Bears Marquee Match-Up of the Week: Look to the Outside
In a new weekly piece on this site, I will highlight what I think is the most interesting matchup in the Bears’ upcoming game, both when the Bears are on offense and defense.
After last week’s debacle up in Lambeau, most of the attention in tomorrow’s matchup against the St. Louis Rams will be focused on the performance of Jay Cutler and the offensive line. Also, eyes will be on Michael Bush, who is being pressed into action as the Bears’ starting running back after Matt Forte was ruled out of tomorrow’s game with an ankle injury.
While all of that will be interesting to watch unfold, it still may not be as intriguing as what nobody is talking about: the matchups on the outside.
When the Bears have the ball: Brandon Marshall vs. Cortland Finnegan
We will see Pro Bowl wide receiver against Pro Bowl cornerback tomorrow by the Lakefront, but that’s not what makes the Marshall-Finnegan matchup a fun one to watch unfold. Finnegan is known as an instigator, and one of the league’s best at it. He’s caused mild mannered wideouts like Andre Johnson to go bonkers and may have been the key to the Rams’ victory over Washington last week by getting under the skin of Josh Morgan.
I think you can all see where I am going with this one. We’ve all heard about the new and improved version of Brandon Marshall and that he’s really worked on harnessing his anger while coping with Borderline Personality Disorder. While I believe that Marshall is miles from where he was in Denver with this condition, we will find out for sure tomorrow if he really has taken large steps forward.
With Finnegan likely being the man to cover Brandon Marshall, expect Finnegan to give Marshall all he can handle from a physical and mental standpoint. Plus, we saw Jay Cutler target Brandon Marshall zero times in the first half of last Thursday’s game, and you know the priority this week will shift back to getting Brandon the ball. There’s no doubt that Marshall has the physical ability to dominate any defensive back, even a good one like Finnegan, but can he mentally allow himself to do so?
When the Rams have the ball: Danny Amendola vs. The Cover 2 (Brian Urlacher?)
Amendola is coming off of a huge game last week, where caught 15 passes in the Rams’ win over Washington. He caught 85 passes in Sam Bradford’s rookie season before getting hurt in week one of last year. With Amendola down, Bradford’s production went south. Now, with Amendola back in the fold, Bradford looks like a number one overall pick again. I don’t find that to be a coincidence, as Amendola specializes in what young quarterbacks, most times, are most comfortable in throwing: short or intermediate over-the-middle passes.
Through the first two weeks of the season, I really believe that the worst player on this Bears defense has actually been Brian Urlacher. The defense has been pretty solid, but almost all of the large chunks of yardage the Bears have let up through the air so far has been in that intermediate-middle part of the field, otherwise known as Urlacher’s area in the Cover 2 defense.
It’s just strange to see because what made #54 so good in this scheme in the past was that he had the ability to get back there and cover 15-20 yards down the middle of the field. Whether it’s his knee, his age, or both, it’s obvious that Urlacher is not what he once was in regards to pass coverage in the Cover 2 scheme.
So, what can the Bears do to slow down Amendola? For starters, nickel DJ Moore has got to have a good game, as he will likely be matched up on Amendola a ton considering he likes to play the slot. I’m sure the Bears and even Urlacher himself realize (although he may not admit it) that he is a shadow of what he once was against the pass, so I expect to see the Bears come out in more man coverage tomorrow.
While it’s not a trademark of the Lovie Smith defense, playing press coverage on Amendola and slowing him up at the line of scrimmage is probably a wise move. He’s a lot like Earl Bennett: not a fast guy, but just knows how to get open. Also, with Amendola being a shorter guy (5’11), I would not be surprised if we saw Peanut Tillman (6’2) shift over to covering Amendola in the slot some or saw Kelvin Hayden (6’0) play some nickel instead of the 5’9 Moore.
With a larger amount of rest, maybe Urlacher will play better in the Cover 2 zone than he has so far this season and the Bears will not have to do much of anything differently. Anyhow, slowing down Amendola is a big key for the Bears defense tomorrow.