The New England Patriots run defense turned in a better performance in Week 8 against the Chicago Bears. The game plan for the Bears was clear: run at the Patriots. Early on, New England was stout, allowing the offense to open a large lead. In part two of this three-part series, Brian Filipiak will how a good run blitz can make a difference.
It’s not usually a banner day for your rush defense when the opposing running back averages six yards per carry, picking up 114 yards on the ground. But sometimes statistics can be a bit deceiving. Starting the contest with five consecutive run plays, the Bears pounded the rock and challenged the Patriots run defense to stop it. New England certainly did so early on, holding Matt Forte to 20 yards on his first six carries and forcing a holding penalty.
In Part 1 of this series, we saw how proper linebacker positioning and delayed pursuit can force a ball carrier to commit to a lane that can still be sealed off. Part 2 illustrates how perimeter pressure from a blitzing defensive back can limit a runner’s options.
One common cure for an ailing run defense is bringing a safety down into the box to create an eight-man front. With a numbers advantage at the point of attack and fewer gaps for an individual defender to manage, the in-the-box safety is a great equalizer to a dominant running attack (or struggling run defense). Yet just because you have the numbers, it doesn’t mean everything will just fall into place; you still have to execute.
The Bears continued their run-first approach out of a heavy formation on 1st and 10 from their own 31-yard line. Chicago again uses an extra lineman and forms an unbalanced line to the right. As expected, the Patriots run defense remains in their 4-3 defense but bring the strong-side safety Patrick Chung down into the box just outside the tight ends:
Prior to the snap, Chung and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler play a little game of peek-a-boo. Chung comes to the line, but backs off when Cutler notices him. Cutler appears to check out of or adjust the offensive play (or make a dummy call). Just as Cutler is ready to settle back under center, Chung creeps back up to the line, times the snap and explodes in a direct line toward Forte:
The free release run blitz by Chung does two things: it closes a potential running lane to the strong-side, and it forces Forte to commit to a running lane on the back-side, which in turn has an impact on the timing and leverage of the double-team/combination blocks in front of him:
Meanwhile, the linebackers remain free and clear of any second-level blocks and position themselves to fit the remaining gaps. At left in the image, defensive end Dominique Easley (#74) is square to the line of scrimmage in his contain assignment as the backside force defender. Forte’s chances of a successful run are now minimal but he tries his best with a super-quick jump cut from the strong-side A gap to the weak-side B gap.
While the jump cut creates a momentary misstep by the linebackers, Jamie Collins (weak-side) and Dont’a Hightower (middle) both recover quickly. Forte and Collins, who easily evades the left guard’s reach, collide in the hole. He is able to bring down the ball carrier with an assist from Hightower and company.
The breakdowns thus far have mainly focused on the linebacker play and the utilization of an in-the-box safety. Not to be ignored is the work of the defensive tackles, who need to occupy space and maintain the double-team blocks in order to keep the linebackers free for as long as possible. It’s a team effort, not a one-man show. In part 3 of this series, we’ll examine Chicago’s use of the counter-run against the Patriots’ heavy fronts.
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