorry Xian, dont have time to research what constitutes a rushing attempt, so you will have to live with my short comings.

If we assume any games are good indicators of future performance (which I think we can), then why are the most recent games not given more weight? It seems to me that the most recent games could be more indicative of recent scheme changes, players returning from injury, and/or player development.

37
by cjfarls (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 6:35pm

Oh, one last point I forgot to make:
To further my point about rolling the dice by stacking he box.... Reche looked pretty wide open... and Indy played it right because that was less dangerous than letting NE run on them.

38
by MRH (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 6:51pm

Re Tait and run blocking. I might be wrong, but I thought the Chiefs moved him to RT because he was a good run blocker but not a good enough pass blocker to be an LT (esp when compared to Roaf). Tait wanted LT money which the Chiefs wouldn't/couldn't afford and they made him their transition player. Bears thought he could play LT, made a poison pill type offer that Chiefs couldn't afford to match and got him. I may have a few details wrong.

Anyhow, my memory of Tait from his Chiefs days is that he made some great run blocks. Maybe I just didn't watch closely enough. But I think he will have trouble with Freeney in pass blocking one-on-one.

39
by Xian (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 6:57pm

Don, I probably wouldn't count the sack (unless it was really a failed sneak or a failed handoff), either way, that's pretty much exactly 50%. I can live with the shortcomings, since they mirror my own. Heh.

Sure, recent games should be given more weight. And honestly, I think it'd be great if the Indy run D was for real. I just don't buy it yet. Y'know?

As a Packer fan, and as someone who likes Peyton Manning's public persona, I'd love to see Indy win, and the run D is going to be a big part of that. I just had a knee-jerk reaction to "I don't have the stats to back this up" on what is primarily a website about...well...stats.

40
by Don Booza (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 6:57pm

#17 Xian, my man. You jump my ass because I dont have stats to back-up my opinion, and then I read your #17 post. "I dont have any data to back that up". Tisk tisk tisk. Dont you know what kind of site this is? If you dont have any statistical facts to back-up your opinion that McKenzie is weak against the run, then perhaps you should do some more research before posting.

41
by Don Booza (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 7:06pm

#39 - OK, you made nice, so I should as well. Please disregard any negative connotations from my last post. We are cool. Like you, I just hope the Colts D is not a mirage that is about to disappear! I recognize that is a possibility.

42
by JohnB (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 7:12pm

I haven't been able to get my hands on a download of the game, so I haven't seen it since it aired.
What kind of defense were the Saints playing during that drive? I know Rex had thrown a couple deep incompletions prior to that and am curious if that may have gotten the 8th man out of the box.
Grossman doesn't have to beat the Colts, he just has to make them respect his arm. Also, as a Chicago fan I expect him to come out very high-strung and not very accurate in the first half. If we can hang in the first half I like our chances.
I will start doing my rain dance next week.

43
by Xian (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 7:14pm

Heh. I was, of course, talking about events from a number of years ago (while you were talking about last weekend), and although DVOA is available for those years, I don't think that FO has made the individual DB stop rates available. (If I'm wrong, someone point me to them, because I really want to see them.)

But we're cool. :) None of my comments were intended as attacking...I just meant that if the info is pretty easily available, check it out.

P.S. 1996 stats would be awesome. Bueller?

44
by Tom (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 7:54pm

I think Tait was playing RT simply because Roaf was a better tackle than him. I believe the Chiefs were hoping they could keep him and move him to LT if/when Roaf retired, but I don't have a link to back that up.

I would say Tait is a better pass protector than run blocker, but he isn't really deficient as a run blocker. Of course considering the LT play I've seen the past few years watching the Bears, this opinion could be relative.

45
by Randy S. (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 8:00pm

I decided to take a look at the PBP to see how the New England runs went. This kind of shocked me, it looks like they only ran the ball five times in the second half. And they weren't particularly successful runs:

3rd Quarter
2-10-NE18 (8:04) K.Faulk up the middle to NE 26 for 8 yards (R.Mathis).
1-10-IND21 (3:49) L.Maroney left tackle to IND 22 for -1 yards (R.Brock, G.Brackett).
1-5-IND5 (2:24) C.Dillon left end to IND 6 for -1 yards (R.Morris).
Fourth Quarter
2-6-NE31 (12:41) L.Maroney up the middle to NE 29 for -2 yards (D.Freeney).
3-10-IND29 (4:29) (Shotgun) H.Evans right tackle to IND 25 for 4 yards (G.Brackett).

The Kevin Faulk run on 2nd and 10 is the only one that really did anything; it set up 3rd and short, which the Patriots failed to convert.

In the first quarter the Pats ran the ball fairly well, including that big 35 yard burst by Corey Dillon, a first down run on 3rd and 6 by Faulk, The average yards per carry in that quarter: 6.9 (without the giant run and what I guess is a failed QB sneak from Brady, it's 4.25).

In the second quarter it wasn't that much different. The Colts stuffed Maroney twice and Dillon once for a loss, but they also gave up a 7 yard TD to Dillon and a an 8 yard gain to Maroney on 2nd and 5. They didn't give up any long runs this time. Average yards per carry: 2.5.

I'd be interested to see an EPC on the rushing attack of the Patriots...why were they successful in the first quarter and then taper off as the game went on?

46
by Raskolnikov (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 8:59pm

On the Faulk 8 yard run, Freeney just missed an excellent play. Freeney broke into the backfield and nearly had Faulk for a 3 yard loss.

47
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 9:02pm

Reviewing Benson in the EARLY part of the season:

vs. GB 11 carries 34 yards
vs. Det 10 carries 25 yards
vs. Minn no carries
vs. Sea 11 carries 37 yards
vs. Buff 14 carries 48 yards
vs. AZ 1 carry 4 yards

These were the games where I had/have notes. While there were flashes I developed a mental picture of a guy who didn't attack holes that were available. Lack of understanding of the offense? Lack of confidence? Poor reads? I wasn't sure.

Later on when I picked the Bears games again that had changed.

So if folks want to tell me everyone in Chicago could see the ability then I guess everyone in the Windy City is a lot sharper than me. Which is entirely possible.

And by the way, here and other threads I have been writing some pretty nice things about Chicago. But of course I mention one negative and several locals have a fit. Ain't it always the way?

48
by GushBlue&Gold (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 9:36pm

I remember watching the second run by Maroney in the 2nd half. It was a draw, and I recall thinking that Maroney had done a terrible job of restarting on the draw; it seemed like he stayed frozen in his tracks before the draw, giving the impression that the play was a draw (why else would he not be moving block, run a route) and gaining no momentum for the draw. The Colts D didn't look fooled and Maroney looked like he moving in sand. As a Bears fan, I hope Jones and benson will do a better job of selling the draw- from watching Jones, I'm pretty sure he will.

49
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/24/2007 - 10:53pm

Me again. Remember how I mentioned the change in Benson in the second half of the season?

Beginning with Game 10

vs. Jets 10 carries 51 yards
vs. Pats 10 carries 46 yards
vs. MN 9 carries 60 yards
vs. Rams 16 carries 64 yards
vs. Bucs 15 carries 53 yards
vs. Lions 15 carries 49 yards
vs. GB 13 carries 109 yards

Yes, yes, yes. There are MANY things that go into a running back having success.

But I think it is POSSIBLE for someone to understand how I concocted the notion that Benson was a somewhat different runner in the second half of the season. And if folks want to accuse me of "cherry-picking" then I am more then willing to include the game against the Giants, 6 carries 7 yards.

Is it all Benson? Of course not. But SOMETHING changed.

And when I saw him play in the latter half of the season he looked like a different runner then the one I saw early on. His success is ancillary to the change that I observed.

But again, if everyone in Chicago saw it much sooner then I did so be it.

50
by Reinhard (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 12:45am

My friends and I were looking forward to the nfc championship specifically to see Benson run. He really does run very hard, and he hits hard. When the Bears are mixing him up with Jones it definitely seems that linebackers have trouble adjusting.

51
by dje (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 2:03am

35 - "They gave up 34 points to NE…"

The Colts gave up 34, but not all of those were on the D. 7 were directly on Manning and several more were more attributable to special teams. After the first two drives, the longest scoring drive that the Pats put together was 33 yards.

They were not impressive on the first two drives, but they adjusted and forced Brady to beat them (as they had with McNair and Green). They certainly will do the same with Grossman.

All in all, I was happy with the defensive effort against the Pats.

52
by jdiko (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 3:00am

Evan as a Colts fan, I still think Indy's run D is still suspect. I think the Pats could have done a lot more damage in the 2nd half, but they only ran it 8 times despite doing pretty well in the first half. The Chiefs were easy to defend against because, as mentioned in another article here on FO, they had the most predictable game plan ever.
I will also say though, that the subtle changes they made with the defensive line-ups have made huge differences, especially when you have no where to go but up.

53
by Podpeople (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 7:31am

#45
One of those runs is a failed QB sneak, the pats tried getting a play off early to catch the colts with 12 men on the field. Didn't work, and I don't think they even got any significant forward progress either.

54
by Felton Suthon (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 8:46am

This must have been a great article, because it was as painful to read as the drive itself was to watch. It would be nice if there were graphics showing the sets and plays.

55
by mactbone (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 10:48am

Re Benson:
I think things changed with the running game - I was really disappointed with the way the Bears were running in the first half of the season, just look at TJ's stats from then, they're pretty bad too - and Benson changed something. I'd say the play calling is part of it, Turner was just calling dive plays for Benson and while he hits the hole hard there really wan't much room. They were also running almost every time he came on the field - his presence signalled a run, plus there were some clock-killing drives. Benson may have gotten better at following blocks too - he doesn't dance around in the backfield like Jones, he picks a hole (open or not) and slams through.

56
by James C (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 11:03am

Mactbone, Badger

I think mactbone hit the nail on the head regarding when Benson was getting the ball at the start of the season it was always in situations where it was obvious the Bears were going to run and that was why CB was on the field. Remember the Bears were blowing people out so there was a lot of clock killing going on. I am assuming they didn't fully trust him to the extent that they trusted Jones and wanted to keep the carries with the starter while the game was still alive. As a strategy it didn't really work as it neither kept Jones fresh nor gave Benson any playing time against anything other than nine man fronts. That being said the reason Bears fans (myself among them) have been pleased with his play all year is that he was averaging 3 yards a carry despite that. I was seeing a back running with great power, vision and lateral quickness that justified to me the high price we paid to get him after not playing as well last year following his hold out.

The current distribution of carries for Jones and Benson seems to work well as it gets both backs involved and every carry Benson gets seems to make Jones run harder.

57
by Jimmy6 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 11:36am

Re Benson: Benson also said that he put on about 10 pounds. He partially credited that for being able to run with more power. He is around 230 pounds now.

58
by Eddo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 12:01pm

BadgerT, having watched every Bears game this year, I agree with you that something definitely changed that resulted in Benson being more effective. I'm not sure if it's the hesitation behind the line, like you suggested, or what, but something did change.
In the first half or so, I remember commenting that Benson needed the whole to be open in order to get anything out of the play, whereas Jones was better at finding smaller gaps and at least netting some decent yardage. I think the offensive line has started playing better, resulting in bigger holes for both runners.
In my opinion, Jones and Benson provide a very nice combination. Jones is a little shiftier and can make something out of nothing. What has always impressed me about Jones is that, for a guy who appears kind of small, he really fights for extra yards. Benson is a nice downhill runner, although lately it seems like he's been making tacklers miss as well. My dad keeps saying Benson lowers his shoulders into guys like Payton used to, but I'm not so sure about that. Benson is a bruiser, though, and I think fans and his teammates no longer have any beef with him.

59
by Jordy (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 12:04pm

55 and 56 made the point I was working on, which is that early in the season the Bears were blowing everyone out. Benson wasn't getting a carry until later in games, when the Bears were already in obvious run situations.

I took Badger's list, filled in the gaps, and then added what quarter and what the score was when Benson got his first carry. Early in the season, he didn't get into the 1st Quarter often and didn't even play in close games. Bottom line, a lot of it is getting better opportunities as the season went on.

vs. GB 11 carries 34 yards (Q3, 16-0)
vs. Det 10 carries 25 yards (Q2, 17-0)
vs. Minn no carries (close game = no carries)
vs. Sea 11 carries 37 yards (Q1, 7-3)
vs. Buff 14 carries 48 yards (Q2, 13-0)
vs. AZ 1 carry 4 yards (close game/losing = 1 carry in Q4)
vs SF 8 carries, 26 yards (Q1, 10-0)
vs MIA 8 carries, 34 yards (Q1, 3-14)
vs NYG 6 carries, 7 yards (Q1, 0-7)

vs. Jets 10 carries 51 yards (Q2, 0-0)
vs. Pats 10 carries 46 yards (Q1, 0-0)
vs. MN 9 carries 60 yards (Q1, 0-0)
vs. Rams 16 carries 64 yards (Q1, 0-6)
vs. Bucs 15 carries 53 yards (Q1, 7-0)
vs. Lions 15 carries 49 yards (Q1, 3-7)
vs. GB 13 carries 109 yards (Q1, 0-13)

Badger, I also don't think anyone's claiming to be quicker on the uptake than you. Anyone predicting Benson would be pretty good once he got past the holdouts and injuries wasn't exactly out on a limb, riding a #4 overall draft pick.

One more thing about Benson: not sure if this has changed (I doubt it), but most of the season Benson's the last guy out to the field, way behind everyone else, like John Winger in Stripes. He stands off to the side by himself, looking like he's sulking. He hasn't made a lot of friends on this team, least of all Thomas Jones.

60
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 12:54pm

Jordy:

First, to clarify why a "gap" existed is that I prefer to NOT speak of games of which I had no personal knowledge other than the box score or having seen highlights. So I wasn't going to refer to games I really didn't watch for any length. I did see moments of the Bears/Giants game but no more then 30% of the action.

Second, post 19 was pretty d*mn clear in declaring that I was spreading misinformation. I have followed up to clarify the reasoning behind my earlier remarks.

I will now move on to other topics.

61
by JohnB (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 1:08pm

Benson was quoted as saying he understands the offense better, knows where the holes area going to be and, in general is playing more instinctively. Those things, added to his bruising running style, add up to increased production.

As far as his blocking is concerned, it never was an issue that he could block someone as long as he knew who to block. He wasn't whiffing on blocks as much as not knowing who his pickup responsibility was. If he knows who to block its ass-over-tea kettle for the pass-rusher.

Finally, things have changed drastically for Benson as far as the team is concerned. He's accepted by his teammates and he and Jones have become much tighter. Benson is somewhat of a free spirit and usually says what's on his mind when asked. This, of course, sends the media wild with speculation. Case in point: earlier in the season he was asked if he and Thomas Jones were friends. He answered no. This was spun as they were not on friendly terms, then into locker room tension with the team taking sides. I know a lot of people who aren't my friends -- that doesn't make them my enemies. I think you need to take a closer look at how he’s treated on the sidelines and how he treats his teammates after a big play. Its not what you think.

Benson is a little out there; however, a lot of that perception comes from his unusual honesty. Reporters usually describe him as very thoughtful in his answers, often pausing for a while to consider what he’s going to say -- not because he’s thinking up the usual BS.

Anyway, this is a long-winded response but it should be interesting to see how the Bears running game unfolds during the SB. While I don’t think the Bears have the best running back in the NFL I think they have the best tandem.

62
by Jordy (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 1:17pm

OK, Badger. I think you're being awfully defensive and don't see a reason for it. I don't see "locals" jumping you, I see a discussion.

If I disputed anything you said at all, it was your repeated self-effacing comment that everyone in Chicago must have seen something before you did. You keep bringing it back to someone being more right than someone else - I have no interest in that, just trying to add some more facts to the discussion, and I apologize that I came off otherwise.

63
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 1:41pm

Jordy:

I have no problem with your posts whatsoever. An apology is unnecessary.

I specifically mentioned post 19 in the previous post. Post One Nine.

I do pay attention when someone calls me a dumb*ss.

And again, having explained the origins of my reasoning I will now move on to other topics.

64
by dje (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 1:49pm

56&59 - I haven't watched many Bears games this year, so I don't really have an opinion on what changed, except to say that it seems to me that the easiest running usually comes late in a game with a big lead.

Anyway, I watched the Saints game closely and I think that Jones's style scares me more than Benson's. If the Colts know where you are going, they will probably stop you. The type of runner that seems to hurt the Colts the most is the slasher who very quickly makes a cut and find the hole (like Maurice Jones-Drew).

65
by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 1:49pm

Badger, I've appreciated your positive comments about the Bears. I wasn't jumping on you, just adding to the discussion.

66
by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 1:55pm

#64

I think Benson may be just as dangerous to the Colts because their D, (like the Bears') is relatively undersized. Benson rarely goes down on first contact and punishes people. If one of the Colt's LBs or DBs is facing him in the open field, they're in for a collision.

Eddo, my dad would agree with your dad about Benson delivering blows. He doesn't have Sweetness' moves or hands (yet), but I think he'll get us over the Curse of Salaam/Enis.

67
by Eddo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 2:46pm

66: Haha, thanks Charles. And from some thread yesterday I remember reading you're another Bears and Sox fan. Always good to find one of those.
I think that both backs are of the type that gives Indy trouble. Benson can take advantage of the smaller linebackers, and he's still a pretty good cutback runner. Jones is a very good cutback runner, and he doesn't go down easily, either. Let's just hope the Colts don't jump out to an early lead and that Turner sticks with the running game.

68
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 2:46pm

Re: 22

Harrison had his highest DPAR this year since 2002. I don't think he's lost a step. He has had some pretty bad drops this year, likely related to his continuing wrist problems.

69
by dje (not verified) :: Thu, 01/25/2007 - 3:47pm

66 - I don't think that size matters much to the Colts if they can manage direct hits. Once one guy stops the momentum of a runner they are great at swarming to the ball. (The KC game was the perfect example with LJ.) On the other hand, they are absolutely terrible when they are arm tackling. If Benson is elusive enough to avoid direct contact, his power should be a big factor.

70
by tony (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 2:18am

Lets look at the P.O. games for the Colts.
Is their a reason to be scared of the skill position players that the Chiefs have outside of LJ? (Tony Gonzalez isnt the same player) Especially considering Trent Green is leading this offense?

The Ravens? Some talent on offense, but Jamal Lewis cant make his own holes anymore, and he sure as hell cant bust one to the outside to beat the "8 in a box" like he used to. The Ravens, although efficient, are still a few yards away from being anemic on offense. The Ravens "O" hasnt scared anyone in years...and rightfully so. As with the Chiefs, their was no reason to respect the Ravens passing game.

The Pats? Definitely an offense to respect. Their weakness? Their isnt a WR on that roster that could consistently beat a decent CB by himself. Their best WR is a TE. I was impressed with the Colts improved run D in the 2nd half, but Im still not convinced considering those WR's are well below than average.

What do the Bears have that the previous teams dont? Thomas Jones & Bernard Berrian. As soon as those 2 open things up on the outside with the long ball or the "bounced outside" run, the Colts D will be in for a dogfight. The Bears wont run for 375yds like the Jags, but the Colts wont hold them to under 100 yds rushing. Turner & Lovie will not give up on the run even if they are down 10 pts early. Dont forget that the Bears interior line holds a distinct advantage over the Colts undersized interior and those straight ahead Benson runs will keep the drives going as the Colts DL wears down...

One more point, dont overrate the Colts Pass D. Yes, they are #2 in yds, but why throw against them when they couldnt stop the run? If the Bears can buy some time, and its a big if, for Grossman to take some shots downfield, then the field really opens up for the running game. Indy's smallish-secondary, excluding Sanders, are hardly world beaters. They will be in for more trouble against one of the best blocking WR's in Muhammad and a core of solid blocking skill players. If Harper doesnt play in the SB (I hope he makes a speedy recovery), that will definitely be a huge loss for the Indy defense.

71
by Roundhouse (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 2:14am

Something that hasn't been mentioned (at least from what I've seen), is the Colts' susceptible to the draw play, as Mathis and Freeney often fly upfield too fast. Combined with the Bears' ability to run the draw (as they gutsily did on 3 and 20 against the Giants), Indy has one more run threat to think about coming into Sunday.