Scoring does not equal excitement, not for me anyhow. So though both teams posted scoring drives, I found this quarter kind of slow. Not second half against the Niners boring, but less deserving of analysis boring. Here's some highlights, lowlights and a couple gold stars.
- Let's start right off with the lowlights. First, though the Hawks O-line is very good at holding a pocket against a front four, they're youth shows when facing a blitz. On the very first play of the quarter, Sims and Jones teamed up for a sort of joint blown block. Sims stepped up and took on Uhrlacher, Jones fanned out attempting to neutralize the edge rush, Darwin Walker split both for a mostly untouched sack. No one was really beat, and no one really abdicated their assignment - it was more like poor chemistry. Either Sims should have fanned out with Jones or Jones should have stayed in with Sims. On an overload blitz you are not likely to pick up every blitzer, so your goal is to create a pocket the QB can step into and force the free blitzer into an obtuse or otherwise long path to the passer. That is, maximize the amount of time the Quarterback has to find an open man before the blitz arrives. Because Sims was blocking in, and Jones out, the defense had a clear and short line straight to the passer, and Beck no time or position to elude the rush.
- Teams are killing the Hawks underneath, and unless the linebackers become better at working in short zones off the line, that's going to continue. Here's the problem, Tru and especially Jennings are not capable of jamming receivers off the line. Sucks, but it's not the end of the world. When your corners can't jam, receivers can duck in early for underneath routes. Tru is a sure tackler and Jennings tries, so, again, not the end of the world. If the Hawks could minimize yards after the catch, they do, and open the possibility of a route jumping pick, so far they can't, teams would shy away from all the underneath stuff because the risk/reward wouldn't be favorable. Leroy Hill has become much better as a cover linebacker, but he's still leagues away from being a true interception threat. Tatupu and Peterson have the skills, but like Tampa-2 backers start most plays moving back, Tats and Pete start each play rushing forward. The result is a lot of exposed real estate underneath. The Bears final scoring drive of the half was fueled by consistent work underneath. Future opponents will copycat.
- On to good stuff. The Hawks put the clamp down on the Bears rushing attack. That all starts with the Great Immovable Mebane. Grim is a flurry of spins and shrugs , plus his amazing low center of gravity and explosiveness off the snap give him leverage on nearly every play. What's better is that he's quick enough that when single covered he's a penetrative force. In the first quarter, to take a chronological step back, he literally shrugged off Terrence Metcalf and stopped Benson after just one yard. Grim is a rookie third rounder, just 22 - that's draft value.
- Speaking of value, Darryl Tapp is the man. He's a competent run stuffer, a sub-elite pass rusher and one of the better cover ends in the NFL. How he does it despite being undersized is all a matter of speed, technique and effort. First, Tapp's quick off the blocks and when strung wide, able to slide into a second gear few ends possess. Second, he knows how to stay underneath a blocker, get in good position, put on one move and then explode to the ball carrier. Finally, the guy just doesn't quit.
Fifth play of Chicago's touchdown scoring drive. The Hawks are in a base package, the Bears four wide tight, at the snap Kerney and Tapp put on textbook pinschers both coming free from the outside. Grossman checks down underneath to Berrian who attempts to get free, slips a tackle by Lofa Tatupu, gets corralled by Tru before Tapp screaming back into the play from the opposite side of the field arrives, hits Berrian from behind as Tru is putting the lick on him from front. *Crack! A punishing tackle that Tapp had no right to even be involved in. Gold Star.
- Before dropping the TD, Hacks ran a near perfect post pattern.
- Morris' touchdown run was on the Alexander special, an off-tackle run with Sims pull blocking and Weaver leading the way. As much as J.C. Pearson insisted that Weaver laid a punishing block on Lance Briggs, the run was mostly about Morris hitting the hole with authority and not breaking stride until he was in the endzone. Nothing fancy, just good blocking, good rushing and a TD.
- Weaver had a fantastic half, and though he's not quite Strong's equal as a run blocker, he's so far better as a rusher and receiver that he's a net upgrade. Weaver busted some heads on his one run, but it was the play where he turned an improvised Beck dish into a drive changing third down conversion that I want to break down.
It's 3rd and 5 on the Hawks second to last drive of the half. Seattle is split four wide, with Weaver in the backfield. The Bears bring pressure, Beck escapes, scrambles left, sees Weaver open and delivers a low line drive. Weaver grabs the pass, knocks Trumaine McBride out of his shoes, stays in bounds with a graceful tip toe and nets 8 yards and the first. What makes this play so exciting is the combination of sure hands, power and grace that Weaver displays. Few receivers in the league can blow up a DB one moment and then tiptoe inbounds for a first the next. Gold Star.