Football coaches have to make adjustments in their game plan all the time whether it is to hide a weak area of their team, to compensate for injury or to combat what the opposing team is doing. The difference between winning and losing games is often whether coaches make the proper adjustments.
In the Sunday night football game versus the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Martz appeared to have made all the proper tweaks to the lineup and offensive play calling as the Bears rolled to a 39-10 victory. The Bears made several adjustments on offense and inserted backup safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright into the starting lineup.
The reason these adjustments were necessary was because the defending NFC North division champs have struggled to produce on both sides of the ball. Prior to the game against the Vikings, the Bears offense was 19th in scoring , 23rd in passing yards and 21st in rushing yards.
Defensively, the Bears were just as bad as they were ranked 24th or lower in the four main statistical categories (points allowed, total yards, rushing yards and passing yards). In addition, the Bears defense only had nine sacks and surrendered four plays (three went for touchdowns) of 50-yards or more.
The Bears, who had allowed the third most sacks (18) in the NFL prior to the game against the Vikings, made four adjustments to their offensive game plan. The most important adjustment was to go with maximum protection since the offensive line is the Bears biggest weakness. For Chicago, max protection meant using seven players to stay in and block. For this system, the Bears generally used either a two tight end (Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth) set or a tight end and G/T Frank Omiyale. Omiyale, who had started the prior three games, has struggled with his pass protection all season long. Omiyale, who was replaced in the lineup by Chris Spencer, has started 31 games for the Bears since signing as a free agent in 2009. The other things that the Bears did to help with pass protection was to use more play action passes, had Jay Cutler use a five-step drop and called a more balanced game.
So, exactly how did the new game plan work? Pretty well, the offense put up 30 points on the board (Devin Hester returned a kickoff for a touchdown) and gained 377 total yards on offense. Cutler , who was sacked just once, had his highest quarterback rating of the season (115.9). The Bears also ran the ball for 119 yards against the NFL’s fourth best run defense. Defensively, the Bears gave up their fewest points on the season (10) and held running back Adrian Peterson to just 39 yards on 13 carries. In addition, the longest play the Bears gave up was 30-yard pass to Bernard Berrian.
A major problem with the offensive line is that most of the Bears linemen’s abilities contrast with what Martz likes to do on offense, which is throw the ball. The Bears have thrown 200 (or 63.8% of the plays) passes which doesn’t seem kosher considering they just have one offensive lineman that is an elite pass blocker. The pass blocking specialist is right guard Lance Louis. Louis, who was a seventh round Bears draft choice in 2009, is a big physical blocker who struggles with run blocking. The Bears also have center Roberto Garza who is an adequate run and pass blocker.
Chicago’s other linemen which includes rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi, guard /tackle Chris Williams, guard/center Edwin Williams, right tackle J’Marcus Webb, Omiyale, and Spencer appear better suited for a run-oriented offense. The six-foot-seven Carimi, who was selected in the first round, has the ability to explode off the line and is powerful enough to pancake defenders. However, Carimi, who has missed the past four games due to a right knee injury, is slow footed and a bit stiff when pass blocking.
Spencer, who signed as a free agent during the offseason, is similar to Carimi in that he is explosive at the point of attack and a bit stiff when pass blocking. Spencer has started four of the five games he has appeared in. Chris Williams, who has been moved between both tackle positions , has settled in at left guard. Williams, a former first round draft pick of the Bears, is big and athletic but struggles with pass protection. However, Williams is a good run blocker as he is able to get off the line and lead the point of attack. Six-foot-seven, 335-pound left tackle J’Marcus Webb, who is athletic, is a strong run blocker. Webb, who had three false starts against Detroit, does struggle with his concentration at times. Backup Edwin Williams, who came to Bears as a free agent in 2010, is also built more for a run- oriented offense as he struggles against fast blitzers’ in the open field. Williams, who has the size to be a productive run-blocker, also struggles in the running games because he doesn’t get consistent push.