Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.
Film, computer keys to Ryan’s best-laid plans
Originally published Jan. 16, 1986
The way the Bears’ defensive players talk, you’d think they know where the other team is going before the other guys know it themselves.
“We go out there and they do exactly the things Buddy talked to us about,” linebacker Mike Singletary says. That’s what the players mean when, week after week, they praise Ryan for “a great game plan” and “having us well-prepared.”
He doesn’t use a crystal ball. He uses six cans of film, a computer and a practiced squint.
He stirs them together to brew a game plan at least 60 to 70 pages long. The one he gave the players yesterday for the Super Bowl against New England was half an inch thick, about 100 pages.
It covers every situation that might come up. That’s on the left half of each page. On the right half is how the Bears will respond.
“All good offensive teams ‘type themselves,” Ryan says, using the coaching abbreviation for stereotype. In other words, they’re predictable. You’ve just got to figure out how they’re ‘typed. Sometimes it’s by formations. Sometimes it’s by the people they have in the game. Sometimes it’s by down and distance. But they’re all ‘typed.
The film shows him how. NFL rules require each team to supply its last three game films to its upcoming opponent. Bear film director Mitch Friedman wheels and deals for six.
For those six games, defensive assistant coaches Jim LaRue and Dale Haupt categorize every offensive play. After the computer collates their charts, the result looks like a textbook outline.
The first headings are six areas of field position. Under each come more than a dozen down-and-distance categories, such as second-and-10 or more. Then come personnel, offensive formation and the other team’s defensive formation.
Ryan was especially eager to see what the Patriots tried to do against the Jets’ and Raiders’ versions of the 46 defense. Other teams’ use of the basic 46 has made it easier to predict what an offense will do against the Bears’ 46.
Those headings are essentially the left half of the game plan. For reference, Ryan also put in the last entries: which plays New England used in each situation and how well the plays worked. That information helps the players understand the right half of the game plan – which defense the Bears will use.
Ryan will have a fair idea what New England will do from just its field position and down and distance. He’ll use those tendencies to signal a particular defense.
The players should know what he’s going to signal. It’s in the game plan. But Ryan reminds them.
The defense could change after the Patriots make their substitutions. It could change again after they line up in a formation. It could change again after they send a man in motion. It could change again after the pass receivers start running their routes.
That’s why the players are chattering like magpies when they’re not barking like dogs – to make sure everybody makes the same change.
It’s also why Ryan finds it necessary to load a game plan with two dozen pass-coverage schemes and a dozen or so fronts, or line alignments. “We feel like we have something to stop whatever you’re going to try,” he says.
A defensive game plan generally is longer than an offensive game plan because the defense can’t take the initiative. Ryan can’t say, “We had a great defense called on that play, but the ball carrier went the other way.”
There’s a lot to learn. And learning the game plan is only the first step.
“You can’t just watch it on film and say, `OK, That’s what we’ll do,'” linebacker Wilber Marshall says. “It takes an hour to walk through the plays before practice to make sure we know where we’ve got to go in practice. Then we’ve got to do it over and over in practice so we won’t even have to think about it during the game.”
Ryan calls those walkthroughs “concentration.” They’re meetings on the field, at slower tempo than practice.
“It’s boring, and then they go to practice and it’s basically the same thing again,” coach Mike Ditka says. “But when you do that three or four days a week, it really gets you ready to play. Unless the other team really changes drastically what they’ve been doing, we’re going to have them down pretty good. Then it’s a matter of our personnel playing better than theirs.”
Ryan and Ditka hope to have both game plans thoroughly practiced after three days in Champaign, the same as a normal
Wednesday-through-Friday practice week. That will give them four practices at New Orleans, next Tuesday through Friday, “to polish,” Ryan says.
“I think Buddy’s always prepared his team well, but I think the team is preparing itself better,” Ditka says. “There’s a lot of pride in not making mistakes. You’re seeing fewer coverages blown and fewer big plays against our defense.”
In two playoff games, you saw two shutouts. The Bears held the Giants’ Joe Morris to 32 yards one week after he ran for 141. They held the Rams’ Eric Dickerson to 46 one week after he ran for 248.
“If you zero in on something and say you’re going to stop it, we stop it,” Ditka says. “That’s the confidence they have over there.”