The thrilling victory by the Green Bay Packers over the Chicago Bears was great, but it tended to mask one of the most exasperating flaws of the team during the entire Mike McCarthy era: overuse of the prevent defense.
Wikipedia provides a fine definition for the term:
The prevent defense is a defensive alignment in American football that seeks to prevent the offense from completing a long pass or scoring a touchdown in a single play and seeks to run out the clock. It is used by a defense that is winning by more than a touchdown, late in the fourth quarter… The alignment uses five or more defensive backs (or players in that role), preferring fast players over large players. They back up so far that they concede short-yardage plays but try to ensure that no receiver is uncovered downfield or can get behind them.
Let’s apply that definition to the Bears game, and see where it takes us.
With 1:03 left in the third quarter, the Packers’ Christine Michael supposedly delivers “the dagger” to the Bears’ hopes: a 42-yard run, giving the Packers a commanding 27-10 lead. The Packers, as is their custom, immediately employ the prevent strategy.
The first problem should be apparent from the above definition: this was late in the third quarter, not the fourth quarter. There was way too much time left for the opponent to come back and score points – and to do so without causing turnovers, recovering onside kicks, or resorting to Hail Mary throws.
The Bears took what the Packers offered them. They responded with a six-play, 75-yard drive that took only 2:36 off the clock. It consisted of runs of 13 yards, four yards, an incompletion, and 23- 27- and 8-yard passes to Alshon Jeffery. The Bears never even faced a third down situation.
Chicago was back within 10 points with 13:27 still to be played.
The Packers, who like to also go into a “prevent” offense in such situations (a post for another time), did their classic three-and-out: 1-yard run, 6-yard pass, 10-yard sack – taking only 2:16 off the clock.
Chicago, gaining momentum and confidence, next reels off a nine-play, 78-yard drive. With defenders guarding against the deep pass, the Bears’ longest play was a 12-yard toss to Jeffery, and only once did they face a third down (converting a 3rd-and-5). The methodical attack, taking what Green Bay was giving them, took only 3:37 off the clock. It’s now 27-24.
Green Bay did what we’ve come to expect: three plays, eight yards, and a punt – consuming under two minutes this time.
With plenty of time on the clock (5:42), the Bears then engineered a 14-play, 75-yard drive. The Packers would have lost the game and blown a three-score fourth-quarter lead, had it not been for Micah Hyde’s knockdown of an on-target Matt Barkley 4-yard pass into the end zone. Chicago settled for a short field goal that tied the game at 27.
To recount, in 15 minutes (from 1:03 left in the third quarter to 1:19 left in the fourth), the Bears ran off 29 offensive plays, gained 228 yards, and scored 17 points. For the other three-fourths of the game, they ran 25 plays, gained 221 yards, and scored 10 points.
The prevent defense didn’t prevent a 3-11 team, an average quarterback, and a mediocre set of receivers from erasing a 17-point lead, or passing for 362 yards for the game. During the three quarters of conventional defense by Green Bay, the Bears’ star receiver, Jeffery, had no catches. During the other 15 minutes of prevent defense, he had six catches for 89 yards.
Is Green Bay’s defensive backfield really so bad, or should we be looking elsewhere? This was simply horrific coaching strategy! How many more times are we going to be forced to endure this crap? Where’s that petition?