The Bears dominated the Colts on opening night. But what if Peyton Manning had five more cracks at Chicago’s defense?
The Bears dominated the Colts on opening night.
But what if Peyton Manning had five more cracks at Chicago’s defense?
“That’s not good,” Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. “That’s not good at all.”
Ogunleye’s right; it’s not good at all. And you don’t have to imagine it. Just look at Jake Delhomme and Brian Griese. The Carolina and Tampa Bay quarterback got those five extra chances Manning never got and led the Panthers and Bucs to comeback wins over Chicago.
The Bears have now blown fourth-quarter leads in five of their last six defeats.
“We just need to get off the field,” defensive coordinator Bob Babich said.
Or maybe the problem is they never should have been on the field to begin with. Chicago’s defense started out even more dominant against Carolina and Tampa. But when Chicago’s offense couldn’t control the ball the last two weeks, the Panthers and Bucs had 14 possessions, not nine, and scored half their points in the waning moments.
Teams that try to win with defense want to shorten the game. The Giants upset the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl by giving Tom Brady the ball only eight times before taking the lead with 35 seconds left. The Giants also only let the Cowboys have the ball eight times in an earlier playoff upset and Green Bay had 10 regulation drives in an overtime loss to New York in the NFC title game.
“It’s easier to stop teams when an offense doesn’t know what a defense is going to do,” Ogunleye said. “The more chances they get, the more they can get your tendencies down.”
When Chicago can shorten the game to a Giants-like 10 drives or less, the Bears are 7-0 since 2006, by a combined score of 194-53, with wins over the Packers (twice), Colts, Eagles, Lions, 49ers and Jets.
But when teams get more than eight or nine drives against the Bears, they score with those extra chances, Often, they score a lot. For example:
Chicago held Denver to 10 points through 10 drives last year, then gave up three consecutive touchdowns.
The Bears held the Chargers to 3 points through eight drives in last year’s season opener, then gave up back-to-back TDs.
Most infamously of all, Chicago held Detroit to three points on its first nine drives last year, then gave up five consecutive TDs (although two were on kickoff and interception returns).
“It’s a numbers game,” Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher said. “Any time a team has more opportunties to make plays, they will.
“We just have to get off the field with three-and-outs. We can’t control anything else.”
The Bears did that against Tampa Bay. A lot. Tampa ran only 43 plays on its first 10 drives, but 41 on its last four (when the Colts game would have been over) and scored three times.
“That was crazy,” Ogunleye said.
“We were in overtime, so they had two extra series, but it’s our job to get them off the field,” Babich said.
That’s easier earlier in the game. Especially for the Bears, who often crowd the line and keep offenses guessing whether they are going to blitz and, if they are, who is going to blitz. Philadelphia, which plays the Bears Sunday night, is even more intricate with its blitzes; the Eagles’ 14 sacks have come from 10 different players.
The Eagles also like short games.
“When you go in, the defense has an idea of the offensive scheme, but the offense isn’t familiar with exactly what the defense is going to be doing,” Eagles backup safety Sean Considine said in a phone interview. “As games go on, offenses pick up our tendencies and where we’re bringing pressure from.”
That’s what Chicago did last year, completing 7 of 11 passes for 97 yards to pull out a last-second win.
Bill Walsh coached Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, but he said the key to winning in the NFL is a fourth-quarter pass rush.
The Bears had one agains the Colts and won. They didn’t against the Panthers and Bucs and lost. Perhaps because they had to do it five more times and were put in a spot where most defenses wilt.
“The more the game goes on, they are going to figure out what we’re doing and where they need to slide the protection in order to get the pass off in time,” the Eagles' Considine said. “The more they see what we’re doing, eventually they are going to break the code and break the big one. That’s how they put points on the board.”
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shortening the game
The average points and yards Chicago’s defense has allowed per drive on the first 10 drives of a game the last two years and on all subsequent drives:
First 10 drives All other drives
Opponent Yards Points Yards Points
Bucs 19.3 0.7 65 3.3
Panthers 12.4 1.3 20 2.3
Colts 32.6 1.4 NA NA
Saints 26.4 1.8 37.3 1.8
Packers 27.4 0.7 NA NA
Vikings 27.2 1.3 27.5 1.8
Redskins 18.7 1.4 67.0 5.0
Giants 22.4 0.7 76.0 7.0
Broncos 17.8 1.3 47.6 4.2
Seahawks 38.4 2.7 15.3 1.0
Raiders 13.3 0.3 15.8 0.8
Lions 38.8 1.6 18 0.0
Eagles 41.8 2.0 NA NA
Vikings 33.9 2.1 20 2.6
Packers 36.9 2.0 13.7 0.0
Lions 19.0 1.0 71.0 7.0
Cowboys 32.6 2.7 40.5 3.5
Chiefs 25.2 1.7 26.0 0.0
Chargers 19.4 1.7 56.0 0.0
Totals 26.5 1.4 38.5 2.5