Aaron Rodgers was tremendous on Sunday. But as with any miraculous comeback, there are always plays that the other team could have made to change the course of the game. Kyle Fuller’s dropped interception on Green Bay’s game-winning drive certainly comes to mind. However, there was another critical mistake by Chicago’s defense in the 2nd half that enabled this particular comeback. Look away Bears fans, it wasn’t pretty.
With 1:26 remaining in the 3rd quarter, the Packers faced a 3rd-and-14. They trailed 20-3. That’s a 3-possession game. This is important to keep in mind here.
Below, you can see that the red line is the first down marker.
The Packers aligned in a 3×1 set with Geronimo Allison, Randall Cobb, and tight end Jimmy Graham to the right of Aaron Rodgers.
The Bears would ultimately play cover 2 to that 3-receiver side. This means the safety was responsible for the deep half of the field, and the cornerback to that side, Kyle Fuller, was responsible for the flat – which is the 15-yard area beyond the line of scrimmage.
Now, let’s get to those two underneath defenders to that side, cornerback Bryce Callahan and linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski.
The Bears could have been playing zone in one of two ways. They could have been spot dropping, where the defenders drop to a spot and cover a specific zone of the field, as shown below.
Or, they could have been pattern reading, which means they would let the receivers’ routes dictate their responsibilities. This means Callahan would have been responsible for the #2 route to that side and Kwiatkowski would have been responsible for the #3 route to that side (This works outside to in. #1 route is outside. #2 is inside. #3 further inside).
Where things get a little interesting is that since Callahan was responsible for the #2 route, his initial responsibility was the #2 receiver at the start of the play. Kwiatkowksi was responsible for #3.
However, it is the defender’s responsibility to read the pattern. If you are responsible for the #3 route inside, and the receivers cross, the defender has to adjust on the fly and take whoever ENDS UP as the #3 route inside, even if they didn’t start that way.
Whether the Bears were spot dropping or pattern reading, one thing is crystal clear: A 3-yard flat route on 3rd-and-14 doesn’t hurt you. A 15-yard dig (or deep in route) does. But watch what Kwiatkowski does vs the Packers’ route combination:
He runs to the flat to chase down Jimmy Graham (even though Fuller was sitting in the flat zone) and vacates the middle of the field. And because Callahan had Randall Cobb running right at him, he had to take a few steps with him downfield.
By the time Callahan realized that Allison was breaking over the middle of the field, it was too late.
When it was all said and done, Kwiatkowski either vacated his underneath zone or failed to cover the #3 inside route (Allison), because he was busy chasing down a flat route on 3rd-and-14.
This conversion enabled Rodgers to continue working his magic. Had the packers been forced to punt, things likely would have turned out much different. This play was very similar to the mistake made by Myles Jack last year in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots on 3rd-and-18 with the Jaguars leading by 2 scores. Situational football folks.
Give the Packers credit for breaking down the Bears defense and running a route combination with excellent timing. Still, the NFL comes down to matchups and situational football. There are reasons, aside from talent, why some teams win consistently and some teams don’t.