I asked Mike Zimmer on Wednesday what stood out to him when he watched the Bears rush for 222 yards in their 23-17 overtime win over the Steelers at Soldier Field in Week 3.
The answer suggested that Zim might be asking the officials on Monday night to keep an eye on offensive holding by linemen and grabby receivers who do an excellent job controlling the edges for big, power back Jordan Howard and the shiftier, quicker change-of-pace rookie Tarik Cohen.
“Their offensive line does a really good job of getting guys where they’re supposed to be,” Zimmer said. “The receivers do a good job on the perimeter blocking, holding, grabbing and the offensive line does the same thing. We can’t allow them to hold us and grab us the way they’ve been doing in other ball games. Tackling us.”
I went back and watched the game against the Steelers. It was enough to unnerve any Vikings fan who watched their team give up 153 yards rushing to Howard in their upset loss at Chicago on Monday Night Football last Halloween.
The Steelers were steamrolled by the offensive line, three-tight end power formations, dogged receivers and the sheer determination of Howard and Cohen, a fourth-rounder out of North Carolina A&T and the 10th back drafted. Howard had 23 carries for 140 yards (6.1) and two touchdowns. Cohen had 12 carries for 78 yards.
There probably hasn’t been an overtime in NFL history like the one that day. The Bears won the coin toss and ran four plays. All runs. And traveled 74 yards for a touchdown. (And, just think, in some stat book somewhere, quarterback Mike Glennon was credited with an overtime victory!)
In overtime, Howard ran for 1 yard. Then Cohen ran for 36. Then Howard ran for back-to-back gains of 18 yards and 19 more for a touchdown.
Let’s take a look at two of the running plays from that game:
Second-and-nine from the Chicago 27, 9:15 left in OT: By this time, the Bears know they can exert their will on a tired Pittsburgh defense. After Howard gained only 1 yard on first down, the Bears come back with a formation that screams run. But they don’t care.
There’s one tight end to the right and two more tight ends to the left. A single receiver is split right. Cohen is 8 yards deep as the single back.
At the snap of the ball, the offense goes left. With the ridiculously-quick Cohen, it’s vital that the backside linebacker or end maintain control of the edge. The Bears, like a lot of teams, block one direction and count on the back to make one cut to the backside.
Left outside linebacker Bud Dupree gets caught sneaking to his right, allowing linebacker Dion Sims to seal him inside. Cohen has the opening he needs and makes a great cut to his right.
Cornerback Joe Haden does a good job re-establishing the edge, but here’s where Zimmer’s comment about the grabby receivers comes into play.
Receiver Joshua Bellamy locks on to Haden. Cohen is able to zoom through the crease as Bellamy drives — and pulls — Haden to the ground. There’s no flag. Ten yards upfield, Cohen makes the safety miss, gets an angle to the sideline and gains 36 yards.
First-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 19, 8:34 left in OT: One of the easiest overtimes is about to end. One play after Howard gains 18 yards off the left side, the Bears don’t even try to mix things up. There is a bit of deception when they come to the line of scrimmage with three tight ends to the right. Howard is in the backfield.
They motion rookie tight end Adam Shaheen to the left. When the ball is snapped, it’s another straight-ahead run off left tackle. Shaheen kicks his guy outside. Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. crushes his guy inside. A Steelers linebacker misses a tackle in the gaping hole that opens up.
In the open field, Howard uses another block by a receiver, Deonte Thompson, who drives the cornerback out of bounds. Thompson might have grabbed the corner a little, but not like Bellamy did on Cohen’s 36-yard run.
The Vikings go into Monday’s game with the No. 3-ranked run defense. But as we’ve been reminded time and again, when this defense starts to fail, it’s the run defense that shows the first cracks.
When they don’t turn the ball over repeatedly, the Bears are able to use the talent, power and all-in determination of their running game to control a game.