May 27, 2022

Bears News

The Dolphins beat the Ravens by going blitz crazy. Don’t expect the Bears to do the same

The Bears defense ranks 31st in blitz rate

LAKE FOREST – Time and time again, the Miami Dolphins sent extra defenders at Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

The Dolphins stymied Jackson by sending blitzes at him left and right. It worked. Miami won, 22-10, on Nov. 11. The Ravens had few answers. Miami forced Jackson to release the ball quickly, rarely giving him time to let his receivers get too far downfield.

The Dolphins ran a cover 0 look – basically man-to-man with no help on the back end – on more than half of Jackson’s drop backs, according to a film review from the Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer.

The Dolphins were not shy about it, either. They showed what they were doing pre-snap and essentially told the Ravens to deal with it. It’s akin to a baseball team using the shift against a hitter, daring him to hit the ball the opposite way. Jackson simply couldn’t do it, at least not quickly enough. (It’s not a perfect analogy. In baseball, the defenders don’t try to rip your head off).

“They just executed their game plan,” Bears secondary coach Deshea Townsend said. “When you look at the Dolphins as a defense, that’s what they are. They are a team that crowds the line of scrimmage. They put their secondary in a lot of [cover 0] situations.”

Townsend’s comment gets right to the crux of the matter: That’s what the Dolphins do. In other words, that’s not what the Bears do.

The Bears had an up-close and personal look at the Dolphins this summer when Miami visited Halas Hall in Lake Forest for a pair of joint practices in August. Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai said Miami plays “to the strengths that they feel like are on their defense.”

The Dolphins are second in the NFL in blitzes per dropback, according to Pro Football Reference, blitzing 38.2% of the time. They trail only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (40.3%). The Bears, on the other hand, are 31st in blitz rate at 16.2% of the time.

The Vic Fangio style of defense – that is, the style Desai wants to replicate – is all about creating pressure with four pass rushers. That’s why outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn are such important pieces.

The Bears rarely play cover 0. The Dolphins might have created a blueprint for beating the Ravens, but don’t expect the Bears to replicate it anytime soon. At least, not 40 times per game.

“You always want to do what [the opponent] doesn’t like,” Townsend said. “I’m sure there will be elements for Sean to look at, and we’ll try to figure out if it helps us or doesn’t help us.”

Desai pointed out that Baltimore has three losses on the season, and each one was its own unique game. The Raiders and the Bengals, the other teams that beat the Ravens, had their own game plans for stopping Jackson.

“Was that the way [to beat the Ravens]?” Desai said. “No. Is it a way? For sure. Is it one way that worked on one night? Yes. That’s the reality, right, because they’re paid and they’re professionals, too. They’re going to make their adjustments that they need to make, too. You look at blueprints and say, ‘Hey, let’s just copy this.’ That can work. It could also blow up in your face the same way.”

Desai is going to stick with his blueprint – the defense that he has spent his career studying, including under Fangio. He doesn’t sound like a man who’s ready to copy the Dolphins.

“You’ve got to make sure you play to the strengths of your team,” Desai said.

Mack and Quinn are the strengths of the Bears’ defense. The team’s chances will increase dramatically if Mack can return from a foot injury, which has sidelined him for two consecutive games. Same goes for safety Eddie Jackson (hamstring) and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (ankle). The Bears played in Pittsburgh without those three former Pro Bowl performers and made a game of it.

Without them, the Bears are in real danger of losing their fifth straight.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.