(Freaking Luke Skywalker here might be death of the Bears on Saturday.)
It's been an interesting and understandably disappointing season for the Bears. Once a top 10 team, the Bears had their dreams of being the top contenders to dethrone USC's run atop the Pac-10 dissipate with back to back embarrassing losses to Oregon and USC.
After regaining some momentum and confidence following three consecutive wins over the conference's bottom tier teams, the Bears hope of a 10 win regular season and remote remaining chances at a conference championship were again thrown out the window with a manhadling by the Oregon State Beavers. The loss was made all the more somber after Jahvid Best's terrifying hit and fall which might have presumably all but ended his season.
The Bears are again forced to regroup, but this time with all realities of its deficiencies. With just three remaining games left in the regular season, it's no longer a question of what this team is and isn't capable of. The Cal offense is potentially explosive if it gets solid play from its offensive line, which unfortunately for the Bears, hasn't been the case against some of the better defenses in the conference. The Cal defense is fairly stout against the run like last year, but unlike last year, has struggled to create consistent pressure on opposing QBs and has given up enormous amounts of paasing yards over the course of the season.
The issues don't bode well against a surging Arizona team that controls its own destiny to Pasadena. Moreover, Bob Stoops may have assembled his most solid defense yet, to go long with a passing offense that is downright scary. In sum, the Wildcats might be the worst matchup for the Bears at the worst time.
In order to pull out the win, the Bears will have to play their best ball of the season. In fact, I'm pretty convinced they'll have to try a few different things on both sides of the ball. But really, I wanted to focus more on some thoughts regarding how to approach Arizona's offense.
Sonny Dyke's offense really has two different looks: the singleback set, with four wide receivers spread out wide, and the two TE pro formation that runs the rushing attack with the occasional passes (mostly to the TEs). Both formations either get the ball off quickly to a WR or allow the line to pull and trap for some pretty gaping holes for their backs to run through. Both sets spell disaster.
Most teams have been able to get very little pressure on the Arizona. The Wildcats have only allowed 4 sacks on the season, easily the best mark in the conference. And these are against some pretty decent pass rushes. The Bears can't be considered a strong pass rushing team at this point and might kill themselves early and quickly by sending five or six pass rushers to try and overcompensate. Remember those other four receivers for Zona. Remember our secondary that currently ranks 116th in passing defense. Remember the Alamo.
The safer route might be to just rush three and drop back eight. Try and mix up the zone coverages, but more importantly play extremely tight coverage in the hopes that the linemen will get there in time to pressure AZ QB Nick Foles. We're talking jamming at the line and sticking with the receiver from snap to whistle. In Jonathan Okanes livechat, someone suggested (it might have been serious) only sending one or two pass rushers and dropping nine or ten. I chuckled, but it's effectively the same idea.
I expect defensive coordinator Bob Gregory to fall in this mindset on Saturday. Not that he is adverse to blitzing (despite popular belief), but rather that this might be (in the coaches' minds), the worst week to try and send the house against a team. I anticipate that they feel it might be safer to force errors by tighter coverage and giving up shorter passes in favor of getting burned deep.
Here's the problem though: we've seen plenty of that over the season, and ironically enough, the Bears have seemingly given up more big plays and allowed huge passing yards over the middle, despite blitzing less. Naturally, you could easily argue that it might be less of an issue of scheme, and more on a lack of execution and focus by the players. I could easily give you that. But I don't anticipate the talent nor the execution to dramatically improve over a week, so why not try something different? Clearly, the current schemes haven't been nearly as effective as one would like, so why not try sending six or seven rushers a bit more often and trusting the secondary to go iso with the receivers?
What is there to be afraid of? Huge gains over the middle and big plays? The last time I checked, we're still giving up plenty of those with safeties and DBs looking on as a receiver brings down the ball in front of them.
Of course, I'm not a coach and in terms of football IQ, I probably fall into the Paris Hilton range. So I fully expect the Bears not to follow this route. It's probably much safer in what is likely a lose-lose situation. My contention is primarily that the current schemes have faltered heavily against potent offenses, and have made middling offenses look prolific. So why not take a shot?
Also, it's critical that the Bears keep a strong eye out on the run. Despite hosting some impressive passing numbers, the Wildcats are much more balanced on offense than they've been in recent years. Arizona is currently ranked 3rd in the conference in rushing, averaging 201.38 yards per game. And while RB Nic Grigsby might be out, no Bear fan should forget backup Keola Antolin who slashed the Bears in last year's contest.
Granted, I'm far less concerned with this component of Arizona's offense, simply because the Bears have been much more successful in defending the run. But just a fair point to keep in mind. This offense could be brutal.
I don't expect the Bears to win. I don't expect them to lose but I accept that as being the most realistic outcome given what we've seen in recent weeks from both teams. Again, the Bears are going to have to control the Arizona's passing rhythm to stand a chance. How to do that, is clearly up to more educated reasoning.
Arizona 34 Cal 24
Friday, November 13, 2009
Posted by Bear with Fangs at 3:16 PM