Bears Grades: Defense unable to contain Marcus Mariota, takes blame for loss to Titans

Bears Grades: Defense unable to contain Marcus Mariota, takes blame for loss to Titans

The Bears’ latest disappointment in a season of them will be remembered largely for dropped passes and red-zone interceptions committed by the offense in the 27-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

That is not at all how members of the defense saw matters.

“The offense kept us in the game,” said cornerback Tracy Porter, measuring his words carefully and then pointing the thumb rather than any fingers of blame.

“I don’t even blame anybody on defense. I blame myself. I’m not trying to be politically correct or anything like that. If I make those two plays, we win the ballgame.”

That was a recurring theme within a defense that effectively blunted the NFL’s No. 2 rusher, holding Demarco Murray to 43 yards (less than half his per-game average) on 17 attempts (2.5 ypc).

“We knew that he was a bounce-out rusher, not someone who tries to chop it up in the middle,” said defensive end Akiem Hicks. “He got out a couple times but we did our best to contain him.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Yet for the eighth time in 11 games allowed an opponent to score more than 21 points.

The problem Sunday was quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Bears never sacked him or even got credit for a hit on him in 23 dropbacks. Mariota also broke four runs for a total of 46 yards, a couple coming on designed runs, one for a long of 29 yards.

Defensive line: C

The down-three were unable to take any real control of the line of scrimmage consistently enough by stopping the run and earning the right to get after the quarterback. Mariota was never sacked and not hit once, according to postgame stats.

Eddie Goldman was back at nose tackle and was credited with four solo tackles, the biggest on a shovel pass from Mariota to Murray for a crucial third-down stop in the fourth quarter. Cornelius Washington had three tackles.

Jonathan Bullard started in place of Mitch Unrein (inactive/back) but was credited with just one assisted tackle.

Linebacker: C-

The lack of pressure on Mariota from the rush-linbackers was concerning, although Pernell McPhee was in on four tackles and Willie Young had one tackle for loss.

The most devastating blow came late Sunday when Danny Trevathan went down with a knee injury that coach John Fox described only as “serious.” For much of the game, however, Trevathan was uncharacteristically slow at times in run fills, and neither he nor rookie Nick Kwiatkoski were effective in underneath coverage.

Kwiatkoski started his second game and was in on some plays but was badly out of position and slow to react to a 29-yard run by Mariota in the third quarter. Kwiatkoski did deliver a strong run-fill on a third-and-goal to force the Titans to settle for a field goal, and he spun out of a blitz to pursue and force a throwaway by Mariota on a third down in the fourth quarter.

“It felt more natural this time,” said Kwiatkoski, whose flow to the football was part of stopping Murray from gashing the defense. “It was something we saw on film and just one of those things we play for. Keep your options; fit your gap but also keep an eye on him, knowing he’ll move around in the backfield. We planned for it.”

[RELATED: Matt Barkley endears himself to Bears teammates with gutsy performance]

Sam Acho lost the edge on Derrick Henry’s 11-yard TD run in the first quarter, failing to establish contain on the edge and then being blocked cleanly by a back.

Secondary: D+

Adrian Amos continues to have coverage issues, being victimized twice in the first quarter by TE Delanie Walker on plays where Amos was effectively nowhere close to threatening the completions. He did break up a first-half sideline pass and collected a tackle for loss on a well-executed fourth-quarter blitz.

Tracy Porter was cleanly blocked and failed to deliver any force against second-quarter screen pass for 14 yards. He was also late with run support against a determined, physical Titans offense and took full responsibility for failed coverage on Tennessee’s 29-yard TD pass to Rashard Matthews.

Cre’Von LeBlanc was able to make two solo tackles in the open field.

But Mariota was able to pick the Bears apart too frequently, converting five of 11 third downs while completing 15 of 23 passes for 226 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 126.4 because of no turnovers.

“We on defense are supposed to get the ball for offense and we didn’t do a good job of it,” Porter said, adding, “I didn’t do a good job of it.”

Special teams: B+

Special teams recovered the first onside kick in nearly a year, giving the offense a major scoring opportunity to start the second half. Pat O’Donnell continues to be a bright spot, punting four times for a 45.5-yard average, although none inside the Tennessee 20.

Eddie Royal returned one punt, for just four yards. Returns in general again did little for Chicago field position, with a penalty and poor runback leaving the offense at the Chicago 8 on one drive and the 11 after one punt.

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

NFL owners voted for sweeping changes to the kickoff play Tuesday, a decision that presents a new challenge for Bears special teams coach Chris Tabor.

Player safety was the focus of the rule change. Collisions will be reduced and the play will look more like a punt than the traditional kickoff fans have become used to. Here's a breakdown of what's coming in 2018:

With less contact and physicality in the play, Tabor's game planning will be tested. Kickoffs won't require as many power players like the ones traditionally seen in the wedge block. Skill players like receivers, running backs and tight ends could be viewed as more valuable special teams pieces, as was suggested by NFL Network's Bucky Brooks.

Tarik Cohen could become even more lethal under the new rules. If kick returners end up with more space to navigate, Cohen will improve on the 583 return yards he managed as a rookie. He'll conjure memories of the recently retired Devin Hester.

The ability to contribute on special teams is critically important for players on the roster bubble. It'll be interesting to see if the Bears apply the approach suggested by Brooks. If they do, undrafted players like Matt Fleming and John Franklin III suddenly have more value and a better chance to make the team. 

For a complete breakdown of the new kickoff rule, click here.

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. deserves a lot of credit. After starting his career as a seventh-round pick and something of a longshot to ever earn a starting job, he's become an irreplaceable fixture at the most important position along the offensive line.

The four-year, $38 million contract extension he signed last offseason is evidence of that.

Despite his value to the Bears, Leno is still somewhat underrated across league circles. That may be about to change.

Leno was recently named Chicago's best-kept secret.

Leno has consistently improved as a pass protector since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 and is now one of the team's top 10 players. If he hit the open market, Leno might be a $60 million player with the way the offensive line market is exploding. Over the next four years, the Bears should save about $20 million on the market price for their starting-caliber left tackle.

Leno has enjoyed steady improvement since his rookie season. His grades from Pro Football Focus reflect that: 53.6 (2014), 56.3 (2015), 71.2 (2016) and 80.4 (2017). 

The Bears' offensive line is poised for a big season in 2018. Leno and Bobby Massie are back as starters at tackle. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels will pair with Kyle Long at guard and third-year pro, Cody Whitehair, will get back to focusing on being the team's starting center.

If Leno's trend of improved play continues, he's a great candidate to go from best-kept secret to league star in 2018.