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Bears Fri Nov 08 2013

Wide Receiver Blocking is Key to Bears Running Game

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for GB bears icon.pngBlocking in the NFL is a thankless art. The successes and failures of an offense stem from how well they can block, but the guy with the ball is always the one featured. The offensive line is obviously the biggest factor (sure, why not, pun intended), but receivers also play a substantial role, especially on outside runs.

The Bears possess three of the best blocking wide receivers in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett all rank in the top 12 in the NFL when it comes to run blocking. Marshall, by a wide margin, is ranked number one. You have to watch closely on edge rushes and longer runs by Matt Forte to notice what they're doing, but it's incredibly effective and wildly fun to watch. It takes a mix of technique, footwork, and passion for your team to be successful at blocking from the wide receiver position. Here are a few examples from the Packers game alone of the work Marshall, Jeffery and Bennett provided.

Exhibit A


On this first play, the Bears have a draw play called, but Josh McCown already sees the mismatch on the left side of the formation and points it out to Forte. It's 5-on-5 (safeties aren't accounted for). The three linemen left of center (Eben Britton is actually lined up a tight end) are assigned the two defenders on the line along with the strong-side linebacker. That leaves Marshall against the slot corner and Jeffery against the outside corner.


Slot corner Tramon Williams (38) is blitzing on the play, which actually makes Marshall's job easier if he recognizes it instantly (he does). Marshall's job is to seal the corner either to the inside or outside, allowing Matt Forte to read what lane to run through. With Williams blitzing, Marshall needs to get his hands on his shoulder pads and drive him down the line of scrimmage. He gets away with a slight hold, but nothing was being called all night, so Marshall took liberty knowing that he probably wouldn't get flagged.


Jeffery ran upfield a few yards to keep the outside corner honest (he has to play straight up to defend against play action since there's only a single-high safety), and immediately notices he'll be more effective if he can lay a block on safety Morgan Burnett (42) and seal him inside. That leaves Sam Shields (37) on the outside one-on-one against Matt Forte, a matchup the Bears crave. They gain six yards on the play as Shields makes the tackle, but if Forte breaks, it becomes a huge play (example of him beating Shields coming next!). If Marshall misses his block, it's a three-yard loss. If Jeffery doesn't block the safety, it's a two-yard carry. Instead, give 'em six.

Exhibit B


On a play that ended up more successful, Jeffery motions toward the backfield pre-snap, which forces the defense to tighten up because the Bears have run jet sweeps with him numerous times this season. Shields, the corner covering him, follows him in, but fades back toward the linebackers to possibly play a pass, while the safety Burnett pinches in to help in the run game.


The Bears, however, turn around and run a draw play right into the converging defenders. Jeffery changes direction at the snap and lays a great block on Burnett, Marshall is about to drive Williams 12 yards down field, and Forte is once again left one-on-one with Shields. He dominates him this time (told ya it was coming), juking him out if his shoes, and goes untouched until he gets pushed out of bounds for a 15-yard gain.

Exhibit C

Marc Trestman dials up a play he had already called earlier in the game for a short gain. This time, everything breaks right.


They fake the jet sweep with Jeffery, who was lined up at the far left side of the formation to start the play, and will backside pitch to Forte. Marshall and Bennett are tasked with pinning the defenders lined up against them inside, and Jermon Bushrod's job is to pull around to the outside and take out the cornerback. It works beautifully. The receivers hold their blocks, Bushrod smashes his guy to the ground, and Forte is off and running. He gains 15 yards and stays in bounds to keep the clock rolling. The receivers again, keying the spring.


Exhibit D

The first play after the two minute warning is important. Third and 5, and a successful run for a first down will force the Packers into burning all of their timeouts. No tight ends on that side of the formation again, but they have the open field and plenty of room to gain yards and stay in bounds. Marshall blocks down on the linebacker to eliminate him from the play, Bennett takes the outside defender, and Bushrod pulls and is tasked with the first guy that he meets.


Bennett's man starts moving outside to try and set the edge and force the play back inside to his teammates. Bushrod joins in and double teams the block which then allows Bennett to disengage, and attack the next defender inside (in which he drives him seven yards upfield; an incredibly heady move that gives Forte the opportunity to split the blocks, gain the first down, and stay in bounds.


It's the play that basically dooms the Packers' chances, and blocks from the wide receivers played the defining role. Incredibly fun to watch, and the reason why the Bears are once again tied for the lead in the NFC North.

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