Last week, the Giants were able to beat the Redskins by recognizing the coverage. Eli Manning knew he could hit Victor Cruz over the top because Washington, at the end of the game, was running the same schemes it had shown in the two-minute drill at the end of the first half. But even that was cutting-edge defense compared to the Panthers' yesterday, which resembled nothing so much as that Far Side cartoon of the kid pushing on the door labeled "pull."
The Bears started at their own 22 with 2:27 remaining, only needing a field goal. After a dump pass to Matt Forte, here's how their drive went: Slant to Brandon Marshall. Slant to Earl Bennett. Slant to Brandon Marshall. Incompletion. Slant to Brandon Marshall. Slant to Brandon Marshall. Forte run. Field goal, game.
Lots of people noticed the lack of variety. Jay Cutler, for one:
"They were playing one coverage, and we just kept hitting them and hitting them and hitting them," Cutler said. "That's pretty much it."
Perhaps more mutinously, a pair of Panthers commented on the unimaginative and ineffective defense, all but throwing defensive coordinator Sean McDermott (and defensive-minded head coach Ron Rivera) under the bus:
"They did the same play at the end, I think four or five times in a row and they got the win," [cornerback Captain] Munnerlyn said. "I just play the defense they call but you gotta switch it up. I felt like Jay Cutler, he knew what we were in. So he knew the weakness of the defense and they attacked it."
"They threw the same pass play all the way down the field," said strong safety Charles Godfrey, who was on the backside on the throws to Marshall. "It wasn't nothing they were doing. It was what we were in, the coverage we were in. That was a great play for that coverage. And they just ran that play all the way down the field. The coverage we were in, we stayed in that coverage. That's what happened."
The prevent defense was clearly designed by a fool or a madman or a double agent. I don't believe it has ever worked with more than 30 seconds on the clock. The Panthers had forced three turnovers and four punts on the afternoon, so the ultra-recent history suggested they had a decent chance of stopping the Bears drive with their normal schemes. Instead they were content to play soft, on top, and give Chicago all the 10-yard passes they could fit into 2:27. This was more than enough for Robbie Gould's comfort.
Ron Rivera's explanation—"If you jump (the route) and they double-move you, now all of a sudden it's a touchdown or the ball is in field goal range"—rings hollow, the words of a coach content to lose as long as it's not in spectacular, embarrassing fashion. With his own players noting it was the play-calling and not the execution that cost Carolina the game, I'd say Rivera failed.