Scouting Report: Henry Melton, not Julius Peppers, giving Bears a rush
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The Minnesota Vikings' season is on the line when they host the Chicago Bears 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 are a team built on their defense, and in the first game, they limited the Vikings to just 10 points. They are one of the few remaining teams to run with a pretty traditional Tampa-2 defense, but they have been perfecting their version over coach Lovie Smith's tenure and now run it with ruthless efficiency. With a front four that can generate pressure and tough, physical corners, they are able to disrupt passing games and force opponents to target very small windows in the coverage. They will play largely Cover-2 and rely on superior execution, but they will mix in some single-high safety looks. The knee injuries to MLB Brian Urlacher mean the Bears now have to protect their middle linebacker rather than rely on his skills in coverage, replacing his drop in the middle by one from one of the outside linebackers instead in recent weeks.
Their offense is at its best when it can string together a series of short, quick passes, in particular to WR Brandon Marshall, who can be a matchup nightmare for a defense. They can run the ball well at times but have been reluctant to lean on that game, preferring to leave the ball in QB Jay Cutler's hands even if it costs them at times.
With Urlacher struggling and without the range he was once so famous for, WLB Lance Briggs is now the linebacker that has to shoulder much of the coverage responsibility, and he is responding with an extremely good season in coverage. He was often tasked with covering receivers on short patterns, but he now gets asked to take deep drops down the middle of the field on occasion that would ordinarily be the responsibility of the middle linebacker. Something to watch out for is how Briggs deals with shallow crossing patterns, because he has a tendency to de-cleat receivers that aren't paying attention if they are within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, taking them out of the play entirely. Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph fell victim to this in the first game.
A defensive scheme like the Bears' needs pressure up front to function, and nobody is providing more of it this season than DT Henry Melton from the middle. RE Julius Peppers has five more total pressures, but also 23 more snaps rushing the passer, and Melton matches him in both sacks and knockdowns on the year. Melton is a great athlete for the position and is still relatively new to it, having actually played running back his first two seasons in college. He has only improved the longer he has played at defensive tackle and is a real challenge for interior offensive linemen to deal with. Peppers is the player that will always draw the attention in meetings, but Melton might be the single biggest threat to disrupt the passing game this season.
The Bears went after Marshall despite his off-the-field problems because he is a game-changing receiver and a nightmare to match up with for a defense. He brings rare size and strength to the position and, despite 10 drops this year, is actually catching 70% of everything thrown in his direction. Only Wes Welker has more receptions this season and Marshall has twice the number of touchdowns and more yards. The last time the two sides met, Marshall was thrown at 15 times and caught a dozen passes with two drops. Though the Vikings picked off one of those targets, the other 14 were all catchable. They need to do a better job this time of limiting the damage Marshall can do.
• Marshall leads all receivers with 2.95 yards per route run this season. That is almost half a yard further than Vikings WR Percy Harvin in third place.
• Only three quarterbacks have been pressured on a greater percentage of their dropbacks than Cutler (36.6%) this season.
• HB Matt Forte has forced just 14 missed tackles from 209 touches this season. From 270 touches, Vikings HB Adrian Peterson has forced 54.
• Only three defensive tackles have a higher Pass Rushing Productivity score than Melton (a per-snap measure of pressure PFF has devised).
• RT Gabe Carimi has been forced into relief duty at right guard and has yet to surrender a single hurry since after giving up 44 at right tackle.