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Bears: Defensive Line Has a Juicy Matchup vs. Dolphins

The Chicago Bears' defense could have a big day against the Miami Dolphins' offensive line on Sunday.

The Chicago Bears are done with their bye week and ready to head off to Miami to face the 3-2 Dolphins.

That record is somewhat misleading because the 3-2 Dolphins used to be the 3-0 Dolphins. That was before they ran into New England and Cincinnati and lost to both in different yet equally embarrassing fashions: they were blown out by the Patriots 38-7 and they threw away a 17-0 lead against the Bengals thanks to two defensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

So which Miami Dolphins team is for real? I went through some film of their offense to find out.

Personnel

Every offense starts with the man under center and for Miami, that man is Ryan Tannehill, in his seventh year out of Texas A&M. He was an intriguing draft prospect, having started his collegiate career as a wide receiver, but after enough time in the NFL, it’s pretty clear what Tannehill is: a mediocre quarterback.

His arm won’t wow anybody but when there’s a clean pocket, he’s very accurate on short and medium throws. He will hit the deep ball every once in a while but he’s very inconsistent in this regard. He will run (19 attempts for 91 yards on the five-game season) but it’s never his first option, despite his receiver background. It’s common to see him moving about the pocket but rarely will he try to escape.

Mechanics-wise, he’s solid. He has a consistent arm angle and won’t mess up his footwork very often. It began to impress me that his mechanics don’t really break down under pressure until I looked closer, noticed why they didn’t and found his biggest flaw.

Tannehill’s mental clock is abhorrent and at times it’s nonexistent. Far too often he keeps his eyes downfield and stays in the pocket for more time than the pass rush allows him to, to the point where it seems like he’s unaware that he’s under attack. This can lead to dips in accuracy and especially velocity under pressure and it also means he’s easy to strip. And those last three words should have a certain outside linebacker frothing at the mouth on Sunday.

The Dolphins have a divided backfield between Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake and both have large roles in the offense. Gore is the primary ballcarrier but it’s about a 55/45 split between the two.

Gore has been around for an astoundingly long time and isn’t nearly as effective as he was years ago on the 49ers. He retains the style of play that he was known for, though: a power runner who attacks the line of scrimmage with a head of steam. If defenders aren’t careful, he will break tackles but he rarely gets into the secondary due to a lack of elusiveness.

Drake is arguably Tannehill’s favorite target and not just on short passes. He won’t shrug off defenders like Gore has done; he’s relatively easy to take down. That being said, it’s important to break down and not over-commit because his juke can burn you. He is effective in pass protection (as is Gore) but he’ll rarely do more than chip and release.

As receivers go, these guys are also solid but unspectacular. The deep threat is Kenny Stills and he’s very good in his niche, but if a defense doesn’t let him get behind them he can’t hurt them. Albert Wilson gets the most balls thrown his way in this group and is shifty enough to pick up yards after the catch. He’ll work out of both the slot and the outside and they’ll move him into a variety of spots.

Danny Amendola, who came over from New England, is exactly what you would imagine in a receiver who came over from New England.

The wild card here is Jakeem Grant, a super-fast wideout with sneaky ball skills for someone of his size. He’s a major factor in the return game and is used primarily as a jet motion decoy but he’s been a part of most of Miami’s exciting plays this year.

As a group, the wideouts are strong in their route running but weak in their size. Devante Parker is their big man but the coaching staff has soured on the former first rounder. He has been injured for most of the season and while they expect him healthy for Chicago, it doesn’t seem like he’ll have a major role in the offense when he comes back.

The Dolphins, when both are healthy (and they seem to anticipate both will be this week), feature two tight ends with complementary skill sets. AJ Derby has been hurt recently and is a fine blocker who will get the occasional target.

Mike Gesicki, a rookie out of Penn State, is the much bigger threat through the air. He’s a potential matchup nightmare but he’s extremely raw (think last year’s Adam Shaheen). They’ll move him everywhere – in the backfield, in-line, and out wide – to try and create a mismatch. At times it will seem like they’re force-feeding him the ball but he and Tannehill have struggled to find a connection

The offensive line, from left to right, is as follows: Laremy Tunsil or Sam Young (depending on Tunsil’s health), Ted Larsen, Travis Swanson, Jesse Davis, and Ju’Wan James. They are riddled with injuries, as the original starting center and left guard are already done for the season.

When run blocking, this group actually holds their blocks fairly well up front but can have major problems getting to the second level – linebackers don’t have much trouble making plays on Gore and Drake because they often filled the hole untouched.

Tunsil is probably their best offensive player. He’s incredibly stout in pass pro and can take on any edge rusher and limit their production. James is athletic but he can be knocked off balance if his opponent sets up a counter-move well. Both guards and the center can easily be beaten one-on-one against great players like Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins, who worked a two-handed swipe to perfection last week for two sacks.

When Tunsil went out, Sam Young was his replacement. Young isn’t very good. There should be no need for the Bears to blitz against these guys, even if Tunsil can give it a go.

Scheme

Head coach/offensive coordinator: Gase-Loggains 2: Electric Boogaloo

Watching Miami might surprise you because their scheme actually looks much less like the 2017 Bears and much more like the 2015 version. That either means Adam Gase is in full control or John Fox held back Dowell Loggains last year much more than we thought. It’s significantly less predictable and more creative than we saw in Chicago last year, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have noticeable tendencies.

Run-run-pass-punt is uncommon because Loggains has done a good job so far to mix up the ground game and the passing game in different spots. Unlike the Bears’ last opponent, Tampa Bay, they will commit to establishing the run game early in the game, sticking with it and considering four yards a pop satisfactory. They’ll also show a healthy dosage of different run concepts; inside zone is their favorite but they’ll run power out of shotgun enough to keep a defense honest.

To utilize their running backs to their fullest extent, Loggains will run two-back sets frequently – sometimes with Drake and Gore, sometimes with a running back and Gesicki or Derby. Their other wrinkle is that they can move their line around to throw some different looks at the defense. Occasionally they will move Tunsil to the right side and put a tight end at left tackle and more often than most teams do this, they put in an extra lineman (usually Young). These sets usually mean run but there are exceptions.

Their favorite formation to pass out of is the wide bunch, and this is how they set up Gase’s favorite play: the wide receiver screen. Usually, it’s Amendola who gets the ball here but Wilson, Stills, and Grant also contribute. I didn’t see too many double moves from their receivers; their most-used route concept is two receivers in the bunch running deep and an underneath throw to the third man in the flat.

The most effective means of attack has been against man defense when they can get Drake matched up against a linebacker one-on-one. The linebacker can get caught sitting on a potential check down and not realize that Drake has run past him, heading to the corner for a touchdown. This happened to the Bengals and the Bears should be more prepared for it than Cincy’s guys were.

Lastly, watch the trick plays. Loggains and Gase know that the Bears’ defense is more talented than their offense and the former was known for his creativity in getting non-quarterbacks to throw the football when he coached in Chicago. This didn’t stop in Miami, as Albert Wilson has thrown a touchdown pass to Jakeem Grant. They undoubtedly have a couple tricks up their sleeve in order to have a shot.

Matchup the Dolphins can exploit: Kenyan Drake corner route vs. Danny Trevathan

This isn’t a personnel-based matchup. In terms of personnel-based matchups, there are none that give the Dolphins a clear advantage. That’s not to say the Bears outclass Miami at every position – they have some solid players – but they don’t really possess anyone capable of shifting the balance of a game.

I do want to point out, however, that the play that was most effective for Miami against Cincinnati does look eerily similar to a touchdown that the Bears allowed in Arizona, where Danny Trevathan was caught flat-footed on a similar out-and-up out of the backfield to Kenyan Drake’s signature route. Hopefully, Trevathan has corrected that error but it’s something to monitor going into Sunday’s contest.

Matchup the Bears can exploit that does not involve Khalil Mack: Akiem Hicks vs. Ted Larsen and Jesse Davis

I mentioned that Geno Atkins beat both guards with a two-handed swipe. That just so happens to be one of Hicks’ specialties, and it’s the one he used to take down Ryan Fitzpatrick during the win against the Bucs. Hicks should dominate this game, especially because with Mack coming off the edge, he’ll have all the one-on-one matchups he wants.

The bottom line is this: if the Bears keep Stills in front of them, tackle Gore, attack the screen, and keep the trick plays from doing too much damage, then the pass rush will take care of everything else and the Dolphins shouldn’t be able to score more than 10 points.

Follow Jack on Twitter–Featured Photo Credit: AP

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2 comments on “Bears: Defensive Line Has a Juicy Matchup vs. Dolphins

  1. Robert Fagiano-Gleason

    Loggains is an OC WITHOUT play calling duties. Its all Gase. Gase is in the realm of McCoy Pederson and Nagy.

  2. Jack Soble

    Correct but my impression from watching film was that this offense is a healthy mix of concepts that both offensive minds like to run

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