Jay Cutler will have opportunities Thursday night at Soldier Field to attack a Giants defense that has been shredded through the first five weeks of the season with vertical concepts that open up underneath throwing lanes.
As shown here, the Bears have their Posse personnel on the field (three wide receivers, one tight end, one running back) in an empty alignment with Matt Forte removed to the open (weak) side of the formation. The Giants counter with their base nickel sub package (five defensive backs) playing Cover-2 in the secondary. The Bears will look to spread the field, test the top of the defense and open up a hole for Brandon Marshall to sit down in the zone.
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Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's game plan will feature a mix of pressure, coverage and single-high safety defenses (Cover-1, Cover-3), but he also will lean on some two-deep. This is an opportunity for the Bears to target the Giants back seven with Cover-2 beaters that put stress on the deep half safeties and the Mike linebacker (M) running the inside vertical seam. This should create mismatches down the field.
Breaking down route concept
To the closed (strong) side of the formation (out of a trips look), the Bears are running the smash-divide concept. Earl Bennett (Z) runs the inside smash with Alshon Jeffery (H) on the 7 cut (corner route) and tight end Martellus Bennett (Y) on the seam. To the open side, Forte (R) clears out on a 9 (fade) route with Brandon Marshall (X) running the shallow drive route underneath to the vacated hole in the zone coverage.
Cutler can work two matchups to the closed side of the formation. In Cover-2, the Mike backer has to open his hips to the passing strength and match/carry the inside vertical. That puts Bennett on the Mike down the middle of the field. Even if Antrel Rolle (SS) overlaps on the throw, this is a matchup that favors the Bears. To the outside, Cutler will read the drop/depth of cornerback Trumaine McBride. If McBride squats on the inside smash, the Bears quarterback can look up Jeffery on the 7 cut. It's a tough play for the safety to make when he doesn't have the underneath protection of the cornerback sinking to take away the 7 route.
Marshall as underneath option
With the Mike backer removed versus the seam route, and the nickel back (N) gaining depth in his drop, Marshall can sit down in the vacated zone. This is similar to a check-down option for Cutler versus Cover-2, but it also provides Marshall with an opportunity to catch the ball in the open field. It's an easy read for Cutler to dump the ball underneath.
This is only a five-man protection scheme, but I like the matchup versus the Giants defensive front. This unit has produced only five total sacks and their elite edge rusher, Jason Pierre-Paul, still is working his way back after missing training camp after offseason surgery. The Bears offensive line should provide Cutler with enough time to manage the pocket and work through his progressions to expose the secondary.
Special contributor Matt Bowen spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. He covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.