The Bears too often have struggled against 3-4 defenses. Even with the myriad upgrades on offense this season, the offense put up its smallest yardage total (258) against the downtrodden Pittsburgh Steelers and its smallest point total (18), number of plays (54) and time of possession (24:00) against the New Orleans Saints.
Four of the Bears’ last six losses (New Orleans this season, Green Bay, San Francisco, Houston last year) have been to teams playing 3-4 schemes, and now they have the Washington Redskins with another one, not exactly like the ones they've struggled with previously.
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Washington plays a little more of a true 3-4, "true double-bubble as I would call it, where the guards are uncovered and the center is on an island with the nose,” said coach Marc Trestman. The Saints and Steelers played three-man fronts that were de facto four down linemen because of how linebackers were deployed on edges.
“It just makes more difficult at times when there’s two ‘bubbles’ over both guards,” Trestman said. “There’s more flexibility you have to have with your protection package to be able to get everybody blocked and take care of the most dangerous rushers.”
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Those rushers are indeed dangerous, with Ryan Kerrigan (five sacks) and Brian Orakpo (three) combining for as many sacks as the Bears have as a team. “They’re difficult challenges,” Trestman said. “One, you can’t block them with a running back. Two, you’ve got to block them with linemen, big people, and that exposes the internal areas, allows them to internally blitz and make some things happen.”
The problem for the offensive line is exacerbated by nose tackle Barry Cofield, a one-time 4-3 defensive tackle who signed with Washington last year and moved in over the center in the 3-4.
But Cofield, at 6-4, 318 pounds, has retained some of his traits as a 4-3 tackle.
“He is much more active than he was in the last couple years,” said offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer. “Most of the time in the 3-4 defense, the nose guards are big, plugger types that don’t move, and you don’t have to worry about them much in pass rush.
“Barry Cofield is not that guy. He’s an explosive club — he’ll step one way and knock you out of the way with the club move. So we have to good job staying tight on him at guard.”
That will involve run blocking as well as protecting Jay Cutler, and the Washington defense ranks 27th,giving up 123 rush yards per game. The Bears are averaging 108 yards per game on the ground, and the expectation is that the offense will force Washington and Kerrigan, in particular, to demonstrate early that it can stand up to physical line play, particularly from right tackle Jordan Mills and guard Kyle Long.
“I think Kyle gets a lot of the hype, a lot of the attention,” Cutler said. “But Jordan’s the one over there who’s really locking down that side. I think through the first six games of the season, there’s a comfort level that he gives Kyle. It’s a little bit of the yin and yang. Kyle’s a little bit upbeat. And Jordan’s a little bit more calmer of the two. So the front five has got to deserve a lot of the credit through these first six.
“The way they’re playing, they’re giving me an ability to throw the ball and they’re run blocking well and it all starts up there. Without those guys, we’re not going to be able to do a lot of the things we do.”