Chicago Bears Playbook - Jon Bostic's Steady Improvement

David Banks

In the preseason, Jon Bostic's weakness appeared to be defending the pass, but in the regular season it has been his run defense that has suffered. Now, with more than half a season of practice under his belt - and a game-changing interception in his last outing - the rookie LB appears to be improving. Here's how he fared against the Ravens on the Soldier Field slop.

Jon Bostic said that the Soldier Field grass was the worst field he's ever played on, but the linebacker played far better than his worst despite the conditions. With a key interception and five tackles to his name against the Ravens, the second-rounder is rounding into form.

First up, however, is the bad.  With the game knotted at ten late in the second quarter, the Ravens made another steady march down the field, and Baltimore capped off the drive with this pick-route touchdown pass to Torrey Smith:

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Coming out of his stance at the snap, Bostic peeked into the backfield just a tenth of a second too long before moving on to his pass support duties.  I'll give him partial credit for making sure Ray Rice didn't have the ball before moving into his zone, but considering that split second of delay allowed Flacco to sneak the ball into Torrey Smith's' breadbasket, Bostic isn't getting much better than a C- on this one.

After all, if you're going to mess up on defense, you better mess up with confidence. Commit to the run if that's your read, but do so in a way that means there's no way that run would have ever gotten into the end zone.  And if you're going to play the pass, don't stare at the running back before you read the QB's eyes - just get in the way of that passing lane already!  Bostic's definitely gotten better on this point as he's gotten more playing time, but he's still got to shave a couple of ticks off his reaction time to be at full NFL speed.

That gripe aside, Bostic played a strong game overall.  He came on well as the game progressed, and that TD pass to Torrey Smith was the only time I saw Joe Flacco complete a pass on the rookie. In fact, Bostic gave a good example early in the game of just how far he's come in knowing the playbook:

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Here, the Ravens call a pretty standard goal-line play action pass - fake the run inside and have the fullback and TE drag across the front and back lines of the end zone.  The QB rolls out and finds the open man for an easy touchdown, right? Wrong.  Bostic and James Anderson were perfectly in sync on their reads and shut this one down.

As soon as it was clear that it was play-action, Anderson picked up FB Vonta Leach in coverage. And when Bostic arrived a few steps later, Anderson released upfield to force Flacco to throw the ball.  With Bostic able to keep a hand on his coverage responsibility while also tracking Flacco, the QB wasn't going to be able to sneak in a pass on this one.

Of course, it wouldn't be a good game by Bostic without a play highlighting his pure speed. He showed plenty of that on his interception, sure, but this next play might have been even more of a game-changer.

In OT, John Harbaugh took a shot with Bears' new standby, the end-around. One problem - the end-around works only if you fool the defense or block them, and they couldn't do either to Bostic:

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Bostic is perfectly keyed into this one, and as soon as the guard pulls right, Bostic accelerates to the point of attack.  While the Ravens LG is able to get enough of Tim Jennings that the Ravens ball-carrier could have gotten up to safety level before finding another defender, Bostic's straight-line speed got him there in time to stop this play at a four-yard gain.

Bostic's still a work in progress, to be sure, but it was foolish of all of us to assume he would immediately become Mike Singletary after a few splash plays in the preseason. But as a said in my last breakdown of Jon Bostic's performance, so long as he keeps getting better, it's all good.

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