Sunday, December 30, 2012
Halftime Adjustments: Don't stop running
By Michael C. Wright
DETROIT -- The Chicago Bears seem well on the way to taking care of their part to advance to the postseason, scoring 13 points Sunday off turnovers on the way to a 20-10 halftime lead over the Detroit Lions.
The Bears don't need to tweak much in the locker room at the half. They simply need to maintain.
Let's take a look at a few potential halftime adjustments for the Bears:
ESTABLISH FORTE, BUT DON'T FORGET ABOUT BELL
Matt Forte ran for just 11 yards on four attempts in the first quarter as the Bears called six pass plays to start the game. Chicago can increase the effectiveness of the playaction passing game if it starts to call for more handoffs. Obviously, Forte remains the go-to back, and they need to call more plays for him. Forte broke off back-to-back runs of 11 and 13 yards on his first two carries of the second quarter, and ran three times in a row to start a drive that should have resulted in three points, had Olindo Mare not missed a 33-yard field goal.
The Bears also utilized Devin Hester and Kahlil Bell in the running game. Bell converted a third-and-1 in the first quarter, and spelled Forte for a while at the end of the first half. Bell finished the first half with 12 yards on three attempts. Perhaps the Bears should utilize Forte and Bell more as a one-two punch because what they're doing now is working well.
KEEP PRESSURE ON STAFFORD
Stafford completed 6 of 10 in the first quarter, but averaged just 6.9 yards per completion. Credit Chicago's pass rush for Stafford's low yards-per-completion average because the front seven is forcing the quarterback to throw the ball sooner than he'd like.
The Bears haven't sacked Stafford yet, but judging from the quarterback's jittery setup in the pocket, and off-the-mark throws, he's certainly aware of the front four's presence. The pressure has already led to one of the ill-advised throws Stafford typically makes at some point in every game. Tim Jennings was the beneficiary of the latest, when the corner scored his ninth interception with 2:38 left in the first half.
Israel Idonije sacked Stafford and stripped him late in the second quarter with Julius Peppers recovering to set up Chicago at the Detroit 10. The Bears turned that into a 1-yard touchdown by Forte.
Chicago owns a 7-0 record this season in games it scores a touchdown on defense, and the club is 21-2 since 2005 under those circumstances. The Bears have now scored 10 points off Stafford turnovers. With the Lions expected to pass even more in the second quarter, it wouldn't come as a surprise to see Chicago score on defense if it continues to pressure the quarterback.
STAYING DIVERSE WORKS
Something interesting takes place when Jay Cutler provides opportunities for receivers not named Brandon Marshall: they make plays. At least that's what's transpiring in this game. Cutler launched a 55-yard bomb to Alshon Jeffery on Chicago's first play from scrimmage, and then connected the next play with Evan Rodriguez. Cutler then capped a three-play drive spanning 80 yards with 2:59 left in the first quarter by hitting Earl Bennett for a 60-yard touchdown with Marshall delivering the block to spring Bennett.
By spreading out the completions between several targets, Cutler actually open things up for Marshall, who often draws double coverage. If players such as Jeffery and Bennett continue to hurt the Lions, they'll eventually pull coverage off Marshall to help on them. And when that happens, Cutler can basically pick apart the Lions.
Cutler completed passes to four different receivers in the first quarter, and then hit tight end Matt Spaeth on his first throw of the second quarter. Marshall didn't catch his first pass until the 10:04 mark of the second quarter. Obviously, putting the ball into the hands of Marshall is never a bad thing. But the Bears actually increase their chances of eventually completing passes to Marshall by keeping the Lions off balance with throws to the secondary targets.
By distributing the ball to multiple targets, Cutler was able to run off a passer rating of 111.8 in the first half.