Coming off a tumultuous week, the Chicago Bears travel to Foxboro for what looms as a “must-win” contest against the New England Patriots. Following the Bears’ home loss to the Miami Dolphins, reports of locker room clashes and turmoil circulated in the aftermath.
Chicago implements a base 4-3 defense under the tutelage of second-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The secondary has been badly exposed in the passing game, surrendering 8.0 yards per attempt (5th-worst in the NFL). Up front, however, is where the Bears can disrupt an air attack. In Jay Ratliff, Jared Allen, and Willie Young, Chicago’s in-and-out pass rush can wreak havoc upon opposition pockets.
Ratliff, the former Dallas Cowboy, missed three games this season after suffering a concussion in week two. Upon his return, the defensive end produced a huge afternoon against Miami, recording 3.5 sacks. The Auburn product uses a combination of speed, strength, and veteran guile to put pressure on opposing passers. Ratliff demonstrated his strength in the form of a near-perfect bull rush to get to Ryan Tannehill on the first snap last week. Ratliff is using a 3-technique to the outside shoulder of the right guard, Mike Pouncey:
Ratliff’s initial punch on the right guard is crucial. His assertive contact puts the lineman on his heels and in a defensive posture. Ratliff then cuts to the outside, forcing Pouncey to lunge at the defender, trying to get between Ratliff and his quarterback using any means possible. This draws the guard out of position, and Ratliff cuts back outside and around Pouncey for the sack. The defensive tackle’s immediate and forceful leverage was the key element to winning this one-on-one battle.
Next, the defensive end employs speed and veteran recognition skills to sack the signal-caller. The Bears have their nickel package on the field and Ratliff is lined up on the same side as Allen in a 3-technique:
Off the snap the Dolphins move the pocket, rolling the quarterback in unison with his blockers to the left. On the line, Ratliff engages left guard Nate Garner and is able to get his eyes in the backfield:
The veteran discerns that the Dolphins are moving the pocket to his right. Like a running back, Ratliff next identifies a lane into the offensive backfield and peels off his blocker:
Ratliff cuts between blockers and knifes into the backfield, drilling Tannehill before he can make a throw:
In his 11th season, hard-nosed veteran Jared Allen works on the edge to generate pressure on opposing passers. He has struggled at times this season for the Bears after a slow start due in part to weight loss associated with pneumonia, an illness that kept him sidelined in week 4. When healthy, Tucker counts on Allen to beat opposing tackles in one-on-one situations, as on this play:
Allen is utilizing a wide 9 technique outside rookie left tackle Jake Matthews. Off the snap the defensive end gets into the backfield quickly, his alignment and speed forcing the rookie to turn his shoulders to the sideline as the tackle gains depth into the pocket. Because Matthews is still settling into position Allen is able to initiate contact, and he gains control and leverage over the young player. The veteran then relies on pure strength to drive Matthews into his quarterback, and Allen disengages to finish the sack of Matt Ryan.
With Jared Allen and Jay Ratliff commanding so much attention, the beneficiary has been Willie Young. On the edge opposite Allen, Young may have finally found a home in Chicago. Patriots fans may remember this defensive end from a preseason game a few years back, when he was with the Lions:
Now with Chicago, Young is blossoming into a game-changing defensive end. Already with 7 sacks to his name in 2014, he has demonstrated the ability to come up with plays at crunch time. Two of his seven sacks came with time winding down in Week 2 against San Francisco in an 8-point game. On the first, Young beats Niners’ right tackle Jonathan Martin with a strong swat move. With just under 7:00 remaining San Francisco faces a 1st and 10 on their own 20-yard line. Colin Kaepernick is under center and the 49ers have their 21 personnel on the field. Chicago counters with nickel personnel, and Young is lined up across from the tight end:
Off the snap, Young engages Martin and gets him completely off-balance, arms flailing, with a strong swat move:
He then cuts inside of the right tackle and completes the sack of the passer:
Young tallied another sack of Kaepernick just moments later. Facing a 2nd and 8 at the Bears’ 43-yard line San Francisco puts their quarterback in the shotgun using 11 personnel. The Bears respond with their base personnel, and Young sets up in a wide 9 alignment:
The positioning of the defensive end off the snap works to again put Martin on an island:
Young then uses a ferocious rip move with his right arm to gain leverage on the right tackle and gain a path to the quarterback:
Kaepernick tries to vacate the pocket to his left, but the defensive end is able to chase him down from behind and complete the sack:
Patriots fans know that Tom Brady can struggle in the face of pressure, particularly up the middle. With Ratliff on the inside and Allen and Young on the outside, the Bears have the personnel to collapse the pocket around Brady this Sunday. For the passing game to have success the New England line must find a way to contain these three players on throwing plays. Otherwise the Patriots might begin their toughest stretch of the season with a loss in Foxboro.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.