Yea Chicago’s defense had a solid day overall. They held a team that averaged 34 points per game last year to only 23, and kept them in check for most o the game.
That’s going to be their recipe for success this year, and it’s the reason they were in this game.
With that said, the defense still showed issues on 3rd down. It was especially bad in one 4th quarter sequence, when 3 straight 3rd downs ended with an 88 yard TD, a 40 yard completion, and a penalty for a 1st down. Good defenses have to be able to get off the field on 3rd down. To their credit, they did have a few big 3rd down plays earlier in the game, including a run stuff on 3rd and 1 to hold Atlanta to a field goal and a batted pass on 3rd and medium to force a punt.
That 88 yard touchdown on 3rd down was particularly brutal. It looked like Matt Ryan was about to be sacked, then he had somebody uncovered down the field. The defense looked confused pre-snap, and somebody should have called a time out.
Quintin Demps missed a tackle on that 88 yard touchdown, and also missed a tackle for loss on 3rd down in the first half that would have forced a punt and instead turned into a 1st down conversion. He also may have blown the coverage on the long touchdown. To put it mildly, it was not a good debut for the veteran free agent who was supposed to stabilize the back of the defense.
Another area where the defense needs to improve is forcing turnovers. They came close on a few passes today, but weren’t able to finish the play. Forcing turnovers is the difference between a good defense and a great one.
One area where the Bears’ defense excelled was in run defense. Atlanta ran it 22 times for 65 yards, only 3.0 yards per carry. That would have been the worst mark in the NFL last year, when the Falcons averaged 4.6 yards per carry, good for 5th in the NFL.
You have to give credit to Akiem Hicks, who had a monster game today after signing a monster contract yesterday. He picked up two sacks of Matt Ryan and single-handedly stuffed a running play on 3rd and 1 to hold Atlanta to a field goal. One thing to note is that Hicks made fewer impact plays later in the game as he seemed to wear down. The Bears might need to rotate their defensive linemen more to keep him fresher down the stretch of close games.
Switching over to offense, the running game looked really good. Chicago ran it 19 times for 125 yards, an outstanding 6.6 yards per carry. Credit the run blocking and running back duo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen for making things happen even when Atlanta was keying in on the run.
Speaking of Tarik Cohen, he was a revelation in this game. He carried it 5 times for 66 yards, caught 8 passes for 47 yards and 1 TD, and returned 3 punts for 45 yards. He lined up all over the field: outside at WR, in the slot, at running back, and even at quarterback on one Wildcat play. Cohen was the Bears’ best playmaker on the day, and the Darren Sproles comparisons seemed more than fair. One thing to note: Cohen’s 16 touches are probably not sustainable given his small size. Sproles has averaged just under 11 touches per game on his career, which seems about right for Cohen too.
The Bears’ game plan through three quarters was incredibly conservative. They ran it a lot, and when they threw the passes were all short, mostly with pre-determined reads, and mostly aimed at running backs and tight ends. As a result, the passing game was comically ineffective. At one point late in the third quarter, Chicago had dropped back to pass 15 times and netted only 13 yards.
In those first three quarters, Mike Glennon looked terrible. He locked on to targets immediately, fell apart under any semblance of pressure, and missed too many throws. He routinely threw the ball short of the chains on 3rd down, and the offense stalled pretty much whenever they had to throw. At one point, the Bears went 27 minutes of game time in between pass completions.
Glennon looked like a different QB in the fourth quarter though. After the Bears went down 20-10, they basically gave up on the run by necessity, and Glennon responded. He was more decisive and moved the offense well, scoring one touchdown and coming just short of another for the win. Even on those drives, Glennon basically only threw underneath and had some accuracy issues, but credit him for stepping up his play when the game called for it. The Bears need to figure out how to get him to play like that consistently if they’re going to keep him in the game.
Credit to the offensive line on the day. They did an excellent job of run blocking and kept Glennon mostly clean. Don’t let the 4 sacks fool you; the first three were all Glennon’s fault, but Bobby Massie was beat on the last sack that ended the game. Prior to that, Glennon had a clean pocket on basically every play of the last two drives. Which was good, because Glennon showed again today (consistent with this preseason and his time in Tampa Bay) that he is completely incapable of making any sort of play under any pressure.
One lineman who struggled was 2nd year center Cody Whitehair. He had two penalties that killed drives and a few low snaps, one of which was fumbled. He looked noticeably rusty at center, which is not entirely surprising given that he spent most of the preseason playing left guard while Hroniss Grasu manned the center spot. It would seem the Bears didn’t like what they saw from Grasu, because they were back to Whitehair at center and Tom Compton at left guard, the look we haven’t seen since the 1st preseason game. I would guess that will be the lineup going forward until Kyle Long returns, and who knows how long that will be.
I think it might officially be time to call Kevin White a bust. The Bears tried to get him some looks early, as he had 3 of the 4 targets aimed at wide receivers in the first three quarters. Those resulted in a 6 yard gain on 3rd and 20, a drop on a slant, and a slip on a curl. His 4th target was a dump-off behind the line of scrimmage and ended with him going to the locker room with a wrist injury. Injuries have been the story of his career so far, to go with lackluster production in the rare instances he actually gets on the field.
Speaking of that Kevin White slip, the Soldier Field turf was awful again today. It noticeably showed up to impact plays at least ten times that I can recall, and this in in the first week of the season with no weather issues. There are absolutely no excuses for having turf problems in this situation. We are way overdue for the Bears to figure out some way to get that sorted.
One of the best things to emerge for the Bears today was that they now have some playmakers, which is something their roster has sorely lacked for years. On offense, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen made plays, while Akiem Hicks stood out on defense. A few other defenders made some big plays too, including Jerrell Freeman, Roy Robertson-Harris, and Leonard Floyd. They still need a playmaker to emerge among the WR corp and in the secondary, but they’re headed in the right direction.
Overall, this day was a positive for the Bears. They went toe to toe with one of the best teams in the NFC. I know we’re sick of moral victories and close losses, but outside of quarterback this is easily the best Bears roster since 2012. We’re not going to see that improvement in the win/loss results until Chicago gets the quarterback situation producing at a high level.