Can Lovie Adjust Scheme to Compensate for Elite Receivers?

| October 3rd, 2011

Lovie Smith ought to be ashamed of himself.

Steve Smith is arguably the best receiver in football pound-for-pound.  He is a ferocious competitor and impossible for any corner to handle man-to-man.  Lovie Smith does not have to imagine what it’s like to battle against Smith because Smith singlehandedly eliminated the Chicago Bears from the 2005 postseason; embarrassing Lovie’s defense on the national stage.  So of course the defensive coaching staff would deviate from the normal defensive structure to prevent history from repeating itself, right?

In the lead-up to all of these games, opposing players get on conference calls with the Chicago media and are inevitably asked about facing the Bears defense.  It seems every week we’re serenaded with similar refrains: they’re not going to surprise you, they do what they do…etc.  Sure sometimes LoveRod send linebackers or defensive backs after the quarterback but most of the time they simply do what they do.

What they do is run a defensive scheme that allows for Tim Jennings, the team’s second best corner by a long run, to be lined up opposite Steve Smith.  Not because of any personnel strategy but because that’s the side of the field Smith lined up on.  And then, because such is the structure of the system, Jennings is allowed to let Smith run by him and become the problem of the safety.  Watching Darrelle Revis last night for the Jets was an interesting exercise for a Bears fan.  Revis marked a receiver and then followed him all over the field.  If he cut, Revis cut.  If he took off down the sideline, Revis was sitting in his pant pocket.  Tim Jennings is not in Revis’ stratosphere when it comes to cover skills but it would not matter if he were.  Lovie Smith’s defensive backs cover area, not people.  The passing attacks with deep rosters can exploit the spaces in the zone.  The elite wide receivers can exploit the whole system.

If Steve Smith is Roy Jones Jr., Calvin Johnson is Mike Tyson.  And if the Bears do not treat Johnson like the superstar he is, they’ll be staring down the barrel of a 200 yard, multi-touchdown performance.  For this coming week, as the Bears prepare for a Monday Night Football battle with the comeback kids up in Detroit, the talk around Chicago will not be on the offense.  Matt Forte’s bank account performance Sunday will calm those voices for another week.  We’ve seen Lovie Smith seize control of the offensive game plan and turn the Chicago Bears (at least for a week) into an off-the-bus running club.  Now we’ll see if he can adjust his baby, his pride and joy, his defense.  We’ll see if he can stop Stafford, Johnson, Pettigrew.

It will take pressure, of course.  Allowing Stafford to sit in the pocket will spell doom for the Bears.  But it will also take an aggressive approach with Johnson.  If he’s allowed to navigate freely across the field, the Bears will lose.