Eddie Jackson

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.”

A gassed Bears defense needs to prove loss to Miami was an aberration

A gassed Bears defense needs to prove loss to Miami was an aberration

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Through the first four games of 2018, the Bears’ defense allowed on average 295 yards per game, 5.1 yards per play, 3.9 yards per run, a 33 percent third down conversion rate and 16 points per game.

Sunday’s 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins was, with that backdrop, a bloodbath of an aberration. Or so the Bears hope.

The Dolphins — quarterbacked by Brock Osweiler, who’s been more of a punchline than a threat over the last few years — racked up 541 yards, averaged 7.2 yards per play and 5.2 yards per run and converted eight of 17 third downs (47 percent) en route to score more points in one afternoon than the Bears had allowed in their last two games.

“Everybody knows that’s not the type of defense we play — we don’t miss tackles, I don’t think we’ve ever had that during the whole season,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “We gotta come in and work on that and get ready for next week.”

It wasn’t just that the Bears allowed that level of production — it was how it happened. Albert Wilson had 155 yards on six catches, and turned a pair of short passes into 43- and 75-yard touchdowns, both of which led to Miami tying the game in the fourth quarter. Frank Gore carved up 101 yards on 15 carries, with a Miami offensive line missing its starting left guard and center generating an excellent push for the future Hall of Famer.

“It all starts with stopping the run,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who suffered an ankle injury but stayed in Sunday’s game, said. “I feel like we didn’t do a good enough job with that today.”

Gore’s 100-yard game was the first by a running back against the Bears since Latavius Murray hit that mark in Week 5 of 2017, and Miami’s success on the ground did open up plenty for Osweiler.

But that doesn’t completely explain how the Bears didn’t notch a sack and only were credited with four quarterback hurries (the Dolphins committed, and succeeded, to selling out to stop Mack’s pass rush). It doesn’t explain how poor the Bears’ tackling angles were all afternoon, and how many missed tackles this group piled up when they did get in position (anecdotally, it felt like a Dolphins player hurdled a Bears defender at least once a quarter).

“I missed a couple that I make usually 100 percent of the time,” safety Adrian Amos said. He was only talking about himself, but he hardly was the only player to uncharacteristically miss a tackle on Sunday.

No Bears player was willing to admit the impact of the hot and humid conditions on Sunday, but this was a defense that looked gassed, especially in the second half. And while the conditions on the field were the same, they weren’t on the sideline — the visiting sideline at Hard Rock Stadium was engulfed in sunlight all game, to the point where Bears staffers had to hold up what appeared to be folding tables over the benches on the sideline to create some makeshift shade.

“It was hot,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “It was hot out there. You gotta play the game anyway. You don’t get a choice. You gotta play. They’re playing, we gotta play too.”

“There’s a lot you can say about it,” outside linebacker Leonard Floyd said. “We haven’t played in a week, the weather is quite different from Chicago — it’s a lot of things you could say but at the end of the day you gotta execute, and we didn’t do a good job of that.”

The Bears’ defense responded well to blowing a 20-point lead in Week 1’s brutal loss to the Green Bay Packers, holding the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to incrementally fewer points each week. This group will have to respond against the diabolical Bill Belichick-Tom Brady New England Patriots offense in Week 7, which presents a far greater challenge than an undermanned group led by Russell Wilson did in Week 2.

There’s no reason to hit the panic button on the Bears’ defense, not when they’ve only had, really, two bad quarters out of 20 all year (though on the other hand, that those both came in the fourth quarter in road games is a little concerning). The Jacksonville Jaguars, widely considered to have the NFL’s best defense before the season, gave up 40 points to a Dallas Cowboys offense that hadn’t shown much promise before Sunday. These things can happen.

And there’s plenty of confidence within the Bears locker room that it won’t happen again.

“This is a building block,” Jackson said. “This is a huge building block for us, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I’m going to keep repeating that because we hold ourselves to a very high standard. We just gotta put this one behind us. It’s going to be tough. Everybody’s seen it. It’s going to be tough for us to do, but we’re looking forward right now. We got a long season ahead of us.”

Bears prove they have NFL's best defense in win over Tampa Bay

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears prove they have NFL's best defense in win over Tampa Bay

What shouldn’t be lost in the Bears’ 48-10 shelling of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is just how good the opposing offense had been before rolling into Soldier Field on Sunday. 

Ryan Fitzpatrick became the first player in NFL history to throw for 400 or more yards in three consecutive games, and had completed 70 percent of his passes while gaining an average of 11.1 yards per attempt with 11 touchdowns. The quartet of Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard looked almost impossible to cover, and this team put up 48, 27 and 27 points in its first three games. 

Against the Bears’ defense, Fitzpatrick completed nine of 18 passes for 126 yards with no touchdowns and one interception before being yanked at halftime in favor of Jameis Winston. Jackson did get 112 yards on five catches, but Evans was limited to six catches for 59 yards while Godwin had two catches for 22 yards. Before he exited the game with an injury, Howard was targeted three times and didn’t catch any of them. Tampa Bay’s offense averaged 5.2 yards per play, and that was with the Bears’ defense backing off a bit in the second half. 

Oh, and the Bears did this without Prince Amukamara — who had been their top cornerback through three games — or, after he was ejected late in the second quarter, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. 

“It’s not just about me,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “You see the guys the back end making plays and that’s what you want to see. It’s a good feeling, especially going into the bye.”

That's a spot-on analysis from the guy who's playing like the best defensive player in the NFL right now. 

Undrafted rookie Kevin Toliver II got beat once by Jackson but otherwise had a solid game. Fifth-round rookie Bilal Nichols made a few splash plays. Aaron Lynch recorded his first career interception. 

A defensive back? Check. A linebacker? Check. A defensive lineman? Check. Every unit contributed with its depth. 

Mack’s right: It’s not all about him. What the Bears proved on Sunday — and through the first month of the season — is they have the depth to sustain this elite level of play once they return from their off week in mid-October. 

Then again, a good chunk of what the Bears’ have done on defense has been about Mack. He notched a strip-sack for the fourth consecutive game on Sunday, and he was able to grab Winston’s arm to force a floating pass that fell into the waiting arms of Danny Trevathan for an interception. 

All the focus on him leads to pick-your-poison decisions for opposing offenses: Do you get beat by Mack, or do you get beat by someone else? Because the Bears’ defense has proved it has plenty of other guys who can beat an opposing offense, from standouts like Hicks to reserves like Nichols.  

“(Mack’s) making a play every other play,” Trevathan said. “He’s in the backfield hitting the quarterback — the quarterback is not comfortable at any time. … It feels good to have a defense where they gotta pick and choose where they want to go. Just to have that, I’ve seen in it in spurts, but to execute it for four quarters feels good.” 

The Bears head into the bye week with eight interceptions, equaling their season totals from 2015, 2016 and 2017. Creating more turnovers was a major emphasis for this group during OTAs, minicamps and training camp, and a lot of the early success comes from staying on assignments and knowing when and how to be aggressive. 

But part of it, too, is that for this defense, creating turnovers is sort of a contagious thing. 

“They come in bunches,” safety Eddie Jackson, who had an interception Sunday, said. “So we feel like that shifts the momentum for us. We create one turnover, now we know they’re coming. It gives another guy — like, okay, it’s my time to step up. That’s just something we love right now with this defense, how we feed off each other’s energy, we feed off turnovers, we feed off the momentum we have with each other.”

With four more sacks, the Bears’ season total is up to 18, becoming only the seventh team since 2000 to have that many sacks in the first four games of a season. The others: The 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars (who reached the AFC Championship), the 2015 Denver Broncos (who won the Super Bowl), the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs (who were an 11-5 wild card team), the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles (who reached the Super Bowl), the 2001 Green Bay Packers (who reached the divisional round of the playoffs) and the 2000 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who were a 10-6 wild card team). 

None of those teams had as many as the eight interceptions the Bears have, too (the 2000 Bucs were the closest with seven). 

While four games doesn’t make a season, what the Bears’ defense has done to begin 2018 has been nothing short of a franchise-altering effort. This is, right now, the best defense in the NFL. And there’s no reason to doubt it’ll lose that title any time soon. 

“We want to get (back to) the old school Chicago Bears style of defense,” Jackson said. “We want to be the No. 1 defense in the league. I said that during camp, and now we added Khalil, that helps the goal, raising the bar higher. We want to come in every week and continue to get better and improve and just come out here and showcase the type of defense we know we have.”