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The Bears Secret Weapon on Offense May Be the TE Screen

The Chicago Bears' offense needs to learn how to use the TE screen more effectively in their offense.

I wasn’t planning on doing a film breakdown this week, but something has been bugging me all year about this Bears’ offense.

While watching some tape of the Bears-Jets game from last Sunday, I stumbled upon a first and goal for the Bears from New York’s nine-yard line, midway through the third quarter. It was a tight end screen, with an orbit motion across the backfield and a short throw up the middle to Trey Burton, that seemed dead from the start and ended in no gain.

https://imgur.com/a/3uM1IZi

The Bears have tried this play multiple times this season and it hasn’t worked, which is perplexing given that it was a staple of Matt Nagy’s offense in Kansas City. It was so prominent that I included this clip in my film study of how Nagy’s offense would help the Bears’ personnel, all the way back on January 9th.

https://imgur.com/a/UvdwUqF

What’s with the discrepancy in production? As with most oddities in football, there are multiple factors at play here.

Personnel

While Kansas City has the perfect group of players to run this play, the Bears have a more than good enough personnel package to make it work beautifully.

Travis Kelce is the most athletic tight end in football, but Burton is in the top five. And the Bears’ decoys, while not as terrifying as Tyreek Hill, are certainly enough to draw the defense’s attention. The Bears worked that orbit motion with Anthony Miller all game, so his actions shouldn’t tip off the defense that something is going on. Tarik Cohen out of the backfield should draw multiple defenders as well.

Because Chicago’s roster is well-suited for this play, something else has to be going on to stop it from working.

Setting

I don’t like the TE screen inside the 10-yard line. It requires space and time to develop, and neither are plentiful when you’re that deep in the opponent’s territory.

Almost everything else is the same – down and distance (1st and 9/10), horizontal placement (right hash), and in essence, formation (while the initial look differs from trips left to doubles left, the motion patterns make it so everyone is in the same spot when the ball is snapped).

I don’t find there to be much significance in the difference in motion patterns; Hill’s is a jet into an orbit and Miller’s is a just an orbit but that’s just window dressing. The only circumstantial difference that could affect the outcome is the vertical placement, and while it doesn’t help to have the ball inside the 10 here, it doesn’t kill the play either. Which means the primary reason this play is failing (not just here, but multiple times this year) is…

Execution

Multiple things went wrong on this play, starting with the man who eventually caught the pass. Not with the run after the catch, but in his selling of the screenplay.

Burton held his block far too long before releasing to receive the pass, and this is why he has the Jets’ defensive lineman on his tail when he catches it and needs to sharply break in to avoid him, altering the play’s timing. Additionally, his depth is unacceptable. The goal of a screen is to draw the defensive linemen far into the backfield so you can throw it over their heads, and for that to happen, Burton has to let himself get driven back a bit.

Kelce did this perfectly, and before you say “maybe the DL in the Chiefs game just wasn’t as gullible,” take a closer look at who said DL is.

Yup.

Timing was a problem all over this play and the quarterback is no exception. Mitch Trubisky sells the swing pass to Miller well but he makes a subtle yet crucial mistake at the top of his drop. He waits a split second less than Kansas City’s counterpart (Alex Smith) did. Watch their feet – Trubisky takes one large step back after turning his shoulders so that his chest faces the boundary; Smith takes three more short, choppy ones.

That hesitation did two things. First, it allowed defenders to bite on the wheel fake to Charcandrick West much more than they did on the one to Cohen, and this is evidenced by the placement of the secondary at the time of the throw (the cornerback, 27, doesn’t buy it for a second). And waiting longer also would have made it easier for Burton, as Smith did a great job luring Khalil Mack just a little farther upfield.

Finally, the right side of the offensive line messed up. If you look at the three-technique in the Chiefs game, he is initially double-teamed by the right guard and the right tackle. The tackle shoves him hard on his outside shoulder then releases to the linebacker, while the guard uses the shove to wall him off inside.

In Chicago’s case, Kyle Long and Bobby Massie do a pitiful job. Massie’s shove is weak and Long shouldn’t be releasing to the backer. The design of the play is meant to give the tight end a one-on-one against the free safety, and Long is helping nobody by leaving the three-technique unblocked.

To put it simply, though I don’t love this play call this deep in Jets territory, if it’s executed correctly it should be a gain of eight, nine, or a touchdown if Burton beats the free safety.

This can be attributed to the Bears being new to Nagy’s scheme for now, but they need to get it right within the next few weeks. When the tight end screen is done well, it’s one of their best weapons.

 

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