The Bears defense will have to play with technique and discipline in their Cover-2 shell inside the deep red zone to limit quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots tight end talent.
As shown here, the Patriots have their Ace/12 personnel on the field (two wide receivers, two tight ends, one running back) in a Slot Open formation (trips to the open side of the field) with running back Shane Vereen offset in a "chowed" alignment. The Bears counter with their base 4-3 personnel playing Cover-2 in the secondary. Brady will look to target his two tight ends — Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright — versus the top of the Bears defense in a multiple combination route concept.
Breaking down route scheme
To the closed side of the formation, the Patriots are running a Flat-7 (corner) combination with Wright (Y) on the 7 cut and Vereen (R) — in a "chowed' alignment on the outside leg of the left tackle — releasing to run the flat route. To the open side, Gronkowski (U) is removed from the core and releases vertically on the inside seam with Julian Edelman (X) on the underneath smash route and Brandon LaFell (Z) on the clear-out 9 (fade) route designed to widen the safety in the deep half. These route combinations give Brady a high to low read to both sides of the field versus Cover-2.
Technique of underneath zone
To the closed side, cornerback Kyle Fuller (RC) must sink hard (at a 45-degree angle) to cushion the 7 route while putting himself in a position to drive downhill to the flat. Inside, Mike linebacker D.J. Williams opens his hips to the passing strength (trips alignment) and carries (or matches) Gronkowski on the seam with cornerback Tim Jennings (LC) sinking versus LaFell on the outside 9 (fade) route. This allows safeties Chris Conte (FS) and Ryan Mundy (SS) to keep their shoulders square while driving on the throw from Brady versus the 7 route and seam.
Williams vs. Gronkowski
The Bears are playing a zone defense, but the Patriots still can create a one-on-one matchup on the inside seam to take advantage of Gronkowski's size and skill set. With Conte possibly widening off his landmark (top of the numbers) versus the outside 9 route from LaFell, he will overlap (late) on the seam route. This allows Brady to target Gronkowski as Williams is playing with his back to the football. Brady can put this ball up high for Gronkowski to climb the ladder or target the back shoulder of the tight end while forcing Williams to make a play in an adverse position at the point of attack.
Tackling key vs. Edelman and Vereen
If the Bears take away the top of the concept, they can force Brady to target Vereen on the flat route or dump the ball to Edelman on the open side smash. However, it's on the underneath defenders to make a tackle in space. To the closed side, Fuller must attack the outside edge of Vereen in the flat and force the running back inside to the defensive pursuit. At the linebacker positions, both Christian Jones (W) and Shea McClellin (S) have to get to their landmark drops and drive downhill on the throw to Edelman with Williams now removed versus the seam route.
Front four rush vs. Brady
This is a base look at Cover-2, but the Bears could play Cover-3 or their man-coverage schemes (Cover-1) inside of the red zone. However, regardless of coverage scheme, the front four has to do its job. If the Bears give Brady time to slide or step up in the pocket, the Patriots quarterback can pick this defense apart. The Bears need Jared Allen (RE), Willie Young (LE), Lamarr Houston (DT) and Jeremiah Ratliff (NT) to provide pressure in red zone situations to keep Brady and the Patriots out of the end zone.
Special contributor Matt Bowen spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. He covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.