What You Might’ve Missed: Constant change on third down

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GREEN BAY – Of many impressive numbers from the Packers’ defensive performance at Soldier Field, the stat of the game might have been the Bears’ 3-of-15 conversion rate on third down.

(For the record, the Bears were also 0-of-2 on fourth down.)

The Packers played classic Mike Pettine-style defense on those most important snaps, altering their looks and pressure packages up front throughout the game to keep the Bears guessing as to just who was coming after the quarterback and who was dropping into coverage.

The result was a frustrating night for Bears QB Mitch Trubisky and a big Week 1 victory.

There isn’t enough time and space to review all the third downs, but here’s a handful that show the various change-ups Pettine kept throwing at the Bears up front. Practically speaking, with the constant alignment shuffling, he didn’t run the same call on third down twice.

Plays 1 & 2: The first two third downs of the game on Chicago’s opening series

Results: A 7-yard scramble by Trubisky for a first down, and a Blake Martinez sack.

The first play shows one of the Bears’ few third-down conversions, but it’s included here because of the next third down three plays later. In both, Martinez (50) lines up right between C James Daniels (68) and RG Kyle Long (75). On the first one, he’s next to S Raven Greene (24), who’s over the other center-guard gap (commonly called the A gap). Both drop into coverage, and Trubisky scrambles to move the chains. Three snaps later, Martinez is in exactly the same place, but it’s Preston Smith (91) over the other A gap instead. What happens this time? Smith drops into coverage, but Martinez charges straight ahead and the Bears botch the protection (they don’t pick up S Adrian Amos (31) either, as he blitzes right behind Martinez with the help of a stunt from DL Kenny Clark (97)), creating an easy sack.

Play 3: Third-and-5 from the Green Bay 21, first quarter, 4:41 left

Result: 1-yard completion to RB Tarik Cohen

Who says a three-man rush never works? This is about as creative as Pettine can get. In the red zone, the Packers show a seven-man front at the snap, but only three are coming after Trubisky. Preston Smith (91), Greene (24), Martinez (50) and LB Kyler Fackrell (51) all drop off the line, yet remarkably, two of the three rushers against a five-man protection – Amos (31) and LB Za’Darius Smith (55) – still get pressure. All Trubisky can do is dump the ball off well short of the marker, and the Bears settle for a field goal on a drive that started at the Green Bay 36. That’s a huge win for the defense.

Play 4: Third-and-9 from the Chicago 29, second quarter, 15:00 left

Result: Incomplete pass

The first snap of the second quarter is another third down. Once again, the Packers show the double-A-gap look, but with Za’Darius Smith (55) next to Martinez (50). And, rather than having neither or one of the two rush, as we’ve seen so far, both of them do, running a stunt in the middle to boot. In the larger picture, a six-man front turns into a five-man rush, with Preston Smith (91) dropping into coverage. It turns out the latter Smith is in a perfect spot to prevent the quick throw on a crossing route to TE Adam Shaheen (87), and Trubisky tries to throw across his body for WR Cordarelle Patterson (84) instead. Packers CB Kevin King (20) nearly picks it off.

Play 5: Third-and-10 from the Green Bay 16, fourth quarter, 2:03 left

Result: Interception by Amos

More creativity from Pettine on the biggest play of the game. From a six-man front, the Packers drop three and rush four. Wait, what? On Trubisky’s right, Greene (24), Fackrell (51) and Martinez (50) all drop into coverage, and the fourth rusher comes in the form of a second-level blitz from S Darnell Savage (26). Preston Smith (91) is the one who gets closest to Trubisky as he lofts an ill-advised throw to the end zone Amos intercepts with ease.

Play 6: Fourth-and-8 from the Chicago 16, fourth quarter, 1:09 left

Result: Sack by Preston Smith

The ultimate clincher comes from yet another third-down look, a six-man front that turns into a four-man rush. From the double-A gap, Martinez (50) drops while Fackrell (51) rushes. The Smiths run a stunt to Trubisky’s left, and it gets Preston Smith free for the game-ender.

Bonus play: Second-and-7 from the Chicago 18, second quarter, :38 left

Result: Sack by King

This isn’t a third or fourth down, but it’s being featured as a bonus look at the youngest pass rusher in the Packers’ rotation, first-round draft pick Rashan Gary (52). The Michigan product only played six snaps in his debut, but this one would seem to indicate a larger workload is coming. As Gary runs a stunt with Clark (97) off the left side, watch how his power overwhelms Long – a three-time Pro Bowler, mind you – and just wrecks the pocket for Trubisky. King then chases down the scrambling QB for his first career sack.

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