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Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Mike Tanier

Rex Grossman's hot-and-cold performance was one of the major subplots in the NFL this season. After playing well in his first five games, Grossman endured a seven-game stretch in which he mixed competent performances with some of the worst games a quarterback has had in recent memory. He bottomed out in Week 13 against the Vikings, when he threw for just 34 yards and was intercepted three times in a Bears victory. Since then, he's gotten the short leash and training wheels treatment. The Bears hope that he can do just enough offensively for their defense and special teams win games.

How does a team compensate for a major weakness at quarterback? To find out, I broke down tape of three late-season Bears games to see what coordinator Ron Turner was doing to get Grossman back on track. It was clear from the game tape that Turner was taking the "keep it simple" approach with his quarterback, stressing power running, short passing, and relatively primitive formations and reads. The goal was to protect the football and Grossman's psyche, and the strategy was successful ... to a point.

Power Running

The best way to protect a shaky quarterback is to run the ball. The Bears have a strong running game; running backs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson are both effective, and the veteran line is anchored by Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz. The Bears can win games with running, defense, and special teams, but they cannot allow teams to constantly play eight-man fronts and simply tee off on Jones and Benson. For Turner, the challenge is to disguise the Bears' run-oriented personnel packages and formations.

Figure 1: McKie in motion

One way to keep opponents from stacking the box is to use pre-snap motion to hide a run-dominant formation. The Bears don't use complicated motion schemes the way the Redskins, Jets, and other teams do. Turner uses basic motion principles, like moving a fullback or tight end across the formation, to keep defenders from recognizing the strong or weak sides of a formation or to force defensive backs to change assignments. These simple tactics can be very effective.

Figure 1 shows a typical Bears pre-snap tactic. Fullback Jason McKie begins the play as a slot receiver, then motions into the backfield. He becomes a strongside-I fullback in the diagram, but Turner will move him to the traditional I or the weakside, and sometimes McKie moves twice: from slot to strong-I, then to weak-I without re-setting. McKie will motion from slot to backfield 10-to-15 times in a typical Bears game.

The goal of the motion is simple. Before the shift, the Bears are in a three-receiver look, and while the left side of the formation is technically the strong side, McKie's presence on the right makes it impossible for the defense to stack one side. After the motion, the Bears are in a power running formation, with McKie and Desmond Clark on the left side. The rest of Figure 1 shows how the Rams reacted on one first quarter play in Week 13. They flipped their safeties just before the snap, but they weren't in position to make other adjustments. Had the Bears simply lined up in a strong-I, a Rams linebacker would probably have played head-up on Clark in a five-man front, and the extra safety would have started the play in the box. The play the Bears ran -- a power sweep with guard Roberto Garza blocking the safety as McKie logs the linebacker -- would have been harder to execute against a five-man front, because Clark wouldn't have the luxury of blocking down on a defensive end.

Figure 2: McKie in motion vs. Bucs

There's a downside to this kind of simplified motion: defenses are quick to adapt. When the Bears played the Buccaneers, Turner tried to stretch the defense horizontally with the formation shown in Figure 2. It's a flip formation, with three receivers (McKie in the slot) on the right side. McKie then motioned into the backfield. This should create a variety of problems for the defense: the formation has gone from trips-right to balanced and from pass-oriented to run-oriented. But the Bucs never bit. At the snap, they lined up in a very vanilla formation, with their three linebackers shifted left and a safety shading forward to cover the inside receiver. After the motion, the linebackers simply slid to their right. The Bucs were probably in a Cover-3 defense on this play (that's a guess, mind you), and they weren't worried about accounting for McKie in man coverage or making adjustments to the three-receiver look. Translation: the Bucs weren't that worried about a successful pass. The dive by Benson gained a few yards, but Turner would rather have feigned the Bucs into a dime defense and cleared out some linebackers for a longer gain.

As you can see, running to set up the pass only gets a team so far. Eventually, Grossman has to put the ball in the air. When that happens, Turner tries to limit the number of long throws and complex reads his quarterback has to make by emphasizing screens and throws into the flat.

Screens and Flats

Screen passes do a lot for an offense. They slow the pass rush by forcing defenders to worry about the screen threat. They get the ball into a running back's hands in the open field. And they can boost a quarterback's confidence by giving him some short, easy-to-complete passes. The Bears have used screen passes frequently in the last two years when trying to manufacture a passing game with Grossman and Kyle Orton.

Figure 3: Thomas Jones screen

Figure 3 focuses on the right side of the Bears formation on a well-executed screen pass against the Rams. The diagram is rather busy, so bear with me. It's first-and-10. The Rams are in man coverage with a deep safety. Left linebacker Brandon Chillar (54) is blitzing, and Will Witherspoon (51) has coverage on Thomas Jones. At the snap, Jones squares to block, and Witherspoon reads a double team as Olin Kreutz and Ruben Brown pair off on the nose tackle in front of him. The three receivers to the left side (not shown) run deep routes. Bernard Berrian cuts off his route after about five yards and appears to be running a shallow drag.

Two factors make this screen successful at the outset. First, there are sustained blocks by Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza. Kreutz stays with his double-team long enough to freeze Witherspoon, while Garza rides La'Roi Glover deep into the backfield so the Rams tackle doesn't suspect a screen. The second factor is a remarkable block fake by Jones. He squares to engage Chillar, flinches as if he is shying from contact, then appears to whiff on the block when he is actually leaking into the region vacated by the rushing defenders. Everything about this play suggested that Jones was responsible for blocking the A-gap to Kreutz's right. In fact, it was all a con to get the Rams defenders up the field.

Sure enough, Grossman flicks a screen to Jones. Grossman times the pass well and is nearly crushed between Chillar and Glover when he throws. Witherspoon and cornerback Tye Hill are in position to make a tackle, with Kreutz and Garza climbing out to block. Here's a final factor that makes this play successful. Remember Berrian? Instead of turning to stalk block Hill, he crosses the middle and blocks Witherspoon. Garza then nails Hill, who must shift quickly from his coverage responsibility to the pursuit of Jones. The cross blocking puts Berrian and Garza in better position to engage their defenders. Berrian gets an assist from Kreutz, but he does an impressive job of stopping Witherspoon. Jones turns upfield and gains 21 yards before Pisa Tinoisamoa catches up to him, and Grossman draws a roughing the passer penalty to boot.

The Bears must execute perfectly on their screens because they rarely have the element of surprise on their side. Opponents know that they will throw screens to open up their passing game. The Seahawks will be looking for plays like these, so Turner must do his best to disguise them.

Figure 4: Simple flat pass

Screen passes aren't the only way to boost Grossman's confidence and get the backs involved. The Bears execute a lot of quick passes into the flat to Jones, McKie, and Benson. Figure 4 shows a typical example, a play so simple your local high school might use it. The fullback and right wide receiver run a slant-and-flat route combination, with the tight end running a curl to the middle. The key to this play is the block by the halfback: he is left alone to take on the defensive end while the right guard and tackle double team the 3-technique defender. This play is designed to go to the fullback, and only the fullback: the blocking scheme creates an easy throwing lane, and the halfback won't be able to sustain his block long enough for Grossman to look around. Against man coverage, the linebacker assigned to McKie (or any other fullback) will almost certainly be beaten into the flat. Against a zone, McKie can leak into the cornerback's zone while that defender is busy dropping or jamming his receiver. Either way, it's five quick yards.

When Grossman was playing terribly in midseason, the Bears couldn't execute this play successfully. Against the Vikings, Grossman waited too long to throw to McKie, then inexplicably tried to find his tight end as the pass rush closed in. He threw the ball away just in time. Later in the game, Turner called the exact same play, and McKie gained eight yards. The same play re-appeared against the Rams with a slight wrinkle: McKie started the play in the slot, then motioned into the backfield as in Figures 1 and 2. Didn't think McKie was that important, did you?

Getting the Tight End Involved

Fullbacks aren't the only players who can exploit the flats. When a tight end slips into the flat, he forces the defense to cover a lot of ground along the sidelines. The Bears' best weapon for stretching the field isn't tough receiver Muhsin Muhammad or speedster Berrian. It's tight end Desmond Clark.

Clark was a major weapon in the Bears offense early in the year, but lingering injuries slowed him in the middle of the season. Against the Buccaneers, he caught seven passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. When he's on the field and healthy, the Bears passing game is much more diverse and dynamic.

Figure 5: Bootleg pass to Clark

Figure 5 shows how Turner uses Clark to work the flats as a short-yardage passing option. It's third-and-2, and the Buccaneers are crowding the line in anticipation of a running play. The Bears respond with a tight three-receiver, single-back formation, and they execute a play-action pitch at the snap. Grossman and Jones sell the pitch well, and the Bucs defensive line flows in the direction of the fake. Clark blocks defensive end Greg Spires at the snap; this helps sell the run, and it also makes safety Jermaine Philips, who is assigned to Clark in man coverage, creep to his right to defend the cutback lanes.

After the fake, Grossman turns and rolls to his right. Grossman is mobile, and Turner often rolls the pocket to help his quarterback find easier throwing lanes. This reverse rollout buys time and keeps Grossman away from blitzing Ryan Nece. Clark disengages from his block and leaks into the flat. Philips is out of position in coverage. A short pass by Grossman turns into a long catch-and-run by Clark. The Bears need plays like this, particularly in short yardage situations, to keep defenders from ganging up on the running backs.

Once the Bears forced the Bucs to cover the flats, Grossman was able to complete passes over the middle of the field. Just a few plays after Clark's catch and run on third-and-2, the Bears used the threat of a pass to the flat to pick up a big gain. Figure 6 shows the Bears in a single-back, slot-left formation, with Clark as the tight end to the right and McKie as a wing or H-back next to him. The Buccaneers use this opportunity to call a zone blitz. Defensive end Greg Spires drops into flat coverage on the offensive right, while linebackers Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles blitz. It's a smart defensive call: the zone blitz could easily confuse the turnover-prone Grossman, and there are no fast receivers to the offensive right to challenge Spires.

Figure 6: Clark's double move

As with Jones' successful screen play, several things go right for the Bears on this play. The offensive line makes an accurate read, and left tackle John St. Clair stops Brooks' outside rush. Good blocking gives Grossman time to read the field. McKie runs hard into the flat, clearing away Spires. Clark runs what appears to be a corner route. Flat-and-corner routes make a natural combination against this kind of coverage, but that's not what the Bears are doing on this play. McKie turns his flat route into a wheel route by turning upfield, and Clark executes a fine double-move, turning his shoulders around quickly and working back to the middle of the field. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon is in a bind: he must support Spires and respect McKie up the sidelines, and he's suddenly out of position to cover Clark. Grossman makes the right read and hits Clark for a 17-yard gain. The Bears score on the next play.

Later in the game, Clark scored a 12-yard touchdown on a similar double move. The routes worked because Clark is a very athletic tight end, and because the Bears spend a lot of time tossing the ball into the flat. Turner does a good job of adding simple wrinkles to keep the Bears from becoming too predictable (although they are somewhat predictable). But the key remains Grossman, who must stay comfortable in the pocket, make accurate reads, and deliver the ball both accurately and on time.

A Simple Plan

Rex Grossman does a lot of things right. He moves well in the pocket. He isn't afraid to hang in and take a hit. He sells fakes and does the little things. Some of his passes are crisp and right on target. But the things he does wrong can kill a team. His timing is terrible at times, and he'll throw to receivers a second or two after they flash open, leading to interceptions. He doesn't appear to always think through his reads and often locks on his primary target, which is another recipe for a turnover.

Turner's simplified offense seems to have helped Grossman late in the season, though he regressed against the Packers in a meaningless season finale. The trouble with a simple offense is that it's just as easy for the defense to figure out as it is for the quarterback to master. Turner went against his tendencies a few times in the Rams and Bucs games, keeping those defenses off balance. But he's working with a limited palette. Everyone has seen tape of Clark's double moves and of Jones' screen passes. Everyone knows that Berrian is a burner. The Bears will have to come up with something new or they'll become very predictable.

The Bears have enough offense to get past the Seahawks, a team that can be out-muscled at the line of scrimmage and is struggling to cover up injuries in the secondary. The Saints or Eagles will be a tougher task. The Saints front four is very good and can take away the run. The Eagles blitz constantly and force a lot of turnovers. All three of the NFC survivors have better defenses than the Rams or Buccaneers teams that Grossman played well against late in the year.

Should Grossman have been benched at some point this season? Probably. It's too late for that now. The best the Bears can do now is keep things simple and hope that the offense does just enough.


46 comments, Last at 13 Jan 2007, 1:19am

1 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by B // Jan 11, 2007 - 6:43pm

One more suggestion for the Bears: Get Hester involved in the offense, specifically in screen plays.

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2 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Zac // Jan 11, 2007 - 6:52pm

Another great article.

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3 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by tim // Jan 11, 2007 - 7:02pm

grossman's game reminds me of vick's, where anticipating when the receiver will come open seems to be at a minimum. To me it appears that both believe they can force the ball straight to the receiver once they come completely clean, madden style.

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4 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by PersonallySpeaking // Jan 11, 2007 - 7:02pm

Great article. Though I wouldn't say that the Bears run "a lot" of screens. In fact, that's a frequent complain amongst Bears fans.

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5 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Wanker79 // Jan 11, 2007 - 7:25pm

I'd just like to say again there isn't anything on the net (well, sports-related anyway) that gets me more excited then when I see a new TDZ is up.

Awesome as always. Viva la MSPaint!

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6 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Moshe // Jan 11, 2007 - 7:30pm

In addition to the last few games it would have been nice to see an analysis of what was going right for Rex in the first half of the season, when he posted a number of 100+ passer rating performances. It's simply unusual to see a QB look so good and so bad in the same season. A comparison between the two would be more illuminating, as it would demonstrate what Rex is capable of, and give us a clue as to how Turner might innovate to take advantage of what Rex can do.

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7 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by hector // Jan 11, 2007 - 7:45pm

Nice article. I like Grossman to rebound here, so long as the upcoming MLK Holiday isn't too much on his mind.

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8 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Pit Pat // Jan 11, 2007 - 8:00pm

Re: Figure 2: If all three LB's are fertilized, does that mean triplets?

Very nice article. I wasn't planning on watching Seahawks v. Bears, but now I'll be watching it rather closely.

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9 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Richard Taub // Jan 11, 2007 - 8:05pm

Grossman seems to do a lot better when he gets ahead early or plays with a lead. That was important in those early games when he seemed so strong. When he falls behind, something seems to happen to judgment.


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10 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Jim // Jan 11, 2007 - 8:15pm

I wouldn't say the Bears run a lot of screens either. If they had mixed some in against the Dolphins and Cardinals or in the first half against the Giants when they were blitzing every play, it would have been nice. I don't see the Bears moving the pocket very often either, they started doing it late in the year but not with any real frequency. And to nitpick further, while I agree that Rex has good mobility it would be awfully nice to see it used for something other than the Aaron Brooks maneuver. At least he doesn't throw backwards, yet. And to answer the "how did he look so good early and so bad late?" It's pretty simple, he didn't really look all that good early. His stat line in the Buffalo game could easily have been as bad as it was against the Vikings(slight exaggeration), he was extremely lucky in that not only were his poor passes not picked, they somehow got tipped to his own team. He threw an awful pick against the Pack in week 1, the Lions are the Lions, he was terrible against Minnesota both times. He was actually pretty good against the Seahawks though as well as the Niners, and in the second half of the Giants game. In his defense he might have been better during the first half of that game if the line had bothered to throw the occasional block. I think the Bears biggest weakness is actually the lines inability to pickup the blitz.

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11 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by CaffeineMan // Jan 11, 2007 - 8:18pm

Re: Figure 2: If all three LB’s are fertilized, does that mean triplets?
:: Pit Pat — 1/11/2007 @ 6:00 pm

Post of the year. I'm dyin'. Wish I wasn't at work, so I could roll on the floor laughing.

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12 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Jim // Jan 11, 2007 - 8:18pm

If you read KSK you'll know that when the Bears are behind the Sex Cannon only unloads deep.

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13 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by dbt // Jan 11, 2007 - 8:30pm

The first time Devin Hester spent any time in practice working with the offense, he promptly went out and fumbled or muffed 3 kicks in the following game, including one recovered by the kicking team and turned into a touchdown.

I don't know if any of you have heard an interview with Devin Hester, but let's just say that the young man is clearly being taxed to his limits learning what responsibilities he has now. Consider that he wasn't given the regular kickoff return gig until the St. Louis game in December.

I'd be surprised, if he spends any time on offense whatsoever, if does anything more than 1) decoy or 2) end around. Heck, they couldn't even get a simple slant to the guy.

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14 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Pat // Jan 11, 2007 - 8:40pm

#6: Note Rex's flaws that Mike pointed out: poor timing - i.e. waiting too long to throw to a receiver, as well as not progressing through his reads and throwing the ball to his first read.

You need a competent pass defense for those flaws to kill you. In the first half of the season, they didn't play against competent pass defenses. The difference between the Green Bay games is striking - in the beginning of the year, everyone was shredding the Green Bay pass defense (Green Bay was also playing good pass offenses). By the end of the year, they were much better. And Rex's performance was stellar in the first game, and abysmal in the second (Look at Detroit's first and last games vs Green Bay for a similar comparison).

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15 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by michael_pdx // Jan 11, 2007 - 8:42pm

Excellent article! Really appreciate the detailed descriptions of what makes formations and plays work; I'll be looking for McKie & Clark now this weekend. Thanks for the work you put into this.

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16 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Brett // Jan 11, 2007 - 9:22pm

Wow! Very insightful read. The Bears are always talking about what unsung heros McKie and Clark are. After reading this article, I think they have a point. McKie was held-out of the Packer game with a minor injury and the Bear's offense went down the tubes, similar to what happened mid-season when Clark was gone for a few games.

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17 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Gordon // Jan 11, 2007 - 9:23pm

Re: 12

KSK is awesome. "Sexy Rexy!"

Although I still think the best nickname for Grossman I've ever heard is "Turnoverasaurus Rex."

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18 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Jim // Jan 11, 2007 - 9:42pm

I'm hoping they draft Brian Leonard in April to make some of those fullback dumps dangerous.

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19 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by WWKOD // Jan 11, 2007 - 10:12pm

I still miss Kyle Orton :(

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20 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Eddo // Jan 11, 2007 - 10:27pm

This article sort of touches on what I've been saying for the last two months: while Rex has indeed has his share of awful performances, in those games, the playcalling was only compounding to the failure.
Usually when Rex gets into trouble he's throwing quick slants and quick outs. Both those routes rely heavily on timing and accuracy--neither of which is Rex's strong suit.
The routes that have worked well for Rex have been double moves, backs releasing into the flat, screens, and square-ins. He can just throw the ball to the receiver, not in the perfect spot like on a slant. He's best when he's just winging it to guys who have a little bit of separation.
That said, if the Bears rely on the strong running game and let Rex utilize play fakes (which he is outstanding at), they should be able to have success against any defense.
Also, post #55...what have you been smoking?

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21 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Kuato // Jan 11, 2007 - 11:20pm

As someone who never played football, but LOVE watching and learning about it, these kind of articles are fantastic.

I really appreciate the diagrams. Too often in sports writing description of a formation is in the text when a simple diagram would show the action much more clearly.

Keep up the good work.


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22 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Marko // Jan 11, 2007 - 11:38pm

Great article, as always. However, I agree with those who said the Bears don't actually run a lot of screens. It's easy to see why Mike came to the conclusion that they do, because this article is based on review of a small sample - 3 late season games when the Bears were running more screens than they typically do. They do run them pretty successfully, particularly middle screens, and should run them even more. As Jim said in post #10, the Bears really should have called some screens in some of the games when the opponents were blitzing on nearly every play. The failure to do so, and the generally poor play calling in those games (particularly the Arizona and Miami games), served only to amplify Rex's struggles.

I also agree with Eddo that the Bears need to heavily rely on their running game and play fakes. Grossman is very good at play action.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Bears seemed to do some different things in the last few games just to put them on film for future playoff opponents to see and have to prepare for. I'm sure they have some things up their collective sleeve that they haven't shown yet.

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23 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Icky // Jan 12, 2007 - 12:25am

Grossman's a douche, but Chicago will probably pull it out somehow.

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24 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by pete // Jan 12, 2007 - 12:29am

The article was ok, but a bit misleading on several fronts. On the contrary, Grossman does not move well in the pocket. After dropping back from center all you have to do is force him to step back once and the pass will be incomplete. He may be willing to take a hit, but it does not result often in a completed pass. As for the "little things" the author failed to mention several fumbled snaps from center this year. Grossman's biggest drawback is his judgement, especially when under pressure. All this being said, he is the best hope for Chicago's run to the Super Bowl. If the previous game against the Seahawks is any indication, the Bears should be able to push around Seattle on both sides of the ball. Heck, if Seattle puts out more loan officers on the field Grossman should actually have a good game, statistically.

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25 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Jim // Jan 12, 2007 - 1:24am

Actually can someone tell me how the Bears always manage to lose the aborted snap? Every other team drops the snap the QB falls on it, loss of 1. The Bears, other team gets the ball every time.

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26 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by GMan // Jan 12, 2007 - 3:20am

I just want to reiterate the praise everyone else is giving this article. Reading this article will add a whole new perspective on how I will watch Bears offense on Sunday. (instead of taking a nap like I was planning) Aaron has stated that the goal of this website is to revolutionize the coverage of the NFL and the way fans watch the game. It's articles like this that go a long way toward realizing that goal. My favorite part about football is analyzing team strategies, and this article goes a long way to helping me do that in Sunday's game.

#23: Wow! I am in awe of your great intellect. You post adds a whole new dimension to this discussion. I'm trembling in anticipation of your next post hoping it contains something insightful like "Manning's a homo who will choke like he does every January."

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27 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Steve Sandvik // Jan 12, 2007 - 5:57am

24-Considering the Seahawks were missing their starting tailback and their best blocking (as well as receiving) tight end, as well as having some line injuries already, it's hard to say it's indicative of much. It may turn out that it doesn't make much difference, but that'll be because different players couldn't stop the Bears from pushing them around, not because the game 3 months ago indicated something that's insurmountable about the Bears. I'd be pretty surprised if the Seahawks were in it late, but they might be close enough to make the gamblers nervous, with the spread at 8.5 and Grossman playing close to the vest.

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28 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by jdb // Jan 12, 2007 - 9:26am

OK, this might be a little bit wrong, but ever since the Arizona game I've been wondering...if the Bears do manage to win the Super Bowl (avoiding Evil Rex and getting a resurgence from the defense) can Dennis Green be the one to crown their asses?

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29 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by mactbone // Jan 12, 2007 - 10:16am

Grossman's always had mobility but ever since the injury in Minnesota he's been reluctanct to move around - it was actually his strong suit back then. He tends to let himself drift back when under pressure now and I don't think I've seen him get anything good out of those plays. However, late in the year he started moving in the pocket with more confidence and didn't just run backwards like he was doing before.

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30 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Charles Jake // Jan 12, 2007 - 11:09am


He also broke off a sweet 20+ yard run against the Rams. He hasn't done much running since.

Fumble recovery is primarily luck, of course, but I'd guess they get those aborted snaps when the D is bringing pressure, so there are more defenders in the backfield to recover.

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31 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Jon Coit // Jan 12, 2007 - 12:22pm

Isn't it just possible that Grossman is like a lot of other very talented rookie quarterbacks who have to learn from experience when to force throws and when to take what the defense gives you? And that he gets so much attention and criticism because he's widely perceived as the only thing holding back the Bears from greatness?

I don't watch tons of Bears games, but one play from the Cards game always sticks in my mind; his first INT, 3rd and 5, the Bears were in trips right with Muhammad split left; the play was a very simple one, the trips all ran deep outs, which cleared the middle underneath for a crossing 87, who you could see was wide effing open. Instead of taking the first Grossman threw a deep pass to Berrian?, who *was* in single coverage but looked like he was not expecting the ball.

Bears fans want Grossman to know this stuff already, but he's got to learn it. One might be tempted to compare him to Rivers--but Rivers was much better in college, didn't spend his first years in the league rehabbing major injuries, and could watch a great quarterback play.

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32 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Pat // Jan 12, 2007 - 12:48pm

Also, #22: This article is looking at what the Bears have been doing recently to try to get Grossman back on track. While the Bears may not have been running screens earlier in the season, they are now - because they think Grossman needs the help.

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33 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Will Allen // Jan 12, 2007 - 1:57pm

Minor quibble, regarding a terrific article: Grossman did not play well in the first game against the Vikings, early in the season. He stunk, but his numbers were distorted by the Vikings' defensive backs dropping passes with the sort of efficiency normally only displayed by the Vikings' wide receivers.

Playing a simple offense can work well in the NFL when the offensive talent is historically dominant or when the defenses are below average. The Vikings had a few good years with a simple offense when they had an above average offensive line, a very, very, athletic qb, and wide receivers, one in particular, which gave defensive coordinators nightmares, especially in the Metrodome.

The Bears have no such playmakers on offense (although the line is pretty good), and, while they may skate by Seattle's defense, the next game will be much more problematic, and if they get to the Super Bowl, I'd rate their odds of winning at less than 10%. What's more, they are in the somewhat unusual situation, for a Bears playoff team with homefield advantage, that the worse the conditions are, the longer their odds are against them prevailing. Grossman sucks even more in very bad weather.

If Seattle doesn't allow Hester to break any big returns, and they don't sacrifice too much field position in the process of avoiding Hester, they have an excellent chance to win. Of course, that's easier said than done; it ain't luck that results in the Bears'
special teams being ranked where they are.

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34 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Fnor // Jan 12, 2007 - 1:59pm

The Bears have also run a huge amount out of a single-back set, with either 2 or 3 WRs and no motion at all. They still haven't, however, run on obvious passing downs, so they still have confidence (misplaced, I think) in Grossman.

One particular formation they have used a lot late in the season is kind of a "step:" imagine a straight line of players, starting with a flanker on the line, the slot off a bit and an h-back even further off the line, then (usually Benson, I think) in a normal single-back position. It's a weird formation, and not especially good for passing, but it is a pretty good run formation, since you can move the slot over towards the line to act as another blocker (they do this with Muhammad in a lot of formations already), and having the H-Back gives them another short-route receiver, while still being in position to block for left or middle-right runs and counters.

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35 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Marko // Jan 12, 2007 - 2:24pm

Pat: I understand that the article was about what the Bears have done recently to try to get Grossman back on track. My comment about the screens was in response to the following quote from the article: "The Bears have used screen passes frequently in the last two years when trying to manufacture a passing game with Grossman and Kyle Orton."

That's really not true. The Bears haven't used a lot of screens in the past two years, and as pointed out in post #4, many Bears fans think more screen passes should be called.

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36 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by turbohappy // Jan 12, 2007 - 3:28pm

Great article! Love the diagrams and I too am more interested in watching this game after reading this article.

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37 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Fnor // Jan 12, 2007 - 5:03pm

#33: Berrian is awesome. They always have some chance of offence when he's around.

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38 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Will Allen // Jan 12, 2007 - 5:13pm

Berrian is good player. He ain't vintage Randy Moss, and that's no insult.

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39 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by PersonallySpeaking // Jan 12, 2007 - 5:33pm

"Grossman sucks even more in very bad weather."

What in god's name is this based on? Grossman has played one game in windy conditions and one game in the rain against the Giants. He played bad in one and great in the other. No one was going to be able to throw during that Vikings game (which is obviously what you are talking about since you are a Vikings homer). Everyone sucked during that one. Plus it was ONE game. Hardly enough to make a statement like that.

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40 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Tom // Jan 12, 2007 - 5:34pm


They haven't run on obvious passing downs? What about the 20+ yard draw Thomas Jones had against the Giants on 3rd and forever?

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41 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Marko // Jan 12, 2007 - 6:24pm

40: I had a similar thought about that Thomas Jones run (which was one of the most important plays of the season for the Bears), except that I didn't think it was an obvious passing down. I fully expected the Bears to run to use some clock or make the Giants burn a timeout, seeing as how it was very late in the second quarter and the Bears at that point needed to stop the bleeding and get to halftime. Perhaps the Giants thought it was an obvious passing down (which would partially explain why they defended it as poorly as they did), but I didn't.

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42 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by seda // Jan 12, 2007 - 6:30pm

I heard John Shoop just had a book published entitled, "The Complete Genius's Guide Too Screen Passes."

RE: #28 " their asses?"

LOL - Always great when a little wrong means a lot of funny.

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43 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Marko // Jan 12, 2007 - 6:39pm

Actually, the book by Shoop is called "The Complete Guide to Third and 8 Passes: How Not to Make First Downs by Throwing 3 Yard Passes to a Tight End or Running Back Who is Heading Out of Bounds or Falling Down as He Catches It."

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44 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Will Allen // Jan 12, 2007 - 6:39pm

Rain, unless it is of tropical storm dimensions, usually doesn't harm the passing game that much. Cold, windy conditions do. Grossman sucked, and not just in his decision-making. He couldn't make the throws. Period. The fact that Brad Johnson couldn't either is not something which can be taken as a mitigating factor, because Brad Johnson has the arm of a broken down 38 year old qb.

In contrast, and granted, this isn't entirely fair, I've seen Favre on many occasions play in very cold and windy conditions and make the required throws. Of the remaining NFC qbs, Grossman and Garcia are the ones most likely to have their performance suffer the most regression in such conditions, and given that Grossman is starting from the lowest base performance, and is the worst decision-maker of the four, the Bears' chances are better in Soldier Field if they don't get the worst of January weather.

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45 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by seda // Jan 12, 2007 - 6:48pm

RE: #43

Marko - HA! My mistake I had only seen an advance copy. Although I did hear it was up for a Marty Booker Prize...

..sorry for that.

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46 Re: Too Deep Zone: Protecting Rex Grossman

by Fnor // Jan 13, 2007 - 1:19am

#40: #41 stated it pretty well. I would also add that one instance doesn't tell us a whole lot, even if it is a good counter-example.

#44: I'm not sure it'll be as extreme as you think. I imagine we'll see normal Grossman: inaccurate and making poor decisions. I think it's more up to the defence and plain luck how Grossman does.

#45: Dear god, that was awful :P.

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