Bears could spoil Andrew Luck’s debut with some surprises
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com September 8, 2012 5:56PM
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Indianapolis, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
The Bears battered John Elway so badly when he was a rookie that Denver Broncos coach Dan Reeves benched Elway for a month before giving him another chance to play.
Elway, the No. 1 overall pick of the 1983 draft, was 4-for-10 for 36 yards in his fifth NFL game and had to sit and watch after Leslie Frazier returned an interception for a touchdown and a 24-0 Bears lead before halftime.
That Buddy Ryan knew what to do with a rookie.
But so did Greg Blache. When Michael Vick replaced a concussed Chris Chandler in Atlanta in 2001, Blache unleashed an assault on the No. 1 overall pick that left Vick so dazed he forgot his own snap count and was called for a procedure penalty. The Bears sacked the fastest quarterback in NFL history six times and forced two fumbles.
As Brian Urlacher noted after that game, the ‘‘new stuff’’ that Blache put in to confuse Chandler was even more effective against Vick. Funny how that works.
That brings us to Lovie Smith, an accomplished defensive coach who does what he does well but rarely strays from the script.
This is one of those times Smith might stray from the script — because Andrew Luck, a rookie in his first NFL start, might be much more than that. Touted as the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning, Luck seems like the kind of guy who reads quickly and learns well. That’s a well-known antidote to the cover-2.
But don’t be surprised if Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli throw in a few wrinkles when the Bears face Luck and the Colts on Sunday at Soldier Field. From recent experience with rookie quarterbacks — such as No. 1 overall picks Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers — Smith seems to understand he needs to reach back for something extra to thwart a quarterback like Luck.
‘‘I just know the quarterbacks lately are getting better and better,’’ he said Friday.
It seems like it. Stafford, in his fourth NFL start in 2009, torched the Bears’ Urlacher-less defense for 221 yards and a touchdown in the first half at Soldier Field. With the Bears and Lions tied at 24, Smith not only raised his voice at halftime but made some adjustments. He put Charles Tillman on Calvin Johnson and turned up the heat on Stafford.
The Bears sacked Stafford four times in the second half, knocking him out of the game with a dislocated kneecap after the last one. The Bears won 48-24.
Newton proved even more difficult to corral last year. In his fourth NFL game, the No. 1 overall pick threw for 374 yards, one touchdown and one interception, rushed for two touchdowns and was not sacked as the Bears had to score on offense, defense and special teams to win 34-29.
Odds are the Bears have learned from the experience. They generally don’t change much defensively, but Smith said Friday ‘‘it’s probably safe to say’’ Luck will see more from the Bears’ defense than he has on any tape anywhere.
But it’s not like he’s going to see a lot of blitzes or anything like that, right?
‘‘You might see that,’’ one Bears defender told me. ‘‘You have to try and get him quick and make him uncomfortable — let him know the speed of the game is going to change a little bit. That’s just the way it is.’’