Reviewing Titans @ Bears: Defense

| August 14th, 2023

Editor’s Note: In the future, we’ll make have a GameDay post and a Postgame post of some sort — it’s preseason for all of us, and those two articles totally slipped my mind. Thank you for bearing with us as we transition!

It’s official: The 2023 Chicago Bears are undefeated!

Joking aside, the Bears got their first taste of 2023 football as they took on the Tennessee Titans last Saturday and plenty of players showed out for Chicago as they did. The Bears’ offensive starters scored easily on their only two drives (which somehow still set Twitter aflame) and the defense recovered from giving up the opening touchdown to muster 8 sacks, 4 takeaways, and a pesky performance overall.

To break down everything that happened in one article would create an illegible beast, so in an effort to keep things clean we’re going to split the analysis across Monday and Tuesday — we’ll start today with the Defense and continue with the Offense tomorrow.

Editor’s Note: Check back with this article throughout the day — as I produce more All-22 cutups, I’ll update this article to include more analysis 

Saturday’s Standouts:

  • Rookie CB Tyrique Stevenson had as impressive a debut as a rookie could have, especially given that the Bears played so much vanilla Cover 2 and Cover 3 that any outside CB would’ve struggled to shine. Last week on DBB we dove deep into Stevenson’s toolkit, and you could already see a notable improvement in his tackling form on Saturday — despite often needing to charge downhill and make tackles underneath, he completed every tackle he attempted, which is saying something when you end the day with 7 solo tackles!
    • Stevenson received a warm welcome to the NFL in only his first play, but I loved the resiliency he displayed throughout the rest of the half. He set the edge in the run game, he played sticky in limited man coverage reps, and gave Bears fans plenty to get excited about in his debut action. I love this kid & can’t wait to watch his growth.

  • Linebacker TJ Edwards really impressed me — his Eagles film showed a heady linebacker that’s consistently more physical than he’s given credit for being, but on Saturday he pursued the ball well sideline-to-sideline and filled rushing lanes with force. Here he is below taking on Peter Skoronski:

  • Speaking of key veterans, Andrew Billings started slow and finished hot. Seemed like he lost his hand battles early, but once the Titans reached the goal line his power came alive. The Bears will need more of that power if they’re going to contend with teams willing to pound the rock (like their Week 1 opponents), so keep an eye on Billings as the preseason progresses.

  • Kyler Gordon looked like a football-seeking missile on Saturday and it would be doing him a disservice not to mention him — Nickel corners like Gordon often struggle with physicality due to smaller size, but Gordon put his pads to good use and hit-sticked two separate Titans in Tennessee’s opening drive.
    • Credit to Gordon — he was much more decisive in his movements on Saturday than he was on many 2022 Sundays and he translated that decisiveness into physicality with ease. Both of his hits could’ve been ruled as forced fumbles depending on the officiating crew’s mood, and his ability to find & attack the football is to be praised. I’ve got an article on him coming soon, and suffice it to say I’m excited about his potential.
  •  Trevis Gipson clearly took his low listing on the Bears’ first depth chart personally and played one of the most dominant preseason games I’ve seen from an EDGE defender in quite some time.. He won inside, he won outside, he won vs the run, he won everywhere. Massive kudos to him.
  • Terrell Lewis refused to be outdone by Trevis Gipson and tallied two sacks of his own, including a gorgeous forced fumble that saw him bend the corner with ease. It’s bizarre seeing another Defensive End wear #52 and my eyes haven’t yet adjusted, but Lewis has legitimate tools and I’m curious as to what the Bears have in store for him — right now he’s a bit of a one-trick pony (speed-rush down the edge, duck under the OT’s punch, bend the corner) but that one trick is dangerous. When I next get the chance, I’ll check in on his run defense.

  • Jack Sanborn had some wonderful reps as the Tampa 2 ‘Man in the Middle’ of the Bears’ starting defense and force Malik Willis to scramble on the Red Zone 3rd down because of his coverage ability. I have a feeling Tremaine Edmunds triggers a bit quicker than Sanborn and snuffs out the scramble, but I’m just excited that the Bears have more than one linebacker that can cover.

Bumping the Front:

  • The Bears got killed on the ground throughout 2022 in part because they ran a static front on their defensive line — basically, offenses would set their formation up such that their ‘run strength’ (the side with the most OL + TE blockers) was angled one way, then they’d motion a TE across the formation to flip the strength & the Bears’ DL wouldn’t adjust. This set up easy blocking angles for opponents and led to nasty run gashes, particularly in Week 14’s Packers game.
  • On Saturday, the Bears bumped in response to motion! I have no idea whether this is a preseason-specific check or not, but it’s nice to see Alan Williams’ defense deploy an adjustment and defeat a run in response to offensive motion. Watch the play below and check out how the ‘bump’ affects the runner’s space — what would’ve been a massive lane towards Zacch Pickens’ side closes up as soon as the DL moves, creating just enough hesitation for Trevis Gipson to blow the play up. That’s defensive scheme at work!

The Kids have a ways to go:

  • We knew Gervon Dexter was a project, but Saturday confirmed our suspicions — Matt Eberflus’ comments about Dexter playing ‘too high’ proved accurate and #98 spent much of Saturday getting pushed around. I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either, but keep an eye on Dexter’s pad level throughout the rest of the preseason. If he’s going to contribute early for Chicago, he’ll need to have that fixed.
    • As shown in the clip below, Dexter’s pad level isn’t as simple as ‘he plays too high all the time’ — Dexter is powerful when making initial contact, but it’s after that initial contact that he stands up straight and loses the ability to drive his feet & maintain his leverage. In an NFL that only wants to play more towards the sidelines, that’s a skill he’ll need to master as soon as possible.

  • True to his college tape, Zacch Pickens had pop plays (his sack, among a few other 1-gap run stuffs) as well as his fizzle plays. For a player with Pickens’ tools, consistency will be the name of the game — his first step and length can turn any play into a sack, but if he’s blown off the ball too often in the run game he won’t get the chance to make those plays. His best path forward is mastering hand-fighting & leverage, so keep an eye on his hands as he works to improve.
  • Nitpick: Noah Sewell had a good day battling in the run game, but I thought he played a tick slow in his zone coverage assignments. I’d love to see that improve as he gets more comfortable playing at NFL speed within the defense.

If you like audio…

I recorded a Twitter X “Spaces” Podcast with Footballguys’ Nick Whalen, a Bears fan with an extensive coaching background, and the two of us had a great conversation breaking down the first big Bears’ win of the season. If you’re looking for something to put on in the background, give it a listen! Let me know how it can get better!

(UPDATE) Additional Content:

  • Here’s every relevant rep from Tyrique Stevenson all funneled into one place — great debut overall.

Your Turn: Who or what stood out to you defensively this weekend?

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