HOUSTON – Much of the focus in the wake of the Bears’ 23-14 loss to the Houston Texans was on what the Chicago offense failed to do. That served to overshadow a potentially more ominous failure by the Bears’ defense, which wasn’t supposed to have the kind of day it did against the kind of offense it faced in Brock Osweiler and the Texans.
Indeed, the fate of the 2016 Bears has been expected to rest heavily in the hands of a massively made-over defense, at least while a revamped offensive line and new coordinator settle in. Instead, a major share of the responsibility for Sunday’s nine-point loss fell squarely on the defense, which was notable through much of this offseason for its swagger and attitude, but was more notable Sunday for its wobble and vulnerability.
A game that saw the defense take some control early with an interception by cornerback Tracy Porter on the Texans seventh play from scrimmage deteriorated into a mishmash in which the Texans converted 60 percent of third downs and a rookie wide receiver (Will Fuller) put 100 yards on the Bears’ secondary in just the second half. The Bears had one takeaway on Houston’s seventh play and none on the next 65.
“It’s time of possession, moves the chains,” coach John Fox said of his defense’s failure to get third-down stops. “Usually it results in points when you move the chains, whether it’s explosive plays or moving the chains on third down. It’s arguably the most important down other than fourth down.”
The defense held Houston, which scored a franchise-record 102 points in preseason, to 13 points through the first 47 minutes. But Houston was converting more than 50 percent of third downs to that point, and any sense of the Bears’ defense controlling the game was somewhat illusory. The Texans were on the field for more than 18 minutes of the first half, and matched that in the second, meaning that the Bears simply did not do a winning job of staying on the field or getting off of it.
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“I feel like we could start faster,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “The ‘pick’ in the beginning was great but there were some things we let slip at the start of the game. Those are things we need to be better at.”
Defensive line: D
Houston set out to scheme the Bears into nickel personnel, meaning two down-linemen, and the Bears could not stanch the bleeding up front as tailback Lamar Miller ran the ball 28 times for 106 yards.
“We started fast with the turnover but just couldn’t stop the ‘leaky’ yardage,” Goldman said. “Whether we’re in nickel or not, we’ve got to stop the run.” Goldman was initially credited with all or part of six tackles and a shared sack with linebacker Leonard Floyd.
Akiem Hicks forced a fumble that escaped the Bears but resulted in a crucial five-yard loss that effectively ended a third-quarter possession. Mitch Unrein was a force early, with a flush and hit of quarterback Brock Osweiler in the first quarter, followed later by drawing a holding penalty that effectively ended Houston’s second possession.
But the line rarely managed to take any sort of control of the line of scrimmage, and pressure on Osweiler was inconsistent when it wasn’t invisible.
The edge rush was nearly invisible, with a Danny Trevathan inside blitz accounting for the only sack in the first half. Jerrell Freeman’s diagnosis and tackle-for-loss on a first-quarter Houston screen pass was a possession-stopper, and Freeman broke up a pass inside the Chicago 5 in the second quarter to force the Texans to settle for a field goal.
Rookie Leonard Floyd was used extensively but was slow to register impact initially, being too often neutralized in runs to his side and getting little pressure on quarterback Brock Osweiler. Floyd, getting the start in his first NFL game, beat Houston left tackle Chris Clark with an outside rush to share a sack with Eddie Goldman and was credited with six sacks in initial post-game stats.
But Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were generally non-factors, Houston getting a hit on Osweiler, Acho one tackle and Young failing to register any impact plays of note.
“The way guys are flying around, unwillingness to stay blocked with the big guys up front,” Freeman said by way of identifying positives. “I am telling you, flying around and being relentless. Playing hard, guys knowing what they are supposed to be doing. We are a well-coached team, Vic [Fangio, coordinator] puts us in a lot of positions where we just got to play. We got to make a play when it comes to you.”
The pass defense allowed just one completion of longer than 12 yards in the first half, setting something of a tone against a receiving group that has been explosive. But rookie Will Fuller, the Texans’ first-round pick out of Notre Dame, eventually rolled up 107 yards on just five catches, while Pro Bowl wideout DeAndre Hopkins had a quiet 54 yards on five catches, but also scored on a 23-yard pass from Brock Osweiler.
Tracy Porter’s interception against Hopkins was textbook, both for coverage and winning the 1-on-1 for the football. Porter also drew a pass-interference flag on Hopkins in the end zone.
“[But] it’s a game of halves and a game of quarters, so you have to play for four full quarters, and you have to play for two halves,” Porter said. “And you don’t do that, you only play for one half, then the other team has the ability to come back, much like what happened today.”
Rookie cornerback Deiondre Hall was pressed into service in the second half and managed two pass breakups in the end zone. But the Bears generally were unable to neutralize Fuller, who had 100 of his yards in the second half.
Special teams: B+
Eddie Royal, pressed into service as a punt returner, broke a 31-yard return in the first quarter, although the offense failed to exploit the plus-territory field position.
Punter Pat O’Donnell launched seven punts for an average of 42.3 yards, including two inside the Houston 20. Deonte Thompson, rebounding from injuries during preseason, brought back five kickoffs an average of 20.5 yards – unspectacular but solid.
Kick coverage was spotty. The Texans returned three kickoffs an average of 24.3 yards with a long of 28 yards.
Connor Barth was not called on for any field-goal attempts.