Bears Grades: Defense delivers “lights-out” performance to shut down Lions high-powered offense

Bears Grades: Defense delivers “lights-out” performance to shut down Lions high-powered offense

The hoped-for dominance of a retooled Bears defense has been a mirage in 2016. Before Sunday.

Facing a top-5 Detroit Lions offense putting up 27 points and more than 410 yards per game, an injury-riddled Bears defense missing multiple starters throttled quarterback Matthew Stafford with two interceptions and held the Lions to 263 total yards and no offensive touchdowns.

But it was far more than just the numbers. The Bears were at risk of cracking when the offense was able to score just once in the first half, and the Lions opened the second half by driving 71 yards and controlling the ball for 13 plays. But the Bears were able to stop, in succession, a play from the 5 and then two straight from the Chicago 1 to force a field goal.

The Lions offense never scored again.

“I think guys are becoming more calloused, more resilient, thinking, ‘OK, we’ve seen this situation before, let’s play even harder,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who collected his first sack as a Bear and had a tackle for loss among his three stops. “In this season already we’ve seen just about every scenario, and this is not a team that quits.”

The Bears had not intercepted a pass since the first series of the season, in Houston. They had two on Sunday, including one by rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall to end a 12-play drive in the fourth quarter.

The super-charged Detroit offense had no play longer then 22 yards.

“I think it was pretty lights-out,” said coach John Fox. “Most of [the defensive players] were not real pleased with their performance last week [at Dallas] and responded in a very focused week of preparation. The Lions are a talented offense. They’ve got a lot of weapons, have scored a lot of points and they are very capable.”

Defensive line: B+

Defensive linemen were involved in 10 tackles among the Lions 44 plays, and Lions running backs managed just 3.1 yards per carry as the Bears finally were able to stop the run and turn a team one-dimensional.

Akiem Hicks delivered his first sack as a Bear, fighting through a double team and taking down Matthew Stafford in the first quarter. Cornelius Washington committed an ill-advised encroachment penalty on a third-and-short to sustain a second-quarter Detroit drive. But Washington also broke through for his second career sack.

Linebackers: A-

John Timu, a surprise starter at inside linebacker, delivered the play of the game with a stop for minus-2 yards at the Chicago 3 to force a third quarter field goal. Timu was beaten in coverage a few too many times but was able to make plays in key situations.

Jerrell Freeman tied for team high with 7 tackles, according to initial stats. Freeman gave the defense a boost with a third-down pass defense in the second quarter to end a Detroit drive.

Nick Kwiatkoski in his second NFL start stood Lions back Dwayne Washington up in the hole and held the point for a first-quarter stop that helped build momentum on that side of the football.

[RELATED: Check out the grades for the Bears offense]

Secondary: A

Bryce Callahan moved into the starting lineup at right corner in place of Jacoby Glenn, with Cre’Von LeBlanc setting up as the nickel corner for the second straight week. Callahan’s open-field tackle of Golden Tate in the second quarter was textbook and his pass defense on Tate on a second-quarter third down ended a drive and forced the Lions to settle for a field goal.

Jacoby Glenn gathered in a Matthew Stafford pass in the second quarter at the Chicago 13 for the Bears’ second interception of the season, this on a clear mis-play between Stafford and Tate. “I read the quarterback’s eyes and I made a play,” Glenn said. “I took points off the board for my team.”

Rookie Deiondre’ Hall intercepted a pass toward Anquan Bolden, also deep in Chicago territory to end a scoring threat.

Special teams: D

Connor Barth has gone from solution to problem area since replacing Robbie Gould, whose picture happened to be on the game-day ticket Sunday. Barth was wide right from 50 yards, the second miss in his first three attempts as a Bear.

More concerning, punt coverage allowed an 85-yard touchdown return by Andre Roberts to let the Lions to close within a field goal in the fourth quarter. Eddie Royal managed a punt return to near midfield in the first quarter but an illegal-block on DeAndre Houston-Carson pushed the offense back to the Chicago 17 instead. Pat O’Donnell uncharacteristically put his first two punts beyond his coverage and into the end zone for touchbacks.

Deonte Thompson gave the Bears a 29-yard return of the opening kickoff that gave the offense a decent starting point. Sherrick McManis provided a momentum-builder with a kickoff-return stop at the Detroit 16 after the Bears first touchdown.

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

As the Bears begin to fill out their draft board in earnest, they’ll do so by evaluating the players they like and the players they think will be available when they pick eighth in April. And what players check both those boxes and go into their draft “clouds,” as Ryan Pace calls them, will depend largely on how many quarterbacks are taken ahead of the Bears’ pick. 

With about a month until the draft, it seems clear two teams will take a quarterback with a top-seven pick: the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. The Browns own the Nos. 1 and 4 picks; the Jets traded up from No. 6 to No. 3, and teams rarely invest that kind of draft capital to not draft a quarterback. 

That leaves a few hinge points in how many quarterbacks are picked by the time the Bears are on the clock:

New York Giants (No. 2 overall)

The Giants still have an aging Eli Manning but could move to use the second pick to draft his long-term replacement. Or, alternatively, they could use this deep class of top-end quarterbacks as an avenue to trade down, add some picks and build out a young core that way. Either of these scenarios would be good news for the Bears, as we’ve seen Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson connected to the Giants at No. 2 as well, if they were to stay there. The Buffalo Bills could be motivated to trade up to No. 2 to make sure they get the guy they want with quarterbacks almost assuredly going off the board at Nos. 1 and 3. 

Cleveland Browns (No. 4 overall)

If the Browns get their quarterback with the first pick — Sam Darnold? — they could be sitting in an ideal spot at No. 4. If the Giants draft a quarterback, Cleveland could play hardball and tell teams they’re fine keeping the fourth pick and drafting Barkley with it. That could create a bidding war between the Buffalo Bills (No. 12) and Denver Broncos (No. 5) to trade up and draft the last of the four clear-cut top quarterbacks in this class. In this scenario, Cleveland adds a bunch of picks to an already-sizable stash and accelerates their growth through the draft. 

If the Giants were to trade out of the No. 2 pick, let’s say to the Bills, it may lessen Cleveland’s desire to trade down from No. 4 unless a team in need of a quarterback like the Arizona Cardinals (No. 15) or Miami Dolphins (No. 11) starts lurking around. But as we saw last year with the Bears trading up one spot to draft Mitch Trubisky, teams don’t want to leave things to chance if they have conviction on the quarterback they want. So that brings us to the…

Denver Broncos (No. 5 overall)

The Broncos signed Case Keenum to a two-year deal and still have 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch on their roster, though he hasn’t shown much in only five games as a pro. Does Denver absolutely, positively have to draft a quarterback? No. They’re probably in the same boat as the Giants in that regard. But what if they really like Josh Allen and/or Baker Mayfield, both of whom their coaching staff worked with at the Senior Bowl, and one of them is still on the board when the Browns’ pick comes up at No. 4? Or what if Josh Rosen has been their guy all along? 

In that case, John Elway may make an aggressive move to guarantee he gets the quarterback he wants, and not risk losing that guy if a team were to cut the line by trading with the Browns. 

The other scenario is less positive for the Bears: Maybe the Broncos only have one or two quarterbacks out of this group they want, and they either can’t find a trade partner to move out of No. 5 or don’t want to. If three quarterbacks are drafted in the first seven picks, the Bears may not have the opportunity to draft one of Nelson, Chubb or Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, for example, is a super-talented prospect — but we seem to be moving toward a consensus that Nelson, Fitzpatrick, Chubb and Barkley are the four best non-quarterback prospects in this draft. And in all likelihood, the Bears will only be able to draft one of them four quarterbacks are taken before they pick. 

The wild card here is Nelson, given his position (guard) is rarely seen as worthy of being a top-10 pick. But those who saw him up close in college believe he’s a future perennial Pro Bowler, possibly beginning as soon as his rookie year. The Bears’ fit is obvious, with Harry Hiestand coming to coach the offensive line from Notre Dame and the team — as of right now — still having a fairly clear need for another interior offensive lineman. Perhaps Nelson falls to the Bears even if there are only three quarterbacks off the board before they pick, but having four go off the board would make things a little less stressful at Halas Hall in late April. 

Indianapolis Colts (No. 6 overall) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7 overall)

The Colts already traded down once, and likely did so with the confidence that Chubb would still be on the board at No. 6 to help their limp pass rush. Fitzpatrick seems to be a good fit with Tampa Bay, though a player of his caliber would be a good fit anywhere. Either of these teams still could be persuaded to trade down, especially if the Giants and/or Broncos pass on a quarterback.

Chicago Bears (No. 8 overall)

If four quarterbacks are off the board by the time the Bears pick, that’s ideal for Pace. If three are, he still could get someone from his No. 8 pick “cloud” and be content staying there. If only two are — and this doesn’t appear to be a likely scenario — that means the Bills haven’t found a trade partner and may want to leapfrog the Dolphins at No. 11 to get their guy. More likely, if the Bears are able to trade down from No. 8, it would be because a team like Arizona wants to make sure the quarterback they want isn’t snagged by an opportunistic team ahead of them. 

But Pace's draft history has seen him trade up far more frequently than trade down. If someone who's in his draft cloud is available when the Bears go on the clock, chances are he'll pick that guy and not trade down. 

Plenty can and will change between now and when the draft begins on April 26. But for right now, the landscape ahead of the Bears suggests only positive things setting up for their first-round pick. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?


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Hub Arkush (Pro Football Weekly/670 The Score), Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel. Quenton Nelson works out at Notre Dame’s pro day. If he’s still on the board at 8, should the Bears take him? Plus the panel talks about the Cubs outfield heading into 2018 and if it’s time to shut down both Jonathan Toews and Lauri Markkanen.