It's the end of the year, most of this week's games were boring, I think it's time for me to indulge and focus on the Bears. They played the Lions, so my heart rate can definitely handle this.
The Lions had just tied up the game at 20. Hester took the ball from his endzone on the kickoff and made it only to the 15.
On the first play, the Bears ran your standard, every-non-zone-blocking-team-in-the-league-runs-it power run play. In this particular edition, tight end Greg Olsen takes on the defensive end one-on-one. He holds his ground long enough for Forte to get by him, but the end fought off the block just after that to chase Forte down from behind after five yards. Everyone else did well enough: the pulling guard stopped the strongside linebacker from making the play. The fullback blocked the middle linebacker. The left tackle and guard double-teamed the defensive tackle and moved him a little before the guard pulled off to... do nothing. The play was over before the safety could get into the action (in part because he was so tentative). Forte did a nice job at the end of the run of falling forward to make this a five-yard run.
This is a play-action pass off of the power run (though the line does not sell that aspect of it. Then again, the line does poorly enough with simple assignments that you might not want to pull them in passing plays anyways.) The strong safety blitzes on this play. With the entire line blocking left, the fullback is responsible for anything coming around the right of the line. The intention was probably just to have him block the defensive end, but with the safety blitzing, he just chips the defensive end before blocking the safety (I guess it's possible that he could be chipping the end no matter what with the hope he would bite on the run fake and take himself out of the play, leaving the fullback free to head out on a pass route). The end gets quick pressure on Cutler. Cutler reacts with a quick throw to Forte in the flat. With the pressure, the throw is a little high, but it still hits Forte in the hands. Forte, however, drops the pass. He had a little bit of room to run and no defenders around him to force the drop. Big mistake by him.
That drop set up third and five. The Lions defense showed blitz, stacking eight defenders right on the line with the remaining three playing with a large cushion. The Lions only rush four and drop the rest into coverage, but with their position pre-snap, they can only cover the shallow middle. Devin Hester is on the outside and is matched up pretty much solely with cornerback William James. Hester goes straight down the field long enough that James is going straight back and is clearly looking to defend the 'Go' route. At this point, Hester angles inside and is wide open. Cutler finds him, and it's a 48-yard gain. The story of this play is Detroit's defensive play-call. The situation clearly dictated a pass, and with everyone scrambling to get into position after the snap, it's more difficult to defend that pass. The Lions may have wanted to focus on stopping a pass right at the first-down marker, which would have been feasible with their formation, but with only four men rushing and so many players playing shallow, they were begging to get killed deep, like they did. Then again, this play could have worked with better players. If any of their linemen were talented enough to generate pressure, Cutler would not have had time to throw deep. If the corner covering Hester were capable of handling him by himself, he would have been covered. If the players playing up near the line had the speed to drop deeper, the corner on Hester could have had the opportunity to play more aggressively. Ultimately though, a coach has to know his personnel and put them in a position to succeed, and this play asked too much of a pretty poor set of players.
This pass is a play-action complemented by run-heavy personnel. The linebackers are held by the fake, and Olsen is past them before they realize it's not a running play. The Lions are playing with one safety deep, and he is too deep to affect this pass. The protection is really good, and it's an easy 31 yards.
The next play is an uninteresting run, so we'll just skip it.
The personnel, spot on the field and the pre-snap motion all made strong suggestions that this was going to be a running play. The Lions again bit hard on the play-action fake. Kellen Wade was open on the left side after chipping a defender to sell the run and then heading out to catch a pass. Desmond Clark, however, made no attempts to hide the fact he was out on a route, running across the back of the end zone. Both were very open because of the fake, and Cutler hit Clark for the touchdown. Matt Forte had a key block in pass protection, using a very effective move to give Cutler just enough time.
On this drive and in this game, the Bears were able to do a lot of things they want to do. They run a lot, especially early, which allows them to use play-action to make up for the fact their receivers are too terrible to get open without help. When you play a team like Detroit that can't stop the run, bites on play-action and has corners that don't have a prayer of holding up by themselves, that plan works. In games against real teams though, the line play leads to Forte smashing into a defender at the line of scrimmage and losing a yard, leading teams to have no fear of the play-action, then the line can't block long enough for something slow-developing like a play-action pass to work. But I guess that's neither here nor there. In this game, they played a team that made their offense look acceptable. But ultimately, it's not a good plan. Despite trading for Cutler, the offense still has too much of its foundation in Forte, who has yet to finish a season above 4.0 yards per carry. There is a receiver running deep on most plays, that's pretty standard in the NFL so the safeties can't creep up, but there aren't enough plays that if Cutler's throwing deep, he has a good chance of succeeding. Should Cutler adapt to the play-calling and do a better job of going where the play design dictates? Of course. But if you're calling a multitude of plays where the design dictates a series of throws to the flat, why trade for Cutler? Kyle Orton can throw to the flat. What Orton can't do is conduct a downfield passing game. Cutler can, but Ron Turner didn't design this offense to achieve those results. So it makes sense to see he will be replaced, and hopefully the next guy creates an offense that utilizes Cutler's unique abilities rather than just hoping he would run this vanilla scheme better than Orton could.