The Bears Defense finished 4th in the NFL with 50 sacks this season. Their pass-rush can be downright relentless, and quarterbacks know they have to get the ball out of their hands quickly. Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio knows this as well, so he makes sure his coverages are difficult to decipher in order to force the quarterback to hold the ball longer. This combination will be difficult for Nick Foles and the Eagles to handle on Sunday.
Not only do the Bears disguise well pre-snap, they rarely seem to play straight up or conventional coverages. Sometimes, they’ll play man to one side and zone to the other. Or, they’ll play zone to the front side and use a pure double-team on an isolated back-side receiver. They often lock up defenders in man coverage against certain receivers while the rest of the defense plays zone. The defenders that do play zone don’t just drop to a spot. They pattern match against receivers’ routes, giving their zone coverage more of a man feel. This can get confusing, we know. But that’s the point.
Between their pre-snap disguise and post-snap execution, it is not easy for a quarterback to get a clean or defined read against this defense. This causes hesitation in decision-making, or forces the quarterback to look in the wrong direction initially. This wastes the precious few seconds of protection the quarterback has, which is a recipe for disaster against the Bears’ pass rush.
You can see an example of this on the below play from Chicago’s Week 17 win against the Vikings. This was 3rd-and-12. Pre-snap, it looked like the Bears were playing quarters coverage at the top of the screen (The corner and safety each responsible for a deep quarter of the field) and cover-2 on the bottom of the screen (The safety responsible for the deep half of the field).
At the snap, the cornerback at the top of the screen rushed towards the line of scrimmage and the safety moved over top of him. It turned out the Bears were actually playing cover-2 to that side.
At the bottom of the screen, the Bears were actually playing quarters, with the cornerback locking up in man coverage on his receiver.
At the top of the screen you’ll notice cornerback Kyle Fuller made sure to contact his receiver and disrupt his route.
On the bottom, notice the slot defender also get his hands on the slot receiver. This prevented that receiver from building up as much speed when he attacked the safety on his post route.
When it was all said and done, the Bears took away Minnesota’s three downfield routes. At the top, they had three defenders in zone ready to defend the back-side receiver’s route. The slot receiver’s post was disrupted by the jam underneath and then taken away by the safety playing quarters coverage over him. The dig route at the bottom of the screen was handled by the man-to-man coverage.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins’ reads ended up taking him backside here, which is not normally a good idea with an isolated receiver against cover-2. Cousins was thrown off by the disguise. He eventually came off this route after realizing the design of the coverage had taken it away. By that point, the pass-rush had collapsed the pocket. The result was a sack.
The combination of pre-snap disguise, disruption of routes, and the lack of a defined read forced Cousins to be indecisive and gave the pass-rush time to get to him. It’s tough to counter this defensive approach by the Bears, as offenses around the NFL have learned this season.
We like how Fangio approaches coverage in general. Bears defenders cover receivers, not empty space, whether playing man or zone. They are efficient with their resources on the field.
Fangio also isn’t afraid to use double-teams on key receivers in critical moments. The Eagles have several candidates to be doubled this Sunday. Possibly no one is more likely to receive special treatment than tight end Zach Ertz, who just set the record for single-season receptions by a tight end. He was also 2nd in the NFL in receptions this season and is a key cog in the Eagles passing game.
In Week 16 against another record-setting tight end, George Kittle, the Bears showed how they might play Ertz in key situations this Sunday.
This particular play was 3rd-and-7 in the red zone. You can see Kittle aligned as the #3 inside receiver to the left. Those circled Bears defenders would end up accounting for him in some way.
At the snap, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd contacted Kittle, slowing down his route just enough. You can see that inside linebacker Roquan Smith and safety Deon Bush were eying Kittle right away.
Smith played Kittle inside and underneath, while Bush played him over the top. Kittle was well covered.
The result was an incompletion.
Zach Ertz will likely see similar treatment on Sunday.
Nick Foles has done a great job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly since taking over for the injured Carson Wentz. He’s also shown some great pocket movement to buy time and keep plays alive. Neither of those things will come easy against the Bears. As mentioned above, Chicago’s defense not only makes it difficult for quarterbacks to be quick with their decisions, but their pass rush is relentless. They are also aggressive in rallying to the ball as a unit and making tackles.
It is not easy to sustain drives against the Bears Defense. Dinking and dunking won’t get the job done. All it takes is one negative play, and suddenly it’s 3rd-and-long, when a quarterback needs time to let routes develop downfield. Foles won’t have that time against this defense.
We’ve quickly learned never to doubt Doug Pederson’s ability to create passing offense. But we think the Eagles will have a tough time against Vic Fangio’s well-coached, fast, and physical Bears Defense.
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