The Bears and Marc Trestman can use some window dressing Sunday in Cleveland with their pre-snap alignments to run the "sail" route against the Browns. It's a three-level concept that gives quarterback Jay Cutler multiple options to target a Cover-3 defense.
As shown here, the Bears have their Posse (or 11) personnel on the field (three wide receivers, one tight end, one running back) in a 2-by-2 Doubles Slot "Exchange" formation (slot receiver on the ball). The Browns counter with their nickel sub package (five defensive backs) playing Cover-3 (three-deep, four-under in the secondary). The Bears are looking to set the bait for the underneath zone defenders and target Brandon Marshall as the primary read on the corner route.
Trestman does an excellent job of disguising his top route concepts with multiple alignments and personnel. In the last two games, the Bears have run the pump-seam and the deep wheel/rail route to Marshall and Alshon Jeffery for explosive gains. You can change the personnel, flip the formation and use different alignments to come back to the same route concepts. That's what we see here with the Bears running a three-level route out of a 2-by-2 alignment. Instead of showing a 3-by-1 alignment (standard "sail" route alignment), Trestman is dressing up the concept to break the common formation tendencies that show up on film.
Breaking down "sail" route
The "sail" route (also called the OVS or outside vertical stretch) is a 9 (fade), 7 (corner), flat combination. To the open (weak) side of the formation, the Bears send Jeffery (X) down the field on the 9 route with Marshall (H) running the 7 cut. To create the three-level look, tight end Martellus Bennett (Y) will come back across the field on the shallow drive route (plays out as a flat route). To the closed (strong) side of the formation, Earl Bennett (Z) runs the intermediate curl and Matt Forte (R) releases out of the backfield as a check-down option for Cutler.
With Jeffery clearing out cornerback Joe Haden (RC) on the 9 route, Cutler can go to work on nickel back Buster Skrine (N) with the flat-7 (corner) combination. In Cover-3, Skrine is coached to drop to a depth of 10 to 12 yards to cushion the 7 route and widen with the flat. If Skrine squats (or jumps) Bennett underneath, Cutler will have a throwing lane to look up Marshall. However, if Skrine plays with enough depth to take away the 7 route, Cutler can dump the ball to Martellus Bennett and force the nickel back to make a tackle in the open field.
Testing Haden on 9 route
I like watching Joe Haden on tape because he challenges receivers and plays aggressively throughout the route stem in both off-man and press coverage. He's one of the top young cornerbacks in the league from my perspective. But considering the production of Jeffery — and his ability to finish plays down the field — Cutler can take a shot here. Put it up and allow Jeffery to use his size to high-point the ball for an explosive gain or a possible six points.
Red zone production
This route is designed to advance the ball into the red zone — where the Browns defense has struggled all season. It is crucial for the Bears to produce between the 20s, convert third downs and move into the red zone where they will have a noticeable matchup advantage in the secondary. And that's where the skill sets of Cutler, Marshall, Jeffery and Forte truly should come into play given Trestman's creative game planning.