1985 Bears Coverage: Ryan not to blame for defense’s lapses

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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.

Ryan not to blame for defense’s lapses

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Dec. 5, 1985

QUESTION: If the Bears meet the Dolphins again, what changes should Buddy Ryan make in his defensive game plan?

ANSWER: Print it in bigger type. The game plan was fine. Some players just didn’t read it well enough.

The Bears’ 38-24 defeat Monday night turned on four third-and-long plays in the first half. They accounted for 130 of Dan Marino’s 194 passing yards in the half and kept three touchdown drives alive. On three of them, Marino might have been sacked if Richard Dent, Steve McMichael and Otis Wilson had followed assignments to keep Marino from leaving the pocket.

It’s always more fun to attribute an upset to a tactical error than to basic execution. Miami’s rollout passes were excellent

strategy, but Ryan used defenses that could have stopped them. The Bears weren’t outcoached as much as they were outplayed.

Q: Why didn’t the Bears rush Marino or blitz him?

A: They did both. The inside rush men collapsed the passing pocket, just as they had done against San Francisco. But at San

Francisco, the outside men left quarterback Joe Montana nowhere to escape.

They failed to do that in Miami.

On pass rushes, someone always is responsible for containment, which means guarding the quarterback’s escape route to the

sideline. It’s a passive job. The containment man can’t go after the quarterback, but he can get a sack if the quarterback is chased into him.

The Bears don’t have defensive players who are naturally passive. The ones who lost containment on the big third-down plays were going for the quarterback instead of waiting for him. They wanted to make big plays on national TV.

“We have to have everyone doing their own jobs,” Ryan said. “Not trying to do more than they have to do because it’s Monday night football.”

Q: Why didn’t the cornerbacks play more bump-and-run?

A: They didn’t on the plays you noticed, the big third-down plays, because they were in zone coverage. They didn’t have to prevent a completion, just prevent a long one.

Tight coverage and blitzing makes sense on third-and-long only if the offense tends to throw screen passes, or other short passes that rely on the receiver to run for the first down. Miami does neither.

Q: Did the Bears need a loss like this to get their minds back on football?

A: Apparently so. Two weeks ago, they were treading the line between wilting under the pressure to go undefeated and outgrowing their helmets from cockiness. Last week, they crossed that line to the cocky side.

Quarterback Steve Fuller noticed a subtle need for improvement in practice habits. Several players missed key assignments. “We’ll be better prepared next time,” guard Mark Bortz said. “In that sense, maybe we did learn something.”

Off-the-field activities haven’t been a problem, aside from the “Super Bowl Shuffle” record that 10 players cut. That was taking a little too much for granted. Mike Singletary, on his way to the photo session for the album cover, had Marv Throneberry’s expression of misgiving. I told them this was a bad idea.

Q: Why weren’t the Bears in Miami practicing all week?

A: Moving practice sites that far is a logistical nightmare that’s justifiable only if the game is a necessary step to the Super Bowl. That’s why the Bears should have an indoor facility for practicing after mid-November.

Working outside last week, wide receiver Willie Gault said players had to “dress like snowmen” and think about the slippery footing and cold wind. It distracted from their thinking about the plays they were practicing.

They’re indoors this week, at Morton East High School in Cicero. They waste a lot of time on bus rides, but it’s cheaper than building a new facility.

Q: Why didn’t William Perry play much?

A: He didn’t play well. Perry may be a legend, but he’s also a rookie. Most rookie defensive linemen struggle. They just do it in more privacy.

Q: Why didn’t the Bears run Walter Payton more early to keep Miami’s offense off the field?

A: They’ve been passing to set up the run all year. That strategy worked especially well at San Francisco.

But it was wrong for Miami. The Dolphins have a much worse run defense, and their offense is more dangerous in a shootout. After the game, coach Mike Ditka admitted he should have run more. “I think we could have run the ball all day,” he said.

Maybe Ditka, like the containment men, couldn’t resist the chance to show off. But if Payton had run more early, the Bears could have tried passing for touchdowns instead of running for Payton’s 100-yard record in the last two minutes.

Q: If Ditka said Jim McMahon would start when he was healthy, why didn’t he play until the fourth quarter?

A: With the playoffs and the home field clinched, caution with McMahon was wise. Ditka didn’t even seize the chance to use McMahon when Fuller twisted his knee right before halftime.

Ditka planned to rest McMahon and not undermine Fuller’s confidence, as he had done when McMahon came off the bench to spark the comeback at Minnesota. So why use McMahon instead of Mike Tomczak when Fuller twisted his ankle? He remembered Minnesota. You can’t blame a guy for hoping.

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