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Bears Thu Sep 11 2014

Mel Tucker is Wrong about Bears' Success vs. Zone Reads

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for GB bears icon.pngAfter the injuries to Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and a few of their teammates along the defensive line, the way to beat the Bears in 2013 was simple. Snap the ball, and have the quarterback turn around to hand it to the running back. The back would stuff it down the Bears' throat, and the game would end 60 minutes later.

Phil Emery did a nice job acquiring talent along the defensive front in free agency, but he failed to make any significant upgrades in the linebacker and safety cores. Though the defense appears to be better physically in 2014, the discipline breakdowns that plagued the Bears last year are just as bad.

When Buffalo played from under center, or threw the ball from the shotgun, the Bears did a fairly good job containing their Week 1 opponent. But when Buffalo ran plays that required multiple Bears defenders to stick to their gaps and corral one of the best rushing teams in football, all hell broke loose.

Unless defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has a different definition of a zone read then the rest of the football world, those numbers are completely inaccurate.

On a zone read (diagrammed below), the offense typically lines up in the shotgun, with one running back in the backfield (teams like San Francisco, who the Bears play this Sunday, will sometimes use multiple backs, but Buffalo only used one on all their zone reads). At the snap, the running back crosses in front of the quarterback for a handoff, and the QB holds the ball in the RBs gut while reading what the purposely unblocked defensive end does. If the DE crashes down the line toward the RB, the QB keeps the ball and runs it around the end, and if the DE stays home the QB hands it off. It's simple, looks beautiful when run properly, and is monstrously effective. It's used heavily at the collegiate level, and most teams in the NFL with dual threat quarterbacks use it consistently.

zone read
Diagram courtesy of smartfootball.com

A perfect example of Buffalo succeeding with the zone read was the touchdown run by E.J. Manuel. Manuel takes the snap, Fred Jackson cuts in front of him, but Manuel is staring at Jared Allen the entire time. Allen bites and turns inside to make a play on Jackson, and Manuel simply keeps the ball and runs into the endzone untouched. The 47-yard run by Anthony Dixon: zone read. The 38-yard scamper by Fred Jackson that sealed Buffalo's win in overtime: zone read. Does Tucker assume that people don't have a DVR or lack access to NFL Game Rewind?

Here's a full list of every zone read play Buffalo ran Sunday. It wasn't "about 12" -- try 20:

11:02 1Q - Fred Jackson, 5 yards
10:24 1Q - Fred Jackson, 3 yards
07:31 1Q - Fred Jackson, 4 yards
07:31 1Q - E.J. Manuel, 2 yards; Touchdown.
---------------------------------------
11:30 2Q - Anthony Dixon, 5 yards
10:50 2Q - C.J. Spiller, 5 yards
10:21 2Q - Anthony Dixon, 6 yards
09:40 2Q - C.J. Spiller, -5 yards
01:49 2Q - Anthony Dixon, 47 yards
01:06 2Q - C.J. Spiller, 4 yards
---------------------------------------
07:44 3Q - C.J. Spiller, 5 yards
04:17 3Q - C.J. Spiller, 1 yard
03:42 3Q - C.J. Spiller, 11 yards
03:23 3Q - Anthony Dixon, 2 yards
---------------------------------------
13:19 4Q - C.J. Spiller, -2 yards
05:01 4Q - Anthony Dixon, 0 yards; Manuel could've scored TD.
---------------------------------------
13:20 OT - C.J. Spiller, 13 yards
12:51 OT - C.J. Spiller, 1 yard
11:43 OT - Fred Jackson, 5 yards
11:10 OT - Fred Jackson, 38 yards

On the play noted above where Manuel could've scored, here's what it looks like the moment where he has to decide to hand it off or keep it:

manuelTD.jpg
Courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

The defensive end is actually blocked, the linebackers are already in position to fill gaps to stop the running back, which leaves Chris Conte as the only defender on the far side of the field to make the play if Manuel keeps it. That's a matchup offensive coordinators drool over.

In total, on the 20 zone reads Buffalo ran, they gained 150 yards for an average of 7.5 yards per carry. Not exactly the 36ish yards over 12ish carries Tucker leads you to believe. Those numbers aren't just scary for a team that couldn't stop the run last year, but doubly alarming considering the 49ers are next up on the schedule. They use a ton of different schemes and angles to get their running backs and dual threat quarterback into situations where they can easily succeed, and if the Bears can't stop them, they'll be 0-2 with a road game in New York awaiting them in Week 3.

It's completely unnecessary, and frankly stupid, to throw numbers out in news conferences when it's incredibly easy for just about any fan to go back and check to see if those stats are accurate. Don't sugarcoat the truth, Tucker. The defense was terrible when it came to being disciplined on Sunday, and the team got gutted because of it. The coaching staff and front office keep saying the talent is there, and the time is now to put up or shut up.

 
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Coach / September 11, 2014 3:05 PM

I'd be remiss not to point out that you describe the Zone Read in a diagram, and the DE is unblocked. Then the picture you show us is a play where that same DE is blocked.

I'm not defending the Defense, but maybe you are confusing 2 different plays.

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