Danny Trevathan

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

(For a bonus film review, check out the video above of Akiem Hicks' forced fumble on the one-yard line)

When Eddie Jackson didn’t stay on top shoulder of Randall Cobb in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ season opener, there was a clear coaching point from that 75-yard backbreaking touchdown. The Bears’ defensive mantra the week after was to focus on “plastering” receivers, which this defense did a good job of over the next three weeks. 

There surely are coaching points leveled by Vic Fangio and his assistants after the Bears were carved up by Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins in Sunday’s 31-28 loss in Miami. But maybe the over-arching though here is this: The Bears didn’t, during the off week, go from being one of the league’s more sure-handed tackling teams to one of the worst. 

A defense that swarmed to the ball over the first four weeks looked a step slow and frequently out of position on Sunday. The more likely explanation for that development isn’t the plot to Space Jam 3, where a group of cartoon aliens steal the athletic power of an entire defense to use for their own. More likely, it was the heat in south Florida that sapped this team’s energy over the course of a long afternoon.

In this week’s film breakdown, we’re going to look at Albert Wilson’s 75-yard touchdown, which was wildly uncharacteristic of this defense. 

Image 1: the Bears are in nickel man coverage with Wilson (red circle) lined up in the slot across from Bryce Callahan. Danny Amendola goes in motion to the boundary (green arrow), with Danny Trevathan (green arrow) following him, though safety Adrian Amos will be the guy covering the Dolphins receiver. Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard are the two down linemen in the interior, with Leonard Floyd rushing from the left and Khalil Mack from the right. 

Image 2: Mack is chipped by tight end Nick O’Leary (yellow circle), with Roquan Smith (yellow arrow) responsible or covering him. Trevathan (green circle) is in space with Amos (blue circle) picking up Amendola. With Mack chipped, the Bears have three pass rushers to go against five offensive linemen. 

Image 3: There’s about 10 yards of space between Mack and Osweiler (yellow arrow) after Mack comes free of O’Leary’s chip. Trevathan (green circle) is in a good position here, with Amos (blue arrow) closing on Amendola. Wilson works into space ahead of Callahan (red arrow), while both Dolphins outside pass-catchers run go routes to clear cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Kevin Toliver II out of the play. 

Image 4: First, the white circle — Hicks had his helmet ripped off, with right tackle Jesse Davis the apparent culprit. He still manages a good pass rush against a double team that could’ve hit home, or forced Osweiler to Mack (who’s about five yards from Osweiler when the ball is released) or Floyd, had the play extended longer. Meanwhile, when the ball is released, Callahan (red arrow) and Trevathan (green arrow) are in good position to bring down Wilson, while Amos (blue arrow) is there for help if Wilson were to turn upfield to the far sideline. 

Image 5: Wilson catches the ball and goes to the far sideline, away from Callahan (red arrow) and toward Trevathan (green arrow). After O’Leary and Smith engaged, the rookie linebacker is the farthest back from the play of these three when the ball is caught. 

Image 6: Trevathan (green arrow) seems to over-commit, giving Wilson a lane toward the boundary to cut upfield. 

Image 7: Amos (blue arrow) still has a chance to bring down Wilson short of the sticks.

Image 8: Amos misses the tackle, and Trevathan is blocked by O’Leary. That leaves Jackson (yellow arrow) as the last guy who can stop Wilson from breaking this play open. 

Image 9: In missing the tackle, Amos tripped Wilson a bit, which Jackson admitted threw him off (“but that’s not an excuse for it,” he added). Wilson re-gains his balance, cuts inside, and Jackson whiffs on the tackle. 

“Probably just try to shoot my shot on the tackle instead of just guessing, just probably should have shot my shot,” Jackson said of what he felt he should’ve done differently. 

Wilson goes to the house, and the Dolphins tie the game one play after the Bears took the lead. The last image here is Wilson’s route chart from NFL Next Gen Stats, which shows just how much running he did after the catch on that play — yardage-wise, it was 71 yards, but by distance it was much further. 

“We talked about how many tackles we missed,” Jackson said. “Some of that could have really changed the momentum of the game if we would have made some of those tackles. Unfortunately, two of them resulted in big play touchdowns.”

No members of the Bears defense were willing to use the heat as an excuse, instead opting for thumb-pointing instead of blaming teammates, coaches or the sun. But there’s a good chance we look back at Week 6 in Week 10 or 11 and can say with some confidence that the Bears beat themselves more than the Dolphins did, and it’s something that hasn’t happened since. 

“We know we made mistakes, that don’t kill our confidence,” Jackson said. “That don’t kill our swagger. We know what we gotta do, we know what we gotta correct. So we come in here, we’re going to play Chicago Bears football that we’re used to playing.”

How Danny Trevathan is playing an important part in Roquan Smith's development

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USA Today Sports Images

How Danny Trevathan is playing an important part in Roquan Smith's development

Roquan Smith began his Bears career with a highlight, sacking DeShone Kizer as part of that magnificent (but ill-fated) first half against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 1. Since then, though, the rookie inside linebacker has been sort of anonymous within a dominant Bears’ defense.
 
And that’s been fine — fellow inside linebacker Danny Trevathan won NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Seattle Seahawks, and the outstanding play of Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and the rest of the Bears’ front seven has helped give the No. 8 overall pick a soft landing in the NFL.
 
But make no mistake, inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires stressed. Smith’s time is coming.
 
“I’m just so positive and so excited about where he is right now,” Pires said. “I hope it’s — sky’s the limit. I mean, he’s got so many great, great qualities and he’s just like a little flower that hasn’t even bloomed yet. It’s small. It’s got so much more to go. I’m looking forward to it.”
 
An important factor in Smith’s development, and play within the Bears’ defense, has been the strides made by Trevathan over the course of 2018.
 
It’s worth noting that Trevathan didn’t participate in OTAs or minicamps in 2017, which would’ve been his second year in Vic Fangio’s defense, after suffering a torn patellar tendon in November of 2016. While it was admirable and impressive that Trevathan made it back for training camp and was a Week 1 starter last year, missing those springtime reps robbed him of an important learning opportunity.
 
So that Trevathan was healthy and a regular participant during this year’s offseason program was critical for his own growth. And while Smith being present for the same practices in May and June was beneficial for his knowledge of the defense, too, he missed the entirety of training camp and barely practiced after ending his holdout in mid-August. That’s where Trevathan’s much-improved knowledge of Fangio’s defense is important for Smith.
 
“You cannot put a value and put a number on those days that he missed,” Pires said. “It’s funny because we get done with OTAs and we sit down as a staff and talk about guys and everything else, and after this past OTAs, we looked at Danny Trevathan — probably one of the most-improved guys we got in terms of him understanding and playing. You can’t be a leader if you don’t know what you’re doing. He now has a greater understanding of what we doing and now the leadership role keeps on going up. It’s been great for him.”
 
Trevathan hit home for two sacks and forced a fumble in Week 2 against the Seahawks, and picked off Jameis Winston in the Bears’ blowout win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But beyond the production, what Pires has been pleased with has been what Trevathan has done before the snap — specifically with Smith.
 
“You see them in games, they’re always communicating and talking,” Pires said. “I put so much weight on watching before the ball is snapped how much they’re talking to each other, how much they’re communicating with each other because so much is won before the ball is snapped and Danny has done a great job.”
 
The Bears’ defense proved to be the best in the NFL through the first four weeks of the season, but all great defenses have to adapt and evolve as a season goes on. And the growth expected by Bears coaches from Smith, with the aid of Trevathan, could be a reason why this defense stays on top of the league from Week 5 to Week 9 to Week 13 to Week 17.

Matt Nagy at the first-quarter pole: Culture and personnel changes have NFC North looking up at 3-1 Bears

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USA TODAY

Matt Nagy at the first-quarter pole: Culture and personnel changes have NFC North looking up at 3-1 Bears

When John Fox was brought in to replace Marc Trestman, the first real order of business was to change the losing culture that had taken root in the void created by Lovie Smith’s ouster. The culture did change but not with growth on the field to stave off three straight losing seasons.

The next iteration was Matt Nagy, a coach from the offense-based tree of Andy Reid with a mandate to change the football culture, first from a five-year rut of losing, and second from a sluggishness that had become the norm after all but two of the 25 years since Mike Ditka were played under coaches (Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Smith) from a foundation on defense.

Coaches typically divide seasons into unofficial fourths, and Sunday’s 48-10 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the first fourth of Nagy’s first season. It was a win that improved the Bears to 3-1.

But it also was a victory that included:

· a six-touchdown, 483-yard output by an offense that included 10 plays of 20 yards or longer;

· four sacks and three interceptions by a defense that throttled the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense and has allowed steadily shrinking point totals (24-17-14-10);

· and special teams that converted both its field goals and allowed Tampa Bay to start no possession farther out than its own 28.

“It feels like we are complete team,” said linebacker Danny Trevathan who had one of the interceptions and two of the six Buccaneers passes broken up. “It's first time we've done that for four quarters straight. The team is happy where we are at but we are still hungry. You want to see that from your team. Heading in the bye week, come back hungry coming off of it.”

The win put the Bears at 3-1 for the first time since the 2013 team opened with three straight wins under Trestman and ended a slide of three straight 1-3 beginnings with Fox. It also left them ensconced in first place in the NFC North, ahead of the Packers (2-1-1), who crushed the Buffalo Bills 22-0; the Vikings (1-2-1), who lost Thursday to the Los Angeles Rams; and Lions (1-3), who lost to Dallas on a time-expiring field goal.

The results to this point have vindicated Nagy, who has espoused patience for his offense and earned the confidence of all phases of his team.

“I'm not surprised because, first of all, I'll say this: It's only four games into the year,” Nagy said. “We wanted to have a fast start. I mean, you go back to April 3 when we got together as a team. We talked about who we wanted to be and what our goal was. And so what happens is when you start believing in that thing and then you start doing it in real games, you get tighter as friends. You get tighter as teammates. You get tighter as coaches.”

Coaches and players may not necessarily get tighter in the week off. But with success comes confidence and also a stronger belief in what coaches have been teaching and scheming. That was already in place with Nagy but the results through the first quarter, which were within a dropped gimme interception in Green Bay of being a 4-0 start, reinforce that, particularly with a young quarterback needing to trust a new offensive system.

“It's just constant communication between me and Coach Nagy, being on the same page, knowing what plays he really likes and what plays I'm comfortable with,” said quarterback Mitch Trubisky. “It's just going to continue to grow and evolve going forward, and we're going to have that constant communication of knowing where each other's at.”

The off-week comes relatively early, second-earliest in the NFL in fact. The preference typically is for it to fall closer to midseason, but that is frequently in the interests of letting injured players heal. The Bears have come through their first Nagy quarter virtually injury-free compared to most of the last five years (cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper were out Sunday, and linebacker Sam Acho sustained a pectoral injury), but the break at this early point effectively allows an extra week of orientation, particularly for an emerging offense.

“What we can do now is kind of reflect at 3-1 where we're at,” Nagy said. “We understand it's a super-long season, and I just got done telling the guys [after Sunday’s game], ‘Listen, whether you're 1-3 or 3-1, never get too high and never get too low. Just stay the course. Trust me on this.’

If you do that and you go ahead and take care of yourself over the bye week, your mind and your body -- and it's good for us at week 4 or week 5 because of the long preseason. It feels like the middle of the season to us. So they'll do that, and they promised me they're going to come back very focused, and then that's going to be the challenge is week by week we'll be in basically Week 5 for us, or Game 5, coming up.”

After a first quarter against exclusively NFC teams (Green Bay, Seattle, Arizona, Tampa Bay), the Bears come out of the off-week into a four-game blitz of the AFC East: Miami away, New England and the Jets at home, and Buffalo away.

If there was a negative coming out of Sunday it was the possible suspension of defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who was ejected in the second quarter after pushing a game official at the end of a fracas with a member of the Tampa Bay offense. Hicks threw his shoulder pads and jersey into the stands after the ejection, a response likely to increase the NFL’s disciplinary actions.

But for now the Bears are what – and where – their record says they are.