While the run defense struggled to find its footing versus the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers' pass defense was equally tested by Bears quarterback Justin Fields before rising to the occasion late in the fourth quarter to intercept him twice. The Packers would go on to win 28-19 but still gave up some explosive pass plays and some blown coverages.
At the end of the day, cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Keisean Nixon both came home with interceptions at key moments late in the fourth quarter but not before each player had some key mishaps earlier in the game.
Nixon allowed quarterback Justin Fields to run for a 55-yard touchdown run while Alexander allowed Bears receivers to complete at least 90+ yards of passes on him on just two catches. And yet, both battled back, executed their assignments late, and made great plays to seal the game.
Jaire Alexander and Adrian Amos' big plays given up
First play, 2nd quarter, 1st and 10 @ CHI 37, 7:06 remaining
The Packers are in a quarters coverage 2-deep shell here on first down known as “quads.” Quads is a 4-deep, 3-under zone coverage with man-to-man match principles. The safeties are responsible for playing over the top of anything vertical to them.
As a result, this can make the coverage susceptible to deep passes where the corners are stuck all alone 1-on-1.
The Bears have a quarters coverage beater called where the tight end occupies that middle vertical of the field, which draws the safety’s attention to him and leaves the receiver vertical route 1-on-1 with the corner.
Receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, formerly of the Packers, is 1-on-1 with Alexander at the bottom of the screen. Alexander has outside leverage and is trying to funnel the #1 receiver to the middle toward the safety but there is no safety there as St. Brown sprints past him. Fields drops the pass in the bucket for a 56-yard completion. On the next play, the Bears scored with a touchdown run by David Montgomery to take a 16-3 lead.
Second play, 4th quarter, 1st and 10 @ CHI 23, 14:35 remaining
The defense is in a drop-8 zone coverage called “Cubs” in the Fangio scheme. It’s a good zone call especially versus young quarterbacks as it can muddy the post-snap picture and make windows smaller. Safety Adrian Amos is playing a deep half responsibility and should push to the double move by Harry.
The defense is able to blanket all the underneath routes and put pressure on Fields, forcing him to escape from the pocket to make something happen. At the bottom of the screen, receiver N’Keal Harry is running a quick hitch versus Alexander.
Alexander jumps the route when Fields pumps his way and when he sees Fields start to escape, Harry takes off downfield on a scramble drill and has about four yards of separation on Alexander who was caught in no man’s land because Amos sat in the middle of the field looking for a deep crosser.
Fields escapes and heaves a pass outside away from the closing Alexander where he goes up and nearly high-points the pass and comes down with it for a 46-yard completion.
Alexander came up with a huge interception as the Bears were driving to try and take the lead while down 20-19. After gains of 5, 8, and 13, the Bears' offense crossed midfield to the Packers' 43-yard line. A couple of more plays would have put them in scoring position.
However, Alexander was able to jump the pass by Fields, aided in part by poor route running by the receiver who let Alexander finish the route for him, where he intercepted the pass at the 28-yard line. This turnover allowed the offense to march down and score to extend the lead to 28-19.
The defense is showing quarters coverage across the board but the post-snap reveals a rotation to a cover-3 buzz zone coverage with the weak safety rotating down to rob the middle of the field.
The Bears' play call is “Hank,” a mirrored deep curl concept with flat routes by the inside receivers.
St. Brown is working against Alexander again and Alexander does a great job of staying over the top of the route. St. Brown is slow coming out of his break and this allows Alexander to finish the route for him where he jumps the pass and intercepts it. The offense would score three plays later to go up 28-19.
Keisean Nixon interception
Nixon had a quiet game for the most part except for the open-field tackle he missed where he was responsible for Justin Fields on the read option the Bears scored on in the first quarter.
You can read more about that here, but basically, with a run blitz called and defensive coordinator Joe Barry simplifying their assignments by assigning certain players to the running back, quarterback, and to block destruction, Nixon was responsible for the quarterback. It ended up being a well-timed, well-schemed blitz that Nixon failed to execute on.
Late in the game, he had the game-ending interception as the Bears were trying to mount a comeback, albeit with 51 seconds remaining, Nixon was able to get in front of a pass intended for Dante Pettis. With how Fields is able to find explosive plays in the passing game or by scrambling, this was actually a big deal and a much-needed turnover, even if the game was out of reach.
Nixon interception, 4th quarter, 3rd and 1 @ GB 28, :51 remaining
The Bears' play call is a sideline flood concept with a deep corner route, an intermediate out route by Pettis, and a short out route, a concept that is designed to put high-low defenders in conflict and allows the quarterback to hit a deep throw on the sideline.
The defense is in cover-6 with quarters coverage to the passing strength where the Bears have four strong formation to the field.
The routes distribute downfield through the zones and Pettis looks like he’s open for a few seconds so Fields heaves the pass to him. Nixon makes the play through a combination Pettis drifting away from the pass and getting a good jump on it from inside the numbers and picking it off on the sideline.
The Packers' defense was overall good enough to keep them in this game long enough to win and for the offense to take over in the fourth quarter. That’s the sort of combined effort that has been missing in a lot of games but also shows they still have a lot to clean up schematically and execution-wise if they hope to increase those playoff odds. They’re still mathematically in it and have a relatively easier schedule with the five remaining games.