Each week, Chad Pennington breaks down a dynamic NFL playmaker or scheme, devises a game plan and discusses a strategy for success. This week, Pennington examines how quarterback Caleb Hanie and the Chicago Bears can deal with the vaunted Denver defense.
In the NFL, more games are lost than won. Typically, a bad decision, costly turnover or mental mistake decides the outcome — not a great catch, throw or run.
For this reason, the Chicago Bears are doing the right thing sticking with Caleb Hanie at quarterback.
Some of you might be questioning my sanity at the moment, but let me explain.
There has been much talk concerning the Bears signing a veteran quarterback such as Brett Favre or Donovan McNabb. With four weeks left in the season, this idea makes no sense. Contrary to popular belief, the real game of football and our beloved football video games are completely different! We’re dealing with human beings, not computer-generated characters.
Inserting a new quarterback into an NFL huddle is not as easy as the click of the button on your game controller. Besides, on the video game, you are still in control of the new player. Not so in the real world.
When examining the play of Caleb Hanie, one phrase comes to mind: Perception vs. reality.
The perception is that Hanie can’t do it, that he can’t fill in for the injured Jay Cutler. Two weeks ago, the Bears were 7-3. With Hanie at the helm for two weeks, the Bears are now 7-5. The fourth-year quarterback has thrown three times as many interceptions as touchdowns (six to two). But the reality is the Bears can win with Hanie.
For example, look at the game against the Kansas City Chiefs last week. In a 10-3 loss, the Bears had four simple opportunities to score a total of 24 points. One touchdown was nullified by an illegal formation penalty; another was missed by an overthrow to a wide-open Earl Bennett. Roy Williams bobbled a pass on the goal-line, resulting in an interception that kept the Bears from their third score of the game. And a missed field-goal attempt sealed the Bears’ fate.
All of these opportunities had nothing to do with the Chiefs. Once again, it’s perception vs. reality.
Another reality is my assignment this week: Game planning for the Bears offense against the Denver Broncos defense.
First things first: Hanie and the Bears must understand how to win these games while Cutler’s out. When your starting quarterback goes down, things change drastically. To make matters worse, the injury to the Bears’ leading rusher, Matt Forte, adds to the challenge. A team must look to its veterans to keep the ship from sinking. For the Bears, Brian Urlacher and the defense must step up.
Historically, Chicago’s defense has been excellent at forcing turnovers and creating field position for the offense. Now, this type of defensive play is crucial to the Bears’ playoff chances.
Offensively, the Bears need to complement their defense by eliminating turnovers, running the football effectively and making a couple big plays in the passing game. Winning "ugly" will be the recipe for success. And trust me, winning in the NFL is never ugly! Ask Tim Tebow and the Broncos.
Remember, Hanie is not some fresh-faced rookie. He knows how the NFL does business on and off the field. He played in the NFC Championship Game last year. How many quarterbacks can say they experienced that?
Here’s what it proves: Reps are limited in practice when you are not the starter. So, when your number is called, you have to be mentally prepared. Therefore, watching Cutler and going through the mental reps during practice is just as important for him as if he were playing.
I’ve been in that situation myself. I never started a game until my third year. You have to mentally prepare, rely on your preparation and then let your instincts as a ballplayer take over. Regardless of what level of football it is, the fundamentals of the game never change. It’s work ethic, preparation and playing ball. You know how to play quarterback, so go play!
Here are my three keys for the Bears offense:
No. 1: It’s not WHAT we’re going to do; it’s what we’re NOT going to do. The Bears can’t afford to line up in spread or empty formations. Chicago surrendered seven sacks to the Chiefs, the majority from spread formations. Don’t give the Broncos easy access to rush the passer. Shrink the formations and eliminate these negative plays. Tight formations will eliminate space for the Broncos’ pass rushers. I would use spread formations only in a two-minute situation.
No. 2: Hanie feels comfortable out of the pocket. Watching him, it seems he throws well on the run and his vision is better. I would incorporate at least 15-18 quarterback movement plays. Ten of these plays would consist of bootleg concepts where Hanie fakes to Marion Barber and then rolls out opposite of him. Hanie would then have a simple progression read involving two or three targets with one of his options being to run the football. I would also implement five to eight plays where he sprints out of the pocket with no run fake. These concepts move the quarterback’s pocket, which affects the Broncos’ pass rush. Hanie had some success against the Chiefs throwing downfield out of the pocket and on the run.
No. 3: I would install deep, run-action pass plays. I didn’t say play-action passes; I said run-action passes. Here’s the difference. In play-action passes, the line is still pass blocking while the quarterback is faking to the running back. In run-action passes, the line actually run blocks except they don’t go down field. This action of the offensive line presents a more realistic look to the defense. This will allow Hanie to set 10-12 yards deep in the pocket and gain better vision downfield. The run action by the offensive line tends to hold the linebackers and create more space in the secondary for the receivers. With this concept, the quarterback is given two options downfield with his third option being a late check-down to a running back or tight end. It simplifies his thought process and builds off the running game.
Finally, the Vikings’ Percy Harvin had a big day against the Broncos defense last week. The Vikings used him on quick screens, reverses, runs from the backfield and conventional pass plays (five carries for 19 yards; eight catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns). I would use Devin Hester the exact same way. Minnesota was also effective in the running game by using Toby Gerhart (21 carries for 91 yards). The Vikings implemented downhill run plays in between the tackles with power and toughness. Use Marion Barber the same way.
Tim Tebow and the Broncos have been winning ugly. If the Bears play ugly with them, they’ll have a shot in the end to win.
Just remember, don’t beat yourself. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to remember.
Chad Pennington is calling the Tampa Bay at Jacksonville game on FOX Sunday at 1 p.m.