Bears defense settling in with impact plays early


Bears defense settling in with impact plays early

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Saturday’s beginning of practices with pads will bring on pass-rush drills and more hitting in run sessions. But the still-forming new 3-4 scheme turned in more than a few impact plays on day two of Training Camp ’15:

Defensive line

Jarvis Jenkins was something of a practice newsmaker with his dust-ups with Jordan Mills and Kyle Long but others made impact plays even without pads and the option of following through on hits. David Bass, a surprise pickup last offseason, would have been registered a sack with a speed move to get around right tackle Michael Ola… . Will Sutton wasn’t sure through the offseason whether he’d be staying at nose tackle or just what, and coaches are getting him out of the middle and into areas where his quickness can come into play...

Jeremiah Ratliff is showing why he was a Pro Bowl’er at nose tackle, getting across the offensive line to stuff a Matt Forte run… . Cornelius Washington, one of the ’14 defensive ends expected to be part of the linebacker mix, has been solid playing one of the end positions, strong against the run and delivering a second simulated sack in two days.


Pernell McPhee continued to stand out, beating right tackle Jordan Mills with a combination pass-rush move with a mix of speed and power. McPhee was in Jay Cutler’s face with a later rush, forcing Cutler to throw off his back foot, which Cutler did with a flair, completing a throw to Alshon Jeffery...

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Lamarr Houston, still coming back from his torn ACL of last season, was able to take some snaps in 7-on-7… . Mason Foster, competing for one of the inside-linebacker spots, flashed through a gap to blow up a running play and earn a high-bump from Will Sutton, who was strong at the point of attack. Foster also was credited with a difficult pass breakup on a Jimmy Clausen throw toward Mark Mariani.


Cornerback Alan Ball went head-to-head repeatedly with Alshon Jeffery, winning a couple and forcing Jeffery to make a superb one-handed grab for a completion from Jay Cutler… . Sherrick McManis, making a serious challenge for the starting cornerback spot opposite Kyle Fuller, got a strong break on a Jay Cutler pass but was a split-second late and Martellus Bennett was able to make the catch for a 22-yard gain...

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Tim Jennings was back at practice and getting work in a number of spots. His best opportunity may lie as the No. 3 corner, working in nickel packages, but he’s not sure he likes the job description “nickel back.” “You can call me a ‘cornerback,’” Jennings said, smiling. “With the defense we’ll be running now, it fits well to what I’m trying to do, what they’ll want me to do. Have guys on the outside that contribute well, get the right guys in place. I played a little bit [of nickel] last year, but I’m looking forward to playing more this year.”

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

1. Good games from Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Here’s a sampling of Pro Football Focus grades for primary middle/inside/will linebackers against New England this year: 

Reggie Ragland (KC): 60.1
Anthony Hitchens (KC): 30.2
Zaire Franklin (IND): 48.6
Najee Goode (IND): 47.1
Kiko Alonso (MIA): 63.9
Raekwon McMillan (MIA): 62.5
Christian Jones (DET): 59.7
Jarrad Davis (DET): 29.8
Telvin Smith Sr. (JAX): 64.1
Myles Jack (JAX): 61.0
Bernardrick McKinney (HOU): 68.7
Zach Cunningham (HOU): 43.2

Think what you will of Pro Football Focus’ grades, but the average here is 53.2. Interestingly, though, the average grade for these 12 players over the course of the 2018 season is 51.5. So maybe the issue is the Patriots have faced a bunch of mediocre-to-bad linebackers, allowing them to take advantage of those soft spots with Sony Michel running the ball and James White catching it. Smith’s PFF grade is 62.3; Trevathan’s is 64.3, so by this measure, they’re better than any of the interior linebackers the Patriots have faced but still are the weak spot in the Bears’ defense (only Jonathan Bullard has a lower PFF grade among players with 100 or more snaps). 

How Smith and Trevathan play will be key in determining how quickly Brady is able to get the ball out (with passes to White), and how many times they get into third-and-less-than-five situations (with Michel running it). Both those factors will be critical for the Bears’ pass rush, which brings us to our next point.

2. Pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Brady is a master of beating blitzes, completing 23 of 21 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and only one sack when blitzed, per PFF (that’s good for a 138.4 passer rating). When he’s under pressure, though, he has his lowest passer rating — which is still 87.2 — but the point here is that the Bears can’t afford to have to send blitzes to try to get pressure on Brady. The Bears were one of the best teams in the league at pressuring opposing quarterbacks without blitzing before the trip to Miami, and how healthy Khalil Mack really is will be a critical determining factor in those efforts. But when the Bears do earn their pass-rushing opportunities, as Akiem Hicks put it, they need to at least affect Brady and not let him comfortably sit back to pick apart their defense. 

3. Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. This was a point Taylor Gabriel made this week about the state of the NFL in 2018: You can no longer afford to settle for three points or, worse, come away from a red zone possession with no points. Scoring is up league-wide, and the Patriots have scored 38, 38 and 43 points in their last three games. One of the biggest reasons the Bears lost that shootout in Miami was two turnovers from inside the five-yard line (Jordan Howard’s fumble, Mitch Trubisky’s interception). Stopping New England’s offense will be difficult, and the expectation should be for Sunday to be a high-scoring afternoon. If that’s the case, the Bears will have to get in the end zone every opportunity they get. The good news: New England’s defense is allowing a touchdown on 68 percent of their opponents’ possessions inside the red zone. 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Bears 27. The Bears’ defense sounded properly motivated after getting gouged by Brock Osweiler in Miami last weekend, but that only goes so far when one of the best quarterbacks of all time rolls into town. This winds up being a back-and-forth affair, but the guy with 54 game-winning drives in his regular season and playoff career makes it 55 late in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. A close loss to the Patriots wouldn’t dampen the positive vibes around the Bears, so long as they respond with wins against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the next two weeks.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.