Scouting Report: Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall can be a potent combo
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The Minnesota Vikings will try to pick up where they left off before the bye when they visit Chicago on Sunday. Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down tape from every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Bears in his weekly scouting report:
The Chicago Bears' identity comes from their defense, which has been the reason behind their success this season. They play a relatively simple, old-school Tampa-2 defense, but they have been playing it so long that they have become very good at it. With certain key players throughout the defense, they are able to play a scheme most NFL teams have given up on and run it almost exclusively.
The Bears force turnovers like no other team, with even their corners experts at knocking loose the ball on tackles. They will throw in some mixed coverages but will play largely cover-2 and rely on out-executing the offense. The decline in MLB Brian Urlacher after his knee problems has seen them begin to play with some creative ways of protecting the deep middle against the pass, replacing his drop there with one of the outside linebackers instead.
On offense, the Bears rely heavily on short, quick passes and are at their best when they can get in a rhythm, moving the chains with hitches and run plays. They run a man blocking scheme up front and have dumped the ludicrous deep drops they had under former OC Mike Martz.
The Bears have managed to find themselves a perfect pair of corners for their scheme in Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman. Both play aggressive, physical zone coverage. While Jennings currently leads the league with eight interceptions, Tillman has turned forcing fumbles into an art form. Both players will allow receptions, with neither keeping opposing teams under 50% passing on throws into their coverage, but they will make teams work for those catches and, even once the ball has been caught, remain a threat to force a turnover in the tackle. Tillman in particular will test the ball security of anybody who comes in his direction by punching at the ball as he tackles them. If the Vikings haven't worked on taking care of the football, they'll run the risk of turnovers.
The partnership between QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall is one of the league's most potent at its best. Despite having slowed in recent weeks, Marshall has still been targeted a massive 103 times already this season and has caught 69 of those balls (67%). Marshall is at his best on short patterns where he can catch the ball and break tackles from defenders closing to try and take him down. At 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds, Marshall represents a bigger, stronger target than most receivers in the NFL and the Vikings will need to be prepared to deal with his level of physicality. There are stretches of games where Cutler moves the ball almost entirely through quick passes to Marshall, and he represents one of the biggest weapons that offense has. Shutting him down is a priority.
Pass protection has been an issue for Chicago for years, and though the line is much improved this year, they will still be tested against the Vikings. This season, the biggest problem on the unit has been RT Gabe Carimi, who has allowed seven sacks, nine knockdowns and 28 hurries and been flagged 10 times. Vikings LE Brian Robison has had an up and down season, but when he has had the opportunity to go up against struggling right tackles, he has been able to exploit them for big days. Carimi will give him the opportunity to have another of those, but he needs to bring his best game against the run, because that is one area that Carimi has actually been impressive in this year.
• The Bears offensive line is on pace to allow a half-dozen fewer total sacks, hits and hurries than it did last season. They currently have 111 through 10 games.
• When the line allows sacks, they don't tend to come quickly. The average time to a sack of Cutler this season has been 4.01 seconds.
• The corner pairing of Tillman and Jennings has combined to miss just one tackle in the run game this season.
• At 618 snaps this year, Marshall has played more than double the snaps of the next highest receiver -- Earl Bennett, with 303.
• HB Matt Forte is averaging 5.3 yards a carry around both ends compared to just 4.3 yards between the tackles.