Dissecting a Drive: Bears’ Defensive Starters vs Tennessee Titans

| August 17th, 2023

Happy Thursday everyone! The Bears’ defense reportedly showed out in their first joint practice with Indianapolis, giving the Colts’ offense early and finishing well in the late 2-minute drill. They’re playing with energy, finishing drills, and trash talking throughout practice — Adam Jahns writes that the unit has an ‘edge’, and that’s exactly what they’ll need throughout the 2023 season.

But which players are catalyzing the Bears’ defensive attitude shift? What worked last Saturday? What didn’t? To find out, let’s dissect the opening drive of last weekend’s preseason game and see what Alan Williams and the Bears’ defensive starters are cooking in prep for the 2023 season.

Our first two episodes of Dissecting a Drive covered the offense exclusively, so it’s about time we dive into the Bears’ defensive scheme! Lucky for us, Saturday’s Bears game provided us with a 12-play Tennessee touchdown drive that’s ripe for reviewing.

Keep in mind that because it’s the preseason, this is the most vanilla flavor of the Bears’ defensive structure you’ll see all year. That said, I can confirm that the Bears’ defensive bones are still in place throughout the drive — you’ll see a healthy dose of Cover 3, Cover 2, and Tampa 2 throughout this video and throughout the 2023 season, regardless of how the Bears tailor their calls to each opponent going forward.

In this drive, we see:

  • A calmer, much-improved Kyler Gordon
  • How Tennessee used pre-snap motion to create leverage for their run blockers
  • The good, the bad, and the ugly from Dominique Robinson, Andrew Billings, and Rasheem Green
  • Jack Sanborn’s big hits, big misses, and the impact Tremaine Edmunds will have on this defense
  • TJ Edwards’ physicality and presence within the Bears’ defense
  • How Alan Williams used subtle shifts within the Defensive Line Front to create mismatches for his DTs
  • Tyrique Stevenson’s ups and downs
  • And much, much more

Check it out and let me know what you think!

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Dannehy: Kyler Gordon Key to Defense

| June 29th, 2023

The first draft pick Ryan Poles made is going to be among the keys to the team having a successful 2023 season. There is no question Kyler Gordon’s rookie campaign got off to a horrendous start. He was injured for much of camp and, apparently, had a target on his back when he returned to the lineup. In the Bears’ first three games, nearly half of the passing yards the team gave up came with Gordon in coverage.

But he got better and better and there’s reason to think that improvement will continue.

After allowing 305 yards in coverage the first three games, Gordon allowed just 459 the rest of the season. In five of the next 11 games, he held the receivers he was covering to 25 yards or fewer, while intercepting three passes and allowing two touchdowns.

There are going to be two keys for the Bears to get the most out of Gordon this year and both should be easily obtainable.

The first is already a stated goal – to play him strictly in the slot. Most of Gordon’s rookie snaps came in the slot, where he lined up 431 times compared to 295 outside, according to Pro Football Focus. Gordon allowed 41 catches on 45 targets with two touchdowns and two interceptions as a slot defender. The passer rating (107.8) allowed still isn’t impressive, but passer ratings aren’t necessarily a good way to judge slot defenders. Of the 24 players who had 200 or more coverage snaps in the slot, 13 allowed passer ratings above 100. Indianapolis’ Kenny Moore allowed a rating of 121.1 last year.

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Dannehy: Handling of Fields Leaves Big Picture Questions

| December 28th, 2022

The Chicago Bears can’t possibly know if Justin Fields is capable of winning games for them if they don’t give him the opportunity to at least try to do so.

While many storylines have been about Fields’ inability to take the team down the field for wins late, those arguments have mostly ignored the positions in which the Bears have put the quarterback. The 2022 season has, essentially, been the organization asking Fields to make it look good without much support.

We saw it again last week.

The Bears had a chance to make the game interesting when on the last play of the third quarter, Fields uncorked a strike 44 yards down the field for Velus Jones Jr. Trailing 21-10, the team had life.

Then, it didn’t.

The Bears proceeded to run the ball three straight times before calling a pass play that relied on Fields threading the needle short of the first down marker. The Bears didn’t let Fields open the offense up again until the outcome of the game was already decided.

The next drive began with a swing pass that lost two yards (do they ever gain yardage on those plays?). On second-and-12, they ran the ball for no gain and relied on Fields to save them on third-and-12.

They got the ball back again, trailing 21-13. They proceeded to run the first two plays then asked Fields to make magic happen on third-and-13.

It isn’t as if the running game was working. After the first drive, David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert combined or 30 rushing yards on 18 carries. Montgomery has averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry in just two games this season. Herbert wasn’t quite up to speed after missing a handful of games on IR.

Fields is the straw that stirs the drink. Yet, with the game on the line, the Bears decided to go with what wasn’t working and ignore what could have. What about calling play action passes? RPOs? Rollouts? Anything that might have a chance to work because the traditional running game was not.

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Two Kyler Gordon Video Tweets

| December 26th, 2022



Dannehy: Kyler Gordon Breakthrough a Great Sign

| December 21st, 2022

For much of his rookie season, most of the talk surrounding Kyler Gordon has been about players the Bears could’ve had instead. But Sunday was a big step for the kid, as he prepared to close out an inconsistent but improving rookie season. While his coverage issues have been problematic at times, the Bears got exactly what they’ve wanted from Gordon this week, as he took the ball away twice against Philadelphia.

The Bears almost immediately slid Gordon into the slot corner position in the defense. They did so because it is a playmaking position in their scheme; he might not be able to stick with the league’s best wide receivers in coverage, but if he can attack the ball, the team will be happy.

Gordon will get better in coverage, and he already has, but he Bears might not need him to be a top cover corner.

By now, we all know and should accept that Jaylon Johnson is a high-level coverage corner. He gave up quite a bit against the Eagles, but almost everything he surrendered was earned through tight coverage. The Bears will still want him to make more plays on the ball going forward, but Johnson is proving to be a good starting corner.

Jaylon Jones might be the real key to the secondary going forward. He too struggled in coverage early this season, but has been especially sticky in recent weeks.

If the Jaylons can man the outside of the Bears defense, it will free Gordon to focus more on taking the ball away. If Sunday was any indication, the Bears just might have something.

Wide Receivers Matter

As sticky as the Bears were in coverage last week, Jalen Hurts still managed to throw for more than 300 yards simply because his wide receivers made plays on contested passes.

While Hurts deserves credit for delivering great passes, the Eagles have two high-level wide receivers who have made their quarterback’s life much easier. While we can pinpoint potential solutions to most of the Bears problems, wide receiver is a tricky one.

The hope was that Darnell Mooney would take another step this year, but that didn’t really happen. The Bears traded what looks to be the 33rd pick and will almost certainly be in the top 35 for Chase Claypool who has done very little.

While both would benefit from better offensive line play – an issue that has often destroyed the team’s passing game – there is little question that neither are stars or even close to the likes of A.J. Brown and probably not even DaVonta Smith.

What also hurts is 2022 third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. looking absolutely unplayable simply because he can’t hold onto the ball. If Jones Jr. can’t make more of an impact than Nsimba Webster, they can’t include him in any future plans.

There isn’t an elite wide receiver prospect available early in this year’s draft and it seems rather unlikely that the team would use its other second round pick on the same position it used its first second rounder on. The free agent market doesn’t look all that promising either.

While they’ll probably add a draft pick or a cheaper veteran, the Bears are likely stuck without a true game-changing wide receiver for at least another year.

Sanborn Injury a Bummer

While some Bears fans have already put the young linebacker in the Hall of Fame, the team very likely needed to see more from Jack Sanborn in order to guarantee a starting spot for him in 2023.

It will be interesting to find out what the Bears evaluation of Sanborn is. Eberlfus has a history of prioritizing speed at the linebacker position and Sanborn (4.73 40) is considerably slower than any linebacker the Colts drafted while Eberflus was their defensive coordinator.

Sanborn has some clear strengths as he consistently showed the ability to get off blockers and make plays while attacking the line of scrimmage. At the very least, he has proven that he should have been drafted.

But that might not be enough for the Bears, especially with Bobby Okereke looming in free agency. Okereke played inside linebacker for Eberflus in 2021 and would give the team a surefire star at the second level. Okereke would be a clear upgrade, especially in pass coverage, where both Sanborn and Nick Morrow have struggled.

It’s undeniable that Sanborn was improving every week, but is that enough to prevent the team from pursuing a high-level player like Okereke? We’ll find out.

That’s a Bison

Perhaps the most annoying thing about the Buffalo Bills is that their mascot is actually a bison.

While one can argue that William the Buffalo’s blue color makes him clearly a fictional creature, it’s undeniable that they were attempting to make him look like a bison, thinking it was a buffalo.

It’s a common mistake. Personally, I blame Kevin Costner and the movie Dances with Wolves as they regularly referred to bison as buffalo. A buffalo looks much more like a cow than it does a bison.

Maybe the worst part is that the Bills didn’t have to do it this way. The team is named after frontiersman Buffalo Bill Cody; they could’ve had a cowboy or an early settler as their mascot. Instead, they picked the wrong animal.

As for the game, I fully expect the Bears to be buffaloed by the Bills.

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Hey, I (Almost) Called It…

| October 25th, 2022

From the Game Preview:

  • Kyler Gordon will get the first interception of his career, a pick six, capping off a solid night for the defense overall. But it just won’t be enough to overcome the offensive woes. (It might be enough to start a QB controversy in New England.)

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Three Positives from a Week Five Loss to the Vikings

| October 11th, 2022

Justin Fields was the major positive to come from Sunday’s loss to the Vikings. But that ground has been well covered. Today’s column looks elsewhere.

Second Half Defensive Dominance

The Bears have now allowed 26 points total in the second half this season, and one touchdown. They’ve also shown a knack for making the big play in the final two quarters, with Kindle Vildor continuing his solid season, adding his first career interception.

Jaylon Johnson isn’t playing. Roquan Smith whiffs on a big tackle every week. The middle of the defensive line is terrible. The pass rush is often nonexistent. But the Bears are emerging from halftime each week an inspired defense. It is a testament to the coaching staff.

Cole Kmet’s Season Begins?

Kmet had two catches against the Texans, three against the Giants, and now four against the Vikings. But if Fields is going to start attacking defenses underneath, like he did Sunday, Kmet is going to be the biggest beneficiary. He is also the only Bears receiving weapon that seems to work the middle of the field.

Rookies Making Plays

Kyler Gordon was a sure tackler and was inches from a game-changing pick six. (His coverage is still an issue.)

Dominique Robinson blocked a field goal.

Velus Jones Jr. scored a touchdown and looked to have a burst in the kickoff return game. (Why was he only on the field for 6% of snaps?)

You don’t win in the NFL playing a bunch of rookies, but their performances suggest a promising future for the franchise.

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Dannehy: Fair to Question Luke Getsy

| October 5th, 2022

Once again, Chicago Bears fans are left playing the “chicken or the egg” game when it comes to determining what, exactly, is the problem with the team’s offense. But there certainly is some evidence to suggest offensive coordinator Luke Getsy isn’t getting the most out of his players.

Justin Fields might be bad, but we know he is certainly capable of being much better than this. In his last four complete games of his rookie season, he passed for 975 yards and five touchdowns, with a passer rating of 85.9. Compare that to the first four of 2022, in which he has managed 471 yards, two touchdowns and a rating of, gulp, 58.7.

Fields isn’t even as effective as a rusher. In that same span, he ran for 257 yards, compared to 147 this year.

Somehow, the Bears offense is worse. They went from 27th in scoring and 24th in yardage to 31st in both. They are averaging 33 fewer yards and 2.3 fewer points per game. It is especially concerning when one evaluates Getsy’s performance in the passing game because, well, Getsy came to the team after being a passing game coordinator. It’s supposed to be his specialty.

It’s hard to see a major difference in the supporting cast; it isn’t as if the Bears didn’t have struggles at wide receiver and offensive line last year. And, while I have written several times about the difficulties Fields might have adjusting to an offense he has never played in — especially one that quarterbacks tend to struggle in — at least some of that should be offset simply by Fields no longer being a rookie.

The benefit of the wide zone offense Getsy was set to bring to Chicago is supposed to be the easy throws for the quarterback, but we aren’t seeing those. One can watch any Green Bay Packers game and see several examples of Aaron Rodgers taking a three step drop and making an easy throw for six yards. Do those not exist in Getsy’s version of the offense or is the quarterback not pulling the trigger?

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Four Positives Through the First Four Games

| October 4th, 2022

The Bears are not a good football team. But they have won two of their first four games, so there must be positives to take from this early portion of the season. Here are four.

Second Half Defense

This coaching staff has clearly displayed the ability to make defensive adjustments at halftime, as the Bears have allowed only 18 total points in the second half and zero touchdowns. This group still needs an injection of talent in coming off-seasons, but Matt Eberflus and Alan Williams are showing they can put a competitive unit on the field with whatever they’re given.

Eddie Jackson’s Return to Form

EJ will be 29 when the all-important 2023 season begins, and many of us believed he would not be part of this new leadership’s plans. But through four games, Jackson has been the team’s best and most consistent defender, rediscovering his ballhawk abilities (3 INTs) and looking determined/aggressive in run support. With Jaquan Brisker looking the part beside him, the Bears look like they have the back of the secondary solidified for the next several years.

The Run Game

Everyone wants to make the blanket statement – “the offense is terrible” – but it’s factually untrue. The Bears have one of the best running games in the league, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 177.3 yards per game. What they are terrible at is throwing the football and throwing the football is how you score points in the modern NFL. But the Bears are establishing a run-game baseline for the future that will be essential.

The 2022 Draft Class

The Bears did not have a first rounder in the 2022 NFL Draft, but they seem to have found some real players. Brisker is playing like a first rounder. Braxton Jones is showing signs that he can develop into a serious answer at left tackle. Trenton Gill is a terrific punter, delivering his best performance in the conditions in the Meadowlands on Sunday. Dominique Robinson has 1.5 sacks and is showing to be a playmaker.

Two questions remain. Can Velus Jones be worked into this offense post-injury, and can Kyler Gordon recover from a brutal start to his career? But otherwise, this draft class is reason for front office optimism.

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For Bears Defense, Offseason Needs Quickly Coming into Focus

| September 27th, 2022

Thinking about 2022 as a developmental season means thinking about what the primary roster needs will be heading into 2023. And just three weeks into the season, those needs are becoming clear on the defensive side of the football.

First things first. The Bears should not even consider letting Roquan Smith play elsewhere next season. Does that mean signing him to a $100 million contract? Not necessarily. While a happy Roquan is the best possible outcome for both sides, it was obvious Sunday that Roquan is more than capable of delivering a professional (and brilliant) performance even without the (somewhat absurd) guaranteed money he seeks. The franchise tag is awful for players, but it exists, and the Bears should not hesitate to use it on one of the best defensive players in the league. Unless another team approaches with a knockout trade offer Roquan should be wearing #58 in Chicago next year.

Second is the secondary, which looks solid at the very back and sketchy everywhere else. At corner, there are too many questions. Can Jaylon Johnson stay healthy for a season? Kindle Vildor has shown an ability to make plays, but can he display the consistency required to be a starting NFL corner? Kyler Gordon is a rookie, and rookies struggle, but some of Gordon’s struggles are, let’s just call them…eye-popping. Yet there are still plenty of moments that show why Gordon was selected in the second round, including several in the second half Sunday. Can he overcome the former and produce more of the latter? Corner is a position where you can’t have too much talent and the Bears need to add several quality bodies.

Last, and the opposite of least, is the defensive front. There is some talent on this line, but it’s hard not to notice two alarming trends.

  • For as good as the Bears have been running the ball, they have been equally bad defending the run. They’re getting pushed off the ball and it’s now very clear why their first free agent target was Larry Ogunjobi. They lack heft in the middle of the line.
  • The Bears are struggling to get off the field on third downs, primarily because their pass rush disappears in those spots. (Robert Quinn seems like he’s been a few feet from about ten sacks.) There is no such thing as a great defense absent a great pass rush. The quickest route to a great pass rush is finding yourself a great pass rusher. It will likely be their second biggest need this offseason.

Through three games, the Bears are firmly a mid-table defense, which should give fans confidence in what Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams are building in Chicago. They don’t have top of the league defensive talent. But they might only be three or four players away from being among the game’s best.

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