First Robert Griffin III, now Aaron Rodgers. You can’t blame Jon Bostic if he said life was a bit unfair having to face two quality play action passers in his first two starts. The Redskins’ offense had him working hard all over the field last week and it’s likely that the Packers’ offense will tonight, too.
At only 22, Bostic is a young guy. He’s the future of the Bears’ MIKE spot, a mantle passed down from Brian Urlacher and D.J. Williams, who was only bridging the gap for the rookie until he went down with a ruptured pectoral injury in early October. Now it’s Bostic’s time and he has a lot of learning to do on the job. How to read and fit runs, take on or evade blocks, and most importantly, stay disciplined in pass coverage.
Staying disciplined is not as easy as it sounds. Every game of every week, there are players who struggle to stay in their assigned coverage. They either wander off or are caught watching the ball. The latter is a problem for Bostic, who will stand and watch play fakes unfold as receivers and tight ends run crossing routes behind him. Considering the Bears’ philosophy of bend-but-don’t-break that’s rooted in the heart of their zone coverage, that’s problematic if offenses take advantage of it. The Redskins didn’t entirely last week but the Packers will likely be on the lookout for it. They’re one of the league’s best at game-planning and picking up on tendencies of the opposition. And you know Aaron Rodgers watched Bostic’s last game looking for any advantage he can get.
Three plays into last weekend’s game film, Rodgers may have found one in the first quarter. It was 1st-and-10 with the ball on the 44-yard line. Bostic was at middle linebacker against the Redskins’ pistol formation. They had two tailbacks and two tight ends on the field with Griffin, who was four yards behind the ball.
The play began and Griffin executes what looks to be a busted play to his left. Running back Alfred Morris flows right, however, and Bostic follows. Suddenly Bostic realizes there’s no play to his side. His feet stop and he freezes, thinking where to run to next. That split-second allows former University of Florida teammate and rookie tight end Jordan Reed to run a post-corner route behind him. A split-second could cost him dearly against Rodgers on Monday night.
Reed runs away from coverage and hauls in a 38-yard throw from the left hash of where Griffin threw it from. Bostic’s mishap in coverage goes unpunished, but is stored away for future scouting reports.
Three quarters later, another deep ball from Griffin is thrown. It begins at the 45-yard line, where Griffin stands before the snap in pistol formation on 2nd-and-9. Bostic is once again at MIKE and has his hands full when Griffin catches the snap and fakes the hand off to running back Roy Helu Jr. He freezes, his feet unmoving as a dig route is run behind him. He’s slowly realizing that he’s misread the play.
Meanwhile, Griffin isn’t interested in the 20-yard dig route, because he wants the whole 45. He throws deep to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, who runs a “go” route, bumps safety Chris Conte to the ground, and catches the ball over cornerback Charles Tillman for six.
Bostic wasn’t punished for either of his mistakes in coverage, but there’s a good chance he will be against the Packers.
Like the Redskins, the Packers have a deeply rooted West Coast Offense philosophy, but they’re more committed to it than the Redskins are. They attack defenses in between the hashes more and are even better at it now because of a complementary running game that they’ve lacked in previous years. Headlined by rookie running back Eddie Lacy, the Packers are averaging 141 yards rushing per game behind zone and power concepts that they’ve also previously lacked in recent years. With a respectable running game to go with Rodgers’ already-savvy play action passing, it’ll be a tough task for Bostic.
Bostic is like any other rookie trying to play fast and make a big play, while simultaneously losing sight of his responsibilities and getting caught up watching the ball. It’ll be vital that he doesn’t on Monday night or Rodgers will make him pay for the same mistakes the Redskins chose not to.