Reviewing Bears’ Defensive Standouts From Thursday Night

| November 14th, 2023

Yesterday I finally got access to the Bears’ All-22 from Thursday Night — let’s review some defensive highlights.

Andrew Billings is the beating heart of the Bears’ run defense

First off, Andrew Billings is so much fun to watch work. I’m a sucker for a big dude in the trenches making plays, and that’s exactly what #97 has been for Chicago all season long.


He’s a force to be reckoned with, even when double-teamed at the point of attack — here, on 3rd & 1, he simply refuses to be moved. I’m happy to see him extended.

Bryce Young and the turf became well-acquainted throughout the game

The Panthers’ rookie signal-caller spent the majority of Thursday Night on his back — sometimes that was the fault of Carolina’s simple route concepts/poor OL play, but sometimes you saw nice moments from the Bears’ defensive line that seemed to get after him in a hurry.

Justin Jones created more pressures than I remembered on re-watch, Gervon Dexter had his moments, but Montez Sweat was all over Bryce Young from jump street and made a physical impact on every play he could.

First, here he is chasing Young down on a bootleg…

And later, a Bears blitz got Montez Sweat free off the edge and Sweat made Young pay the price as he got rid of the ball.

It was a nice, physical game for Sweat. He rushed the passer better than any other Bears’ defensive lineman and often provided the only pressure Chicago could muster on some plays — even if that pressure wasn’t more than just moving Bryce Young off his spot.

Sweat does seem to have an edge to him he wasn’t playing with in Carolina, so I can’t help but wonder if his role as a leader on this defense may be invigorating him. Either way, Carolina certainly felt his presence throughout the game.

The Bears’ young DBs popped

Kyler Gordon had far & away his best game as a Bear, and if anything I’m disappointed all I have is one highlight to show from his performance.

He was a demon in run defense and a problem Carolina couldn’t solve in both man and zone coverages. He hunted short throws underneath and matched feet with receivers both down the field and over the middle — considering that Gordon was one of the worst CBs in the NFL last year, it’s been inspiring to see the strides he’s made as he’s learned to channel his agility while also growing as man-cover defender.

He started the year hot with a nice game against Green Bay too, so here’s hoping games like this are signs of future play to come.

It wouldn’t be one of my reviews without my being unnecessarily positive on Tyrique Stevenson, and you’d better believe I’m not going to stop now!

Stevenson and Johnson both took far too many penalties throughout Thursday Night’s game, but my expectations for rookie DBs are so low that I don’t mind seeing them from #29 — he’s getting better every game at managing his own physicality with WRs, and it’s leading to more and more reps that look like the one listed below.

Of course, I’d still love to see Stevenson given more chances to press his WR… but that’s a conversation for another day.

Gervon Dexter seems to be settling in

The recent Bears’ 2nd rounder struggled with basic movement as recently as the preseason, but seems to be settling in nicely at the halfway point of the season — the cross-chop he’s been working on since August is starting to show fruit, though the fruit isn’t ripe yet. Still, it’s nice to see that he’s improving.

Dexter is a project, but the juice feels worth the squeeze when you remember how naturally strong he is. Reps like the one below (where he simply throws his man aside) provide a light at the end of Dexter’s developmental tunnel — if he can learn to strike more efficiently and access that kind of power-base more often, he could be dangerous as both a 1-Tech & 3-Tech defensive lineman.

He still has plenty of technical issues to clean up, but he should be able to hone in on those issues as he gets more playing time — he played 29 snaps on Thursday, more than Andrew Billings, and if that’s any indication of how the coaches will continue to deploy him I imagine he’ll have plenty of time to work on his problem areas.

Note: Zacch Pickens also had quite a good game, though he only played 12 snaps to Gervon’s 29. I’ll try to get a clip or two up of his handiwork later.

Your Turn: What stood out to you in Thursday’s defensive effort?

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Honest review of Tyson Bagent’s Raiders Game

| October 24th, 2023

In Short: He was very, very good for a UDFA rookie.

The theme of Tyson’s day was avoiding negative plays — sure, he made some big plays for his team (Scott 3rd & 5 early, the 2nd & 11 scramble, etc) and he kept the offense on-schedule, but you’re telling me a rookie QB with one week’s prep was responsible for only one negative play in 33 drop-backs? Get outta here!

Between Bagent & Luke Getsy’s rushing attack (which was surprisingly diverse), Chicago basically never stopped moving the ball forward. They didn’t generate many chunk plays (we’ll get there later), but they didn’t need to — Bagent was comfortable hitting 6 yard flat routes, checking the ball down in-rhythm, sneaking it on 3rd & short, and ‘canning’ (audibling) into rushing plays he liked when he saw fronts that matched up well for the Bears.

None of this is amazing in an NFL QB vacuum, but we’re not talking about a 5-year starter — Bagent’s a rookie! For him to play as consistently as he did without feeling the need to force the ball into unsafe windows was impressive in and of itself. Just take a look at Bryce Young — often, it’s a rookie’s eagerness to make a play that can undo them.

Most importantly, Bagent turned a few potential disaster plays (the checkdown to Blasingame, the play with a defender draped around his ankles, plus a batted ball early & another checkdown along the sidelines) into neutral plays or small positive gains for his team — his release is lightning fast and he commonly throws without his base anyways, so Bagent had no trouble whipping an accurate ball to a teammate when things got dangerous.

Again, across 33 drop-backs, the Raiders didn’t just end up with one sack… they only registered 3 QB hits in a game where Bagent’s RT might as well have been playing with one arm. And even when the Raiders pressured Bagent, he found ways to get the ball out of his hands. That’s a legit skill, and it’s the kind of skill that can keep your team’s chains moving on a day like last Sunday.

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Checking the Tape: Bears vs Vikings

| October 18th, 2023

Watching the Bears’ tape is a mess — nothing meshes together. What Getsy wants to do isn’t what Fields wants to do, and the Bears can’t do anything that Fields wants to do well against blitzing teams.

You can tell Getsy’s answers to Minnesota’s blitzes were quick throws out wide, but Fields couldn’t execute some of them and Whitehair’s snaps ruined others.

Then, the Bears pivoted towards more max protect. Fields looked more comfortable, but the OL couldn’t ID blitzes properly and gave away bad matchups (like Foreman on Hunter/Foreman on a blitzer with runway) leading to more pressure, no throws downfield, and the QB taking more hits.

Some of the above is still on Getsy, because plenty of routes too WAY too long to resolve against the blitz — Mooney jukes the air in the red zone, Trent Taylor runs the longest whip route in existence, etc. Of course, neither is open in time to beat the pressure (and one leads to the INT).

It’s easy to make this out to be a QB-only problem, but it’s the same problem we’ve seen all season — when the Bears’ initial plan doesn’t work, Getsy and Fields’ philosophical disagreements result in awful football that can’t even compete with opposing defenses.

Of course, this magnifies every mistake that the OL makes — if CHI doesn’t get the exact look they want and perfect protection up front, the play might as well be over. It doesn’t feel like there’s much chemistry between the QB and his outlets when things go haywire.

But if all the above wasn’t bad enough, sometimes the Bears do get the exact look they want with perfect protection up front, like the play shown below (Yes, it’s the tweet that includes this very thread):

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The Chicago Bears’ Offense is an ‘Everyone’ Issue

| September 26th, 2023

The 2023 Bears season hasn’t started the way anyone wanted it to, especially on offense. At times, the play has been downright ugly.

But Chicago’s issues aren’t as simple as a Quarterback, an OC, an OL, or anything else — it’s an ‘everyone’ issue. And in today’s Dissecting a Drive, I take you through 11 great examples of exactly what is (and isn’t) going wrong across the board.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

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Checking the Tape: Bears @ Buccaneers

| September 19th, 2023

The short version: Fields struggled mightily on Sunday, though the Bears’ offensive line and offensive coordinator certainly made their fair share of mistakes. But we’ll talk more on that later this evening.

The slightly-less short version: Justin Fields is struggling to consistently get to his 3rd (sometimes 2nd) read without running into timing issues, and there’s no pair of plays where that was more evident than Fields’ 1st sack of the game, where he missed DJ Moore wide open on the play’s backside…

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Checking the Tape: Bears’ Offense vs Green Bag

| September 12th, 2023

All-22 Breakdown Stream:

If you’re into All-22 film breakdowns, I stream every Tuesday Night during the season to talk through the ups and downs of the game! Come check it out!

I watched the Packers-Bears All-22 tape so that you don’t have to — here were some of my notes:

Getsy Gets Ahead of Himself:

Luke Getsy and the Bears started this game off strong, but as the contest wore on Getsy displayed a strange habit of telling on himself with the Bears’ formation — below is a screenshot of the infamous D’Onta Foreman screen pass that lost 7 yards, and if you look at the personnel that Chicago split out wide you too will see the screen coming.

But that wasn’t the only moment where it seemed as if Green Bay read Luke Getsy’s mind — here’s another example of the Bears’ formation tipping a play and resulting in a massive start to the second half. With Blasingame (a fullback) out wide to the left side, the Packers send Devonte Wyatt straight upfield in anticipation of a Justin Fields bootleg that Blasingame would usually block for. Wyatt ends up on top of Fields before the quarterback fully turns around.

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Breaking Down Jordan Love, Who the Packers Have Set Up to Fail

| August 11th, 2023

This is not in bad faith. This is not a vain attempt at schadenfreude.

I dove into Jordan Love’s film over the last few months and came to a resounding conclusion: Jordan Love is better than some Bears fans want to believe, and he exhibits a lot of the hallmark traits of a good West Coast quarterback.

He’s got a great sense of timing as a dropback passer, hitting the back of his drop and delivering the ball well with a big arm that lets him attack deep out routes as well as the quick release needed to stay efficient on timing routes over the middle. His years on the bench shine through via quick decision-making, and he clearly trusts his offensive system enough to attack throwing windows that other young QBs simply won’t attack.

In effect, Jordan Love has the tools to be a solid NFL Quarterback, but he’s got a problem — the offensive pass-catchers Green Bay has put around him are so young that I struggle to imagine the Packers, a team that may have two first round picks in the QB-heavy 2024 draft, sticking with Love past the 2024 bridge extension he just signed.

Green Bay’s biggest issue is that they purged all of their offensive ‘glue guys’ at once this offseason:

  • Allen Lazard was a key run-blocker and the primary X-receiver within the Packers’ system
  • Robert Tonyan was a reliable weapon in late-down situations and one of the twin engines of the Packers 12-personnel looks
  • Marcedes Lewis was far and away the best run and pass blocking TE on the roster (and the other twin engine of 12-personnel)
  • And Randall Cobb, though only a role player, knew the Packers’ system well and connected with Rodgers constantly on key downs

These 4 veterans accounted for:

  • 44% of the Packers’ 2022 receiving yardage
  • 41.5% of their 2022 targets
  • 198 total games of Packers experience

And in their departure Matt LaFleur said goodbye to the final 4 skill players he had built the Packers’ offense with when he joined the team in 2019.

Replacing that production & experience wouldn’t be an easy feat for any organization, but the Packers chose to fill the vets’ shoes in as extreme a way as you could’ve imagined — they replaced all 4 players with rookies, and there’s no set of players more inconsistent in the NFL than 1st year starters.

I like a lot of the players Green Bay selected in their 2023 draft class, namely Michigan State WR Jayden Reed and South Dakota State University TE Tucker Kraft, but every young player is going to go through rookie growing pains within next year’s Packers offense and when the pass-catchers make mistakes I think Jordan Love will (unfairly) get handed the blame.

Did Reed run the wrong route? No, Jordan Love just didn’t throw an accurate ball.

Should that route have been run at 7 yards rather than the 5.5 yards Musgrave cut at? No, Jordan Love just missed him.

Every offensive failure will somehow bubble back to the 1st year starter replacing a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and at the end of the year Green Bay fans will ‘suddenly’ realize that packaging their 2024 first round picks together for a new rookie Quarterback makes more financial sense than waiting until the end of the 2024 season to either draft a new rookie QB or extend extending Love again.

I walk through all of this and more in the video below, complete with some of the best film-work I’ve ever done at this point in my career — if you’ve got a few minutes on this fine Friday, I highly recommend it! But if not, I’d love to hear your take all the same.

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On Darnell Wright, and the Unexpected Growth Path of NFL Offensive Tackles

| August 8th, 2023

Today I want to talk about Darnell Wright, but before we get started I want to show you a  clip from the 2021 preseason — specifically, pay attention to the Lions’ RT #58. Watch his hands, his feet, and his overall demeanor on this snap.

That’s now-Pro-Bowler Penei Sewell, who had one of the worst preseasons in recent memory immediately after getting drafted #7 overall in the 2021 draft. In this clip, you can see that his initial footwork is off (he false-steps badly at the snap), he misses his punch, and his feet get so tangled as he tries to recover that he can’t stop his EDGE rusher from easily turning the corner and hammering his QB.

Sewell’s entire preseason was U-G-L-Y. If you believe in PFF Grades, they marked him as a 38.6 overall grade & a 27.0 pass-block grade across the preseason (remember, 60 is their replacement-level benchmark), so it wasn’t an issue of a single bad rep. Sewell clearly wasn’t comfortable at Right Tackle early and, in a cruel NFL filled with professional football players that can’t afford to miss chances at production, that discomfort led to hesitancy and that hesitancy led to defeat all too often.

What did this mean for Sewell’s rookie season? Better yet, what has this meant for his career so far? In short, absolutely nothing — with that in mind, I want to caution Bears fans against overreacting to tenth overall pick Darnell Wright’s play this weekend, especially if he doesn’t immediately look like an All-Pro.

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