79 Comments

Improved Red Zone D Would be a Good Start for Bears

| August 18th, 2014

The 2014 version of the Chicago Bears defense looked much like the 2013 version in their last preseason game against the Jaguars, but the fact that they didn’t break could be a good sign for this season.

Technically, the Bears did break once, but we all know that was bull. The Jaguars started their third possession at the Bears 23 and the drive seemed to be stopped when Trevor Scott sacked Chad Henne on third down, but Kelvin Hayden was called for a bogus illegal contact penalty. (The excuse was that the NFL referees have “points of emphasis” in preseason, but it’s hard to see how a receiver running into a defensive back can be a penalty on the defense no matter what the case is. The sack would’ve forced the Jaguars into a long field goal attempt. Josh Scobee is an excellent kicker, but kicks over 50 yards in Soldier Field are another story.)

Prior to that, the Bears held the Jaguars to field goal attempts after Jacksonville had a third-and-1 on the Bears 27 on their first drive and a first-and-goal at the Bears 7 on their second.

Preseason is basically just a glorified practice, maybe we shouldn’t put any stock into anything that happens, but there are reasons to think that the Bears can be a “bend but don’t break” defense.

First, let’s go back to a practice on the first day of August when the Bears’ offense — the seventh best at scoring red zone touchdowns in 2013 — failed to score even once in 13 attempts inside the 10-yardline. The offense was a bit short-handed along the offensive line with both starting guards missing practice that day, but the point remains. It was just practice, but padded practices in August tend to get highly competitive, just ask The Black Unicorn. The defense didn’t just win that battle, they dominated.

The reason why this year’s version of the Bears may be pretty good when the field shortens is a matter of strengths and weaknesses.

The Bears biggest strength in 2014 figures to be their defensive line, both in terms of pass rush and stopping the run. Teams still try to spread the field when they get close, but it becomes more difficult with less space to work with. A team with a good defensive line can drop seven players back in coverage and essentially close the throwing windows.

We saw that on third-and-goal from the Bears 10 when the Jaguars had to throw a three-yard pass and were tackled well short of the end zone.

It isn’t a coincidence that the top four red zone defenses in the league were also teams with the best defensive lines. Three of those teams managed this with questionable secondaries.

The Bears biggest weakness is going to be their safety play. As the field tightens, the safeties suddenly have less ground to cover, therefore less space to screw up. If the defensive line does its job, the safeties are more easily hidden, especially with extra players dropping back in coverage. Of course, when safeties do screw up in the red zone, it’s a sure touchdown.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet that the Bears will be starting veteran Adrian Wilson along with Chris Conte by midseason. Conte is capable of being better than he was last year, something he showed in 2012. Wilson’s biggest shortcoming is his age and declined athleticism, something that isn’t nearly as much of a factor in the red zone. At the very least, Wilson should be able to get the Bears lined up correctly and not screw up. If he can merely accomplish that, he’ll be a massive upgrade. Essentially, the Bears need him to be what Chris Harris was in 2010 and not what he was in 2011. (Odd fact, Wilson is two years older than Harris, who is now a coach with the Bears.)

The Bears also have three cornerbacks who are physical, something that can’t be understated. They can go to sub-packages and not get bulldozed. Say what you will about Tim Jennings’ size, but how often do you see receivers catch passes over him in the end zone?

The biggest X-Factor for the Bears defense in the red zone and in general is their linebackers. At the very least, Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic have good size and can cover a lot of ground. They just may not know where they’re going.

This is not to say the Bears defense is going to be great this year. They might not even be good, but if they can drastically improve the rate they allow touchdowns in the red zone, it should lead to a couple more wins. A couple more wins should lead to a playoff appearance.

In 2014, the Bears allowed an average of 3.7 red zone trips per game. Their opponents scored touchdowns on 2.1 of those, the 13th worst rate in the league. If the Bears are able to sneak into the top-10 in red zone defense (allowing field goals instead of touchdowns), the difference would be a point per game. If they get into the top-five, it’ll be two points per game. Every point matters in the NFL.

If the other team misses a field goal or turns it over instead of scoring touchdowns, that difference becomes even bigger. It may not sound like much, but 16-to-32 points over the course of an NFL season adds up. The Bears finished 2013 with a negative point differential, by improving only their red zone defense, they would be about equal.

Just improving the red zone defense alone won’t make the Bears into Super Bowl contenders, but it would be a start. General logic would lead one to believe that the same things that will lead to improvement in the red zone will lead to improvement elsewhere, how much remains to be seen.

If you’re expecting the Bears to compete a turnaround like the New Orleans Saints did from 2012 to 2013, you’re probably expecting a bit much. If they can get into the top-five in the red zone and have slight improvements elsewhere, however, you should expect to see the Bears playing in January.

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  • SC Dave

    At the moment, I’m a little skeptical about the defensive line. They are a sure upgrade over the patchwork of last season, but whether it’s enough remains to be seen.
    Another critical factor for the D will be whether DJ Williams can bring it this season.

    • MB30SD

      hee hee…

      I see what you did there dave. Is it a puzzle? Should we guess the two REAL areas/players of issue? Mike, wanna take a guess?

    • For your consideration….

      I agree with this. Sutton and Ferguson have been given a rude intro to the NFL, I think it’s definitely an upgrade with Young, Houston, Allen and healthy Ratliff/Paea and if we can get 16 out of Lance and DJ we’ll be a way better spot while the Safety position gets ironed out. Even Trevor Scott is finally healthy, a couple years ago he was supposed to be the man before all of those injuries.
      I predict a halfway decent D and we will put at least one starting QB down this year with our beasts.

  • GPLDAN

    I think it will Mundy and Conte. Watch Wilson closely, he is missing closing speed – and in Tucker’s D you still play C2 and you can’t cushion so much behind the linebackers unless you want to get crushed by hook and comeback routes all day aka the Lovie era. You need safeties that can crowd down and deliver a pop, but quick enough to turn the hips and close down on wideouts who beat their corner or the long ball.

    Wilson isn’t showing that kind of closing speed. At least to me, he seems tentative on the dead run. Pain slows you down, it just does.You can ignore it and ibuprofen it but if your brain thinks it’s there, you pull up.

    Next up is Sutton and Big Ego. Have these guys showed you anything in 2 pre-season games? If so, can you point me to where it happened? Because I see guys getting blocked. Ego will hold his position in the guard center gap, he is not easily moved, but neither is he penetrating. And Sutton, wasn’t he supposed to show us some rookie Tommie Harris flashes? The only inside tackle penetration has come from the starters. Those guys need to step up. We spent a lot of time talking linebackers here, but so far the rookie DTs don’t show much.

    • Barb UMihai Mar

      They’ve been solid. I liked them. You don’t see them penetrating because they’re not supposed to. They have to play the run. The DT don’t shoot the gaps anymore, unless that’s the order. They’ll play 2 gap for 5 defensive snaps then 1 gap as a surprise. They now look for contact with the OLine not avoid it.

  • Douglas James Hobbs

    It just seems that getting into the top-5 redzone defense is quite a stretch. The D was nearly the worst in the league just 9 months ago.

    • MB30SD

      If we break top 15 and injuries are kept to a minimum on both sides of the ball we’ll have a shot.

      We don’t need a top 5 d in anything. .. although it would be nice

  • For your consideration….

    hmmm, Andy, i’m not used to this “get right into an issue and write about it” shit. i’m going to need you to start off every post with some sort of indication that you find it beneath you to blog about the preseason and the subject at hand, how us mouth breathers are overreacting about it, how it pains you to ponder such pointless exercises and finally to then remind us on Twitter of the very same thing but in less than 140 characters. Thanks!

    • GPLDAN

      Yes. We’re not used to this frank discussion crap.

      Could you also take anything any of us say, and immediately tweet that what you read from us is the dumbest fucking thing anybody has ever said on any blog, ever?

      • For your consideration….

        and please remind everyone again that I liked Joe Anderson

        • GPLDAN

          …and when you ARE right about something, take the occasion to say “I told you so” about 2 to 3 times on Twitter. That will ease the transition.

          • For your consideration….

            lol, also please make sure to retweet content from Pro Hamas websites so we can all make it onto the NSA’s radar.

          • For your consideration….

            too much?

          • GPLDAN

            Andy –

            An idea: start out with a t-shirt contest, solicit everyone’s T-shirt designs, then just go ahead and use the one you already created before the contest began. We love that.

          • For your consideration….

            lol, we are like bitter ex boyfriends bitching about our blogger ex to fucking anyone that will listen

          • For your consideration….

            “hey man , how’s it going?”
            “terrible, I got my debit card stolen, the kids are acting rotten, I think that bitch is cheating on me, God-del is ruining the fucking game and we’re going to run out of fresh water in a couple of year and we’ll all be fucked….”
            “awesome, well, i’mma go get another beer, see ya!”

          • ErikGrogan

            Damn. You all are lol

          • MB30SD

            Oh look who the fucking cut drugged ins.

            Looks like all my admonishing and shaming worked.

            Rabbit’s next.

          • ErikGrogan

            Just by looking at his Facebook, he’s been super busy too! Not giving anything away but he has been working and being a cool dad.

            Not everyone can pull off what you do, MB lol

          • MB30SD

            I’m kidding of course.

            And yes… I’m speeeecial

          • MB30SD

            Oh, fuck you… don’t just up vote me you lurker.

            Post. Ass.

          • MikeBrownhadaPosse

            The Irish Special!

          • MB30SD

            no, the irish special is to fucking rage-quit after everyone else smashes him for supporting terrorists.

            We don’t negotiate with terrorists IIIIIRIIIISH!

          • johnnywad

            I love his stuff until world affairs are served up. Hope he comes back and posts more crazy shit that has nothing to do with Israel or Hamas. Or the Fed.

          • For your consideration….

            he’s dead posting on the last thread

          • MikeBrownhadaPosse

            lol

          • For your consideration….

            its like training camp here. we all get a little chippy until we can starting hitting guys on the other team.

  • Shady

    We all know the red zone is the money zone. The stakes are raised and both sides of the ball turn up the intensity. This has always and will always be crucial to the outcome of a game. Nothing new here.

    But what I want to know is: Have we seen anything from Mel Tucker’s defense that is different from what the team has been doing for years? I know it’s early, beyond early really, but it seems as if the principles and scheme are identical. Get pressure with the front 4, force turnovers, bend but don’t break. I’m still waiting to see something new from Mel. Dude, where’s my hybrid?

    • For your consideration….

      can’t show your hand before the game starts my man…I hope.

    • The Ghost of Super Bowl XX

      I hope to watch it in september…

    • Barb UMihai Mar

      The DLine play is totally different. They’ll blitz more and also play man to man on the outside. My personal belief is that they’ll play nickel as the base defense. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

      • they’ve done a lot of zone in the preseason, but I think we’ll see much more man from the CBs in the regular season. If your CBs can man up you can try to hide your S and LB a little better.

    • watch the DL closely… they’re doing different things. Always used to be 1-gap, where they’re penetrating. Now they play a decent amount of 2 gap too, where they’re holding up the OL to free the LBs. not sure I love that strategy given the state of Chicago’s LBs though.

      Adam Jahns had a great piece on that. http://thegamechicago.com/2014/08/18/preseason-week-2-rewind-scheme-wrinkles-evident-on-bears-defense/#axzz3Ar3HqeHq

  • CanadaBear

    Nicely done Andrew. I’m the Yin to Johnny and GP’s Yang. Although I’ll join them in a moments notice without any warning. How do like us now?

  • BearFanInDE

    This Andrew…some kinda numbers guy?
    On a more general note..why the focus on improved RED ZONE D versus improved D? Wouldnt an overall better D be a better Red Zone D in general? Wouldnt an improved overall D have less opportunities to be a Red Zone D in general?? What am I missing?

    • johnnywad

      I think he means we have shitty safeties. So we’re hoping that if nothing else, the rest zone D gets better as they have less ground to cover with their poor skill set and athleticism. The essence of bend but don’t break. At least that’s my take.

    • because giving up FG instead of TDs will really limit points and help you win games.

  • GPLDAN

    I know it’s PS and it means nothing, but man did the Broncos beat the snot out of the Niners.

    If Harbaugh is sandbagging Kap’s play, he’s doing an excellent job of it, because they look awful.

    • ErikGrogan

      Do they have any legitimate weapons at wide receiver? Plus, I feel like the Panthers are being hyped but they have such a overwhelming cap problem brewing. Who pays running backs that much money?

      • MB30SD

        The panthers

      • they actually are better off now at WR than they’ve been for a while. Crabtree, Boldin, and they added Stevie Johnson from Buffalo. Factor in Vernon Davis and that’s some nice pass catchers.

  • ErikGrogan

    You’ve disowned me? I’ve always been here, in spirit at least. MB got onto me for not calling, getting on here, or even talking to him. Thus, I told him what’s up and now I’ll tell you.

    I’ve been traveling all over the United States working for a marketing company called “Havas.” They hire people to work a tour for a company trying to market their product. This particular company is “Birds Eye.” They have some pretty decent food and the activities they have provided for kids to play/enjoy is pretty cool!! Here are some pictures, most of which you can see if you follow me on instagram (I know most of you don’t have the time or day for that)or facebook.

    So far, we just finished the West coast and Kansas City, Missouri. This weekend, we hit Chicago. After that, we just keep hitting towns like Detroit, Philadelphia, and Hartford as we travel East.

    Feel free to mock me and ridicule my pictures. Above all, enjoy and my apoligies for being so absent. Life gets in the way sometimes.

    http://imgur.com/a/QtdFb

    As for the Bears, it’s preseason. Do you all remember that one year when Charles Tillman was getting destroyed by some rookie in a preseason game? Yeah, all I remember is that same year, Tillman goes to the Pro-Bowl..so.. I could care less about any stars performing well or bad in a preseason game. It’s not exactly good or bad because it’s not for real.

    However, the positions that are up for grabs and the backup spots are the real battles/concern. Let’s just say in my eyes and opinion, I’m very worried about our linebackers and whoever is playing FS/SS. Mr.Andrew pointed out some of the things that I hoped/might happen. Overall, it’s not exactly set in stone but by week three, we should have a pretty good idea who’s bad and who’s good.

    • MB30SD

      Oh sure make me sound desperate and pathetic. .. wait.

    • Shady

      Apology accepted. Welcome back R2.

    • CanadaBear

      Nice pics. Looks like you’re loving life. Good on ya! Hope this gig doesn’t keep you away from your Beloved Bride too often. Best wishes Super.

    • GPLDAN

      You look like you’d totally kick Thor’s ass, Erik.

      • ErikGrogan

        You know, what’s funny is my co-worker was forced to get into a “warrior pose”,if he has I’ll get it on here, and he looks funny as hell but Thor didn’t make or tell me to do that.

        I asked for a serious photo with our arms crossed and he obliged. Maybe he knew.. lol

    • DaCoaches Mustache

      I bet that big ass turtle smelled like bigfoots dick! Looks like your having a blast though!

      • ErikGrogan

        It didn’t smell at all! The people said they are just like dogs. They clean them a lot and take pretty good care of them.

        One was 108 years old. Still walking around and shit.

  • ErikGrogan

    I really only have once serious concern. Can everyone stay healthy?

    I know that’s asking a lot from a contact sport but we can’t really afford any injuries on defense or offense.

    • FantuzPhysics

      Of course some positions are more important to our success than others and our depth at all positions varies. Still, Emery and Trestman have to be given credit for trying to build depth in two short years. Year 1: offensive depth, Year 2: defensive depth…

      • ErikGrogan

        I get what you are saying. I mean, at wide receiver there is some great depth. We had some potential depth at TE but it was taken away from us.

        On defense, I only see cornerback as depth. After that, I feel like you are pulling straws.

        • FantuzPhysics

          I think D-Line has the most depth on defense, but LB is the position I am most interested in seeing improvement from. Really felt they were the weakest position on D last year (DL was too injured to count)…safety play was bad, but was not to blame and was not the main position of concern for us.

        • the DE depth also seems really good. Not sold on DT yet, but two high-profile rookies + Collins there. S depth seems pretty solid too, though not exactly sold on the starters.

    • Big Mike

      What we can’t have is multiple injuries in anyone spot. That’s what screwed the d-line last year. Some positions are more vulnerable than others, but going to a 2 isn’t season ending. Playing 3s and 4s that’s a problem. Playing 4s and 5s, you end up with the 31st ranked defense.

      • Barb UMihai Mar

        They were the 31st ranked defense before they lost the 1 and 2s.

        • Big Mike

          Not correct. Look it uo

          • Barb UMihai Mar

            We already had this discussion.
            The Bears allowed 29.9 points per game last season. Melton went down in Week 3 and Collins in Week 5.
            They allowed 24,66 points per game in the first 3 Weeks, 28.5 in the first 4 Weeks and 28.0 in the first 5 Weeks. The only thing they managed to do was turn the ball over in the first 3 Weeks. That’s what saved face in small part.
            The injuries hit harder in Week 7 at Washington with Tillman and Briggs. They had allowed 29.4 point per game in these first 7 Weeks.
            So we’re talking about pretty much season average from Week 4 up until Week 17 with the fluke first 3 Weeks when they created turnovers like in years past against Dalton (3 turnovers), Ponder (1) and Roethlisberger (5 turnovers).

          • I did a detailed look at this this offseason. early in the year their run D was really good but their pass D sucked.
            As the season progressed, their run D sucked but their pass D improved.
            The only consistent thing throughout the season was a lack of pass rush.

          • here’s looking specifically at how things changed for run, pass, and turnovers throughout the season. http://dabearsbeat.com/2014/06/10/a-closer-look-at-chicagos-2013-defensive-meltdown-part-2/

            here’s a look at the D from the early part of last year: http://dabearsbeat.com/2014/06/11/a-closer-look-at-chicagos-2013-defensive-meltdown-part-3/

          • Barb UMihai Mar

            great stuff. I didn’t paint such an insightful opinion, but I wasn’t that much off.

          • I think they would have ended up towards middle of the pack as their pass D improved throughout the course of the season. But the DL sucked from day 1 last year, which hurt the overall D pretty badly.

          • Barb UMihai Mar

            I don’t know. I think the pass D improved by natural course. The run D became so very bad that the other teams took that all day long. Why risk passing when you can run it non stop ?

          • but the pass D improved in efficiency, not just volume. When you’re getting run on all day and worrying about the run, stopping the pass becomes less of a focus. Being able to do it more effectively is then highly impressive to me.

          • Barb UMihai Mar

            So they improved in pass D after they lost 2/3 of their best pass defenders in Briggs and Tillman. It doesn’t make much sense so it must be the effect of something else.

          • Their pass rush improved a little, and they called more blitzes out of necessity. Early in the year they play called thinking their DL would be enough to get pressure, it wasn’t, and the secondary was hung out to dry.

            They also played more bad QBs in the middle/late part of the season, which helps those numbers.

          • Barb UMihai Mar

            It might have been as you say. I’m not sold 100%.

          • Barb UMihai Mar

            Their run D at the begining wasn’t incredible, but the match ups fell that way. The Bengals W1, Steelers W3, Lions W4, Giants W5 were really bad in the run game last year and they played run all the way against the Vikings in W2. From W7 things got out of control with back to back weeks in Washington and against the Packers after the bye. Those 2 games showed just how weak they become in run D after the injuries and so everybody started running against them. It makes sense.

          • Big Mike

            Still wrong. First 3 weeks Bears gave up an average of 24.67 PPG. 14 of those were on a kickoff return and a fumble return against MN. Take those 2 scores out and they gave up less than 20PG. They were also only giving up under 90YPG rushing. They were giving up quite a bit of passing yardage. But a lot of it was garbage. Melton went down in the Q4 of game 3. It was shit after that.

          • Barb UMihai Mar

            My point was that they weren’t that far from season average. There were ‘returned’ TD the rest of the season also. So you’d have to count those down also. Those stats are falsified by the turnovers. They had 9 in the first 3 Weeks. Abnormal number of turnovers. That’s what kept the PPG at a lower level. PS: I agree with you. The injuries were important, sure, but not that much.

            I think it’s an excuse.

  • GPLDAN

    Here you go MB –

    Hurst will not let the Poncho die. Long live the Poncho!

    Take a Camaro, drop a LS7 into it (ala the Z28) or Edelbrock a LS3, put some awesome new decals on it, some new leather trim, cut the T-top into the roof, and bang!

    BTW, when the guys get into the car, they magically grow mullets.

    P.S. You can get a ’69 Judge if you rather. It’s so bad it’s good.

    http://transamdepot.com/the_gto_judge.html

    I think Al should get one of these. Al, I found your car.

    • MB30SD

      The black one is kinda fun. the white one is ugly as fuck (but that’s me).

      Do the 3 chicks come with it?

  • MB30SD

    this is why this shit is scary: http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/17/world/africa/ebola-liberia-attack/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

    To get a pretty accurate read on western central africa, check out “Lord of War”. SMFH.

    • GPLDAN

      LoW is awesome flick.

  • Peanut FTW

    Our D can start by holding a single team to under 20 pts. I mean can you imagine the Bears not being able to hold one team under 20 in an entire season. Last season was very very sad for our D. in 2012 I think they had 4 in the first 6 games they held under 20 pts. Crazy.

    The way they are calling illegal contact is going to be a huge problem this year. It is absolutely out of control. I saw a stat last night that so far in preseason it has been called 29 times. It was called 37 times all of last season. I really hope they make some adjustments with the refs on what point of emphasis means because this is going to be ridiculous. Or take the auto 1st out of the equation if you are going to be giving them away like candy.

    • MB30SD

      that auto first is almost as much a fucking abomination as the inane calls themselves. totally changes outcomes of games. ridiculous.

    • if you look only at D points scored, they held MIN to 16 points in week 2 last year. Had a ST and D TD in that game to give them 30 total though.

  • Barb UMihai Mar

    I don’t see this Bears defense as a “bend but don’t break” defense.
    They obviously will be better because they can stop the run now. The question mark is can they stop the run while playing nickel which is without any doubt the best solution for this unit. I believe they’ll do just that and have success.
    The Bears D must become a create turnovers unit. They have to take risks and be smart about it. The “bend but don’t break” is outdated and clearly the losing strategy.

  • I disagree that the safeties are the weakest spot of the defense. I think it’s the linebackers. But the DL-particularly DE-and CBs both seem to be very strong. It will be interesting to see how they scheme to hide their weaknesses.

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