The Bears were well-versed in New York Jets coach Todd Bowles’ tendency to send blitzes, especially when facing a quarterback still lacking experience at the NFL level. But all it took was one massively explosive play for the Bears to come away as winners of the blitz battle on Sunday.
Mitch Trubisky’s 70-yard touchdown to Tarik Cohen was the product of a perfectly-called play, and then perfect execution of said play by all 11 players on the field.
“You couldn’t draw it any (more) perfectly,” center Cody Whitehair said. “Great play by the coaches.”
Facing a second and 10 with about five and a half minutes left in the first quarter, the Jets showed a cover zero blitz — which isn’t out of the ordinary for a blitz-heavy defense. The blitz design was to send seven defenders, with four others in man coverage against the Bears’ four pass-catchers (Taylor Gabriel was split out to the left, while Trey Burton, Anthony Miller and Josh Bellamy were in a trips formation to the right).
Nagy sent in the play call, and Trubisky correctly identified what the Jets were going to do prior to the snap. But just identifying it didn’t mean it was going to work.
The success of the play begins with the Bears’ offensive line. Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. holds his block on outside linebacker Darron Lee, who doesn’t pick up Cohen leaking out of the backfield. Neither does inside linebacker Avery Williamson, who blitzes up the middle but doesn’t recognize a tell that the pass is a screen. Left guard James Daniels blocks but quickly releases defensive tackle Leonard Williams, while center Cody Whitehair is able to shift defensive tackle Henry Anderson toward Kyle Long and the right side of the line — away from the play — before releasing, too.
Cohen, too, was critical in making the play work by convincing Williamson that he was in pass protection, not going out to run a route. That was how the Jets lost Cohen on the play and didn’t have anyone to cover him.
“I saw that he was blitzing, so he knew I had him in protection, so I knew if I got a good bluff on him, then he would still try to run at the quarterback thinking he beat me,” Cohen said. “So I just let him win on that part.”
“(Cohen) had to kind of turn a little bit sideways and slip through there,” Nagy said. “He’s really good at that.”
Still, Trubisky had to sell the play to make sure Williamson didn’t quickly peel off and try to cover Cohen. Even with safety Jamal Adams rushing free off the right edge, Trubisky holds his nerve and does what he needs to as the “bait” on the play, as he put it.
“You want the D-Line to rush so nobody peels back and put my eyes in a different spot to try to move defenders and make sure everyone rushes me and we can get the linemen out in front of Tarik and by any means get Tarik the ball,” Trubisky said. “You've got to do your job on screens and let it develop and do the rest and that was a huge play for us.”
“It’s easy in that situation when they storm the castle to panic a little bit and get off your assignment, but they didn’t do that,” Nagy said. “The whole offensive line, Mitch, (Cohen), they stayed patient, and they just kind of let the thing happen. And so by doing that, it allowed Mitch to have a little bit of green grass in front of him to loft it over the defensive linemen.”
So how did a simple screen turn into 70 yards?
When Trubisky lets the ball go, Lee is still trying to make a pass rush move on Leno, while Williamson only identifies a screen when Trubisky winds up to throw. By then, Cohen is about three yards away from Williamson, with his momentum going toward the open field.
And it’s noteworthy, too, that on the other side of the play, Burton, Miller and Bellamy all run routes toward the far sideline, drawing defensive backs Marcus Made, Darryl Roberts and Derrick Jones away from where the ball winds up.
When Cohen catches the ball at the 31-yard line close to the near side numbers, the Jets have seven defenders at or behind the 25-yard line and three defensive backs at or behind the far side numbers. Daniels and Whitehair, comically, have nobody to block.
“I know, it was great,” Whitehair said. “I just figured I’d run down there and celebrate with him.”
“When I turned upfield, I just didn’t see anybody,” Cohen said. “I was kind of nervous I didn’t see anybody, I just saw green grass so I just took it.”
The last thing that springs this play into the 70-yard touchdown it was came thanks to Gabriel, who delivered a strong block cornerback Morris Claiborne. That allowed Cohen to run, effectively, in a straight line all the way to the end zone, reaching a top speed of 21.42 miles per hour, which according to NFL Next Gen Stats is the fastest a running back has run on a play this season.
This play didn’t involve any innovative design, or one guy doing something extraordinary. But it was the kind of play a well-coached team executes perfectly, and one on which a 20-yard gain can become 70 and a touchdown.