Bears

Bears defensive problems vs. Cowboys not complicated (unfortunately)

Bears defensive problems vs. Cowboys not complicated (unfortunately)

That the Dallas Cowboys were able to put 447 yards, almost 200 of them running the football, and 31 points on the Bears was concerning in itself. The way much of it happened, however, was perhaps more concerning, even if not completely surprising.

And the issues were in more than one area.

The rushing yards, of which 140 were provided on 30 carries by rookie Ezekiel Elliott, were largely gained by simply pounding away on an undermanned Bears front seven. The Bears have allowed 10 runs of 10 yards or more; five of those came in Dallas.

The problem was an alarmingly simple one. Not scheme, not missed assignments.

“We were getting blocked and not getting off blocks well enough,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said on Wednesday. “But basically getting blocked most of the time, a guy or two every time was just getting blocked.”

The defense was without linchpin and nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle) as well as inside linebacker and co-captain Danny Trevathan. In Trevathan’s spot, rookie Nick Kwiatkoski started and played on 18 of Dallas’ snaps (26 percent).

He did OK,” Fangio said. “Again, he was part of those guys that got blocked some. Had some good plays, some not so good. The first play of the game that popped out of there for 21 yards, he was at the point of attack on that one. It was OK, hope for better, expect better moving forward.”

The Bears use something of a hybrid form of gap control, not strictly two-gap with linemen responsible for gaps on either side of the blocker in front of them, and not strictly one-gap, with a tighter responsibility but with expectations that the defender get more penetration and disruption.

The system is what one lineman described as “gap-and-a-half,” playing their assigned gap but also with responsibility to help out with one other assigned gap. They are not head-up on offensive linemen, being slightly shaded toward a gap a’la one-gap schemes most of the time.

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The Bears generally were unable to control either their assigned or their secondary gaps.

The issues were not confined to the run defense. The Bears’ pass rush was virtually non-existent (zero sacks, one hit on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott) and yet it allowed Prescott to scramble free three times, converting first downs on all three.

“Our rush wasn’t good enough when they weren’t throwing it quick,” Fangio said, “and it was evident by the times [Prescott] scrambled. He scrambled three times for first downs and they hurt us.

“Our rush wasn’t good enough. There are a lot of passes that the rush won’t be a factor because it is coming out fast. But we have to get better coverage to make them hold the ball longer, too.”

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via ChicagoBears.com. "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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USA Today Sports Images

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”