The Carolina Panthers will face a stingy opponent when they travel to Chicago on Sunday. On the surface, the Bears’ offense looks uninspiring. They are 27th in yards per play and 29th in offensive DVOA. The Bears started the season with Mike Glennon at quarterback, but switched to rookie Mitchell Trubisky in Week 5. Trubisky is more mobile and offers a stronger upside than Glennon.
The Bears have a dynamic running back combination with Jordan Howard and rookie Tarik Cohen. Since Trubisky was inserted as the starter, the Bears game plan has been straight forward. They plan to run the ball to set up the pass. Let’s review their past two games to view some of their most common run and pass concepts.
The split zone is a nice wrinkle to a zone scheme. The concept can be paired with an inside or outside zone run. The linemen in inside zone take an initial step inside to the playside of the run. The scheme is intended to attack the area between the tackles. The running back’s read is the hip of the playside offensive guard. Finally, the tight end comes across the formation to seal the unblocked edge rusher. The tight end’s kick out is similar to a trap block. The block seeks to create a hole for the running back on the playside.
The outside zone is simple to understand. Each linemen will take an initial step to block the playside of the run. They are instructed to block the area to the playside. If the linemen don’t have a man near them, they should assist another lineman while moving laterally down the line of scrimmage. The run is designed to get to the edge of the defense. However, there are times when the running back cuts it inside. According to Football Outsiders, the Bears rank 10th in runs to the left end. That’s the area outside of the left tackle where outside zone runs usually flow.
The Bears are most successful when they run to the left side. This is typically the weakside of the formation. The Panthers should counter with 4-3 over fronts where the 3-technique defensive tackle (Kawann Short) is lined up on the strong side and the 1-technique defensive tackle (Star Lotulelei) is on the weak side. This allows Carolina to have the stronger defensive tackle disrupt runs towards the playside.
Most Panthers fans should be familiar with RPO or run pass concepts. Mike Shula implements it weekly. Trubisky is well versed on RPO concepts for two years now. UNC head coach, Larry Fedora, utilized RPO concepts to take advantage of Trubisky’s skill set in 2016. The basic premise of an RPO is it provides the quarterback multiple options. Should he throw it or run it? RPO’s place a huge stress on the linebackers. If they flow towards the run, the quarterback attempts a pass due to the throwing window being clear. If they stay disciplined against the pass, then the quarterback gives it to the running back against a light box.
Be sure to notice the offensive linemen in each of the plays. The first play shows an instance of a split zone run. The linemen carry out run blocks, which fools the defensive front.
As mentioned above, the Bears run the ball to set up the pass. One of their most common concepts that feeds off the run game is the swap boot. The linemen and running back set up an outside zone run. Trubsiky executes a play fake. Trubisky has three levels to read with clear throwing lanes. The progression should be read deep to short.
The tight ends will tell the play at the snap. If the defense has eyes in the backfield, then they are immediately in a losing position versus routes across the middle. While it is tempting for the unblocked edge to crash down on the quarterback, it’s more risk averse to get up the field and close the deep throwing lane. The Panthers saw similar swap boot concepts in weeks 1 and 2. The defense has to stay strict with their eyes and technique.
Clear out for the tight end and slot wide receiver
One of the common route combinations the Bears like to call is a 39 combination. They pair a vertical nine route with an out route. The objective is to clear out the defenders underneath to target the tight end or slot wide receiver on an out route. There are variations of the concept. ESPN’s Matt Bowen calls it a “tare” concept. I have seen other smart analysts call it a “Hawk” concept.
Irrespective of the name of the concept, the key to defend this is play with outside leverage. The Panthers should employ trap coverage with the corners to combat this route concept. Fellow CSR film geek CanadianPanther broke down trap coverage in 2015.
The primary objective for Carolina should be to shut down the run. The play-action and RPO concepts are minuscule if the Panthers slow down Howard and Cohen. Trubisky is an athletic quarterback who can also make plays with his feet. The Bears have a physical offensive line especially in the interior. Carolina’s strengths on defense (stopping the run) play very well in this matchup. However, this is the National Football League. The Bears lost close games to the Falcons and Vikings at home while beating the Steelers. This will not be a cake walk. Carolina has to stay disciplined in their techniques if they want to slow down the Bears offense.