A complicating element to any problem is familiarity; if you’ve faced 3-4 defenses consistently, you’re likely better prepared with solutions and for what the problem presents.
The Bears don’t face 3-4 defenses all that often. Their final two games of 2012, first two this season and every day in practice are against 4-3 defenses. And even when they have seen 3-4’s, they have not done well. At all.
Loss to Houston. Loss to San Francisco a game later. Green Bay, loss/loss. The Bears were a combined 1-4 against 3-4 schemes in 2012. The four losses were to teams in the top 11 in yardage and scoring defense, with the one win coming at Dallas, 24th in scoring defense.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are 10th in yardage and points allowed. They are 0-2 on the season through no fault of the defense.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is legendary for shifting looks and personnel, forcing linemen to adjust on the fly.
“It’s a combination of things,” said Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “They play very stout two-gap defense on first and second down with a combination of some pressures. But then on third down, Dick LeBeau has been known for years to have a lot of tough nickel blitzes, show you one way, blitz the other way, roll a guy from the line of scrimmage down to a deep half to cover.”
The Steelers anchor their scheme with classic wide-bodies, with ends of 300 (Ziggy Hood) and 285 (Brett Keisel) pounds and a nose tackle (Steve McLendon) at 320. The Bears do not have a defensive player larger than 295-pounders Henry Melton and Stephen Paea, and they’re both tackles — meaning the offensive line can’t work for what the Steelers will present them.
One Bears offensive lineman told CSNChicago.com that he preferred the smaller, one-gap speed linemen if only because they are moving and sometimes you can take them where they’re going anyway. Pittsburgh’s two-gap linemen first work to control the offensive lineman, “so you have to move those guys,” the Bear said, “and that’s a load.”
The Bears have had zero pre-snap penalties through two games, but both of those games have been at home. Pittsburgh is a traditionally difficult venue, and the Bears will use some silent snap counts to mitigate the effects of crowd noise.
“We’ve done as good job at home with pre-snap penalties, and now we’ve got to carry it out onto the road,” said coach Marc Trestman. “In practice we have noise, we’re practicing a lot with noise and trying to get used to that atmosphere, and we’ve been pretty good this week.”
The silent snap count has been worked on as well since Day 1 in the offseason and throughout training camp, Trestman said. “It is a get-off factor and part of football is we know the snap count and they don’t and so the offense you hope can get off faster than the defense.
“So you have to do a good job of understanding the mechanics and understanding the timing with your center, and that’s what we’ve been working on.”
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The obvious concern, as it is every week, is how rookies Kyle Long at right guard and Jordan Mills at right tackle will handle the different scheme and body types.
“Technique is different when you’re playing a 3-4 defense, two-gap, way different,” Kromer said. “Even though we weren’t seeing that. We talked about it. We worked on it sparingly, but we did work on it. We’re trying to take that into consideration for this week.”