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Bears Thu Sep 06 2012
To accurately analyze and pass judgment on a football team, you have to watch games a particular way. Very few people do it, and it's admittedly difficult to do consistently.
The eye is naturally drawn to the ball. It's the vehicle for scoring in nearly every sport, and the best players typically possess it the longest. It's tough to look away because you're afraid of missing something -- which is a legitimate worry with guys like LeBron James and Lionel Messi.
I'm here to tell you not to worry about that. If you want to talk about the Bears (or any team) intelligently when the conversation comes up at your nearby water cooler on Monday morning, there's a certain progression to look at for every play. Here's how to do it, with Bears players thrown into the mix for reference, and since the proper way to watch each team varies slightly based on personnel.
Instead of watching the quarterback instantly when the ball is snapped, you should instead focus on the offensive guard that's closest to the camera with one eye, while keeping an eye on linebackers and safeties with the other to scope out blitzes. Guards give you an instant read on whether the play will be a run or a pass based off if they're pushing forward or backpedaling a step or two. Right guard Lance Louis is the guy to eyeball for the Bears, as Chris Spencer may confuse you by lying on his back.
If the guards backpedal into pass protection, turn your eyes to the pass rushers and any potential blitzers. Don't worry, Jay Cutler is still there, and if he teaches his child to talk while dropping back to pass, you'll be the second to know after they show a replay 78 times. Watch the Bears attempt to pick up the extra man (an area where Matt Forte excels), and pray that tackles Gabe Carimi and J'Marcus Webb hold their blocks.
You can't see the receivers (unless they're running shallow routes), and the pass rushers will eventually lead your eyes to the quarterback anyway. Besides, you'll know right away whether an imperfect throw was necessitated by a late rusher disrupting Cutler's throwing window. Once the ball is thrown, just follow along with everyone else.
If the play turns out to be a run, keep an eye on the linemen holding their blocks, along with the tight end sealing the edge on stretch runs to the outside. Matt Forte or Michael Bush will eventually run into the area you're watching, and you'll be one step ahead on diagnosing the success or failure of the play.
Before the snap, find 90. Julius Peppers is the key to the Bears defense, and I guarantee the quarterback along with both offensive tackles are cognizant of where he lines up on every down -- even if he's on the sidelines. From there, watch the guards like you normally do to figure out run or pass, and pay special attention to whether or not Peppers is being double teamed.
If it's a pass play, open your view up to potential blitzes from Bears safeties and corners. Lovie Smith rarely sends his linebackers in to add pressure (Lance Briggs has just 10.5 career sacks), instead electing to push the edges with guys like Charles Tillman, D.J. Moore and Major Wright. A majority of the time, you'll see just four pass rushers (especially on third down and seven or more), but when the Bears do blitz, it's usually effective.
Run plays are the times to watch the linebackers. Brian Urlacher and Briggs are two of the best in the NFL at supporting the run (they're both solid in pass coverage too), and often times slice through the linemen charged with blocking them to lay a hit on the running back. This is really where Briggs, in particular, can shine. Urlacher draws attention from the offensive line because he plays the middle, which frees Briggs to fly around the field to make plays.
Bears Special Teams
The Bears' return teams are unmatched in the NFL, and when Devin Hester and Eric Weems are back returning kicks and punts, just sit back and enjoy the show. There's nothing special you have to look at.
Bears kicker Robbie Gould is also one of the best in the NFL at his craft, ranking 5th all time in field goal accuracy. If the offense is looking at a third and long in Gould's range, they may choose to set him up in a better position. To do that, you'll see the Bears run plays to the middle or left side of the field because Gould has a natural two to three yard draw on his kicks, leaving more room for error.
Employ these basic concepts and you'll realize that the announcers (the color commentator especially) will be talking about the exact events you just witnessed in real time. Instead of being a step behind and having to watch replays to see exactly what they're talking about, you'll be using them to confirm what you saw the first time.
Try it out this Sunday when the Bears open against the Colts at Soldier Field. I promise you won't be disappointed in the results.