When John Fox detailed some of the underpinnings in the Bears’ thinking behind changing to a 3-4 defensive scheme, one major underlying question was whether the Bears in fact had the quality and quantity of players needed to play a 3-4, coming from decades of a 4-3 scheme.
A more subtle but no less concerning question surfaced in the Bears’ 31-23 loss on Sunday to the Green Bay Packers. Now the question might be whether the Bears have what they need to run a 4-3, or at least one vital iteration of it.
The Packers schemed via personnel to have the Bears rarely in 3-4, instead using three wide receivers and packages that meant the Bears were forced to answer with nickel personnel. That meant a traditional front-four look, with two tackles inside and long-time 4-3 end Jared Allen in his old spot at the right edge, and Pernell McPhee, signed to be a linchpin as a 3-4 linebacker, effectively a defensive end.
One is that the situation takes away some of one of the major principles of the 3-4, its mystery on which of four linebackers will be blitzing. Instead of McPhee operating in places to create uncertainty in the offense, the Packers knew exactly where McPhee and Allen would be and what they would be doing.
The second, bigger problem is that the Bears were not good enough in that “sub” package to seriously threaten Aaron Rodgers. The Bears registered not a single sack or even a hit on Rodgers; and when they did get close enough to flush him, they’d lost contain and Rodgers both extended pass plays and ran himself.
Two of Green Bay’s 10 longest plays for the game were Rodgers scrambles, for 15 ad 12 yards, and doesn’t include a 17-yard run that was nullified by a holding penalty.
The reality is, however, as Fox has said, as much as 70 percent of the time a defense is in some nickel variation. Meaning: The Bears may want to play 3-4, but a skilled offense like the Packers’ can simply dictate what the Bears play.
“Well, it is matchups,” Fox said. “So if they put three wideouts out there, I don’t know if it’s a great matchup to put a 290-pound linebacker [McPhee] on him. So they do dictate that. I think that’s why you see more head coaches on the offensive side calling plays because offense does dictate the tempo of the game as well as the personnel substitutions and how you match up.”
The situation is not unique, or new. And more than a few great defensive coaches have been victimized or forced to make that kind of adjustment. And when they don’t...
Classic situation: Buddy Ryan stubbornly left Wilber Marshall in his ’85 Bears defense going against the Miami Dolphins, and it did not take Dan Marino too many snaps to see Marshall left in coverage of Nat Moore. Marshall was fast, but not on Moore’s level. Ryan and Mike Ditka came to blows in the locker room at halftime of that game, the only one the ’85 Bears lost, in part because of the Marshall-Moore situation.
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The Packers exacerbated the situation with the speed of their execution.
“You can’t sub unless the clock is stopped,” Fox said. “They can go to the line real fast and snap the ball if you’re trying to sub. That’s not even trying to match up, just trying to put new guys in. In that setting you can’t do that.”