Bears

Bears' offense must dictate Vikings' defense

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Bears' offense must dictate Vikings' defense

The Bears' offensive line has been a hot topic the past few seasons, as the offensive tackle performance continues to be scrutinized from year to year.
Bears fans have been given code words like "chip blocks" from running backs or tight ends to provide help for the offensive tackles to slow down fast defensive ends rushing the quarterback.
The truth of the matter is there is plenty an offense can do to slow down destructive fast forces on defense, but the Bears haven't been good at any of that the past few seasons. Pass protection is much improved under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice, along with the practicality of game plans, but the offensive line needs to utilize more tools at their disposal.
The Mall of America in Minneapolis can get extremely loud. At one point during the late 90s, it was ranked as one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL to play. How do teams like the Bears combat the noise this weekend? How will this plan slow down fast defensive linemen like Vikings' sack master Jared Allen?
Score first
It sounds clich, but the Bears have to get off to a fast start and score first. Fans become like a baby coming down from a sugar high when the opponent scores first in their house.
The top 15 offensive plays will be scripted and followed to the letter of the law. They will be "go plays"--plays that can be run regardless of defensive front--with not a lot of communication until crowd noise is calmed.
Mix up the snap count
After the crowd is subdued, there is no weapon greater to an offense to slow down a defensive pass rush than the snap count. Unfortunately for Tice, this year's group does not understand the concept.
The snap count is an asset utilized on offense so the defense cannot get a jump off the ball. Cutler only tells his team the snap count in the huddle, far from the opponent, but yet the Bears have been awful at working the snap count.
False starts have been horrific on first and second downs, setting the Bears up for failure on the third down. We've already written about the stats and the Bears are ranked worst in the league on first down production.
Comcast SportsNet's John 'Moon' Mullin talked to Tice, who said "manageable third downs are the key to the game" against the Vikings. Working the snap count alone can aid in correcting those statistics.
Cutler can go on a quick count, often catching a defense off guard when they are not set, or he can go on one, two or on three. Cutler can work the snap count by changing the inflection of his voice to draw the defense offsides.
Cutler can also work what is known as a double cadence to affect the defense, by allowing for a longer snap count to identify problem areas if they exist. The snap count is an offensive lineman's friend and a tremendous weapon by not allowing a defense to pin their ears back rushing. It stuns, slows, delays and frustrates them with penalties of their own, disrupting their game plan.
Go right at them
Tice utilized this method in the first matchup against the Vikings and would be wise to go to the well again until Minnesota stops it.
A very effective way to neutralize good players and slow them down is to run right at them, that way they are forced into a defensive position, fighting off blockers in their path. There are different looks with various blockers coming from all angles, but offensively you are running the same play.
Even a defensive end as good as Allen becomes mortal and confused, not knowing where the next block is coming from, thus slowing their game down while also sustaining physical abuse.
Motion and shifts
Different looks cause the defense to communicate and call audibles much like an offense does. They have to adjust, make calls, and change their defensive front or coverage, causing them to change their line of thinking during a play.
Motion and shifts can stun a defense much like the snap count, and if the defense is thinking, they're not playing fast. They don't have to be done all the time because shifts or motions can inhibit the ability to work the snap count due to play clock constraints, but work brilliantly for angle blocking in the 'go right at them' approach.
Motion and shifts are also a great way to apply the chip block help by a running back, tight end on defensive ends that were sorely missing under Mike Martz, but managed well under Tice.
If the Bears' offense wants a fighting chance in Minneapolis, they need to dictate the Vikings defense rather than placate and submit like the way they did against the San Francisco 49ers while on the road.
Sounds like a lot to handle with three new offensive linemen for the Bears at different positions, but it really isn't. All they have to do is listen to the play call in the huddle and the snap count, and execute their assignment. After all, it is what they're paid to do.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing.