Scouting the Bears
5:05 PM CDT, October 14, 2012
The Cover-2 defense is boring. And it lacks creativity.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard that about the two-deep scheme the Bears still lean on in their game plan.
Sure, they have become more "multiple" with coordinator Rod Marinelli in his third season under coach Lovie Smith. This unit indeed will show some zone pressure and also play man-coverage.
But this still is a Cover-2 team. And no one in this league plays the scheme better or attacks the football in their zone shell like the Bears do.
This defense has yet to give up a big play in Cover-2 this season. Moreover, opposing teams haven't figured out how to consistently run against their seven-man front, and the Bears are producing turnovers at a frantic pace.
Heck, Tim Jennings, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman can make early plans for a trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
Why is that? Why can the Bears take a basic scheme — one that shows up in high school ball on Friday nights — and beat up the NFL with it through five weeks of the season?
Coaching. That's why.
Go ahead; draw up Cover-2 on the chalkboard.
Two deep safeties aligned 15 yards off the ball with underneath zone defenders and a four-man rush. It doesn't even look cool compared to some of the exotic pressure schemes the 49ers, Steelers, Ravens, Packers and so on run.
However, this goes much deeper than X's and O's or game plans. Smith has created a style, a culture that players buy into.
This starts in the offseason. The drill work is based on getting to a landmark, reading the quarterback and breaking on the ball. And repetition is king. They do the same drills over and over so they can make plays in this defense.
The idea is to stay square, trust your eyes and explode out of your break with speed. Execute that and scoring on defense, well, is expected.
A ball on the ground? You scoop it up and take it all the way to the end zone. It doesn't matter if a ball falls off the back of an equipment truck in Bourbonnais during training camp. If it's on the ground, someone in a Bears uniform will go get it.
Interceptions, fumble recoveries, you name it, the Bears practice taking the ball away every day. It doesn't matter if it's a 7-on-7 session during minicamp. If the opportunity is there to make the play, they get to the numbers and put the ball in the end zone.
I got a taste of it myself when the Rams hired Smith after my rookie season in 2000 to fix our defense. We thought we played fast and we talked about creating turnovers the previous season.
But we had no idea how slow we really were playing until Smith showed up.
I barely made it through the first mini-camp practice, and I wasn't alone. Guys were bent over, tired, gassed, ready to vomit. We started the day with full-speed pursuit drills and ended every play with 11 helmets around the ball.
We ran all afternoon and also learned that talk is cheap when it comes to forcing turnovers.
Instead of going through half-speed post practice drills where we would "punch" the ball out amid laughter and jokes, every play in practice became an opportunity. It didn't matter if we were in shorts and helmets. When the offense had the ball, it was our job to rip it out.
That's contagious. It really is.
If you do it enough, it becomes a part of your routine, your preparation for Sundays.
Watch this Bears defense yourself. It's fast, aggressive and plays with an opportunistic style the veterans cultivate and the younger talent develops.
Rush four and drop seven. It can't be that simple, right?
Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC