The Bears got the best of Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys this past Monday, intercepting the quarterback five times, including once using Cover 2 against the famous Cowboys “Bang 8″ concept.
The concept is one of the most dominant in the team’s history, dating back to the early 1990′s when Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman was slinging the ball around. But the Bears effectively put a stop to it with the Cover 2. What was Romo trying to do when he made his costly decision, and why is it so difficult to throw against the Bears’ vaunted defense?
In 1993, Jason Garrett signed with the Dallas Cowboys from Canada’s Ottawa Rough Riders as a backup quarterback and worked with then-offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who was in his final year.
Turner was an offensive mastermind, fixing the Cowboys’ struggling offense with a high-powered passing game that attacked the field vertically. One of the plays he installed was the “Bang 8″, which he learned indirectly from legendary Chargers coach Don Coryell.
This concept featured a skinny post route that was run into the middle of the field and accompanied by a short underneath route that would pull the middle defenders up, allowing Aikman to throw the ball in behind them to the skinny post. America’s Team rode this concept to glory, winning various titles, and Garrett learned it in the process. Now as a head coach, Garrett still calls this play, and he did so again last Sunday night; the only problem was that he ran into the Cover 2.
Chicago clamped down on the Cowboys’ concept about midway through the fourth quarter on 2nd down with 15 yards to go from midfield.
They were in a four-man front with nickel (five defensive backs) personnel on the field. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher stood in the middle of the field while weak side linebacker Lance Briggs showed pressure in the “B” gap. Ultimately, both linebackers would drop back in coverage to contribute to the Cover 2 against the Cowboys’ 11 personnel (one tailback, ibe tight end).
As noted, the Cowboys play-call was “Bang 8,” and they would be running it with the #2 and #3 vertical threats — slot receiver and tight end. Tight end Jason Witten was running a “spot” route in the middle of the field while slot receiver Miles Austin ran a skinny post or what looks to be more of a “bend” route. The goal was for middle linebacker Brian Urlacher to come up and cover the spot route so Tony Romo could throw to Austin on the bend route, except it didn’t work out that way…
When the ball snapped, Romo dropped back and scanned from left to right. To his right was Austin, his intended target, who initially appeared to be open because Urlacher was looking at Witten underneath and the nickel corner, D.J. Moore, who was originally inside Austin was dropping to his designated landmark in between the numbers and hash.
However, the picture that Romo was looking at quickly changed. When his back foot hit the ground at the top of his drop, he was releasing the ball and was aiming to throw the route just inside of the defender. That’s how he was taught and how Troy Aikman excelled when he used to throw the ball to Michael Irvin, as he explained last year to Sports Day DFW’s Bob Sturm in an interview:
Aikman: What happens is, coaches will think that if the weakside linebacker is in a certain position then we can’t throw it. The weakside linebacker never got me off of that throw. He never did. I would either be able to lay it over him or his angle would be such that I would just throw it off his helmet, I would throw it off his ear…What invariably happens is that the linebacker doesn’t know what you’re throwing–he doesn’t know if Michael’s releasing up the field to run an 8 route or a square-in or a comeback–so he doesn’t really know what angle to run at other than what the receiver’s running. He can’t defend it no matter what we’re throwing, so I would just throw it off his helmet. Buddy never knew it, but that helps us because the guy’s a non-factor.
As Aikman notes, the quarterback is aiming for the helmet or ear of the defender to place the ball, making it a tight throw that is incredibly difficult to react to and at the rate of speed it comes at, it’s unlikely to become a turnover. One problem that occurred when Romo made the throw Sunday night was that Moore knew what Romo was throwing. After initially passing off Austin to the safeties, he got back into the picture, carried the receiver, and intercepted the pass.
This situation and result is everything the Bears look for: long distance to go and tight windows in zone coverage that allow the playmakers to make plays on the ball.
It’s why at times they can be so difficult to throw against, and it’s a reason why the Jacksonville Jaguars will have their hands full going into tomorrow’s game against the Bears. They like to throw the ball short, which works in the Bears favor because they can rally to the ball, force a long third down, and force quarterback Blaine Gabbert into mistakes.
The Jaguars will have to manage their downs very efficiently to get the best of the Bears’ defense, which means they’ll have to run the ball and pass protect well to make it easier on Gabbert. Otherwise, there will be more plays made by the Bears defense.